HL Deb 22 July 1985 vol 466 cc1063-84

8.22 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations [1985 S.I. 911], laid before the House on 21st June, be annulled.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I move the Prayer, which is the first of the two Motions, but discuss the two Motions together, make one speech—I cannot promise that it will be a short one—but at the end of the debate I shall ask leave to withdraw the Prayer and not move the second Motion. I think that will be the convenient procedure to follow.

[The Motion referred to above reads as follows: That the revised proposals for designation of persons as authority to determine the suitability of video works for classification, laid before the House on 14th June, should not be made.]

Although there is no space given to me at the conclusion of the debate on the printed list of noble Lords who are to speak, I believe that I shall have if I wish a few minutes at the end of the debate, if only for the formality of withdrawing the Motion. With that understanding, I can now embark on my rather complicated task.

It is just over a year ago since the Video Recordings Act was passed and these two Motions relate to the first essential steps towards its implementation. The delay of a year has been partly due to the tragic and lamentable death of Lord Harlech in full health and vigour and quite clearly a man who was to play a key role in the implementation of the Video Recordings Act. His death was a grievous loss and setback to all concerned. Those of us who knew him and admired his talents in other directions apart from this feel a keen sense of loss.

The delay was due also to the unavoidable difficulty in the circumstances in which the Act was passed of not having made adequate preparation for it. The Government were not ready for what happened. The sponsors of the Bill were unable to provide the administrative background to the implementation of their own Bill. Much of the work which has already been accomplished and much that still lies ahead had not been fully thought out by the time the Bill became law.

The second Motion on the Order Paper relates to the first essential of the whole enterprise, which is the appointment of the so-called designated authority under Section 4 of the Act. I am very much confused about the constitutional position of the British Board of Film Classification in relation to the designated authority and the respective functions which belong to each, if there are two. There may be a difference, but no real distinction. They may be really one body. The noble Baroness knows that I wish to have this matter cleared up.

Section 4(1) of the Act empowers the Home Secretary to designate any person. Section 4(2) enables him to designate two or more persons jointly as the authority responsible. In the result the Home Secretary in his proposed letter of designation, which is the second of the two orders with which I am dealing, has designated three: the noble Earl, Lord Harewood, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and Miss Monica Sims. These three persons are the officers of the British Board of Film Classification. They are designated as the authority under the Act. I am advised that in nominating persons it is possible to be nominating a body. But this again is an obscure matter with which I am not competent to deal.

I wish to remark, however, that after 70 years of the British Board of Film Censors, they have discarded the term "censors" and cleverly found the word "classification" which keeps the initials the same and I believe they find it an apt and convenient substitute. I may also add (if it is true) that the new chairman of the British Board of Film Classification desired this change because he did not believe in censorship. I say "Good for him" and express that as my humble opinion.

I have two matters to raise on the designated authority. I have given the noble Baroness a full brochure of my points and arguments for tonight and have therefore shown my hand to her, if she can read my handwriting! Nothing that I say or ask will come as a complete surprise, or very little. The first question I ask is: what is the constitutional position of the designated authority? In some communications the Home Secretary refers to the British Board of Film Classification; in another connection and also under a section of the Act the British Board of Film Classification decides on the fees. I am a little confused about who is doing what. I am also ignorant as to who is paying for what. I am not sure what the finances of this kind of Siamese twin are going to be. If that can be cleared up, I think that we shall then know whether to talk about the British Board of Film Classification or some other name which the designated authority may have. I think that is about all I need say on that particular matter.

I can now go on to the second point related to the designated authority—that is, the numbers and the composition. I take it that what the Government have done is to accept the three new officers of the British Board of Film Classification who are not appointed by the Government and take them over as the persons named for the designated authority. The first question that I ask is this. Why is the number limited to three, especially, if I may say so with respect, when of the three, two are Members of your Lordships' House? The third is a retired officer of the BBC, a former controller of BBC radio. I need scarcely say that I have not a single word to say against any of them. I am sure that we are all impressed by their talented experience. But is three enough for this particular task? Here we are dealing with video recordings and not with film in the sense that the British Board of Film Censors (now Classification) were dealing with the film industry and films for public exhibition.

