§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Before the noble Earl moves the first amendment, may I ask the Minister responsible, or whoever is responsible, whether it is customary for the Marshalled List not to be available until shortly before the commencement of the debate; and is there any means of ensuring that a Marshalled List becomes available at an earlier stage?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I am responsible for moving the Bill through this House and I certainly apologise to the noble Lord; and, my word, I sympathise with him. The job I have had this morning of getting my papers in order in the light of the Marshalled List, which I received only this morning, has been appalling. So I very much sympathise with the noble Lord. I can only say that I have complained through the usual channels, that we should have been so poorly served. In my opinion, the Marshalled List should have been available yesterday. I believe there has been some plea on the other side that a number of amendments were still going down yesterday, which did create some difficulty for the Public Bill Office. Certainly the noble Lord has all my sympathies.
§ Clause 1 [Interpretation of terms]:
§ The Earl of Longford moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 12, leave out paragraph (b).
§ The noble Earl said: We have a heavy day in front of us and I want to set an example of brevity. This amendment would extend the Bill to cover still pictures. I think that anyone could see that still pictures, particularly if they were of an obscene character, might be a real threat. This matter was discussed at some length in another place, and Mr. Howell in particular made an effort to persuade the Government that something must be done to deal with this menace of still pictures. He pointed out that obscene films or videos could be substituted by still pictures. The Minister said that he would look into this point, so I am now asking the noble Lord whether he has now been able to do anything satisfactory to meet this amendment.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for moving this amendment with such admirable brevity and I hope we may so proceed. This 263 point has been considered very carefully but the effect of extending this Bill to still pictures would be to extend it very considerably. It is on that account that I would advise the Committee not to accept the noble Earl's amendment.
I am advised that the financial incentives to those who produce such material is not very great. It is expensive to produce still pictures and the attraction of them for pornographic purposes is far more limited than that of the moving picture, which has an almost hypnotic effect. If still pictures are not included in the Bill, it is not likely to open a serious trading interest. On the other hand, if we did include them in the Bill, we would so tighten it up that we might catch a good deal of innocuous material. I am advised that the video catalogue of, say, an art gallery could be caught. It would undoubtedly have a very widespread effect.
Much of this Bill is a matter of balance. The noble Earl is right when he says that a still picture can be highly offensive, but it is a matter of degree. We think that we have the balance about right, in striking it here to deal with a moving picture and not with a still picture. I hope that the noble Earl will be satisfied that we have struck the balance about right.
§ The Earl of Longford
I make it a rule never to oppose the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on a moral issue—merely on a political or a social issue. On this occasion, before withdrawing my amendment—which action the noble Lord has forced upon me—I should like to hear the Government's reaction. They did state in another place that they would have something more to say about this point.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)
The noble Earl has drawn me to my feet and I am glad to respond to him. The Government have considered this matter closely. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has accurately summarised our reactions. We are anxious that this Bill should not expose itself to the charge of being too widely drawn. Therefore, we looked at the likelihood of still pictures being offensive and damaging in the way that the material to which we are principally directing our attention is offensive and damaging. We are persuaded that they are not.
We do not want to embrace in the Bill such items as illustrated catalogues which are put on the screen—or indeed computer programs which could, in some configurations, I understand, be caught. The implications of the extension which the noble Earl proposes are a good deal larger than I believe he would intend. We have considered this point very carefully because it was drawn to our attention in another place, but it is our firm view on balance that it would not be helpful to the progress of the Bill to amend it in this way. What it might achieve could be small in benefit and embarrassingly large in the way of difficulty in respect of the nature of the material that would be affected. I hope that the noble Earl will follow the admirable rule of not resisting my noble friend.
§ The Earl of Longford
I said that I would not resist him on a moral issue but I am not sure that this is so clearly a moral issue. I will not press the matter further 264 at this stage, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 16, after ("manner") insert ("whether for supply within the United Kingdom or for export from the United Kingdom")
§ The noble Lord said: Brevity being the order of the day—and a very civilised order on a Friday—I will in turn attempt to move this amendment very briefly. Before I do so, perhaps I may make it abundantly clear—although I would have thought it was so clear—that, as I understand it, there are no party lines upon this Bill. If I move an amendment together with some of my noble friends from this Dispatch Box, it should by no means intimate to the Committee that I am doing so in any official capacity on behalf of the Opposition. I say that because your Lordships may see certain amendments down on the Marshalled List which have the name of my noble friend Lord Houghton to them. It would possibly give him and others a false impression if I did not make my position perfectly clear.
§ Amendment No. 2 endeavours to include in this Bill the export of films and to ensure that those exports are properly classified and dealt with in accordance with what, I may briefly term, the decency provisions and the guiding provisions of this Bill entail. As I said on Second Reading, I am frightened about the effect of the exclusion of exports from this Bill. The Committee may feel that where the producers of what we have called video nasties find themselves caught by the provisions of this Bill—and, one hopes, their manufacture and distribution therefore diminished—they will be immediately tempted to look to an export market. They will possibly endeavour to obtain (as they are now obtainable) these video nasties from abroad and especially—I always regret having to say this—from the United States of America. Having obtained them, possibly cheaply in bulk, they thereupon export them. The United States, which has a very good name for many things attached to that country, has a rather bad name in this field. I do not want to see the United Kingdom suddenly sharing in that bad name through distribution by export.
§ Another aspect worries me about the exclusion of exports. I am wondering how, when they conduct a search or make inquiries into the production of video nasties, the authorities are to deal with the immediate answer, "That lot of videos over there is not really subject to your inspection, or it would be a useless inspection if you made it, because we are thinking of exporting them. They are for export." I do not know what is the answer to that if we leave the Bill as it stands.
§ This is an important issue. It was very briefly dealt with in another place and the answer given—and, so far as I can see, the only practical answer there could be—was that it is for other countries to consider whether or not they wish to deal with these offensive video productions in their own way. I thought that was a very weak answer. At least let us give to those other countries into which these video productions may be 265 exported the guidance that this Bill affords as to whether or not they are suitable in regard to the people who view them, and especially in regard to the protection of young people.
§ There was a subsidiary argument which I hope will not be advanced today with any effect. It is that if the export provision is in the Bill, the manufacture in this country of videos where the orders come from abroad may be impeded by virtue of the fact that people who order from abroad may say, "We had better not go to the United Kingdom because there is delay there as a result of the need to classify." I thought that the BBFC, if that is to be the designated authority, was to have strengthened numbers and would be able to deal with these matters very expeditiously. If that is the only other answer to be given to this amendment, I hope that your Lordships will feel that the possible disadvantages are far outweighed by the advantages I have tried to summarise in moving it. I beg to move.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for moving his amendment so expeditiously and succinctly. As he rightly says, the amendment was raised and then withdrawn in another place. We should not dismiss the answers given then as being without substance, because it is not the characteristic of the other place to be satisfied with answers that have no substance. Indeed, there is substance in both those points.
I pick up first the second point: the question of home manufacture. I have learnt in my short acquaintance with this trade what a very complex affair it is and how much material moves about from one manufacturer to another and from one country to another between manufacturers. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the Committee in general, will see from the provisions in Clause 3(4) that there is exemption for the movement of video material between manufacturers, as it were, in the process of the ultimate production and that, of course, takes place across the Channel as well as within this country. So there is already quite a wide exemption provided in the Bill in order to enable the trade to function in its normal way.
There is also, of course, an important export of feature films and all kinds of admirable material which could be in difficulty if we accepted the amendment. There really is a point here. When the problem is faced of how one controls exports without interfering with legitimate trade, it is apparent that the difficulties are very great indeed. If my noble friend Lord Elton feels inclined to add to my few words, I am sure he will give emphasis to that. Exports are, of course, still subject to the Obscene Publications Act, but how one can always pick them up I should not like to say. I only make the point that there are major difficulties.
Therefore, my advice is that we should be content with the subsection in Clause 1 which deals with the point of supply and which, in fact, does go fairly wide. It could be interpreted to cover exports and, therefore, if works are found which contravene other aspects of the Bill, that subsection could be operative. My advice to the noble Lord, after a good deal of deliberation with the officials at the Home Office, is that we feel it would not be advisable to include this amendment in 266 the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that answer.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
In spite of the explanation from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, I should nevertheless like to support my noble friend Lord Mishcon in this amendment. I cannot add much to the argument he has put, except to stress that the industry will be very hard hit by the effect of this Bill and will be looking around very seriously for other means of trading. Therefore, I should have thought that the amendment would protect against the use of the export ticket as a cloak for trading under the black market in this country and would also save this country from getting the name, which certainly we do not want, of being great traders abroad in video nasties.
§ Lord Aylestone
May I ask the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill one question? In view of the fact that video nasties are, we hope, likely to be caught under this Bill and will not be certified by the designated body, is he really saying that he is satisfied that the Bill as now drafted is sufficient to prevent video nasties being manufactured in this country for export abroad?
§ Lord Somers
One comment could be added to what has been said. I quite understand the difficulties set out by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and I am not enough of an expert to say whether or not they are surmountable. However, the reputation of our country has already been damaged abroad by the activities of the football hooligans, and others, and it seems to me a great pity that we should allow it to be further damaged by the export of the sort of material we are considering today.
§ 11.49 a.m.
§ Lord Elton
I hesitate between silence in the interests of brevity and speech in the interests of fullness. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is not entirely persuaded by what he has so far heard—and I speak from long experience. I therefore thought that I should perhaps enter the lists briefly. I am not sure whether the point is well taken, and I shall not dwell on it, but I should draw to the attention of the noble Lord the point that as the amendment does not derogate from the provisions of Clause 3(4), it would not have the full effect that he intends.
Leaving that aside, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, explained why he believes that our classification authority should scrutinise all material sent overseas and why there should not be a special exemption for exports. The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, pungently supported that view. They are worried that pornographers in this country might turn their attention to trade abroad, using this country as a base for their activities. I think it is fair to say that most of the video nasties which are interesting us at the moment at this stage of the debate, which have caused us all so much concern and, indeed, disgust, have been made overseas and imported into this country. I am not at all sure that the passage of this Bill will nurture trade in the opposite direction.
267 But of course this Bill does not deal only with video nasties. It introduces a classification system which, save for certain exemptions, covers the whole range of productions which may be contained on video. We are all familiar with film makers from this country going abroad to make productions for our cinema and for release on video in Britain. We accept that such material should be classified before it can be supplied commercially here. But would we be content if it first had to pass the scrutiny of censors abroad? I do not think so, and the same consideration applies of course to videos produced here for viewing abroad. It is one thing to take powers to set standards for videos to be seen in this country but another, I think, to do so in respect of videos intended for distribution overseas. I recognise crusading zeal when I see it, and I respect it, but again I fear we may be in danger of casting our nets a little wider than is prudent.
There is another implication in a removal of the exemption for export material. As my noble friend said, there are firms operating here which specialise in making copies of video works. They are sent a master tape from which they run off discs and tapes and, with a popular production, perhaps tens of thousands of discs or tapes then find their way into video shops for sale or hire to the public. I understand that these companies commonly obtain a fair proportion of their business from overseas. An overseas film company will send them the master tape and from this they will run off the discs and tapes for distribution in the relevant countries overseas. If the special exemption in Clause 3(4) for export material were to be removed, however, any such master tape would need to be seen by our own classification authority, even though it might well have had to pass the scrutiny of an equivalent body overseas, before the tape and discs could be re-exported.
What would happen in practice? I suspect that in most cases the overseas film company would object to a video, which quite possibly was never intended for release in Britain, having to go through a British classification process, and they would also no doubt be concerned about the inevitable delays while they waited for the British Board of Film Censors to give it a clean bill of health. I suspect therefore that many overseas film companies in this position would take their trade elsewhere, which would be quite easy for them to do, and that could have a very damaging effect on the companies concerned, which might even be forced out of business. I find it difficult to see how that could be justified.
We have already made it clear that the amendment as it stands would not have the effects which I think it is intended it should have. I hope that my noble friend and I have said enough to give the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, pause at least.
§ Baroness Gaitskell
May I ask the Minister, should we not mix up a little rowdy football in France with the video nasties? They are two quite different things and should be attacked in different ways, if at all.
§ Lord Mishcon
There are occasions when I am convinced by the noble Lord the Minister and there 268 are similarly occasions when I listen with respect and am convinced by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. I thought that they were both, if I may say so, below form in answering this amendment, and in those circumstances I find myself quite unable to withdraw the amendment.
May I say why? First, nobody has answered my point about the authorities being in a difficulty when they are examining premises and being told, if exports are not to be excluded, "Oh, these are meant for export." This would make the Bill in my view almost unenforceable in certain instances.
Secondly, the answers that were given to the points that were raised in my supporting this amendment and by those who were good enough to support me in turn were precisely those which I forecast, and I tried to deal with them in my speech moving the amendment. I have received, as your Lordships must have done, a host of literature relating to this Bill from all sorts of organisations and people. I have not had one communication from those representing the video industry saying, "Please, for Heaven's sake, it will hit our industry if you include exports." I have noted, and your Lordships will have noted, that neither the noble Lord Lord Nugent, nor the Minister read out to us or quoted any representation they had received, despite the fact that the matter of exports was raised in the other place. I think that that is really a matter which ought to commend itself very strongly to your Lordships, especially when one has in mind—I repeat this—the harm that will be done to this country if the export is not covered as well. The answer to that from the noble Lord the Minister is that other people, other countries, may have different standards from ours. Of course they may have, but what they can do if they want to, when they see the classification, is say, "That comes from the United Kingdom; the United Kingdom is much too puritanical for us. We will do our own classification or, according to our law, we will have no classification at all." If the answers to this important amendment are as weak as that, I must ask your Lordships to give your opinion.
§ Lord Elton
Before the noble Lord puts the matter to the test, I would just ask the Committee to consider this and I hope just give pause to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I am very anxious, and I think he is too, that the best shall not be the enemy of the good. He has addressed a cause with which I entirely sympathise. He wishes the exports from this country to carry the good name of this country with them and that nothing that is seen on foreign video screens shall besmirch our reputation by giving viewers there the opinion that it is matter of which the British Parliament approves. I am entirely in sympathy with that, as I am with the whole tenor of the Bill and a great deal of what the noble Lord has said, but we are here legislating and not merely adopting public positions, and legislation is a sensitive and an intricate matter.
Your Lordships will know that this Bill is itself a sensitive and intricate matter and that any Private Member's Bill is a delicate creature. Therefore we wish to make sure that it is not exposed to unnecessary difficulty, hesitation, doubt or, worse still, opposition, before it reaches the statute book. It is a narrow path along which it has to squeeze.
269 If this were merely a question of making an absolutely justifiable and I think admirable declara-tion on what we feel ought to go out from these shores to be seen by the public of other countries there would be no problem, or no great and immediate problem, but what we are actually purporting to do if we amend the Bill in this way, and despite the absence of a derogation from Clause 3(4), is to extend the standards and influence of this legislation in effect beyond the shores of this country. Now I am not splitting hairs and I am not trying to make an issue but, when one joins that with the fact that there is a commercial interest which may well be offended and threatened by this, even if it has not brought itself to the notice of your Lordships, then I think one is in danger of making things difficult for this Bill.
What does the Bill set out to do? The principal concern, the urgent concern and the proper concern of your Lordships and Parliament in the first instance is with the protection of the morals, the mental comfort, the standards of behaviour, and the taste and decency of British citizens, who are at present under assault from some perfectly disgusting material. That is what the Bill is about. That is what we want to stop. The Bill does that.
We shall be addressing this issue on the way in which it does that again and again during this Committee stage, but I am anxious that we should not start out on this process by going out to the periphery. We are now talking about not only video nasties but the whole classification procedure, and not only British domestic audiences but the entire international community, most members of which are taking steps similar to our own to protect their community and will therefore not be offended or assaulted by things which we send out to them. If the noble Lord persuades your Lordships into the Lobbies, I hope you will consider it proper to restrict yourselves to the area which the Bill was quite plainly designed to address as the result of a great, justifiable and well-expressed public outcry against an issue which threatens our own people. If the noble Lord quite properly wishes to carry the banner of decency beyond these shores, I should have thought that it would be best to get this legislation safely on the statute book and to return to the charge, when I would very much hope that I should be able to be on the same side of the lists.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Before my noble friend replies, I should like to make it clear to him that he should not do so in the belief that he enjoys unanimous support on this side of the Committee. For an entirely different reason from that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I take the view that this Bill is wrong-headed in itself. It is misguided and based upon research that has proved to be entirely false. Any extension of the Bill, therefore, must be equally bad. I take the view that a bad Bill should not be made worse by the addition of an extra amendment. For entirely opposite reasons, I think that I should find myself in the same Lobby as Lord Elton if the matter were put to the test.
§ Lord Mishcon
Speaking, I repeat, in a personal capacity, I was almost inclined not to speak at all after the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, because I thought that I might have more sympathy from the Committee if I left his speech where it was and would therefore get many more votes for my amendment. But so powerful was the plea of the noble Lord the Minister that I must reply to it.
If it were only a question of safeguarding our own people by the present provisions of this Bill and of not wanting at this stage—because otherwise the Bill might be endangered—to go beyond our shores, I might well have been moved by that consideration. The practical point is this. Those who are dealing in this country with this completely offensive and harmful issue of videos that we are trying to hit by this Bill will have to find an alternative once this Bill is passed. The manufacture that we shall be encouraging for export if we omit this amendment from the Bill will go on the black market in this country because it will be worth their while. Having got an export trade, they will have the money to try to do it on these shores as well. But if their export trade is cut off as a result of this, we shall be dealing adequately with the protection of people in this country.
Long speeches never persuade your Lordships to go into Division Lobbies: they do the reverse. I shall leave the matter there, except to say this. I repeat that there has been no representation by the trade and therefore nothing before your Lordships at this moment. If this amendment is passed, if between Committee and Report stage your Lordships find that there are such powerful representations, I as an individual—and that is my only capacity in talking to your Lordships—will at Report stage, if that evidence is strong enough, agree to an amendment that knocks out this amendment. But your Lordships have no such evidence before you. None of it has been quoted, and it would be quite wrong in my view, upon that ground, not to support the amendment I have moved.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
Already far too much has been done on this Bill without reference to the considerable interests affected not only in the field of commerce and industry but in employment, too. If we are to wander into the range of exports without full knowledge of what the consequences or the advantages may be, we shall be repeating some of the unwisdom that has already occurred in the earlier stages of this Bill in another place.
I shall not support my noble friend on this. Indeed, if he wants to be fair to the Committee I would respectfully submit to him that he should defer going further on this matter until the Report stage, and not ask the Committee to register an amendment to the Bill with the promise that if he is found to be mistaken, or if he is persuaded by later representations, he will come back to the House and want to alter it. That is not the right way to do it. I think that the right way to do it is to accept the view from the Minister and elsewhere that we really do not know the full implications of this amendment. I hear repeated references to "nasties". I hope that before this Bill finishes we shall be much clearer on the definition of what a "nasty" is than we are at present. Really and truly, the definition of a "nasty" from the point of view 271 of this Bill is a product which will not receive a classification at all and will therefore pass into the area of the Obscene Publications Act and could be caught if it were put into distribution in this country.
I therefore hope that my noble friend will leave this matter as it is until the Report stage and let us consider it further. Last night I listened to representations on this subject, but I do not think that it would help the Committee if I were to say what they were, because I admit that I am not fully informed on it. Although I shall probably be on the opposite side to the Minister for the rest of the Bill, at least on this matter I shall take his side.
§ Lord Beswick
Since I sit between the noble Lords, Lord Jenkins and Lord Houghton, may I make it absolutely clear that I disagree with both of them. I thought that the case made by my noble friend Lord Mishcon was absolutely cast iron. I thought it was unanswerable as to the merits of the amendment. The question I put to myself is whether, if this amendment goes in, it will create so much difficulty in the other place that there is some danger of stopping the passage of the Bill. I think that this is really the point that I should like to consider. I wonder whether there is any further guidance on that which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, can give us.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I still hope that, with the reasonableness which is characteristic of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, he may be willing to withdraw this amendment and perhaps have discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and myself between Committee and Report. In so far as I have been able to grasp the issues, I believe we should not be justified in putting this particular provision into this little Bill.
Coming to the practical point which Lord Beswick mentioned, we should undoubtedly be endangering the prospect of the Bill passing in another place. The Bill will take the course which Private Bills normally take, assuming that we pass it from here. It has one day left when it can be considered in the Commons in the middle of July—one Friday afternoon. It will get a limited time. We may send down amendments which are objectionable to the opponents of the Bill.
Grateful as I am to the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Jenkins, for their support on this point, there are those in the other place who sympathise with Lord Houghton and who are very concerned that the Bill's control effect should not be extended beyond where it is now. This would be an important extension, and I do not suppose that any of us knows quite to what extent it would affect the Bill and the trade. Therefore, the probability is that something as substantial as this in the Bill would arouse opposition. It will then be very simple for the opponents not even to bother to deal with the merits of the amendment, but in the very limited time available to keep talking and to talk it out. The Bill is then lost for this Session. Whether it would be mounted again in the next one, or what would happen, is anybody's guess. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, with his experience in the other place—as, indeed, many of us have—is right in saying that that is a consideration. I am hopeful that we shall be able to pass this Bill through our House with the minimum substantial amendment, because then I 272 think that we have the best prospect of getting what is in fact a pretty small measure (although it is a complex one) and one which throughout has tried to strike a balance.
Indeed, dealing with the first amendment which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, so kindly withdrew, he has a very good point there. There is substance in it; but if we extend the Bill as far as still pictures, then again we shall go a good deal wider than we are now going and we shall affect a good many other interests. That would undoubtedly upset the balance of the Bill and therefore endanger its future. So there really is a point here, but I would hope that my noble friend would agree with me that we should certainly explore this particular aspect. I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for the last thing that I want to see is a large, growing trade in the export of video nasties from this country. It would be utterly disreputable.
My guess is the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton—that in the main we do not manufacture this material here; it is imported. Be that as it may, there is a major problem here. I would hope that the noble Lord might be willing to withdraw his amendment on the undertaking that we shall discuss it together to try to inform our minds and his mind more completely about the implications. Then perhaps, if necessary, we shall look at it again on Report. But I feel it would be premature for the Committee to take a decision on it today.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
Perhaps I may say a few words before the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, responds. I should like to urge him to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and withdraw this amendment without any prejudice to his position at Report stage.
I find it extremely difficult to form a view on the arguments which have been deployed in the Chamber this morning. I think we require more information. I believe that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that he and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, should discuss this matter between now and Report stage is eminently sensible and I very much hope that that advice will be followed.
But having said that, may I make just one other comment. I do not in any way wish to be unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who is always a most fair-minded opponent in this Chamber, but I am bound to say I was very disturbed by one particular argument he put forward a few moments ago. That is the implication that any amendment which could be held to be controversial in another place would have to be resisted in this Chamber on the grounds that if it were not resisted, the Bill could be killed in the House of Commons. I find that a very difficult argument to accept. Bluntly, if we were to accept it, we would all be wasting our time for the next few hours in this Chamber and we might as well all go home.
I also object to it for a totally different reason. If the argument for this Bill is as clear as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made out—and he took this view very strongly—it seems to me that it is the responsibility of the Government to provide additional time in another place for the consideration of Lords amendments. I come back to this point because it may underline 273 Lord Nugent's position on other amendments. I think it is our job, in a bicameral legislature, to make sure that we consider these matters on the merits of the argument and do not concern ourselves with what are matters for the business managers in the House of Commons.
§ Lord Elton
I think I ought perhaps just put a gloss on what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has said. It is certainly true that those in another place are not the masters of your Lordships. It is equally true that your Lordships are not the masters of another place. In legislation we proceed by agreement. That agreement has to be between the Houses and between Members of the Houses. It is open to Members of another place to object to, obstruct, and stop legislation, just as it is open to your Lordships to do so. We have had recent exhibitions of how effective your Lordships can be in nearly doing that. Therefore I do not think I ought to go into the niceties of the management of Government time in another place because I am not the proper voice to express those points.
But we have to accept the realities of the situation. The reality of the situation is that if we amend this Bill in a way which is repugnant and controversial to some people in another place, then they are very likely to exercise the same reflexes that your Lordships would under the same circumstances here, and obstruct it. That is something they can easily do. It is not to say that we should not address our minds to how this Bill can be made to work best—the way in which it can be most efficient—but it sets a limit to what we can prudently do and yet expect to get the whole thing on the statute book. To ignore that would be a great mistake.
§ Lord Foot
Before this amendment is either not proceeded with or withdrawn, may I suggest there are two other reasons which have not yet been mentioned as to why it would be the best course for the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, to accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and not press this amendment at this stage but bring the matter up again, if he sees fit, at the next stage of the Bill. The two reasons which I would advance are these. The whole basis and mechanism of this Bill is not to make the manufacture of video nasties an offence, but rather to make the offence that of supplying. I wonder how, if we extend this to the export trade, we are going to catch the exporter? At what stage is he supplying? Is he supplying when he ships the goods abroad? If that is what happens, what is there to stop him? How are we going to catch him and bring a prosecution in this country? It obviously cannot mean supplying abroad, selling it in a shop in Paris, for example, because that is not within our jurisdiction at all. Therefore I suggest that there is this really practical problem as to what is going to be the effect if this amendment is carried.
The other objection is a very minor but grammatical, one. What is suggested here by this amendment is that the clause should read:'Supply' means supply in any manner, whether for supply within the United Kingdom or for export from the United Kingdom".274 What I understand that means is this. Before the word "for" we ought to put in, "by way of, for example, so it would read:'Supply' means supply in any manner, whether by way of supply within the United Kingdom or by way of export from the United Kingdom".If this matter is left over until the next stage, and if I am right about this—that it is a grammatical error—it will enable that little point to be put right.
§ Lord Mishcon
I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Foot. My grammar is very often wrong and I am obliged to him if on this occasion he has corrected it. If the amendment fell merely because I had used the word "for" instead of the term "by way of, I believe the Committee would have had some sympathy with me.
But may I direct myself immediately to the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. I found his suggestion, which he kindly gave, a very welcome one. It was that this matter, as I understood it, should be discussed between the Minister himself and myself, and possibly one or two of my friends who have supported this amendment, between now and Report stage. I felt that it was a moving plea for the following reasons. First of all, that would give an opportunity for the trade in the meantime to say what they felt about this. Secondly—and I must tell the Committee that this is the most moving consideration to me—I should be the last person in the world to want to jeopardise this Bill. In those circumstances, and upon that understanding, but still with a fervent belief in the amendment, which may still come before your Lordships at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I feel that I must detain the Committee for a short while to make some comments on the Bill with special reference to Clause 1. Before embarking on that, I should like, if I may, with great respect, to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for taking full responsibility in the Committee for his sponsorship of the Bill. On Private Members' Bills, I am all in favour of keeping Ministers in their place. Their place is to advise and not to control, and not to assume control. I have witnessed in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion how a Minister took complete charge of a Private Member's Bill. We hardly heard a bleat from the sponsor because the matter became so complicated and difficult that it took a Minister of State to pilot the reconstruction of the Bill through the House. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is valiantly taking a stand. We shall be delighted, of course—I speak for myself, but I am sure with the agreement of the whole Committee—to have the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, whose courtesy and ability we like and admire.
I speak as a humble and lay member of the Statute Law Society. I am very interested in the form of this Bill. My main interest in the shape of legislation has to do with revenue law which is both longer and more obscure than most. However, I do ask your Lordships to consider what we have in front of us and its 275 relevance to Clause 1 which is the question at present before the Committee. The title of the Bill is completely neutral. It has no message. It has no description. The Long Title of the Bill is:An Act to make provision for regulating the distribution of video recordings".There is no particular message in that either. It could apply to the regulation of the distribution of milk. It might be inferred that this was a Bill to make sure that we all got our fair share of video recordings, or something benign. It does not say anything.
When we come to Clause 1, there is no preamble. There is no reference to the evil that the Bill intends to exorcise. There is nothing about children whose interests apparently have dominated people's thoughts in regard to this Bill; no reflection on parents most of whom face some displeasure in many quarters for not exercising what is believed to be their responsibility for their children. There is nothing about censorship. There is no new offence. There is no definition of an offence in Clause 1. I wonder why it has been done this way. Why is there concealment of the real truth of this Bill in the short title, the long title and in the manner of approach to Clause 1, which is interpretation?
I ask your Lordships to consider what happened in 1978 when we were on a wave of moral fervour to protect the interests of children. There was the Protection of Children Act 1978. The Long Title read:An Act to prevent the exploitation of children by making indecent photographs of them; and to penalise the distribution, showing and advertisement of such indecent photographs".Could anything be more explicit than that?
§ Lord Elton
Will the noble Lord forgive me? I intervene with the greatest diffidence because he was so courteous and kind in his reference to me. However, the noble Lord did say that I have a function to provide advice. I think that my advice, although I may be wrong, would be that the noble Lord is discussing the Long Title on which amendments, I think Nos. 79 and 80, appear on the Marshalled List. My advice is that when dealing with those amendments would probably be the proper time to address this issue, but I am in the hands of the Committee.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I did consider at what stage in the Bill these remarks would be more appropriate. It seemed to me that it was desirable to wave this particular flag over the proceedings to begin with, rather than to leave it to the end. It was as simple as that. I believe that it should colour our approach to various amendments and considerations that we shall have to give to the Bill as we go through it. I am not at all satisfied with the Bill, obviously. I want to make some contribution towards its reshaping and rewording and the greater revelation of itself in the course of the Committee stage.
We are asked first to look at the definition of video recordings. Next we are asked to look at what is an exempted work. Clause 1 asks us to look at an exempted work. It asks us to look at exempted supply which is extended in Clauses 2 and 3. How can we really deal with exemptions before we know what is to happen to those things which are not exempted and 276 what offences are to be committed by those who transgress? The whole Bill is the wrong way round. That in my opinion is the criticism of it.
We are asked to approach the climax of the Bill which is in Clause 4 and subsequent clauses, including penalties and a new definition at the end of the Bill, from an entirely false standpoint to begin with. That is really what I am complaining about. I do not think that we should have to wait until we reach Clause 4 to gather what this Bill is about. I do not think that we should wait until we reach the end of the Bill to know whether a business includes a club. It is important to know this because it is referred to in Clause 1. These are the contradictions in the framework of the Bill.
I know that some of this is relevant to what I may say later in the Committee stage about the Short Title. I am just saying that on previous occasions, not only in relation to children, although as in the Child Abduction Bill which is before your Lordships at present, Clause 1 is specific. It is the offence. Clause 1 is what you are trying to deal with. In this Bill Clause 1 is not what we are trying to deal with. We are not trying to deal with the material composition of a video record or disc. We are trying to deal with the uses to which that material is put.
I would remind your Lordships of another occasion when similar considerations arose. When a Bill called the Termination of Pregnancy Bill was before your Lordships' House in 1967 your Lordships would not have that at all. "Oh, no. Termination of Pregnancy—terminology, almost," they said. "It is abortion, and abortion shall it be." And abortion it was, and is. Now, however, we have all these weasel words, as if there were some concealment and as if the Bill was ashamed of itself. It does not come out in the open and tell the public what it is. I wonder whether the remarks that the Minister made a few minutes ago are relevant to what I am saying now. The noble Lord was saying that a Private Member's Bill, especially if it was a controversial and sensitive Bill, meant that we had to proceed by agreement; it was all so delicate, and so on. But this Bill is really dealing with some of the fundamental principles of our liberties and our freedom. I believe that we ought to know what they are.
In these circumstances, I hope that candour will govern our proceedings for the rest of the Committee stage so that we can speak openly and frankly about what is in the Bill and what we think about it. We should not conspire either with the sponsor or with the Government in concealing its real significance and its real purpose.
§ Lord Renton
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, prefaced his remarks by saying that he was inspired by his membership of the Statute Law Society. Perhaps I should disclose that I have the honour to be president of it. I am afraid it does not mean to say that I am in agreement with the noble Lord with regard to what he has said. Indeed, I must disclose that I am broadly in favour of this Bill and want to see it get on to the statute book.
The noble Lord's speech has ranged very widely but I wish to confine myself to what I regard as the only 277 relevant point that arises on the question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand apart, which is what we are discussing. That is whether it is wise in this Bill—one could say in any Bill—to have an interpretation clause at the beginning, so that when we read the Bill further through we know what we are talking about, instead of having to wait until the end in order to find out. I must confess that I find it sensible on this Bill that these definitions should come at the beginning. My only regret is that there is yet another interpretation clause at the end—Clause 22—and I should have wished that those two clauses had been combined and both placed at the beginning.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
I want to say a word in support of what my noble friend has said. This seems to me to be a very badly drafted Bill. Although the Government say that they have given support rather than, as it were, actual help, I should have thought that in a matter of drafting it was entirely improper—or, if not improper, undesirable—to leave until the end an amendment to the title of the Bill. Surely the Government with their advice and draftsmen available could readily have advised the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill that it was proper to describe the nature of the Bill more fully than has been the case hitherto. Whatever may be the motive for that, I am not necessarily associating myself with the idea that concealment is in hand. On the contrary, I rather suspect that the noble Lord is riding on a tide of public indignation and in my experience that usually leads those who ride on it up the creek. I think this Bill is going to be no exception to that rule. The proper title of this Bill is a Bill for the reintroduction of state censorship. That is what it is about and it is precisely for this reason that some of us are going to oppose it. The notion of state censorship is one which I have opposed all my life. I sat on a joint parliamentary committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Strauss, who at that time was a Member of another place. That committee, containing distinguished Members of both Houses, decided unanimously against the continuation of the state censorship of stage plays, of the theatre. At that time we decided that pre-censorship was something which was wrong and that what ought to be done in such circumstances was that, if something happened the full penalty of the law should be imposed so that it should not occur again. We should not introduce the proposal of pre-censorship, which experience shows has always led to the introduction of utter absurdity, to the condemnation of things which ought not to be condemned and to the letting through of things which ought to be stopped.