This is a much wider task with a much wider range of products and of activity never before experienced by this board throughout its whole history. The video world is a rapidly expanding world and its full potential cannot be foreseen at the present time. After video will come cable, and after cable may come satellite. One can only imagine what the world of communications will look like in a few years' time. In asking whether three is enough, and having referred with great respect to the three members of the board—I call them the "Big Three" of classification—I think I had better refer also to the composition of the consultative council and the composition of the Video Recordings Appeals Committee, because the same point arises on the composition of all three.

Take first the Video Consultative Council. There are 24 members of the consultative council and there are 12 members of the video appeals committee. I want to remind the House that this Act was believed to be necessary to protect the children of working-class families who were said by a body of researchers to be especially at risk because of the repulsive, nasty stuff which was the subject of so much emotional condemnation at the time the Bill was going through. I want to ask where is the voice of the people, as distinct from the professionals, on all these bodies. The professionals are estimable people; there is not a word to say against them. But they are the people who are professional in the art of saying what is good for other people. Their job is to advise on conditions and tastes and what is suitable to be used in the homes of the mass of the people.

The consultative council, in the words of the Home Secretary, in the proposed letter of designation of authority, requires them to take account of the views of the wider public. How wide is the range of the body, which is composed as to one-third by direct representation of commercial and trade union interests and as to one-third by direct representatives of local authorities? They and the remaining one-third are quite independent but are scarcely closely identifiable with the outlook of working people from the homes where most video viewing takes place.

Where is the mother of three who has to look after the kids on a wet Saturday afternoon and wants to put on a video to keep them quiet and entertained but who has now to undergo the guidance of the classification process to decide what may be good for them and who will not be allowed to put on something which the classification authority say should not be there at all? There is not even the statutory housewife on any of these bodies; and you know how indispensable she is on nearly all Government committees.

I wonder what consultation has taken place with what I would call the working-class viewpoint. I do not like the term "working class"; but working classes were mentioned in the propaganda in support of this Bill and they are undoubtedly the largest section of the community looking at videos. Was the education committee of the TUC, for example, consulted about having someone on at least the consultative council and the appeals committee who might be identified with the more earthy outlook and be more familiar with the conditions of working-class people?

I think it is a great lack in all the authorities that have been appointed. As for the board itself, three may be a very convenient number for a committee; although it used to be said in my day that the best committee is a committee of three with two of them away sick. I would not suggest that the British Board of Film Censors would operate under those conditions. But three is a very small number to be this supreme director of the whole operation—

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? What is his quarrel with three? We have three persons of the trinity who govern the universe, we have three graces, three muses, three fates or what-have-you. What is wrong with three?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, what is wrong with three is that it is not a large enough number. Three does not give the scope for the representation of interests or outlooks. I should have thought that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, knows enough about committee life to realise that some committees are regarded as too small, as some are regarded as too large, for the discharge of their particular tasks. All that I am saying is this. Show me where in the whole outfit of the board, the consultative council and the appeals committee the authentic voice of the working class and the general run of homes in Britain is to be heard. Certainly it is not on any of these committees or boards.

That is all I have to say about that, because I have made the point. I have asked the Minister whether consultations about the composition of the consultative council and the appeals committee extended to the education committee of the TUC, of which I used to be a member. In connection with other matters relating to harmful publications for children and so forth, which went through both Houses years ago, the education committee of the TUC was very much involved.

I want now to turn to a matter of policy to be followed by the designated authority. The Home Secretary's proposed letter of designation and direction sticks to the letter of the Act. He has quite properly relied on the wording of Section 4(1)(a) that in issuing classification certificates the authority must have special regard to the likelihood of video works being viewed in the home.

That is a guiding principle and the world of video will be classified through three pairs of eyes of the board. Their examiners will have to do much of the practical work, quite obviously, and they will almost certainly be given some guidelines to follow in their own judgment of what they see. Therefore, my next question to the Minister is: Will those guidelines be available to the consultative council which I believe is to meet for the first time on 11th September, and will they be made public? Can we all know what the examiners of video works are following in the conduct of their judgment?