Pre-censorship is something that we have got rid of before and I unhesitatingly support my noble friend in his proposition that if we are introducing pre-censorship again in this area—it might be the preliminary to introducing it elsewhere as well—then we should say so boldy and openly at the beginning of the Bill and not introduce it as an amendment at a later stage. For that reason, I entirely support what my noble friend has said.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
Occasionally it gives one a sense of pleasure to be able to tell a political opponent that he 278 is talking nonsense. I have no such pleasure at the moment but I ask your Lordships to infer that that might have been my comment had I not been talking about a noble friend.
Again speaking personally, the objects of this Bill are entirely clear to the public; there is no doubt about it. We are giving them guidance. If they want to accept the guidance they can have it; if they do not want to, they will not have to; and there is no penalty upon any subject of this realm if he does not wish to abide by the guidance of the classification. The position about the video nasties themselves is completely clear. Those who want to go to certain establishments can do so if the establishments come within the meaning of the Obscene Publications Act probably they will be caught by that. When somebody also argues that this is Government censorship when it is perfectly clear that the Government have kept away, as I hope any Government would do, from censorship, and a designated authority has to have the approval of Parliament, then I think we are using language wrongly.
Lastly, does my noble friend Lord Jenkins really believe that one hits the evil we are trying to get at in this Bill in order to protect our young people and children by saying that this sort of stuff can go out, be procured and be seen for months while an investigation is taking place to see whether an offence has been committed? Then one has to wait for a committal and then for a conviction before anything can be done about it. If that is the way in which anybody recommends that a Bill of this kind should be framed I would say that he had no practical realisation of how to deal with an evil of this kind.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
All I can say is that I am astonished at a lawyer advocating the bypassing of the normal processes of the law. This is a short cut to imposing controls without going through any legal process for the purpose; that is really what it amounts to.
My noble friend says that one has to wait a long time for the processes of the law to stop something that one wants to stop. But, of course. We could all stop things more quickly if we had the instrument in our hands to do so, if we had not to go to the courts, if we had not to go to a jury, if we had a Lord Protector of everything in the land—not only videos but books as well and anything else one likes to imagine. The truth of the matter is that there are far too many people in this country who want to stop things and stop people doing things. They do not want to have to go through the processes of the law to accomplish that. They want guardians, they want Lord Protectors, they want bureaucrats whether or not they are sanctioned by Parliament or by the Minister. In conclusion, let me say, before the Minister interrupts me—at the moment I am not in the mood to be interrupted—to my noble friend that I fully accept what he has said at the beginning, that he is expressing his own personal point of view. We are on a Private Member's Bill and there is no party line. But let me also suggest to him very respectfully that there is an authority which comes from leaning one's elbow on the Dispatch Box that no other Member of the House can have. If one does it too often then the amount of authority my noble friend 279 will carry will make him almost an official spokesman for the Opposition, which today he is not.
§ Lord Elton
Restricting my desire to put my elbow on the Dispatch Box, I should like to suggest to your Lordships that we have had a fascinating debate on many of the general principles of the Bill, which I thought we had exhausted at Second Reading. We are now looking at Clause 1 and the question, Whether it shall stand part of the Bill. Although the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, acknowledged the parenthood of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, I noticed that he pointed his eyes like gun barrels at me during every complaint about the way we are handling things.
The short title of the Bill appears in print at the end of the Bill, and we will consider it when we get there. The long title is always postponed until the end of the Bill because amendments to it flow principally from amendments to the Bill, which have to be carried before one looks at the long title. So, we are following the proper, established and invariable procedure of your Lordships' House, and there is nothing wrong in that. I hope that my noble friend will now persuade your Lordships to agree that Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill, and we can leave other issues aside.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Before the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, does as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has suggested, and since my noble friend has asked me a question, I should like to reply to him. I should like to say to him that I have some experience of these matters. I have spent a good deal of my life concerned with people who work in the theatre, television, films and so on. From my long experience of this matter I must tell my noble friend, difficult though I find it to do so, that on this issue he is mistaken. With the position that he adopts at present I think that he will find it difficult to accept that proposition. I hope that he will accept—firmly though he believes himself to be right—that as far as I am concerned I believe him to be profoundly wrong.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
We have had a very interesting little debate which has been pretty well a repeat of the Second Reading debate. I do not think that any of us were surprised—indeed I am sure we all enjoyed it—by the vigorous intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, prefaced by some very kindly words about myself. I am bound to say that in handling a Private Member's Bill I could conceive of a less difficult path than having my main opponent in the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Nevertheless, I shall do my best to stand up to his criticisms. I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his splendid support and I am bound to say that I agree with every word that he said.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, of course well knows that the Bill is not ashamed of itself. Its drafting has involved enormous thought and ingenuity, although it is a very simple Bill in its intention. It was amended quite considerably in the Commons and therefore I would agree that it may not be regarded as being in a very elegant state now. However, that is bound to happen when there are a number of amendments. The actual purpose of the Bill is clear for all of us to see: it is to classify videos. It is as simple as 280 that. It is not going to censor anything at all. However the noble Lord has some splendid amendments to come—indeed, the whole Marshalled List is dotted with them—which will test this particular point. Exactly what the title should say is a matter of taste. But the construction of the Bill is one which I think makes pretty plain the Bill's intention, and certainly by the time we have finished the Committee stage I am sure that no one will be in any doubt at all about every aspect of the Bill, much helped by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and his noble friends with their probing amendments. I hope that we may now be able to give Clause 1 our approval.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)
Before calling Amendment No. 3,I should point out to the Committee that if it is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6. I call Amendment No. 3.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
Before the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, embarks upon Amendment No. 3,I wonder whether he would be prepared to consider including with that amendment his amendment to Clause 3 which arises at page 3, line 13 and which leaves out paragraphs (b) and (c) because the two amendments are really directed at the same point. Would the noble Lord be good enough to consider that course? It might be for his own convenience and possibly for the convenience of the Committee.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I am referring to Amendment No. 13. I do not know whether the noble Lord would be prepared to debate that amendment with the amendment which leaves out Clause 2(2). I think that the two amendments deal with the same point.
§ Clause 2 [Exempted works];
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 7, leave out subsection (2).
§ The noble Lord said: I shall not intrude on the patience of the Committee more than I need when we come to Amendment No. 13, but I should like to collect my thoughts on the matter. All of us who have been trying to grasp the full significance of this Bill have been working under difficulties. We did not get the Bill from the House of Commons until the 27th March, which was a Tuesday morning, and the following Monday afternoon we had the Second Reading debate. We have had the intervention of the recess between putting amendments down and seeing people, and coming to the first day of this Committee stage. It has been very hard work indeed for those of us who want to make a contribution.281
However, I beg to move Amendment No. 3 which is to delete Clause 2(2) which appears at line 7 on page 2. Having dealt with what is a video work in Clause 1 we now come to what is an exempted work. Clause 2(1) says:
Subject to subsection (2) below, a video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if, taken as a whole—
Subject to subsection (2) they are all exempted works. But subsection (2) says:
A video work is not an exempted work for those purposes if, to any significant extent, it depicts"—
(a), (b) or (c)—
or is designed to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage anything falling within paragraph (a) or, in the case of anything falling within paragraph (b), is designed to any extent to do so".
§ This subsection is full of "design", and "extent", whether it be "to any significant extent" or "to any extent". They are not measurable quantities. In my view they entirely detract from the special quality of the works which are to be exempted under subsection (1).
§ I do not know whether it is believed that a work concerned with sport, religion or music is likely to contain a depiction of human sexual activity. I have not heard of that being set to music. I have not heard of obscenity being introduced into sport. There are many things in religion—especially as one was taught it in one's youth—to which perhaps objection could be taken, but I would not think that these days there is anything of that kind. So we really come down to "inform, educate or instruct".
Is it really necessary, having decribed what is to be an exempted work and having referred to the high eminence of instruction, education, music, religion, sport—even a video game—and having said that they are in a class apart, then to go on to say that if they contain any of the nasty things referred to in subsection (2) they are not exempted works, and these nasty things have to be,
designed to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage anything falling within paragraph (a)
which refers, among other things, to human sexual activity? What is the idea? Cannot those who are going to be responsible for videos in this field be given the responsibility of knowing that they must observe certain conventions and standards to justify the exemption of their works? Does the squalid business of:
human sexual activity or acts force… mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence towards, humans or animals … human genital organs
§ and all the rest of it, have to be spelled out every time one has to deal with an exempted work or anything else that is exempted? It must all the time be subject to these things not being present, to these designs not being present, and to the "significant extent" not being present. I believe that that is objectionable.
§ I should like to ask a question on this matter. If a work is an exempted work, who exempts it, who grants the exemption of a work? Does the person producing the work exempt himself, subject to the conditions that are laid down in this clause? If his judgment 282 regarding the exemption of his own work proves to be wrong, he will be exposed to all the penalties of the Bill if he puts the work into supply. The ramifications of these transactions are quite frightening.
When the Minister's office telephoned me about another matter I suggested that they look at an article which was published in the New Society magazine on 16th April 1984. It is headed, "Police nasties". This word "nasties" was invented in the least appropriate quarter—the Sun newspaper. That is where the "nasties" started; now we have "police nasties". Apparently there is police involvement in a schools involvement programme. In the article a description is given of the kind of films being shown to the children and of the effect that they have on children. Having absorbed a good deal of the propaganda about the effect of these works on children, I was surprised to read the following:
The pupils had their own—sensible—ideas on this. Nearly nine out of ten of the 300 questioned thought that 'teaching about the law' was the main reason for getting police into schools. But the police 'teachers' had ignored civil law completely, and pupils seemed to have learnt little about criminal law.
In fact, the main reason for such programmes—as several pupils recognised—is juvenile crime prevention and public relations. Certainly pupils who'd been to the police lessons showed more punitive attitudes and were tougher on law and order. 'Make prison more like prison and less like a hotel', was a typical response".
§ If this is the effect that police nasties have on children, the Minister should welcome them. It is just up his street. He wants the children to be tougher on law and order; he wants them to be in favour of making prisons more like prisons and less like hotels, which is the opposite effect to the one which we are usually told is the consequence of exposing children to this kind of thing. Unfortunately, some students were so shocked by what they saw that they left, because they were looking at the gruesome consequences of serious street accidents and at the gruesome consequences of battering. Apparently this was part of the explantion to students of what the police had to cope with. I shall not dwell on that any more.
I should like to know whether the police nasties, to which I have just referred, will be caught because they are an exempted work or whether they will be caught by subsection (2) if "to any significant extent" they depict:
(b) mutilation or torture … or other acts of gross violence",
§ or whatever is not suitable for young children to see. I can see how we shall find ourselves in a very mixed-up state over all this. The honourable thing to do is to rely on the judgement of the people (who we must assume for the most part will be honourable people) who produce programmes of this kind to do what is fitting and proper in programmes designed to inform, educate or instruct, and concerned with sport, religion or music, or a video game.
§ I know that in some quarters there is a tendency for some of those who engage in education and instruction, and who wander into the field of sexual relations and marital adjustment and other problems, to go in for explicit sex as part of their educational therapy. That may be so, and it may be desirable. I believe that there is a complete lack of understanding in both Houses of Parliament as to the extent to which people in this country have found a better 283 understanding of their mutual relationships and a better adjustment in the state of their marriage in a more explicit portrayal of sexual relationships. We all take a completely mistaken view of the condition of men and woment in marriage in thinking that, when they are once married, they have no problems which can be relieved by something more explicit regarding their sexual relationships.
§ After all, what is marriage about unless that side of their mutual lives is adjusted, is tolerable and is mutually sympathetic and responsive? So there is nothing wrong with this. It is only if it is portrayed for obscene or undesirable purposes that one could object to it; in other words, when they begin to mock it and degrade it for the sake of salacious interest. However, various bodies dealing with sex education, which are genuinely concerned about this, fear that some of the works which they believe are to be exempted will be exposed to the conditions of subsection (2), which may mean that one day they will receive a visit from the police, who will say, "We understand that you are using exempted works which do not fall within the provisions of subsection (2) of the Act, and we should like to see them".
§ I do not know what the ultimate consequences of this Bill will be, but they have the most serious possibilities, including a further intrusion into the affairs of respectable people. There can be no question that the role of the police and of the so-called designated authority, and the answerability of Parliament, will be in question when people wake up to the fact that the law will have to enforce a system of censorship, surveillance and control over what people may be passing from one to another.
§ I believe that we should take out subsection (2) and see how we go. There is no need to hammer every nail into every coffin in this Bill. It is a trial-and-error enterprise in the field of control. We ought to proceed cautiously and with understanding. I beg to move that we delete subsection (2) from Clause 2.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
I would find it helpful in making up my mind about Lord Houghton's amendment if the Minister could say something about the manner in which it is proposed that this subsection should be applied. To the uninstructed eye nothing is easier than to discern some extremely difficult points of application in the subsection, quite apart from the fact that the meaning of the phrase "to any significant extent" is by no means clear. But on any of the parts of the subsection one can imagine the difficulty of any body deciding whether or not a tape should be exempted.
One presumes that it will be the designated authority which will make that decision. Is it going to be possible for the designated authority to make the decision without looking at the video films? If it has to look at them, then in practice it will have to go through all the motions of classifying them. As to the practical difficulties of making a quick decision, each one of these categories could be envisaged as being involved in educational or professional training services. One could imagine under paragraph (a) video films made 284 to assist the police and women police officers in dealing with rape cases. One can imagine under subsection (2)(b) video films being made to assist countryside wardens and other persons concerned with cruelty to animals and the like. Under paragraph (c), as I read it, it would be easy to refuse to exempt a video dealing with the work of Michelangelo. It would be of great help if the Minister could give some clear indications of how this will work in practice.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
I think we were encouraged by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was happy about Clause 2(l)(a), (b), and (c). This takes some of the sting out of Lord Jenkins' rather sweeping phrase about state censorship, and the phrase I think also used by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Therefore, that is encouraging. If this amendment was to be agreed, it would take the major heart out of this Bill because it in fact meets the very point that, as I understood it, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was making at the beginning of his speech—the first of his speeches this afternoon—when he was saying that the Bill appeared not to be saying very much. This says pretty clear-cut things.
Subsection (3) says:A video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it is designed for use in training for or carrying on any medical or related occupation".This again clearly shows that subsection 2(2)—the point of the amendment and the desire to delete it—is fairly narrowly drawn and relates pretty clearly to the material which is in our country at the moment and which is causing so much moral concern about its effect particularly on children and young people.
I look forward to reading the actual words that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, used at the beginning of that fairly lengthy speech on the amendment. As I understood it, he said something like, "Cannot those who produce video recordings be given responsibility to hold to accepted standards?" This is a delightful phrase, but it is a little ostrich-like in a lordly way because there are a lot of videos in this country which have so fallen below accepted standards that Members in another place have felt constrained to support the first part of this Private Member's Bill in an overwhelming way, although they have given, as your Lordships are doing now, the greatest care to the details of this Bill.
Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), unpleasant as they are (and I do not wish to read them out; they are before your Lordships here) relate to some of the very unpleasant and way out beyond pornography material which, as your Lordships know, has been the subject of research by our Parliamentary group. It is now working with four well-known and able psychiatrists on the possible effects of these videos. Your Lordships will know that time is not on our side, and that we ought to get ahead with the quite narrowly-drawn attempt to control this particular work.
At the same time, in those points, one, two and three, this is only the rough cut that sets up the material which a suitably designated authority will then look at. It does not mean that every video which (a), purports to speak about "human sexual activity" will be caught. If it is found to be of a medical or 285 serious sort under (3), (4) and (5) of Clause 2, it would be exempt. Therefore, this is a serious attempt to be narrow and precise in our dealings with what is, as is widely understood, a serious moral danger to children and to young people at this time. Without further ado—and remembering all those hopeful words that we shared three hours ago about brevity, I hope that we shall robustly reject Lord Houghton's amendment.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
I should like to say a word in support of my noble friend's proposal to leave out subsection (2) of Clause 2. The difficulty in censorship, and particularly in pre-censorship, is to distinguish between advocacy and warning. This is really the basic problem. It is on this problem that previous attempts at such censorship have fallen into disrepute. Advocacy is sometimes, and quite frequently, undesirable. There are things which may be advocated which ought not to be done. If something which is advocated is wrong, it ought not to be carried out. Warning, on the other hand, is nearly always desirable.
Your Lordships must be familiar with such journals as the News of the World which, under the guise of warnings, in fact indulge the public desire to be titillated on various matters of this sort. The problem therefore which will face those handling this difficulty is precisely the problem which faced the BBC when they decided to ban the film "The War Game". That film was a warning against nuclear war. The BBC decided to ban it on the grounds that it was too horrific. But of course it was not a scrap as horrific as the reality would have been. That was 16 years ago, and now everybody accepts what they did not accept at that time, that nuclear war is horrible beyond belief. But this film was not intended to advocate nuclear war, it was intended to draw the public's attention to the horrors of nuclear war.
Here we are under the difficulty that if a film, for example, is made to warn people against the dangers of venereal disease, they may well run into the difficulties precisely set out here. It is difficult to draw the line between advocacy and warning. I fear that those who have the job of implementing this will find themselves time and time again in that difficulty. We need only recall—it has happened frequently—Ibsen and Shaw all warning against the dangers of venereal disease and prostitution. Time and time again they ran into the situation in which they were regarded as doing something which was dirty. It was not they who were dirty; it was what they were warning against which was the problem. I fear that the Bill will face the censors with precisely the same problem that censors have always faced and always will face. For that reason I support my noble friend's proposal that this subsection should be left out of Clause 2.
§ Lord Monson
As a pretty consistent proponent of the freedom of the individual I naturally support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in a good many of his amendments. However, I fear that I cannot do so in this case. I think the amendment goes rather too far. As drafted it leaves too many loopholes. However, is it not extremely curious that human sexual activity is evidently considered by some people 286 to be in the same category of unpleasantness as the torture and mutilation of animals?
I hope that the committee will reject this amendment. I have listened with anxious concern to those who appear to believe that there should be no restraints of any sort at all. The argument which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, has been using against any form of censorship would allow the filth of gutter to be available for our children.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. May I make it absolutely clear that I am entirely in favour of the enforcement of the existing law to the full. What I am opposing is not the law—I am in favour of the enforcement of the law—but the pernicious process of pre-censorship.
If this amendment goes through we might as well abandon the Bill. This amendment is really striking against any action against video nasties and I think we ought to come to a decision.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I thank noble Lords on all sides for the interesting debate which has been promoted on this amendment which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, rightly said, is crucial to the Bill. If we leave it out we shall knock a very big hole in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, asked how I thought this particular part of the Bill would work. The exemption is plain as it stands, but the primary working of it will be in the judgment of the manufacturer or trader concerned. Clearly if he is in doubt his proper action would be to do exactly as the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, said which is to refer it to the designated authority which is likely to be the British Board of Film Censors who would be able to express an opinion on it. I agree that that is a lengthy process, but normally I would think that a manufacturer would know fairly well, in the light of this pretty clear statement, just where he stood with regard to his work which he was proposing.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, suggested that the manufacturers themselves should be allowed to regulate this by self-regulation. They produced a scheme which I believe had many virtues in it. In a way it would be the most satisfactory arrangement, but the difficulty is that there have to be sanctions at some point for people who do not keep the rules. Unfortunately, there is a profit to be made—I understand it is a big profit—from material which goes way beyond anything that any noble Lord (including, I am sure, Lord Houghton) would agree to. The material called "video nasties"—clips of which the police showed us—is something so offensive that none of us could possibly agree to material like it being produced. That is the only kind of work which will be non-classified. Everything else will be classified and sold just as it is now, the only difference is that it will be classified.
When the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, queries whether legitimate programmes on sex education, for example, may be handicapped by this subsection, I 287 believe that the safeguards there are sufficient to ensure that a genuine programme would not be prevented. It is perhaps worth noting at this point that in another place on Report some anxiety was expressed about paragraphs (a) (b) (c) in subsection (2), that as the Bill was originally drafted it might have been a bit too tight. On Report stage the Commons changed the drafting to a certain extent to widen the exemptions and particularly inserted the words at line 15 "to any significant extent". Inevitably in some educational programmes this sort of action might be envisaged in the sort of examples that the noble Lord used. It is a matter of degree and very much a matter of presentation.
Some programmes obviously are presented to titillate. Others are presented to educate and this is the dividing line. It is not without significance to say that the next amendment on the Marshalled List to be moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, seeks to remove the word "significant" because the noble Viscount feels that this provision should be tighter. At every point we shall meet the fact that this Bill is a matter of balance. It is a matter of trying to make the Bill workable so that the legitimate trade and legitimate activities of education, art, religion and sport can function reasonably. But, on the other hand, the loopholes should not be so big that an unscrupulous manufacturer or trader can produce material depicting this kind of activity in a way which is purely pornographic. It is a nice dividing line as to just what is the correct balance.
The fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, is taking the opposite view, that the Bill has now gone a bit too far in its exemption, makes the point that a real attempt has been made to get the balance right and to draft the Bill in a way which will not interfere with legitimate activities. The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, spoke about Michelangelo. I am very familiar with Michelangelo's sculpture and I am devoted to seeing it. I shall be seeing it again in Florence this year. There is nothing here which would touch a piece of sculpture by Michelangelo. The noble Lord need have no fear. It is plain that genuine works of education and art will not be affected. I hope that the House as a whole will see that we have the balance about right.
I was delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, whose support I do not always have. He is perfectly right that if we took this out we would knock a loophole in the Bill so big that the unscrupulous operator would have so many opportunities that we might just as well not bother to classify these video tapes at all. I hope, with that brief reply to what is an important point that the noble Lord has raised, that I have satisfied him that in the other place they took a great deal of trouble to get the balance right. I think they have got it about right and that, as it is now, he might be persuaded that he should withdraw his amendment.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am grateful for the comments that have been made on this matter. I think probably there is some misunderstanding between us to some extent. I believe that the whole clause is so 288 badly arranged that it is very difficult to tell what applies to what in it. I wondered at one stage whether the proper way of dealing with the problem was to delete the words at the top of page 2,Subject to subsection (2) below …".This is a clause dealing with exempted works, and we want to list them and decide who can produce exempted works, and for what purposes. But subsection (2) is spatchcocked, as it were, into the clause without it being clear as to whether it governs what appears above in subsection (1), or whether it also governs subsections (3), (4), (5) and all the other items that we want to add to the list of exempted works. This is the difficulty I am in—
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
May I help the noble Lord. I agree it might not be obvious at first sight exactly to what extent subsection (2) governs the rest of the clause. The answer is that it governs subsection (1)(a), (b) and (c); so that subsections (3) and (4) are completely exempted. Specific types of education and training are specified in those subsections and therefore are completely exempted without reference to subsection (2) at all.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. It clarifies the matter. But the exemptions that are provided for later in this clause are separate from the conditions of subsection (2). They are, as it were, absolute. If the videos are produced by people for the purposes specified in the subsections, they are exempt and they do not have to go through the hoop as to whether or not what they are doing is substantially stimulating sexual activity. I am sure that they will be greatly relieved by that—some of them!
I and my noble friends have down amendments to add to the category of complete exemptions; that is, largely granting exemptions to people and their works, rather than to their works, without specifying people. That is what we are dealing with in subsections (1) and (2). I do not like to use the word "unacceptable" because really it is now an "in" word and everything is "unacceptable" these days; a blow in the face is "unacceptable". But I find that subsection (2) is such a brooding spectre of control, so to speak, over noble activities as to make it so insulting that one feels one should not go in for education, instruction, sport or even religion or music any more. I say that because it is only if one is doing those things free of the dreadful provisions in subsection (2) that one is producing an exempted work.
It astonishes me that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich should be willing to have religion included in subsection (1) and then be told that it is only provided that it does not stimulate human sexual activity, or that it mutilates or tortures, and so on. I would not have religion in that kind of company, and I am surprised that the right reverend Prelate is prepared to stand for it. Religion should be in a place on its own. It does not need to be qualified by subsection (2) so as to say, "provided that it keeps clear of all these things".
I really feel that this question needs reconsideration. It may be that my proposal to take out the whole of 289 subsection (2) is not the right way. But I have suggested that if people are going to accept some responsibilities in life—and they must still be permitted to do that—in the fields enumerated in subsection (l)(a), (b) and (c), they will behave responsibly.
But the difficulty throughout the Bill is that in order to get rid of 50 or so horrible films which are at present in the grey area of the Obscene Publications Act, and which probably ought to be dealt with under the general law rather than under this kind of specific method of treatment, we are having to fling the cloak of surveillance and censorship over the widest field. We cannot even leave people to create a work on religion without telling them that they must not include these terrible things in what they are doing.
I find this repelling for Parliament to be doing. Do we really know what we are doing? Have we lost our sense of proportion? I shall come forward much later in the Committee stage with a doctrine of proportionality; but really what we are doing is out of all proportion to the evil that we are trying to get rid of. It really is monstrous that we are having to go through all this and put everybody through the hoop—clergymen, musicians, educationists, and the rest of them—in order to make sure that some children, somewhere, do not see something which we think, but do not know, will have some adverse effect upon them.
I think that in view of the confusion which I believe the clause to be in, I had better withdraw my amendment and reconsider how to do some repair job on Clause 2. I think, quite frankly, it needs attention. It may be that the qualifying conditions of subsection (2) are not suitably stated in relation to the works that they are to apply to in subsection (1). They may be far too crude as being applicable to some reasonably noble endeavour. However, I shall see what I can make of it. I can only say (because I am sure it will soon be needed) that I regret that I have to take up so much time of the Committee on this Bill—
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
Yes, I know; but I am one voice among so many, and minority views are to be heard in this Chamber with endurance, if not patience. Your Lordships will certainly have to rely on both before this Bill is finished. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount Buckmaster moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 2, line 8, leave out ("significant").
§ The noble Viscount said: With the leave of your Lordships, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.
Amendment No. 5: Page 2, line 8, after ("depicts") insert ("or otherwise deals with").
Amendment No. 6: Page 2, leave out lines 15 to 18 and insert ("or is designed, to any extent, to stimulate or encourage anything falling within the meaning of paragraphs (a) or (b)").
§ As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, the view that I am taking is diametrically opposed to that of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. This little group of amendments to which I am now speaking, and a similar group of amendments which concern Clause 3, 290 are designed, as your Lordships will see, to strengthen the provisions of this Bill in regard to exemptions of material from the classification machinery.
§ In speaking to these amendments I. am fully aware that some of the issues, but by no means all, were discussed to some extent at the Committee stage in another place. I am also fully aware of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, about the need not to insert in this Bill any proposals which might gravely impede its progress through another place. Nevertheless, I am gravely concerned—and I emphasise the word "gravely"—about the wording of this Bill in regard to the inclusion of the word "significant" and also about one or two other matters.
§ We have already discussed the implications of this word and I feel, as I think many of your Lordships will agree, that in general this is a weak and woolly word. It is unsuitable for legislation as a whole. But I would put to your Lordships this point, that in dealing with legislation of the kind we are considering, which is concerned with pornography and violence, this word is a downright dangerous word. Who can say with anything approaching precision what is a significant extent? Would it be 3 per cent., 5 per cent. or even 10 per cent?
§ As the Bill is drafted at present, a work containing in the main educational, sporting, historical or other wholly innocuous material might well have highly offensive sequences at certain points, and such sequences might well be totally unsuitable for child viewers. We would surely all agree that it is the interests of the children that we must have in mind when we are discussing this Bill in Committee. And yet, if these additions were not considered a significant part of the whole, a work would get off scot free. It would not even have to go through the classification machinery. Surely we should not let the pornographers and horror merchants get away with this.
§ The second point that I wish to make in connection with these amendments concerns the addition of the words "or otherwise deals with". Your Lordships will probably agree that the introduction of these words introduces a desirable widening of the scope of this clause. The third point that I wish to make—it is perhaps even more important than the first; certainly to me—concerns the most remarkable distinction between sexual activity, which can be stimulated to any significant extent in an exempted work, and, on the other hand, mutilation, torture, et cetera, which, if stimulated to any extent, causes a work to lose its exemption. My Amendment No. 6 abolishes this distinction, which I find quite unacceptable. Why should the viewing of sexual activity be considered less harmful to the young mind than the viewing of violence?
The admirable parliamentary report on Video Violence and Children, somewhat surprisingly, contains very little about the effects of pornography and sexual acts in general on young children, but it contains an interesting passage. It is in Section 2, paragraph 121, and it reads as follows:
With senior children there is clear evidence of considerable interest in pornographic films.
However, paragraph 126 of the same report reads:
Most of the children, however, deny that horror videos have any lasting effects upon their behaviour.
§ Is that not extremely interesting, and does it not bear out our own experience? Would we not agree that violence has no significant effect on the behaviour of children?
§ For example, we do not find young children clobbering their colleagues in the playground or even trying to practise sadism or any other horrible thing in the dormitories. But I submit to your Lordships that where sex is concerned in videos depicting even small doses of sexual activity, particularly allied to violence, there is a very real danger that children will wish to imitate what they see. Will not such practices, which may well include deviant and violent sex, be far more damaging to their personalities in the long run than any damage caused by the viewing of violence, which, although it disturbs them very greatly—and I do not in any way deny this—many will in time adjust themselves to and brush off?
§ I realise how hard it is to quantify such damage, but I submit to your Lordships that there is a very real danger in the distinction which now exists in the Bill between these two types of activities. Surely we must, for the sake of our children, widen as far as we possibly can the sphere of works which must be inspected and classified by the designated authority. In my submission, this sphere as defined in the Bill is not nearly wide enough. I beg to move.
§ 1.37 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
I should like to speak about the word "significant" in Amendment No. 4, rather than about Amendments Nos. 5 and 6, although it was a help to noble Lords to have the whole of the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, put before us at the same time. We have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that in the other place a good deal of time was spent on this. We are most grateful to have had a chance to read not only what was said on the Floor of the House, but also the intense amount of detailed work which the other place did in Committee beforehand, and we saw that the word "significant" was a major area of debate. Ever hopeful, I think it may well be that Members of another place will be expecting us to make some reference to this, and it is for that reason that I am very glad the noble Viscount has put this amendment before us.
The word "significant" has a certain qualitative ring about it which must make it difficult for a court of law (if it should go as far as that) clearly to define it. I simply want to use certain illustrations as an example. The portrayal of rape could take only half a minute or a minute in a long video, and therefore the defence could say, "It only took a minute in a long video, so it is not really significant." As regards disembowelment, your Lordships have no doubt digested by now the second part of our parliamentary video report, which produced fairly gruesome details of the videos which can be presently obtained, and we hope so much that, if this Video Recordings Bill goes right through, they will be restrained. But disembowelment is fairly quick and, again, the defence could be that it was not a significant part. Violence can be for seconds, and execution can be immediate.
292 As regards all those four words—rape, disembowelment, violence and execution—one could say, "These are not significant parts of a 30-minute video". For that reason, we are right to pause on this and to see how subsection (2), to which we have now agreed, would read. It would read:A video work is not an exempted work for those purposes if, to any extent, it depicts"—and it then sets out the three major areas of concern. I admit that the argument is not so strong as I should like it to be. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, say that he may want to turn his inventive mind towards the withdrawal of the phrase "human sexual activity". As the noble Lord reminded us, this is a religious matter. God has given to us the gift of human relationship, of man to woman, within the joy and happiness of marriage. We thank God for that, and it is good. Therefore I am persuaded by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that it would be much better if the phrase were dealt with in some other way so that paragraphs (a) (b) and (c) were quite blunt: acts of force or restraint associated with such activity, mutilation or torture, gross violence, and so on. Therefore it would be good to tighten up subsection (2). But the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has a serious point when he asks us to consider withdrawing the word "significant". I believe that it would strengthen the Bill and that it would accord with much of the thinking in another place. The other place might be very pleased that your Lordships had given such detailed consideration to these amendments in order to make it a better Bill and had decided to leave out the word "significant".
§ Lord Monson
I take the contrary view to that of the right reverend Prelate. If carried, Amendment No. 4 could lead to all sorts of anomalies or rather ridiculous situations. For instance, it would prevent any depiction, however fleeting, of human genital organs. It would mean that any video of an educational nature, designed to show tribal dances in Africa, or animistic religious rites in New Guinea, or videos concerned with sport—cross-Channel swimmers often swim naked, apart from being covered with grease—could not be shown without classification. This seems to be going over the top. As for human sexual activity, in many of the Islamic countries, for which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has such affection, kissing is considered to be obscene. Kissing is surely a form of human sexual activity. Is it the noble Viscount's intention that kissing should be banned for fear of offending people of the Moslem faith? I do not know. It might even be that holding hands, which is also a form of human sexual activity, could be banned. The deletion of the word "significant" could lead to all sorts of extraordinary situations of this kind.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I must thank the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for moving his series of amendments in such an acceptable manner. I noticed that for this part of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, departed from the Chamber. I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has returned; but I wish he could have heard 293 what the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, had to say. He would have heard the exact opposite of the arguments which he advanced.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, very cogently advanced the argument that by retaining the word "significant", and the other two points in this amendment, we were widening Clause 2 in a way which would give a loophole to pornographers in their activities and that this would defeat the purpose of the Bill. It makes the point which I have already made but which is well worth making again: that we have tried to get a balance. The other place inserted this set of amendments—"significant" and the other widening words in Clause 2—because they felt very much as the noble Lord. Lord Monson, feels: that there could be fleeting scenes of human genital organs which went into a programme which was otherwise unobjectionable. That is not, of course, what this part of the Bill is designed to prevent.