Another point of policy which I must raise relates to the use of the Obscene Publications Acts. The Home Secretary's letter of direction says that the BBFC will continue to avoid classifying works which are obscene. The material point here is how far proceedings under the Obscene Publication Acts are to be taken to test the court's judgment of what the board may do. At the present time considerable harassment is going on of retailers and others by the police authorities, and a large number of prosecutions are being undertaken under the Obscene Publications Acts in extremely dubious circumstances. I hope that will cease when the new system of a prosecuting authority begins in the New Year. I know there is likely to be an entirely new regime for prosecutions under these Acts when the new system begins, but at present I believe that the Obscene Publication Acts are being misused by the police authorities because in many cases prosecutions are taking place on the same work in different places, even though acquittals have been secured. Each police authority seems to be on its own, doing what it likes to try to get convictions in its own area if it wishes.

Up to now there have been more acquittals than convictions by far, and I wonder how much public money is being spent on unsuccessful prosecutions which juries probably regard (as I do) as having been undertaken in unsatisfactory circumstances. Therefore, I am going to put to the Minister that when the designated authority has classified a video work, only in the rarest cases and for exceptional reasons should the judgment of the designated authority be challenged in the courts under the Obscene Publications Acts.

Of course, we know that if the board decides not to classify a video work, anyone who deals with it and puts it around is liable to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Acts: he has no protection. But surely when we have this high level—élitist, if you like—body of people to look at the classification of works, when the board or the designated authority has classified a work then it should stand and not be open to challenge at the whim of any police authority. There is a good deal of feeling about this in the industry at present.

I turn now to an important matter of administration, and it relates to exempt works. Here an awful lot of trouble is already brewing, and I am getting a lot of it. Exempt works under Section 2 of the Act are also related to exempt supplies under Section 3, so that video works which fall within the description and condition of Section 2 of the Act are exempt from classification and need not be submitted for labelling.

I brought out this point very clearly during the course of our debates on the Bill: that Section 2 refers to educational works, to sport, religion, music or a video game. I am telling people who consult me on this that those who produce works which they believe are exempt works are entitled to use their own judgment and to follow it in what they do. That means they need not submit anything for exemption: there is no such label as "exemption". If a work is exempt, somebody has to exempt it, and it is the producer of the video who is entitled to do so. There is a great deal of difficulty and doubt about this at the moment in various quarters.

I have sent the Minister copies of letters and memoranda which I have received from some people, and I have sent him letters and memoranda sent on behalf of others who are involved in the rapidly expanding use of video for education, information and instruction. There is a Society for Education in Film and Television, covering a wide interest in charitable and non-profitable video. There is a head of education of the British Film Institute; there is a national children's home and they are making increasing use of video for training and fund raising. There is a home mission division of the Methodist Church who are providing audio visual material for church use for sale or rent on free loan.

Therefore, I make two points here. The first is that it is essential that the designated authority should produce helpful advice for the benefit of the growing number of bodies and persons in this field of exempt works. They must be spared the doubt, the worry and the possible expense of submission for classification. They need their fears allayed and they need to be reassured. I think it should also be made clear that the producer of a video work which is for use within the purposes of Section 2 should use his own judgment as to whether it is an exempt work. If his judgment is wrong, he may take advantage of the provisions of Sections 9 and 10, which deal with the defence of a person who may be charged without good reason. Can the Minister make it clear for the record that this is correct, so that it can be quoted among those who are very much concerned?

Only a few minutes before the debate began, I received a paper from the Cambridge University Students' Union, who run a video co-operative. They have already done some films and are about to produce others. They issue information about the admission, the procedures and other matters related to getting into the universities. There is a film also about student life in Cambridge. I would say that these films would be exempt works, but they want to make copies for schools from which students may come to Cambridge and who may be interested in what student life at Cambridge is like. Will these copies be exempted supplies if they charge for them? I think here one may feel some doubt as to whether an exempt work is also an exempt supply if it is distributed for use by others for reward, for hire or for loan.

All I know is that I am told by the Cambridge Students' Union that if they have to pay labelling fees for these films that they are doing, and have done already, they will have to give up all this work because £35 a time for labelling is something they cannot afford when all their works are done for nothing and they wish to circulate them to others for the smallest recompense of the cost incurred.

I have sent details of the letters I have received to the noble Baroness. I have also sent some representations that have come from the industry regarding the labelling regulations. I have mentioned particularly the most tiresome part of the labelling regulations which requires the sleeve in which a display case may be put for a hirer to take away to be labelled as well as the display case, so that where the retailer is putting the display case in a sleeve for protection while it is in the hands of someone hiring it it has to be labelled three times: first, on the spool; secondly, on the display case; and thirdly, on the sleeve. But the sleeve is no more than an overcoat. Nobody can use what is underneath without getting into the display case which is fully labelled.

The trouble is that nearly all regulations go too far. The real aim and purpose of the Act is obscured in the detail of how people must conduct their affairs to comply with the requirements laid down. I hope that this matter will be dealt with by the advisory council who will have on it representatives of the industry. I have said already that they begin work on 11th September; and I wish them a good start. Their job is to see that the implementation of this Act is not made a nightmare and a hindrance to honest trade. This Act was not passed to make criminals and expose respectable traders to harassment by the police.

The great shame of it is that the rapidly-growing video industry failed to get properly organised in time to police itself. It was the victim of a whipped-up emotional rampage against so-called video "nasties" and a Government too weak to withstand hysteria. I am glad to learn there is now a new Confederation of Information and Communications Industry—CICI—which has been formed to embrace the publishing trade as well as films and videos. It also embraces the two main broadcasting authorities. Such a body should see to it that they are not again swept aside by the upsurge of exaggerated fears.

The only interest which I have in all this is to see fair play and to check any unnecessary inroads into civil liberty and the consequent spread of bureaucratic interference with the way in which we wish to live and to make our own choices on our own responsibility. I think that this Act should be watched closely in operation and challenged whenever it goes too far. It needs to be monitored and researched with unremitting care and integrity. I have myself adopted a humble role as convenor of many societies with interests in a group which I hope will see that all this research is undertaken. I therefore now move the first Order standing in my name.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations [1985 S.I. 911], laid before the House on 21st June, be annulled.—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

8.54 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who repeated many of the things that he said last year, particularly in his peroration. I should state that in so far as Parliament was moved—not just this House but the other House as well—to legislate on this matter it was moved because families up and down the country were anxious, worried, about the material which their children were seeing. That is not just working-class children but all families. The noble Lord draws a distorted picture, as he did last year. It was because Parliament was convinced that the danger was there that it has enacted the legislation which we have before us and has made this first pair of statutory orders designating the authority and making regulations in connection with the tapes.

There are one or two points which I should like to take up on what the noble Lord has said. The noble Lord asked some questions about the composition of the Video Consultative Council. I have some to ask too and I share with him the concern that the views of the consumer—that is to say, families throughout the country—should be heard. But I make the point very broadly that this is for the protection of all families. There are hundreds of thousands of families up and down the country who are concerned to have this protection. But the protection is not what the noble Lord is constantly inveighing against: that they are being prevented from seeing what they want to see. What this scheme does is to classify the tapes so that they will know when they go into a shop to buy or hire a tape what they are getting.

That is the job which the authority does. That in my view is an extremely valuable one. I am very grateful to it for taking on a difficult, onerous job, often unpleasant, when one considers some of the material the members have to see. The noble Lord has spared himself seeing this material but perhaps one of these days he will pluck up his courage to go and have a look at it and then he will understand just what a difficult job it is and how important that it should he done properly.