May I take up the point which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, made in his interesting speech. He felt that violence is not such a serious aspect of offensive and damaging material for children and that it is not the kind of action which tends to be imitative for them: that they do not go out into the playground and clobber each other. The noble Viscount's playground must have been a very different playground from mine! Boys, certainly, and probably girls as well, do knock each other about—not that that kind of clobbering is really serious. However, there is no doubt, according to the criminal courts and to what the Lord Chief Justice has said in this House, that violence is imitative. That is why the Bill is concerned, in so far as it specifies anything, to deal with violence and sex on the same basis, taking the view that both are equally damaging.
I turn to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, and thank him once again for the tremendous support he has given to me personally over the Bill. Yes, it is true that "significant" is important. Any of the points which he mentioned —the portrayal of rape, disembowelment, execution— can be instanteous matters; and it could be that with the word "significant" removed, they would be not so much an offence but an incident which would cause the video not to be classified. Again it is a matter of degree.
I am bound to say that after I had read the reports of the debate in another place I felt that they had the balance about right and that it needs to go a little wider to make sure that the clause is not unduly restrictive and does not therefore catch material which is unobjectionable. I hope therefore that the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, will agree that the attempt which has been made in the Bill to reach the right balance was readjusted in the other place in the light of further thought. It is a matter of judgment, but they probably have the balance about right and it would be a mistake to disturb it now. In those circumstances, the noble Viscount might be willing to withdraw his amendment.
I greatly respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. As I said in my speech, my own wish is to ensure that the Bill has a quick and satisfactory passage through the other 294 place. I still retain a certain measure of disquiet about the wording, but perhaps my fears are unfounded. Therefore, in view of what the noble Lord has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
("( ) A video is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it exclusively contains material broadcast over the transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority or the British Broadcasting Corporation in respect of which the programme contractors to the Independent Broadcasting Authority under the Broadcasting Act 1981 or the British Broadcasting Coporation own the copyright or otherwise are the makers of the film within the definition contained in section 13(10) of the Copyright Act 1956 and which is material previously approved for broadcasting over such transmitters by the Independent Broadcasting Authority or the British Broadcasting Corporation respectively.").
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment I hope that we are moving into perhaps less controversial waters. Indeed, the purpose of this amendment, which my noble friend has asked me to move, is identical with Amendment No. 8. May I say right at the beginning that I would regard these amendments as being alternatives to each other? If the Government are prepared to accept either one or the other of them, then I shall find myself entirely content.
§ The purpose of the two amendments—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, will not disagree—is to avoid double censorship. It is the case that both BBC and ITV have their own methods of deciding what is appropriate for their networks to broadcast. One may not always agree with their decisions. One may think on occasions, as I have, that one or the other of the authorities has been over-restrictive. One may think on other occasions that one of them has been too lenient and has allowed something to happen which ought not to have happened. These are matters of opinion about which one can be right or wrong, or they may even be matters of taste.
§ But a degree of control does exist and, if Parliament is dissatisfied with that degree of control, then it has the power in its own hands to amend the Acts in either case to ensure that control is tightened or lessened, that instructions are given, or that legal authority is exercised to make one or other of the authorities behave in a different manner. What I should have thought was eminently undesirable was to have double censorship; a censorship which will say on the one hand, "This material is all right if it is transmitted by the BBC or ITV", but which on the other hand makes that material come under the prohibitions laid down in this Bill.
§ I can be quite brief in advocating this amendment and in expressing the hope that the Government will take the point that it is undesirable to have two forms of censorship operating and will take the view, as expressed in the amendment, that for the purposes of this Act a work, object or transmission that has been broadcast by the BBC or by ITV under the aegis of the Independent Broadcasting Authority is an exempted work for the purposes of this Bill. I beg to move.295
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I wonder whether it might be helpful if, following the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, I spoke to my own amendment, Amendment No. 8—which although similar, is not, as he says, identical.Amendment No. 8: page 2, line 32, at end insert—(" ( ) A video is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it exclusively contains material broadcast over the transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority or the British Broadcasting Corporation in respect of which the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the programme contractors to the Independent Broadcasting Authority under the Broadcasting Act 1981 or the British Broadcasting Corporation own the copyright, and which is material previously approved for broadcasting over such transmitters by the Independent Broadcasting Authority or the British Broadcasting Corporation respeectively.").I should first declare an interest as a director of Anglia Television and chairman of ITN. It is because of my 25 years of experience in broadcasting that I want to draw your Lordships' attention, and that of my noble friend the Minister, to the serious consequences which could arise from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has described as double censorship. I want to make it clear from the outset that, although these two amendments look very similar, they do in fact differ in one or two very small but important points of detail.
Although these amendments look similar, and although the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Jenkins, appear to be moving in the same direction, I believe that our objectives are different. I believe that they are looking for more liberalisation and less censorship. I want to make it clear to my noble friends Lord Nugent (when he returns) and the Minister that I am trying to strengthen the Bill, which I am in favour of, and in no sense trying to weaken what the Bill is trying to do.
I believe that nothing is more certain to weaken management and administration than the proliferation of bureaucracy. In this case, it would certainly dilute the authority and responsibility of the existing broadcasting services. I understand the problem about sending something changed back to another place when it has already been dealt with, but I ought to take this opportunity to say that it was perhaps unfortunate that when this amendment was moved in another place on 16th March, it was soundly defeated in a Division. After reading Hansard, I found the reason was that the case was very badly presented. I am not surprised about that defeat. After reading the speeches, I found it very difficult to understand what the speakers were driving at; it was certainly very confused.
I cannot accept, therefore, that the superimposition of a third body to judge and classify the suitability of programmes for distribution on video, after the IBA and the BBC have already approved such programmes for broadcasting, does not imply a lack of confidence in the judgment of the IBA and BBC. I accept that that is not the Government's intention because my noble friend the Minister made this clear and assured us at Second Reading that it was not so. That does not alter the fact that the Bill as it stands will imply lack of confidence; one cannot get away from that.
After my 25 years in broadcasting, I must ask your Lordships to accept as a genuine danger that a mere implication, the casting of doubt and any display of a lack of trust will diminish the stature of both the BBC 296 and IBA and therefore dilute their standing and authority in the eyes of broadcasters. It only requires one incident where the longstop of the BBFC makes a different judgment about a production from that of the BBC or IBA for those bodies' standing and authority to come into question in the eyes of producers, directors and programme staffs of both services, and among the ITV companies.
That would be a very serious trend in my view, and one could not speculate on where it might end. This is at a time when the hands of the authorities in the control of good taste, decency and impartiality should be reinforced and not diluted. I must admit that nothing has been said so far to persuade me that that is not a serious flaw in Clause 2 as it stands. As I understand the matter, from what has been said previously, there is some hang-up about the problem of classification. It is apparently thought that this can only be achieved effectively by the BBFC. In my humble view, that really is ridiculous. It must be possible, given the will, to equate the systems applied by the BBC, IBA and BBFC so that they are all in accord and apply the same criteria to all videos on sale from whatever source.
I do not want to take time in this debate or demean the debate by going into detail as to how that can be done. Surely this is a situation where one simply tells the three bodies concerned to get down to the task with the Home Office and come back with the answer as quickly as possible.
It could be argued that we are making a mountain out of a molehill on this particular issue, but I do not think so. It may not be realised that this amendment deals with only a fraction of television output. As already mentioned today, much of what appears on the screen is already exempt under Clause 2(l)(a), (b) and (c). The anomaly applies to only a small but very important quota of programmes outside those exemptions. In the case of Anglia Television, for example, probably only about 12 hours a year are involved. Other ITV companies would be marginally more or less affected. I do not have figures for the BBC, but they would be roughly in proportion to ITV. It is therefore absurd to have special arrangements for only a minority stream of production. It is the anomaly itself which makes this a bureaucratic mountain and not a molehill.
As I said on Second Reading, the position must be that if the Government are not prepared to leave this responsibility with the existing broadcasting authorities—a responsibility for which they are well qualified and which they already exercise—then the Government have only one proper option. That is, to sack the chairmen and the governors or members of both bodies and replace them with people in whom they do have confidence. The very last thing in the world that this Government should do is to superimpose yet another authority and escalate the bureaucratic machinery—and thereby weaken, and not strengthen, the effectiveness of this Bill, which I firmly support.
§ Lord Monson
I put my name to the next amendment, Amendment No. 8, which is also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Buxton and Lord Howard. I did so on the assumption that, given the 297 enormous professional expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, in this area, he was perhaps slightly more likely to have got the wording right. However, it is the principle that matters and I should therefore be very glad to support whichever one of the two amendments best embodies that principle.
§ Lord Mishcon
I find myself in a personal difficulty with these amendments. It is of course convenient to take the principle of both amendments; namely, the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Jenkins and that of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. The first difficulty in which I find myself is that both noble Lords, when they spoke to this amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, have taken it for granted that precisely the same considerations apply to the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority in their adjudication of what is good taste and decency as will apply under the provisions of this Bill in regard to the designated authority.
Let me just take an immediate example since all of us are primarily concerned with the interests of children and young persons. We may have honest, differing views as to what is in their interests, and I accept that immediately. The BBC and the Independent Television Authority—and this is no derogation from the respect that we all have for the directors of both bodies—have the task of deciding within their powers what ought to be shown or heard at all hours during broadcasting. They may well decide that a matter is of good taste and decency provided that it is shown on television at 10 o'clock at night. There may be a fairly horrific film that adults stay up especially to watch—and they can always switch it off—and they should be able in the authorities' view and judgment, within the bounds of good taste and decency, to see it. They are putting on the film at 10 o'clock at night on purpose in order that children would not normally see it and that parents would have a chance at least of knowing that at 10 o'clock at night this sort of film is shown.
Those of us who have sometimes had the burden of watching some of these films—and speedily switching them off, I assure your Lordships, so far as I am concerned on some occasions and, on the other hand, admiring them on others—think that that is a fair way of doing things, although some have criticised the BBC and ITA even in that regard, but that is our privilege.
The job here is entirely different, and this is one of my difficulties. The job of the designated authority is to tell a parent, "Don't get that video for your child whatever time that child may see the film". "Don't give it to the child because it is not the sort of film, showing, or programme", the BBC or ITA may say, "that we would have recommended for viewing by children". The designated authority is, therefore, carrying out a completely different duty. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, did add to his argument, and I was somewhat moved by it, "Ah, yes, but give the authorities the chance of that designation, and we may be able to deal with it".
This was a matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said, that was dealt with in another place in Committee and it is unfortunate that we are faced with a Division which took place there, and he has very accurately described the results of that Division. It 298 may be that there was poor advocacy or that poor advice was given, I do not know. I, too, have read the account of the Standing Committee on this amendment but I would have expected, with great respect, that the BBC or ITA, knowing it was coming to this House, would have issued a memorandum saying that if this Bill comes into force it would be their definite intention to classify certain video tapes in a certain way so that your Lordships would say, "If they are doing that and are binding themselves to do that, we recognise it is possibly a duplication and a matter of disrespect to those two authorities if we do not recognise the practice they intend to adopt if this Bill is passed." But for us to have a mere generalisation that there could be, and should be, meetings and that perhaps something will come out of it by agreement is not good enough.
My second difficulty is that I blame the BBC and the Independent Television Authority, knowing that the amendment would come before this House, for not coming out with a concrete proposal; especially knowing that we are faced with a Division in the other place that was against it. This might have helped us because we would have said that there are fresh circumstances which the other place did not have and we should therefore support this amendment. The other place divided on different facts and in different circumstances. Those are my two difficulties.
§ Lord Beswick
I find myself warming to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, about setting up unnecessary bureaucracy. I go with him all the way on that. I, too, would be very reluctant to do anything which would appear to be undermining the authorities' sense of responsibility or those in charge of the ITA or the BBC. I am bound to say that I thought that in talking about the alternative of sacking the chairmen of these two organisations he was going a little too far. Despite what my noble friend said, surely it is possible to find some means of avoiding the difficulties without going so far as sacking either the chairman of the BBC or the chairman of the ITA.
I should like to emphasise what was said by my noble friend Lord Mishcon about the question of timing. It is different to have a programme televised at 10 or 12 o'clock at night, as against its being shown on the television screen earlier in the day. There is also another point which should be made. I can well see that if one wants to get over a story in a meaningful way it is sometimes necessary to show a distasteful scene or make passing reference to some incident of violence. But there is all the difference in the world between having this passing scene or reference as the story is unfolded and having a means of communication which can be repeated or halted at a particular point and which can be shown over and over again, thus magnifying and exaggerating the particular scene. Surely there are differences between the medium of broadcasting and this new business of videos. There must be a different set of criteria for video tapes. Surely we can get some method of dealing with the one without causing offence to the BBC and ITA.
§ 2.8 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, 299 Lord Buxton. I do not think it will embarrass him if I say that in our part of the world, East Anglia, Anglia Television is renowned for the quality and goodness of its programmes and much of this is due to Lord Buxton and to others who work with him in what is to us our local station. I am told that it covers 11 counties. Therefore, I have much sympathy with what he is saying.
Whether the amendment is in fact drawn correctly is another question, because it is true to say that material is shown late at night—not on every programme, but we are talking about the whole range of English viewing, BBC and IBA—which could be called "pretty rough". If the amendment is passed just as it is, it seems to me that there would be a loophole for video-makers hoping to get their material in and through television and out the other side, and thus unclassified, when on balance it was likely to be classified-type material. I suppose that a few unscrupulous television programme producers might be encouraged to go as near the mark as they could with a television programme because then they could get out into the video world unclassified.
It is perhaps unsuitable for a Bishop to think such thoughts, not having to do these things, but we do live fairly close to sinners by virtue of our professional work, and so we are told to be as wise as serpents as well as to be as harmless as doves; and so I apologise for even making those thoughts known to your Lordships. I only use them because I have a great deal of sympathy for what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, is putting before us, and I hope to read his speech about this with some care and concern. I think that at the moment the amendment will not do, but I hope very much that the Government will be sympathetic to the points and the principle underlying it, because I take strongly the point that we do not want to have so many meshes down the road that we stifle all useful and productive work in the areas of television and video. I have sympathy with the amendment, but I am not sure that we have it right yet.
§ Lord Elton
It may be convenient if I put the Government's view at this time. I will try to do so briefly, but it is an important issue. I will set aside comments on the drafting of the amendments, which in both cases, I regret, is not perfect, because what we wish to address ourselves to at this stage is the principle behind them, which is that the judgment of the broadcasting authorities reflected in their broadcasting practice should be substituted for that of the authority designated under the Bill reflected in their classification practice.
Noble Lords have argued most persuasively that the judgment of the broadcasting authority is well tested, well trusted and well proven, and I would not wish to gainsay in any way at all the good judgment or the good repute of either the BBC or the IBA. I share the very great respect which noble Lords have for those remarkable and rightly respected institutions. There is no need for us to differ over that; nor should we be at odds over the volume of material which would be affected by these amendments. I am sure they will recognise—my noble friend has recognised—that a good deal of what the BBC and IBA might wish to put 300 out on video will already be exempted under Clause 2 as it stands at present.
The purpose of the amendments is to extend the scope of that exemption to embrace, in particular, video works designed, not "to inform, educate or instruct", but simply to entertain; and to entertain not simply by presenting sporting, religious or musical matter, but other matter such as plays or panel games. The athletics meeting, the rugby match, the promenade concert, the snooker championship, the boat race and the opera are of course already catered for in the exemptions set out in Clause 2(1), as indeed are both broadcasts for schools and the Open University unless they depict to any significant extent the things or activities listed in Clause 2(2), or encourage them; and I doubt very much if any of them will at all. So the first thing we take note of is that much of the material transmitted under the aegis of the authorities is already to be exempt under the Bill as drafted and without the benefit of any of these amendments.
I also readily concede that I see little prospect of anything at all broadcast by the broadcasting authorities being refused a certificate by the designated authority. I am not saying that the certification process is needed in order to protect the public from seeing things which the authority have already broadcast which might harm or offend them and from which they should be protected. The influence of the authorities is benign, and I think that they do a thoroughly good job in providing that protection themselves.
Why, then, may I ask, bother to pass the material they have transmitted through the classification process at all? The answer is that it is a classification process, not a censorship process, as noble Lords opposite seek to persuade us from time to time; and it is designed to identify particular classes of material by their suitability for viewing by particular classes of viewers. It does so by a uniform system of marking already in long use to which the public is well accustomed. That, after all, is the central purpose of the Bill; and it is, I regret, something which neither the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, nor those of my noble friend Lord Buxton are able to offer us—nor, indeed, can the broadcasting authorities. The wholesale exemption proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, together with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would simply release onto the market the whole of the product of the corporation and the authority in an undifferentiated tide, presented as they, their concessionaires or contractors are pleased to present it.