I should say straight away that I am most grateful personally to these three admirable people who have taken on the job and accepted designation. At the same time I should like to record, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, did, my deep regret at losing Lord Harlech—a most distinguished president of the past—and very much missed in this context when this very heavy load is now falling on the British Board of Film Classification. They have changed the name from "Censors". I make the point to the noble Lord—and I am sure he accepts it—that their job is to classify. They will not prevent anybody doing anything. If a family are foolish enough to take home tapes which are not suitable for children to see, so much the worse for that family The only tape which they cannot get in an ordinary shop is the Restricted-18, and that can only be obtained in a sex shop. That, as the noble Lord will remember, was one of the provisions in the Bill. This structure is one which has had a very proper regard to the liberty of the subject, at the same time making a reasonable protection for families up and down the country against the inadvertent purchase of hire of tapes which are thoroughly unsuitable to be brought home for the family circle.

I should like to put the point to my noble friend with regard to the appeal system. Who will appoint this independent body of persons of distinction and integrity for the appeal system? I think we should all be interested to hear that. It appears that the appeal system is set up primarily to provide appeal machinery for the trade. But perhaps my noble friend can tell us this. Can other interested people—a mother or a father—who are worried about the classification appeal too? Or can any other outside person? What is the provision for the members of the public appealing if they wish to? When the appeal body is in action, will it have public sessions or private sessions? Both from the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and indeed from that of the rest of the world, I should have thought that it was better to have public sessions so that members of the public who are interested can go and listen to the process.

With regard to the consultative council, like the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I should like to know who the one-third who are members of the wider public are going to be. I entirely approve of the structure of one-third from the video industry and one third from local authorities—that all seems very sensible—but how are the wider public going to be picked and how are we going to ensure, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, rightly said, that we get a fair representation of the general consumer interest?

With regard to the actual functioning of the authority, I assume that the president and the two vice-presidents are going to be appointed for a period of years. Perhaps my noble friend will tell me for how long they are prepared to be appointed for this very onerous task.

I say straight away that I am very pleased to see these orders. I congratulate the president and the two vice-presidents and the examiners on the progress they have made. I recognise that they have an enormously heavy task in sheer volume, apart from the technical difficulties, so I feel we all have a deep sense of gratitude to them for taking it on. They have done well to bring along the first tranche now. I certainly wish them well in their heavy work in future in doing what is an essential job of classifying this material to ensure that the vast range of material which is entertaining, amusing, exciting and entirely wholesome is clear for them to see and the material which becomes bluer and bluer as it goes down the range is clearly defined so that those who do not wish to see such material will not see it.

I give my noble friend warm support. I am glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, having given us this opportunity to have a brief debate on this matter, intends to withdraw his Prayer at the end of the debate.

9.3 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, stood up, for a second I thought that I would have an awful thing to do. I thought that I would have to apologise to him when he said that he was withdrawing his Prayer and his Motion—apologise not for anything I had said but for what I was going to say. I was under the genuine impression that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was going to push these through. I thought that we would even have a Division. I thought back to the hours and hours that we spent discussing this Bill and I thought, "Oh no, not again!"

However, as the noble Lord progressed in his speech, we once again heard those lovely words that those who were opposed to video nasties were being emotional and that this had been drummed up by people who are against the video interests. Now we are told that this Bill was introduced to protect working class children. This surprises me. Why should so-called working class children require protection rather than any other type of children? The Bill was brought in to protect all children regardless of religion and colour. It was nothing to do with enjoyment. It was to do with censorship. In this life we have to accept a certain amount of censorship—this is because we live in a democracy. I demand the right that my children—if they were young enough—and those whom I love should be protected by law from being subjected to the possibility of seeing degrading and disgusting video nasties. I am not talking about so-called "soft" pornographic films, most of which are rather humorous, or even "hard" pornographic films; but there is nothing funny about real video nasties.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in saying that I wish the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would watch the video nasties that we saw. I am sure that the police would be very happy to show them to him. I found them sickening—and I did not exactly grow up in a sheltered environment when I was young. I can assure the House that in five years in the merchant navy at the end of the war one saw almost everything.

I said that I was afraid that I might be in a position where I would have to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hougton. To my amazement, I now find that I am actually going to agree with him—I should add that it is on only one or two things. It seems to me that the classification boards are rather few in number. They do not seem to be very representative of the country as a whole. If they were broader based I feel that it would give the noble Lord. Lord Houghton, less reason to talk about the protection of working-class children. There are problems. I think that the orders are possibly not as good as they might be. If this is so, it really is the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, himself who is partly to blame. That is because the Bill took an extremely long time to pass through your Lordships' House, and it was only because of the grace of God and the Government Chief Whip that the Bill became law. It is therefore very possible that not enough time was given to working out the detail of the Bill.

However, having not quite apologised to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and having almost agreed with him, I should like to conclude by thanking him for his words at the beginning of his speech, when he said that he would not be pressing his Motion.

9.8 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, I listened with the greatest care to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, but I found myself not recognising areas of this country in the way that the noble Lord appears to recognise them. I was surprised to hear him speak in such protectionist terms about the growing video manufacturing industry. It is a very large industry, as the noble Lord reminded your Lordships.

The noble Lord's phrase, as I heard it, was that these very modest attempts to understand, regulate, label and classify videos are presenting "a nightmare and hindrance to honest traders". I believe those were the noble Lord's words. I find it hard to recognise that that is so in the light of the hard evidence of the past five years which painstakingly, fairly, carefully and professionally our own parliamentary all-party video group has gathered together for all interested people to study closely, and on which that group is still working.

It seems to me that to refer to a "nightmare" for the industry is almost to forget the nightmares which small, innocent, and at first unsuspecting children have suffered. It will be very hard to know whether they will ever be able to throw off the scars of what they have seen. Because the nation, in both Houses, had so firmly agreed with this particular Act, which is now part of the national life, it is surely proper and sensible for your Lordships not to object to this initial pattern of the Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 1985 but to give them at least a fair chance. Perhaps in 12 months' time, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, may do us the honour of helping by bringing this matter forward again. But to attempt to deny the workings of these useful public citizens before they have even started seems to me to be verging on the unfair.

I recognise that if the noble Lord desires to show compassion to the growing video industry then it is fortunate that it has such a doughty, energetic and good supporter. But throughout the whole of the 32 minutes of the noble Lord's speech, I did not hear him once speak in terms of compassion for those who have suffered grievous harm through the videos which the industry has produced and which have made it necessary, in the public interest, for the Video Recordings Act 1984 to pass into law.

I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to an important piece of research by Redecki which he laid before the Committee on Culture and Education in Strasbourg in 1983, simply to underline both the importance of the Act and the need for it to work well, and therefore for the classifications to be implemented with the greatest care.

One of the discoveries made by Redecki in his research, using television in the wider sense but taking videos even more closely into his purview, was that, It teaches such a tolerance for violence that we are allowing increasingly horrendous amounts in our homes, schools and society without taking real action to eliminate its source". Because the industry is producing good material, I believe that it must not be castigated for all the video nasties. I believe also that the industry as a whole will be glad of these regulations which will help the industry to put its house in order.

I intend to speak for only another minute, my Lords; but I should like to put in a contrary word to the phrase about the police used by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. It seems to me wrong to use such a generalised statement as "harassment" and to speak of extremely dubious methods used by our police force. That is a statement with which our police force ought not to be labelled without a dissenting voice being raised or it may appear that it is the view not of a single Member of the House but of the whole House.

Those of us who work closely with the police force and who know it well in all the areas where we live and work, know that the police force needs not only our support but our encouragement and our congratulations. In the evils which have accosted the children of our nation before the passing of the Act last year the police have been one of the bastions of care for our children and I should not like it to go unrecorded that many of your Lordships support the police in the distasteful work that they have to do, working with the instruments to their hands. With that, therefore, I should like to put my voice on the other side to that of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Houghton has been let off lightly this evening, I think, because at the beginning of his speech he made it clear that he was not pressing the matter to a conclusion. I think that he is right not to do so but he is nevertheless entitled to some support as well as being let off with a caution having, as it were, confessed his guilt and said that he was not going to do it again.