I am glad to acknowledge that the proposal of my noble friend Lord Buxton does better than that. It would at least inform the intending purchaser or hirer of the time of day or night at which a particular video work had been transmitted. Watchers of television programmes, if they are assiduous, could then, I suppose, be expected to be able to infer what kind of material it might contain. But not all of us are avid viewers of television, and very far from all of us have a clear idea of what are the criteria which guide the broadcasting authorities in scheduling their programmes. I speak for the public more particularly, I think, as does the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of 301 Norwich. Few members of the public have a clear idea of what is the assumed bedtime of people aged 15 and 18, for instance. That seems to me to blow rather a large hole in what the Bill otherwise achieves.
Another hole that it could blow—and this time I fear it would be below the waterline—would be in the arrangements for controlling the supply of relatively adult material to relatively juvenile buyers or borrowers. Under Clause 11 it is an offence to supply or to offer to supply a video work classified as suitable only for people of a certain age to a person under that age. These amendments would remove the protection offered by Clause 11 and make it perfectly possible for anyone to hire or sell the strongest stuff designed for transmission in the smallest hours to a child of 11 or 12, or even 5 or 6. That is quite a fundamental change to the Bill.
What the Bill achieves is this. If a person goes to a shop or a library to borrow or buy a non-exempt video work, he will at present be able to count on knowing that in the opinion of an experienced and reputable authority that work is either suitable for viewing by anybody at all, or suitable for viewing only by people above a certain age. Some works of course he will not see on the shelves of the ordinary shop or library at all because they have been given a special classification. But that does not concern us now. It is the other classified works we are concerned with. Merely to tell the customers that this has already been broadcast does not give him the guidance he will be getting from material from other sources, even if he is told at what time it originally went out.
That consideration makes me doubt the wisdom of making this amendment to the Bill, as do the considerations brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I would briefly add another. It is not a large one perhaps, but it adds its own scruple to the same side of the balance. The video market is commercial and competitive—very commercial and very competitive. Those who wish to sell their wares in it are in the market for competitive and commercial reasons. I am not altogether persuaded to the view that the BBC or the programme companies should be spared the necessity which all their competitors will be under to secure a certificate from the designated authority. I think we should be even-handed in this, and that would seem to be just a little partial.
If the alternative were onerous, I suppose we might have to think again, but will it be? Have we not already accepted that the broadcasting authorities have almost impeccable judgment? Have we not been told that they send out their programmes at times designed to suit the presumed age of the viewing audience? Is it not the function of the designated authority to translate the presumed age to a classification certificate? Given the impeccability of the broadcasting authorities and the principles on which they work, can that be a very large task for the rather small amount of non-exempt material they will be producing? I think it would be a fairly simple task, and I think the public will benefit most if it is performed.
In view of that, and in view of the Government's readiness to encourage and facilitate discussions between the British Board of Film Censors and the broadcasting authorities with a view to exploiting the authorities' existing procedures to provide an 302 expedited and simplified classification procedure, I hope that noble Lords will agree to leave the Bill as it stands.
§ Lord Ardwick
As my noble friend has explained, we are speaking from this Bench as individuals and I am entitled to differ at least a little from him. I have slightly more sympathy than he had with the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. I should like to know from the noble Lord whether this is the case. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the BBC and ITV have gone back to the old days of films when there was only one classification, "For adults only". I think that that meant for people over the age of 14. Is it correct that the broadcasting companies differentiate among the audience in this way? Film classifications make a certain amount of nonsense.
Let us consider a video classification, "For 18 year-olds only". You try sending your 17 year-old son or daughter to bed early so that they cannot see it! It does not make sense. In the home I think that there must be a rough classification. But I would very much appreciate it if the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, would explain this to us. I should also like him to explain what would be the consequences of the acceptance of these broadcasting categories once we have cable television. Must they not inevitably apply to cable, and would we be as happy about that as some of us are about the old established broadcasting authorities?
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
The case that I made out for referring this Bill to a Select Committee is being supported every quarter of an hour in this debate. It is quite obvious that a great deal should have been gone into much more deeply before we went on to legislation.
Here we come to another area in which inadequate consultation and consideration has been given. I am wondering how realistic some of the comments have been on both sides in regard to this BBC and IBA problem. The first point to bear in mind, it seems to me, is that a very large number of people have video recorders in the home and the programmes they are recording for their own use are mostly—if not almost exclusively—programmes broadcast by the BBC or the contracting companies under the IBA. They are recording programmes in their own homes. When once they have them on video tape they are—thank God!—outside the range of the designated authority regarding showing those video tapes in their own home. Anything they record from BBC or IBA programmes they are free to show in their own home to their kids or anybody else at any "hour of the day.
That leaves one side of the matter almost wholly at the disposal of those who are making the recordings for their own use. I am told by the retail traders which I have been seeing in this past week that both the BBC and the IBA have been slow to come into the video market. But when they have entered the video market, they have come so long after the programmes have been broadcast that the pirates have been in the video business already. The pirates recorded the programmes when they were transmitted and had the tapes in circulation before the BBC. I am told if the BBC or the IBA have to go through the designated 303 authority—I am going to call them the "censorship board" because that is what they will be—then any delay in getting through that process will leave them at a disadvantage as compared with unauthorised operators. So the broadcasting authorities, I am advised, should have their video recordings ready immediately after the programme has been transmitted so that nobody can jump in with any unauthorised recording of the broadcast.
So I am not sure how important a problem we have to face in this regard. If most of the recordings of these programmes are carried out in the home, and the amount of video work done on behalf of the BBC and IBA is comparatively small, then it seems we have quite a different situation from that I have thought people have assumed from the present situation. We really know far too little about the video trade: who is buying what, and where the popularity of programmes is to be found. Probably further examination of this is desirable from that point of view.
We are in danger of getting the nanny state—we are really going on the way to that. We are even going to be told that if a programme has been broadcast late at night by the BBC, they ought to go through the machinery for classification in order that people shall know whether they can show the video of the programme at any other time.
Another aspect is that many children's programmes, not only those that go out through the broadcasting authorities but also new videos, are being recorded. I am told that there are at least 200 taped programmes perfectly suitable to be seen by young children. We talk all the time about protecting our children. Really, I do not think that some noble Lords who are speaking in the debate understand what is going on in the homes of Britain. Many women have children around them and want to entertain them. They want to put on a suitable video for their children on a wet afternoon when there is nothing on television except racing and football. That is a boon, an absolute boon, to the mothers of Britain. Let us get this in the right perspective. We are not just polluting the kids. We are entertaining them. We are keeping them going and relieving mothers of a great many worries that they endure in their daily lives. The video industry has not been putting that across. These videos are in many respects a great new development in household affairs and relations between parents and children.
The dominant thought and, indeed, the word "nasties" are an abominable distortion that is developing on this subject. We cannot even leave the BBC alone—the BBC after all these years, the greatest of the broadcasting authorities throughout the world, the example of public service broadcasting. Now we intend to tell the world "Yes, but we are going to put their programmes through the censor". It really is ridiculous going on like this.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
We have in practice, I think, been taking these two amendments together. Although the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said that our approach to the problem is different, nevertheless I think that I was correct in saying that the objective that we seek is identical. I did not say that the amendments were identical. I thought, however, that their purposes were identical. On reflection, I may have been wrong to use the word "identical". I should have said "similar".
It is my hope that the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, will decide—this was certainly my feeling—that the Government reply was entirely unsatisfactory. I hope that he will therefore decide that his amendment should be pressed. If he were so to decide, I should ask my noble friend to agree that our amendment should be withdrawn in favour of that of the noble Lord to enable the Committee to express its view on this issue. I think, on balance, that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton is perhaps the better of the two. It is therefore my hope that the noble Lord will decide to press his amendment if he shares my view that the Government reply was wholly unsatisfactory.
I hate the whole business of video taping. I do not have a video tape recorder and I do not intend to acquire one. It seems to me a pernicious business. I do not like the whole thing. Nevertheless, what is proposed in the Bill seems to me, as I have said before, wholly mistaken. Noble Lords opposite often talk about parental responsibility. They say—I think, rightly—that parents should have great responsibility so far as their children are concerned, that they should be allowed to have a voice in deciding where their children go to school and the sort of education that they receive. However, what noble Lords have been saying today and what the Government have been saying in reply to the amendment is the absolute negation of parental responsibility.
There are, of course, some parents who are not fit to be trusted with responsibility. There was a ghastly report in the Daily Mail recently of a mother said to be feeding her child with tranquillisers in order to persuade the child to sit before video horror films. But we cannot legislate for monsters. We must not assume that we have the right in this House to dictate what the parents of this country should do. As my noble friend Lord Houghton says, if they wish to record from the BBC or ITV a late night programme on video tape and show it at a time when their children can see it or permit their children access to it, there is nothing that we can do to prevent it. Therefore in attempting this degree of legislation we are committing ourselves to an utter absurdity. I recommend the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, to press his amendment to a Division. If he were to do so, I should have great pleasure in following him into the Lobby.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for offering to support me. But I am not wholly dissatisfied with my noble friend's reply. I feel a sense of frustration because we are so close that, frankly, I cannot understand what the difficulty is all about. We are talking about classification. That is not like learning to become a physicist, a biologist, or even 305 a Wimbledon tennis player; it is something which ordinary people can do, whether they are civil servants or anything else—people of experience.
I simply do not understand why if the staff of the BBFC are capable of classifying, they cannot give a short, sharp course to members of the BBC and the IBA to explain to them how it is done, so that they can do it themselves and thus avoid this escalation of bureaucracy—a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, trafficking and all the rest of it. When something is broadcast originally by the IBA and the BBC and receives the authority's mandate for it to be broadcast, surely at that point the BBFC can say, "That's obviously classified as such and such".
I cannot see why that cannot be done. Really all that I am saying to my noble friend the Minister is that I feel frustrated that we have not got a little further. In an attempt to be brief, I think I omitted something of what I was going to say before. This also relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was saying. I believe it must be possible to equate the different systems so that there is one. I absolutely agree that they have different objectives and are doing different jobs, but I firmly believe that it must be possible for the highly intelligent people in all three authorities to get together. That was what I meant when I said that surely they can be required to do a swift exercise and come back and say what is the best solution.
I do not want to add anything on the other points made by the noble Lord because it would merely extend the debate. This is the central issue, and before considering how to go from here I would ask my noble friend the Minister if we could not have a little encouragement with the idea that there should be discussions to solve this problem.
§ Lord Mishcon
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he permit me to ask him a question, which I believe will help many of us. Having regard to the very prominent and eminent position he holds in this field, is he prepared, before Report stage, to encourage a memorandum from the two authorities as to what they would be prepared to do by way of classification? That might help many of us.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I was interested in that point, which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made before. Of course, I will give every encouragement that I can to both the IBA and the BBC if they choose to listen. I think the reason the authorities have not been bombarding noble Lords with lobbying material is that they are in some difficulty as they meet regularly with the Home Office, which is their superior department—or whatever is the correct expression. The companies, and certainly ITN, are not in that position and have no hesitation in coming straight to Members of both Houses of Parliament. Possibly there is in the authorities an inhibition to lobbying publicly about their case in the same way. If a document is required, I am sure that by now they will almost be working on it if they have representatives in your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Elton
I have listened with great care to everything that has been said from all sides of the Committee. We are anxious to get on with this Bill and 306 some matters of substance have been raised which I would wish to consider. Without, therefore, wishing to raise any hopes falsely in anybody's bosoms—if that is where one raises them in the context of the Bill, which I doubt—I would be happy to discuss the matter with my noble friend Lord Buxton on the basis that he has suggested; and he has no doubt listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Perhaps on those grounds my noble friend would feel it possible to withdraw his amendment at this stage.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
As my amendment is the actual one that we are discussing, perhaps it would be appropriate for me at this stage to withdraw the amendment in view of what the noble Lord has said, so that the noble Lord, Lord Buxton—if it be your Lordships' wish—can express himself on his amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 8:
§ [Printed above.]
§ The noble Lord said: In view of what my noble friend the Minister has said, and on the understanding that there will be discussions, not necessarily with myself, but between the two broadcasting authorities and the Government, I will certainly agree not to move my amendment.
§ Lord Elton
I must clarify the position. My intention was to start, at least, by having discussions with my noble friend and he may then persuade me to discuss further. I doubt that there is a trap as regards what my noble friend has just said, but he did not say exactly what I said. I said that I would consider what had been said during this debate and discuss the matter with him in the light of what had been said during the debate. It is fairly likely that the result will be discussions with the authorities, but I would not want to prejudice the issue.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
On the understanding that I shall not leave my noble friend's room until he has agreed, I shall not move the amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 8 not moved.]
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
("( ) A video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it is designed for use in training for or the provision of information on medical health and related matters and is produced by a registered charity or non-profit making organization.")
The noble Lord said: This is another addition to the list of those who can produce exempted works following the pattern of the earlier subsection in Clause 2 which gives the authority to particular persons to produce exempted works untrammelled by the conditions set out in Clause 2(2). This is an attempt to get:
information on medical health and related matters…produced by a registered charity or non-profit-making organization
§ subject to the exercise of customary judgment in these matters.307
§ It looks as if one gets further by naming bodies to do things than by naming things that bodies may do, and one can understand that. One has confidence in particular institutions or bodies and believes that they would deal with the matter responsibly and that their purpose would be genuine. The trouble as regards the earlier amendment which we were discussing was that if we had something for information, instruction or education we might get what are commonly called the "cowboys"—any purveyors of something which might be called instruction or education. That is the fear. I do not share it myself, but we proceed in so much of our legislation on the assumption that there are a great many thieves, vagabonds and undesirable folk around and we have to adjust our legislation for them and insult everybody else in the process.
§ This amendment seems to be a worthy addition to the list of those who are authorised to produce exempted works. A number of bodies —and I do not want to name them—are a little concerned about how they will be placed under the Bill. It may be that Members of both Houses are somewhat ignorant about the amount of activity that is going on among voluntary bodies in the field of family planning, contraception, marriage guidance, marital relationships and breakdown, single persons with problems and possibly families as well. There is a great deal of wreckage around in human and family affairs. A great deal of voluntary activity is taking place in order to try to repair it and to spare the community further delinquency and the problem of people in need of social or medical care.
§ There is no difficulty in identifying a registered charity or, for that matter, a non-profit making organisation. Therefore, I hope that this can be considered favourably by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to whom I am addressing my remarks in this connection. I have more hopes of him than I have of the Minister. Bearing in mind that the whole purpose of the Bill is to get rid of something or to prevent its extension where they are satisfied that they are in a safe area (as far as safety can be judged in these matters) they ought not to want to spread the tentacles of the censorship board.
§ From listening to the debate one gets the impression that the fount of all wisdom, the great judgment on the morals of the community and what people may show to their children, will rest in the hands of people for whom advertisements are appearing in the public press at the moment. What are their qualifications? To infer that they have the experience and judgment of the high-ups in the BBC and the IBA is a monstrous insult to the latter. Everything must go through the sausage machine. As I said on Second Reading, if all these censors are allowed to join a trade union, I wonder what will happen when they go on strike.
§ I do not want to prejudice my case by exciting the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to ask: am I not going much wider than the proposition? But there it is. I believe that we should try to curtail the area over which the censorship authority will operate. That is the point of this amendment and of one or two other amendments to follow. It is a matter that I would ask the noble Lord to consider sympathetically.308
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I thank the noble Lord for suggesting that I may be more sympathetic to his cause than will be my noble friend Lord Elton, though I must raise doubt about that. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Elton will not only be more sympathetic but also more perceptive. However, from the noble Lord's Second Reading speech inveighing against classification generally, I think that I have got the drift of what he said. I absolutely agree that, despite the aspects of Clause 2 which he does not like, Clause 2 tries to do just that—to curtail the area of classification to the area which is essential. The target that the noble Lord is shooting at is certainly one with which I sympathise. In fact, Clause 2 does just that. In subsection (1), but with the qualification of subsection (2), the clause covers exactly the area about which the noble Lord is talking.
However, the noble Lord is asking us to add registered charities and non-profit making organisations to those bodies which are set out in subsections (3) and (4). I shall read those subsections so that the Committee has them in mind. Subsection (3) says:A video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it is designed for use in training for or carrying on any medical or related occupation, or for carrying on the occupation of a clinical psychologist".Then (4):For the purposes of subsection (3) above, an occupation is a medical or related occupation if, to carry on the occupation, a person is required to be registered under the Professions Supplementary to Medicines Act 1960, the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979 or the Medical Act 1983".Then it goes on about the "clinical psychologist". All those definitions are known, registered professional definitions. Therefore it is a simple matter to limit the exemption to these bodies knowing for certain that this particular exemption will be used in a responsible way and there is no danger of it being exploited for pornographic purposes.
I turn now to the noble Lord's amendment, which says that "registered charity or non-profit-making organisation" should be added to the professional categories that I have read out. We are immediately in a difficulty. Registered charities cover a wide spectrum. The Charity Commission requires certain specific conditions with regard to finance and on what the money shall be spent. But the actual purposes of a registered charity come to only a limited extent within the purview of the Charity Commission, and certainly its moral purposes not at all.
There are some pretty strange bodies there of which I am sure the noble Lord would not particularly approve. For example, we find the Moonies among them, the Unification Church. Some of their habits would not commend themselves at all to the noble Lord any more than they do to me. Although "registered charity" is a definition up to a point, it is a wide one and certainly would not be adequate for this purpose. When you turn to non-profit making organisations, that could be absolutely anything. Any existing trader or manufacturer of video works could set up a non-profit making organisation as a subsidiary to produce any kind of video tapes he wished, which might be of the most extreme pornographic kind. If this exemption were allowed it would drive a loophole right through the Bill.
309 I think it is right to say that both these categories should be submitted to the first part of Clause 2 of the Bill. That is to say, in so far as they are concerned, as the noble Lord suggests, "to inform, educate or instruct", they can be exempted, but they must be submitted to the qualifications in subsection (2). That seems a reasonable exemption, because it makes sure then that there is not the gaping loophole in the Bill which would knock the bottom out of it. I am sure that the noble Lord does not wish to do that. I hope that the noble Lord may be willing, with that explanation, to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Monson
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, where would be the profit to an unscrupulous trader in setting up a non-profit making subsidiary?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
If the non profit-making subsidiary proceeds to manufacture extreme, obscene material and then passes it back to its parent company, this could be a very profitable business indeed, because, if this amendment were allowed, all that material would be exempt and could then go into circulation without any control at all.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
On that final point, it would be illegal for a non-profit making organisation to pass anything to a profit-making organisation. I know this full well from the operations of the theatre, where non-profit making organisations associated with profit-making organisations are entirely forbidden in law from passing effectively from one to the other.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am not as satisfied with the noble Lord's reply as I had hoped to be, but I can see his point. When one embarks on legislation in this and in other fields one finds the need to be precise, to get definitions right and to be sure where the boundaries in various areas are drawn. The classifications, the problems of legislation, and the bureaucracy behind it all loom into view. In talking about submitting to the authority the noble Lord did not for a moment mention what happens when the authority gets choked up with all the things that it has to look at, consider, and classify. We shall come to that a little later, especially when we have to consider what will happen about the backlog and so on. I can see that the noble Lord is not hostile to any acceptable area where it can be sufficiently defined to avoid having undesirable people straying into it.
§ Lord Denham
If the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will forgive me, it is not unknown for people to have the odd very quick word with their noble friends about procedural business. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will not take it as a discourtesy to himself or, as a result, prolong the extremely interesting things which I am sure he will say.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I shall take the first part at its face value, but the second part, with great respect I shall not, because I am sure there was a tinge of asperity in the Chief Whip's comment. I paused only because I thought it was desirable for the noble Lord to hear what was being said on that side rather than listen to what I was saying. That was the only reason I paused. It was not with any feeling of upset.
I shall have a shot at this question. There are a number of organisations which probably should identify themselves to see whether they will be covered by the definitions that are already in the Bill. An additional classification may be added, but only if it is identifiable and it is reputable. I refer in particular, as I said earlier, to organisations operating in the field of sexual affairs—if I may put it that way. Those who are not reputable are under greater suspicion than other organisations because they are so close to it. Nevertheless it would be irksome for them to have to submit short tapes dealing with particular matters related to their work to the authority to see whether they would pass muster. I do not know how they would be classified because on the whole the classifying will relate to videos for sale, supply, and transmission, which get into the hands of other people, and so on. The complications are endless. However, in view of the possibility that we can do something better than this, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Hayter)
Amendment No. 10 seems to be an alterna-tive to Amendment No. 11.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
(" ( ) A video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it was first published or first exhibitied in public in any country before 1956.").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 10 and Amendment No. 11 are to do with the backlog.
Amendment No. 11: Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
(" ( ) A video work is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if it was first published or first exhibited in public in any country before the passing of this Act.").
§ The trade representative that I have been seeing on this subject informed me that the Home Office appear to have no idea—or very little idea—at the present time as to what is to happen to video tapes already out in the shops. I assume that tapes which are in the hands of private individuals will be their property and there is no need for them to do anything. What happens if they wish to dispose of a work which should have a classification and which, in their possession, will not have a classification? What they will do if they want to get rid of it or sell it, I do not know. It seems to me that if they want to sell it they are probably in difficulties, because they will be supplying for reward, if not in the course of business.
§ The question is: is any line to be drawn? The point about 1956 is not that it was the last good summer or anything like that; it was merely the year, or about the year, when wickedness came into this field. Before that there was no wickedness, so if you have a video that 311 goes beyond 1956 it probably has got Charlie Chaplin on it, and we need not classify him—or need we?
§ We can associate Amendment No. 11 with Amendment No. 10—it is a matter of dates here—and this would draw the line at those tapes in circulation at the time of the passing of the Act. That would be an enormously larger field, of course, than 1956. But that brings me to the question of what is going to be done about the video recordings already in the shops. It has been put to me that the procedure will probably be that the censorship board will begin to list tapes that are already in the shops and will identify them by their titles. These lists will have to go out, and retailers who have got them will have to send them into the censorship board to have a classification label put on them. It will cost them several pounds to have that done; and that will be an addition to the price or a reduction in the profit on the goods concerned.
§ What is going to happen? Are there going to be vanloads of video tapes—there are thousands and thousands of these, I gather—which will have to go back to have labels stuck on them? I am told that a tape may have to be shortened and something may have to be taken out, on the insistence of the censorship board that in order to have a certain classification, six or seven minutes, or whatever it may be, should be taken out of the tape. They would then have to pay for the excision to be made from the tape in order that it can be sent back with a more benign classification on it. Is it all going to happen? If so, what kind of mess is it all going to get into? You cannot even get your driving licence back from Swansea. What hope have you got of getting a crate of tapes back from wherever they are, whoever they are, with the labels on?
§ I do not know whether we realise the economics of this kind of business. I am told that if you buy a video tape it costs from between £30 to £40.I was astonished that the cost was so high. If you hire a tape it costs between £1.10 and £1.50 per night. That is how it is; and when we talk of children going into shops to buy video tapes, they will not have the money to buy them. They may have the money in their hands to hire them; but the shopkeeper will probably want greater security from a young child offering to hire a video tape. He would probably say, "If you go home and fetch your Daddy, who will stand security for this tape, you can have it."
§ It was an eye-opener to me to have several hours with retailers telling me what life is like in a video shop, who comes in and what they buy, how many are buying, how many are renting and so on. The picture one gets from that contact is very different indeed from that gained by listening to the theories that have been put forward in debates in both Houses.
§ I do not think I need continue, because it is a practical problem that has to be faced and no indication has yet been given as to how it will be dealt with, who will pay for it, whether it will be practicable, or where the staff are coming from. The administration of this Bill has been completely ignored. Nobody has thought about what lies behind the whole mechanism of this new and enlarged monstrosity. Cheltenham GCHQ will not be in it. The job will be similarly very delicate and will give rise to all sorts of 312 problems of communication and so on. This may be a question which I should address to the Minister, because if anybody knows anything about the administration side of this, he does. I beg to move.
§ Lord Elton
I do not want to spend too long on this, as I am sure your Lordships are anxious to get on with the Bill. But I think my noble friend Lord Nugent would like a little respite for a moment while I deal with some of the points made. I do not think there is a real case for exempting material simply because it was in circulation well over 20 years ago, though I do not think much of that material was available then. There are two amendments here and one of them goes back to 1956. I imagine that there is not much of that about and I do not think the amendment to that effect would be responsible for saving the video industry or the designated authority and its examiner very much work. I think that customers and retailers would wish to have guidance as to the suitability for particular age groups of this material, as well as of more modern material.
The noble Lord has addressed himself to the question of the backlog. That is a fairly considerable question, because there will be a very large backlog of existing works to examine and classify before the Bill can take effect for existing works. One of the possibilities under consideration is the implementation of the Bill in stages and there is provision for this in Clause 23(2), according to the date of the work's copyright. I should think that if this system were adopted, material published some time ago, which I accept is in the main likely to be fairly innocuous, would be the last to come within the Bill's provisions. But we shall need to discuss the date of implementation with the British Board of Film Censors to see how fast they could get through the backlog and we shall also be having discussions with the video industry.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
We had better come back to this at a later stage and see whether the Home Office know anymore about what this phantom censorship board will be able to cope with. It has no idea; it is not there yet and it does not have the people. They will have to be trained first and so on. As the Minister said, we want to get on with the Bill even though we cannot get on with the administration of it. It will be a Bill without a body by the time we have finished. There will be nobody to work it. However, I shall defer further consideration of this amendment, and beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 11 not moved.]
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 2, line 32, at end insert—
("( ) Nothing in this Act shall apply to any work intended and supplied for the purpose of reporting and commenting upon current affairs.").
§ The noble Lord said: There is another difficult problem relating to the exemption of videos about current affairs. It is not very clear from a study of the Bill what happens to videos of current affairs. I know 313 that one's imagination can be brought to bear very quickly upon the horrors of war. Therefore I mention in particular the Vietnam war. One of the scenes which turned public opinion in the United States against the Vietnam war was that of two small children, almost naked, running screaming down the road with their hacks alight. It was the most horrific film yet to come out of war. That is on record. Whether for any purpose a video of that nature would be made for circulation as part of a propaganda exercise about the horrors of modern war I do not know, but that, I presume, would go through the machine. It might be said that that would not be current affairs—that it was a current affairs matter but that it is not one now. Current affairs can be anything to do with Lebanon, Northern Ireland or anywhere else.
§ When one looks at news programmes there is one disaster or horror after another, because they are occurring at that kind of rate, and the authorities believe that we ought to know about them. Lebanon was a repetitive sequence of horror, human misery, slaughter and cruelty. If that is video, do they have to go through the machine in order to be fit to be shown to children? This is an attempt to clarify the situation. I beg to move.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
The answer to the noble Lord's question is that provision is made for the reporting of current affairs. Clause 2(l)(a) uses the words, "designed to inform, educate or instruct", which is what current affairs are designed to do. It completely covers this point. However, Clause 2(1)(a) is subject to subsection (2). If a manufacturer extracted a large number of horrific scenes from current affairs which had taken place over a period of time and put them all together, there might be a collection which would be so awful that it would breach subsection (2). However, for any normal presentation the provision made in subsection (1), which is subject to subsection (2), is, I believe, perfectly adequate.
One has to accept that there will be horror in some of these pictures, but, provided that it is shown objectively and provided that it is not dwelt upon, I believe we could all agree that the public would wish to see it. I believe that the noble Lord can be satisfied that any reasonable presentation will fall within the scope of the Bill.
Lord Mclntosh of Haringey
I should be very happy to accept the assurances of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, except that they do not accord with the provisions of the Bill as it is laid before us. The noble Lord has said quite reasonably that if the intention of video recording is to inform or instruct it should be exempted. That is what Clause 2(1) says, but Clause 2(1) is absolutely bound by Clause 2(2), where it is stated—I refer to the kind of examples given by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby—that acts of gross violence to any significant extent are no longer covered by Clause 2(1), even if the recording is designed to inform, educate or instruct.
It seems to me that this is not just something that ought to be permitted; that video recordings and other media should show acts of real violence. It should be permitted not for the purposes of titillation and not for commercial purposes but because such acts do occur. 314 They should not only be permitted to be shown but they should be shown. This is the only way in which it can be brought home to ordinary people that acts of violence are taking place—whether they are in the Lebanon, or Vietnam, or, as in the case of the recent Channel 4 film, as long ago as in a German concentration camp (in Belsen). It seems to me necessary that people should know what acts of violence are taking place. It is quite wrong for any constraints to be placed upon broadcasting media or on those producing video films for the purposes of informing, instructing or warning (and that is the real point) people of the violence which exists in the world.
The intentions of the noble Lord and his honourable friend in another place my be all very well, but the wording of the Bill does not provide for that. My noble friend Lord Houghton is right in raising this issue, which deserves a very full reply from the Government.
§ Lord Swinfen
I wonder whether this amendment is not in fact covered by Clause 3(8), which allows the British Broadcasting Corporation or the Independent Broadcasting Authority to supply video recordings. Would not news items be covered by that subsection?
§ Lord Elton
If I may first address the narrow point about news items, a news item broadcast live is not covered by this Bill. This Bill deals with video recordings and so there is no interference in respect of live broadcasts, which are covered by existing legislation. We have been given examples of horrors on the news. The object of a tape of the news may be to inform people of the bestiality of Belsen—as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, suggested—or of the horrors of war in general. That is a very proper thing for people to set about doing. But it is in the interest of people buying these tapes to know whether what is on the tapes is suitable for those under the age of 15, or those aged 18 or over—or whether it is so appalling that the tape ought to be on sale only in a special shop where the individual may be aware before he puts the tape on his machine that he is going to see something very shocking. That is what this Bill achieves.
However, regrettably, we are talking not only about the genuine newscast tape. We are concerned to protect people from seeing things which are dressed up as news or education, or whatever, and which contain the items in Clause 2(2) to a degree which is offensive or even dangerous. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, may not know that one of the extracts provided by the police for that memorably revolting exhibition of clips from such films purported to show the delights of night life in an Eastern capital, which I shall not name because it would be disgraced by the association.
We saw a live monkey brought into a dining room. It was restrained with its head sticking up through a hole in a table. It was beaten slowly and gingerly to death, screaming the while. Its head was then cut open and its brains were consumed by the people who purported to be entertained by this. That could be put forward as a current affairs programme about what goes on in the Far East. From what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has said in other debates, I believe that he would have been at least revolted as 1 was at what I saw, and at least as anxious as I am to 315 see that the public are prevented from an unannounced assault of that kind of information upon their screens simply because a video tape comes in a wrapper that states "This is a current affairs programme".
That is the reason—and I hope it is a full enough answer for the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—why I personally think, and why the Government advise your Lordships, that this is not a proper amendment to accept. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will see that on this issue, if on no other, we are probably at one.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Since I was challenged directly on whether it was a sufficient answer to what I am saying, I must say that I do not believe that what I am saying is in any way altered or diminished by the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that there should be a prohibition in regard to recordings under the guise of current affairs.
§ Lord Elton
We are not, except in extreme cases, talking about prohibition, and I do wish we could get that clear. The bulk of the Bill is simply about putting labels on things so that people know what is inside them. I quoted an extreme example because I thought it was important that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who did not have the benefit of attending the viewing, should know what is at the extreme end and what we intend should be totally excluded. But for the most part, once it has done that, the Bill is simply about putting on labels showing people who buy or borrow what it is they are buying or borrowing.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I was under no illusion about that. I understand very well the difference between prohibition and classification. I am also familiar with the commercial incentives for certain kinds of producers to produce the kind of film which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has described. Unfortunately, since I was unable to put down my name for the Second Reading debate I was not invited to the viewing and, therefore, I have not in person seen the examples, but many years ago there was a film called "Mondo Cane", which was widely shown in cinemas in this country. It was a collection of clips of unpleasant, and sometimes much worse, incidents which were put together for the purpose of titillation and with the object of collecting audiences who gloried in violence. I was in no way attempting to defend that kind of commercialisation and in no way attempting to suggest that it was wrong to classify such exhibitions.
If it is right, as the Government are saying, that there should be a distinction between genuine representation of current affairs and phoney, titillating representation of current affairs of the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and by me, so be it; I entirely agree. But it is then up to the Bill to make that clear. My point is that the Bill does not make that clear. The way in which the Bill approaches this issue does not make it possible for genuine current affairs programmes to escape from the conditions of subsection (2).
§ Lord Elton
If the noble Lady will forgive me, I should like to return straight to that point. The object of the Bill, apart from the areas where it excludes totally, is to tell people what they are buying. It does not make much difference if what they are buying is genuine current affairs material and contains scenes which are likely to give children of six nightmares for the next fortnight, or whether it is done artificially. It seems right, therefore, that the distinction does not appear in this part of the Bill.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
If the noble Lady will forgive me, again I understand that perfectly well, but Clause 2(2) refers to specific activities which may, or may not, be part of a genuine current affairs programme. But it covers both the issue of classification and the issue of prohibition, does it not? If I am right that it covers prohibition as well, then we have a provision which is not only an infringement of liberty, but which also contains the possibility of denying to our people the understanding which will make them revolt against violence and, therefore, do the opposite of achieving the effect which the sponsors of the Bill wish to achieve.
§ Lord Elton
It will be the responsibility of the designated authority to decide whether what is on the film is such that it can legitimately be used for the noble purpose which the noble Lord has suggested, or whether it cannot. He and I cannot substitute our judgment for theirs. We can only do that by seeing the material. I believe that there are activities which may occur in this world in connection with which it is not proper to allow material to be sold commercially to the general public for their information. I do not want to dredge the less pleasant corners of my imagination to illustrate that, but I believe it is possible, and there may be occasions when the authority should have that power. But it will not have prevented the news programme from which the material is taken from going out over the media to start with, because we are, are we not. discussing tapes taken from what has already been broadcast.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am sorry, but I must persist in this. Channel 4 recently showed a programme about Belsen, which was in no sense recent news coverage, which dealt with events which happened 40 years ago. A series of programmes was shown in the United States, in this country, and, most usefully, in Germany, called "Holocaust", which contained scenes and acts which under Clause 2(2) would not be exempted and would therefore be prohibited.