The atmosphere is entirely wrong, because, in my judgment, my noble friend has performed a public service throughout the whole operation of the Act. He has exposed the fact that Parliament has once again been led into making a fool of itself. The consequence is that we have this absurd dog's dinner of legislation which will cause us endless trouble before we are through.

None of us wants the things that noble Lords have suggested, but it would have been perfectly simple to prevent them without going into the complicated arrangements which we are now establishing. As I said during one of the stages of the Bill, one of the great absurdities is that we have, on the one hand, the British Board of Film Censors, which was perfectly capable of taking on the job, had it been given it. It is a private organisation which exists virtually without legislation. To that we are adding a whole barrage of official legislation. Nobody knows what is the relationship between the two. Perhaps we shall be given that information when the noble Baroness replies to the debate, but at this moment neither my noble friend nor I know precisely what is the relationship between all these different committees which are being created. What a nonsense we are now in.

The tragedy is that Lord Harlech is no longer with us. I deeply regret his passing. In so far as it is possible to replace a person of his calibre, I think that it must be said the Government have done well. The fact that those who are taking on this particular job include two Members of this House seems not to be harmful because they are civilised and liberal people. That is the main thing. In so far as it is possible to do a decent job in the circumstances in which they find themselves, they will do it. But the fact that it is an absurdity appears to have escaped noble Lords. We have the creation of odd committees and the creation of other committees privately in order to respond to the committees which have been created publicly. The new private committee which has been set up by the industry itself—the Confederation of Information Communication Industries—has, I understand, been set up in order to respond to the new legislation and was created at the suggestion of the Cabinet Office. I would be most interested to know from the noble Baroness whether the Government, not content with creating all these other small committees under the Act, are now creating another little batch of private committees to prevent the committees they are creating from doing too much damage. Is that what the Government are doing?

This whole operation could have been done much better if it had not been done in a panic and quickly shoved through the other place in a couple of days and if it had not gone through your Lordships' House in an atmosphere of alarm and despondency in which we felt we had to pass new legislation to do something which could have been adequately dealt with by the old legislation. If we had not got into this situation we would not have the consequences with which we are now faced.

Well, we are in it, but just to show noble Lords that I have not been talking nonsense, I should like to offer just one document which sets out what one of the committees—the Video Appeals Committee—has to do. It has a right of appeal and then someone has laid down the appeal procedure: the appellant's notice of appeal; the board's reply; the appellant's reply; the service of documents; interested persons and their rights; the procedure; the committee; the hearing; the decision of the committee; the costs—all these have had to be laid down. And this is only one of the committees which have been set up under these regulations. It runs into page after page of description of what everybody has to do and their rights and responsibilities: how the hearing is to be conducted; what should be done with the decisions of the committee; how they should be made known; the costs; under what circumstances they are dealt with, and so on. This is just one of the burdens that have been hung around the neck of this industry.

Of course there are also the costs. The works in a spoken language which is predominantly English are charged at £4.60 per minute up to two hours. If it is predominantly English there is a standard rate of £3.45 per minute thereafter. Trailers and shorts up to 10 minutes long cost £46—so there is a cut price there. Subtitle works in a spoken language which is predominantly other than English cost £3.45 per minute up to two hours and £2.30 per minute thereafter. So it goes on—detailed information on what everybody has to pay. The whole thing is really a most astonishing collection and I have some sympathy with noble Lords in this House who have to deal with the situation.

Nevertheless I do not think it will do an awful lot of harm. It is a lot of aggravation, a lot of nonsense and causes a great deal of difficulty, but the real concern in the industry is not really the forms which we shall all have to fill up, the money we shall have to find, and so on. The real concern is what will be the effect of this legislation upon other restrictive legislation; what will be the reaction of the Obscene Publications Act? All this has been touched on by my friend. Will there be a collection of other pieces of legislation which will have to be introduced in order to clear up the mess which has been created by this legislation? Are we into that kind of scene? There is some concern about that. I hope that there will not be. As I said, I do not think it will do an awful lot of harm—at least I hope not—but of one thing I am utterly sure: that is that it will not do any good.