§ Lord Elton
It does not follow. The fact that they are not exempted means simply that they have to be classified. That is all, and that is the point that I was trying to make earlier on. If they are exempted, they do not have to be classified; they go out as though they were cheese or marmalade being served, where one just looks at the ordinary label. But if they are not exempted, then they have to go before the designated authority, which we propose should be the British Board of Film Censors, and they get their label. The noble Lord is making the assumption, which is quite unwarranted, that the designated authority is likely to 317 ban totally from sale something which has already been broadcast. In an earlier amendment I was at great pains to say that that is really not something that we could conceive happening. The noble Lord can say that they would have the power to do that—of course they would have the power to ban Mickey Mouse—but it would be a total perversion of this provision, and the courts would not support them.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
This Bill sets up a statutory censorship and gives it to a designated authority. Unless Parliament is prepared to give guidance to that designated authority as to what is proper and what is not proper, Parliament is simply introducing censorship without giving adequate guidance as to what that censorship should be about. I suggest to your Lordships' Committee that the balance of the argument must always be that if one is giving people powers to interfere with liberties—the intention is to interfere with undesirable liberties; and I perfectly agree with that part of the aims of the Bill—then Parliament itself must indicate the limitations on that interference with liberties. It does not do so in the Bill as it stands, and the amendment helps it to do so. That is why I support the amendment.
§ Lord Elton
With respect, the noble Lord is speaking to an amendment to put guidelines into the Bill for the use of the authority, but that is not the amendment to which we are speaking at the moment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am suggesting that unless Parliament puts in such guidelines, it is wrong for the Government and the sponsors of the Bill to oppose the amendment.
§ Lord Mishcon
I hope that this backwards and forwards argument, even if it is Committee stage, will cease so that at least it will be known when we are expressing individual opinions. I therefore make it clear to my noble friend that these are individual opinions—they are certainly not the opinions of everybody on this side of the Committee. I make that abundantly clear.
In a Bill which tries to deal with the unacceptable one is bound to have to make provision for the acceptable and for what is on the borderline of the acceptable and the unacceptable. The only way to do that is not by setting out guidelines, but by seeing to it that Parliament has the power to supervise the appointment of the designated authority. If Parliament finds that that designated authority is not doing its duty properly, under the Bill the Secretary of State has the power to change the body, with the authority of Parliament.
Secondly, if the designated authority comes to an absurd decision, even though normally it is acting properly, we are coming I think to a discussion of an appeals procedure which was discussed in the other place. I hope that on this occasion your Lordships' Committee will feel that this is the appropriate time to end this discussion.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
There might be one point which is worth clarifying. In the course of his 318 exchanges with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the Minister said that the showing of a film of, for example, the atrocities in the German concentration camps during and before the war, would not be possible because the courts would not permit it or allow it. I was wondering whether the noble Lord the Minister could tell us what the extent of the powers of the court would be over the operations of the BBFC.
§ Lord Elton
I start by acknowledging the just and courteous rebuke of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I ought not perhaps to get myself drawn into such enthusiastic and frequent exchanges across the Floor, although I think that our emotions and intellects are properly engaged in a point of substance. As to the justiciability of the activities of the BBFC, I almost think that I ought to revert to this at the next stage rather than continuing to speak until I get advice at this stage. I have a clear idea in my own mind as to what it would be, but I would not then wish to have to retract it a moment or two later. If I find there is a difficulty, I will in any case write to the noble Lord and we can manufacture an occasion at the next stage.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
Before passing on or reaching a decision on the matter, which my noble friend Lord McIntosh may wish to do, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be kind enough to answer a question. In the event that in some part of the world a serious atrocity were to take place, and it was desired by some group somewhere or other to draw attention to it vividly by illustrating it, showing the reality of the event on the screen and producing a video tape which would be available to people so that they could draw attention to the evil, would it be within the powers of the authority to prohibit altogether the making of that video?
§ Lord Elton
I think that the noble Lord is very close to tempting me to substitute my judgment for that of the authority, but I do not think that he quite does. As I understand it, yes, we are dealing with a different medium, as has already been pointed out, which can be re-run and re-run. It may be that it would not be proper to show something which actually happened, just as it might not be proper to put on video a recording of an orgy which actually happened. It really must be for the designated authority to make these decisions. It is proper for Parliament to give it the power. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has eloquently and clearly set out how Parliament can exert its influence on this.
§ Lord Monson
Is it not extremely dangerous to prohibit the depiction of the truth under any circumstances?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I think we are getting a little involved with this. First of all, we are talking about the media. They have their own statutory and other controls. They will put out whatever pictures they think are right in order to show matters of current affairs. We are talking only of when that is turned into tape and made into a video. There is no question of suppressing current affairs. We are really talking about the system of classification which follows afterwards. I do not think that anything tremendous is at stake here.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
The answer to my noble friend Lord McIntosh is clear enough—that is, that we are handing over to the censorship board the power to withhold altogether from lawful viewing some of the horrors or violence which we may have seen in the course of conflict and other disasters and which have been shown on current affairs programmes.
The Minister is constantly referring to the fact that what the censorship board will do is to give a classification so that people will know what is in video and the ages of the persons for whom it is suitable. This sounds all very innocuous and a new service for the parents of Britain. But the Minister came near to saying a moment ago that, if the censorship board withholds a classification altogether, it is unlawful for the product to go anywhere. In those circumstances, it amounts to censorship; it is banned. This, apparently, is what we are coming to.
We are getting a long way from the nasties; a long way from the 50 or so horrible videos that are referred to again and again—the same old titles, the same quotations from them, the monkey and the rest of it that we keep hearing about. That is the area of horror which, in the first instance, the Bill was attempting to deal with. It is a Private Member's Bill—not a Government Bill, but a Private Member's Bill—to deal with the whole range of control over viewing in the homes of Britain. It really is a most astonishing parliamentary condition to be in.
I am afraid I am not at all satisfied, and have not been satisfied, with a number of the replies that have been given. One cannot see any emergence from the shadows of doubt and of potential difficulty that will arise in the administration of this Bill if and when it becomes an Act of Parliament. I do not think we can let these things go. They are too formidable an intrusion upon the rights of the people to know what a horrible world we live in, if that is their choice.
The difference will exist between those who can make video tapes in their own home and use them as they wish and those who have to go to the shops in order to acquire them through the normal course of hire or purchase. So there will be two nations: those who can record for themselves anything that comes over the television and those with tapes which might be disallowed for general consumption.
In the circumstances, I think the time has come for those of us who feel discontented with the way the whole trend of the debate is going, and with the widening nature of the octopus known as the censorship board, to express our discontent. So I shall not withdraw this amendment, but will press it to a vote.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 9; Not-Contents, 42.320
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Aylestone, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||[Teller.]|
|Craigavon, V.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Monson, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Longford, E.|
|Ardwick, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Marley, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Merrivale, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Mishcon, L.|
|Beswick, L. [Teller.]||Molson, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Collison, L.||Pender, L.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Renton, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Denham, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Elton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Somers, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Granchester, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hailsham of||Swinton, E.|
|Saint Marylebone, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Trenchard, V.|
|Harlech, L.||Underhill, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Exempted supplies]:
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 3, line 13, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).
§ The noble Lord said: This is the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, asked me to link with the amendment to Clause 2(2). This is a different point entirely. The clause on page 3 deals with a video work which is designed to provide a record of an event or occasion for those who took part in the event or occasion or are connected with those who did so. So this concerns mostly a private occasion when people are together and are going to take a picture of what happens, put it on tape and distribute it among those who were participants at the time of that occasion or event. When the video work is designed to provide that record but does not to any significant extent depict anything falling within paragraphs (a) (b) or (c) of Clause 2(2) of the Bill, and is not designed to any significant extent to stimulate, et cetera, the supply of video containing only that work to a person who took part in the event or occasion or is connected with someone who did so, and only on those conditions, is an exempted supply.
§ This seems to me to limit the exempted supply of a tape taken in those circumstances to an occasion which does not infringe paragraphs (b) or (c). I believe I am right in that. What it is doing, in so many words, is saying that if it is an occasion for the pure in heart 321 and they all behave themselves, that is all right. But if they were up to some kind of romping around or tricks, or if it was some occasion where human behaviour, probably entirely in private, was brought within the mischief in (b) and (c), then it is not an exempted supply. This is apparently a most curious attempt to prevent people who were participants in a private occasion from getting a tape of what happened if that tape contains matter which falls within the definition of paragraphs (b) and (c).
§ If I am right about that, it is really quite an intrusion into the private affairs of people. It comes very near to the Protection of Children Act 1978, where it was provided that one could not take a photograph of a nude person without its being exposed to the displeasure of paragraph (b) or paragraph (c). Is this really so? What are we up to here? It is another example of how, in attempting to deal with one substantial but limited problem, the catchment area of the oversight, the rules, the prohibitions, the offences and the penalties is spread over the whole field of activity if it goes on a video tape. As we saw last time, it can be the horrors of war or the horrors of current affairs. Where are we going in our attempt to eradicate the evil which arouses public opinion and which is a source of anxiety to many people? We have gone far beyond video nasties.
§ My noble friend Lord Mishcon in a very rational approach a few moments ago, said that in order to eliminate evil we very often have to interfere with a lot of people who are doing good. Is that tolerable? In due course will we have as our remedy for obscene publications something of this kind in the whole area of the publication of books? Will we have the British Board of Book Censors? This is the way in which to by-pass the difficulties of the normal process of the law under the obscenity Acts. Is that where we are going in order to purify our society and to restore Victorian values, whatever they may have been? Cannot people be left to go into the swimming pool in the nude, if they like? We have heard about genital organs, but we have not heard about topless women. Are they included? How far do we go in applying the terms that we find in Clause 2(2)? The mere fact that human genital organs are exposed is enough to disqualify a video tape from getting a satisfactory classification.
§ In my view the whole of this is so obnoxious to the decent feelings of people who want to lead their own lives and to adopt the benefits of the new technology for their own enjoyment without all this bureaucratic interference, the rules and regulations and the guidelines laid down for this anonymous board of censors. I find the whole apparatus that will be created by the Bill and the mischief that it will do in every branch of human activity where video taping is concerned, an affront to the common sense and decency of the British people. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Chairman (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)
If this amendment is agreed to, I must point out to your Lordships that I cannot call Amendment Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 17.
§ Lord Somers
It was rather strange to hear the noble Lord using the word "obnoxious". I should have used that word to describe the situation that he wishes to 322 preserve. However, that may be merely a personal opinion. Am I not right in thinking that a tape can be duplicated? Paragraph (a) says:those who took part in the event or occasion".Those people may be the very people who wish to deploy the tape and to send it abroad—to send it into public hands. Surely that is every reason why it should be safeguarded. Therefore, paragraphs (b) and (c) seem to me to be very necessary.
§ Lord Mishcon
I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Houghton missed a point in this paragraph, bearing in mind as I do, the speech that he made on Clause 2. I wonder whether he noticed with his usual care that there is a difference, and the difference is the word "and" which occurs in Clause 3(5) and the word "or" which occurs in Clause 2(2)? Therefore, he is talking about the following. For the exemption, there has to be a record of an event for those who took part in the event or connected with those who did so. If that stays there, it is completely exempt.
However, to lose the exemption one has to show, not an alternative under this clause, but an addition—an addition of paragraphs (b) and (c), and not the alternative of paragraphs (b) and (c). So even if that event, which was videod and is supplied to people taking part in the occasion, happens to offend against paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) by depicting the things set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), in order to lose the exemption, unlike Clause 2(2) it also has to fall foul of paragraph (c); and it has to fall foul of it by saying that not only the event and the occasion show the things in Clause 2(2)(a), (b) and (c), but to lose the exemption in addition you have to show that it is:designed to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage anything falling within paragraph (a) of that subsection or, in the case of anything falling within paragraph (b)… is not designed to any extent to do so".The onus of that upon anybody trying to lose the exemption is, I should have thought, so clear to members of the Committee that I need not add to the point. But when reading this Bill—and obviously in the other place this must have been noted—I noticed that there is the difference of the "and" and the "or".
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
As usual, I am in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his very helpful intervention. He is perfectly right in his analysis of subsection (5)(b) and (c). It means that the kind of recording which would be made would have to record not only something in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), but also is designed:to any significant extent to stimulate or encourageet cetera. This is really directed to material of a kind which I think that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would find obnoxious. He inveighs against what he regards as the obnoxious interference with the liberty of the individual, but so many other people inveigh against what they find obnoxious in some of the material that has gone on tape depicting human orgies. This kind of thought is here: that in a private party a sexual orgy could take place and pictures could be taken of it in a very explicit fashion, which could then be circulated and sold to make large sums of money.
It is in order to prevent such a loophole that these perfectly reasonable provisions have been included in 323 the Bill. I have not only seen material that the police have put on here, but I have seen some of the pictures which are put on in the cinemas of sex shops, although I am not sure that they are put on now. They show pictures of sexual orgies of the most offensive kind.
It is in order to prevent that kind of activity that this particular provision is included. I regret that one has to spell out the obnoxious in the way in which we have in Clause 2, but if we are to make the Bill effective, that is the only way of dealing specifically with it. I am sure that the noble Lord who—despite the pugnacity with which he has attacked the Bill, is most reasonable in recognising the practical necessities of what we are dealing with—will agree that in deciding what is to be exempt we must take care that we do not open a loophole through which a coach and horses can be driven. If there is a question of doubt, this could be submitted for classification; but if it is the normal sort of party—whether or not it is a swimming party with people without bathing suits on—we are not talking about that kind of thing. That could not possibly fall within paragraph (c).
I feel sure that the noble Lord must see that this has been carefully designed to exclude from exemption those that ought to be excluded and to allow the normal kind of human activities that may take place in the privacy of people's homes. We have no wish to interfere with them. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that this is a reasonable provision, and that it might be reasonable for him to withdraw his amendment.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
In rising to support my noble friend Lord Houghton I ought to say that I am the first to appreciate, as a new Member of your Lordships' House, the traditions of debate in Committee. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I were drawn into a to-and-fro argument, for which he has apologised and for which I apologise as well. The only thing I can say, as the one who perhaps provoked it, is that I was not seeking to prolong the debate but to elucidate a point of fact about the issue. My noble friend Lord Mishcon rebuked me for it, but I still think it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.
I certainly have no intention of prolonging the debate here, but it is necessary on an occasion such as this to draw attention to the differences between the worthy sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, as sponsor of the Bill—and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has not yet spoken—and the actual text of the Bill. The issue is not helped by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, because the exemptions referred to in subsection (5) of Clause 3 refer back to Clause 2 and to subsection (2) of that clause, and subsection (2)(a) refers to "human sexual activity". We are all here because of human sexual activity. There is nothing wrong with human sexual activity. There is even nothing wrong with seeking (what is the word?) to stimulate or encourage human sexual activity. If the words "human sexual activity" were not in Clause 2, and if the depiction of "human genital organs" were not in paragraph (c), then there would be no objection 324 whatsoever to paragraphs (b) and (c) of Clause 3(5). That would not then be the problem.
As my noble friend Lord Houghton said, we are now a long way from video nasties. Nobody here is in favour of video nasties. Nobody here is against proscribing, or inhibiting, the production or showing of video nasties. But what we hear now is of a censorship authority for pornography or "erotography", whatever one cares to call it, which is the depiction of "human sexual activity". I appeal to your Lordships to make that distinction and to apply the severest penalties to video nasties, illegal activities, but to make a distinction between them and the depiction of "human sexual activity". If we could make that distinction, we could make a great deal of progress and cut short a lot of debate which would otherwise take place.
§ Lord Elton
I must of necessity be exceedingly brief because I am looking at the clock. I would remind the noble Lord. Lord Mishcon, with grateful thanks for his intervention, that Clause 2 deals with the way exemptions are lost in the matter of exempted works, and Clause 3 deals with the way it is gained for "exempted supplies". So in fact the effect is not precisely as he suggested.
I agree with my noble friend that there are certain things that should be overseen even if they are between, as it were, contracting parties. The only requirement is that they should be put forward for classification. Unless they are utterly shameful, I do not see why the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, should object to their being put before the board. If they are utterly shameful then perhaps they should not have been indulged in in the first place. There are about 15 seconds before 4 o'clock, and I am going to sit down.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I cannot possibly withdraw this amendment. No hope is held out of making either common sense or reasonableness apply to the provisions of this Bill. It seems that one can only plough on and exercise one's parliamentary right to resist what one profoundly believes to be wrong. In the course of parliamentary affairs some people have to make a stand against the tide at the time because they believe the tide is wrong. Wiser counsels will prevail in due course. Already people have lost interest in the nasties because they think it is all tied up and dealt with, and here we are grappling with the consequences, the backlash, the backlog, the widening area of the whole problem, the intrusion into the personal lives of individuals. To continue is merely to repeat what I have already said before. I regret that I cannot withdraw the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ Lord Denham
I think we have now reached the stage where we should finish. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at two minutes past four o'clock.