9.22 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to put two sentences into "the gap". I confess my ignorance in that I was not aware that there was a speakers' list for Prayers to annul orders. I ask your Lordships to forgive me. I rise not only to express my support for my noble friends, Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Jenkins of Putney, but also to say that I think that if George Orwell were alive today he would be wryly amused by the "Newspeak" that has developed in the naming of the body with which we are concerned.

For many years we have had a British Board of Film Censors, which in fact has been a British board of film classification, because if it refused to give a classification to a film there were other ways of dealing with whether or not a film could be shown in a cinema, which were either through local authorities or indeed through the Obscene Publications Act and its predecessors. As soon as that British Board of Film Censors ceases to become a classificatory body and in fact becomes a British board of film censors—because whatever the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, may say, this Act is a censorship Act because it imposes penalties on video films to be shown in the home which are not given approval by the designated authority—as soon as the activity changes from classification to censorship, the name changes from censorship to classification. I think, on reflection, that George Orwell would be less than amused!

9.24 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, if there is one virtue among many that my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has it is consistency, and I suppose that I could add another—persistence. All of us respect the consistency of his attitude to the causes that he espouses, one of which is the liberty of the subject and as little interference with it as possible. I suppose the other noble Lords who sit behind me and who have spoken in support of him have precisely the same virtues. Having said that, some of us could possibly take exception to phrases such as, "the absurdity of this legislation has escaped noble Lords". I do not want to reply aggressively to such remarks. I merely say to my noble friend who uttered those words that some of us would have said that the phrase, "the weakness of a Parliament which failed to deal with an evil", was something that would appeal to us as more appropriate to this legislation.

I want to make a few points, if I may, and to do so as quickly as possible. The Bill has been called a dog's dinner. I wish to return to my own, which may not deserve that description, as soon as possible at this hour. First, may I make the point that there is no justification whatsoever in this industry for using the parallel of the British Board of Film Censors, whether called by that or any other name. The film industry decided to have a voluntary body—and it is a voluntary body—and it decided, except for an appeal procedure, to abide by that voluntary body's decision on classification. If anybody thinks that the seamy minority end of a very fine video industry would be prepared to abide honestly by the decision of a voluntary body, the absurdity of the suggestion has possibly escaped such a person.

Secondly, everybody has been talking about children, and it is very emotional to talk in terms of the protection of children. Of course, they need protection. The purpose of the Act was to protect all of us from one simple thing. We want to know before we purchase a video for the members of our family what sort it is. If that is harmful, pernicious and an interference with liberty, I have another definition of the rights of the subject and of liberty.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton—my noble friend—then talks about these regulations, which obviously are necessary once the Act is passed; and it has been passed by both houses of Parliament. I notice with interest that in his speech he did not object to any of the classifications. That is an interesting point because these regulations deal mainly with the whole description of the classifications. He is a very stern critic of legislation which sometimes has ambiguous and unnecessarily complex wording, and so I was waiting for my noble friend, with a smile, to read out Article 2(7)(b) of the regulations, but he did not. It states: For the purposes of this paragraph … the statements within paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of section 7(2) of the Act are to be regarded as being progressively more restrictive so that the statement within the said paragraph (a) is the least restrictive and the statement within the said paragraph (c) that no video recording containing the video work in respect of which the certificate was issued is to be supplied other than in a licensed sex shop is the most restrictive". I must say that I did not feel that that was language that was going to be clear to a great number of people. I thought that my noble friend Lord Houghton, in the course of what is always an interesting speech, was going to quote that Article 2(7)(b) of the regulations as being a little less than well worded.

What is the point of objection to regulations and procedural steps set out in a document in regard to an appeal? That was what my noble friend Lord Jenkins seemed to think was the strongest part of the attack that he wanted to make, was the most heinous part of the regulations and the documents that had been issued. One cannot have it both ways. When the Bill went through Parliament, some of us fought for the right of appeal. If one fights for the right of appeal one can be criticised if one does not make it clear how one can exercise that right, how the appeals are going to be dealt with in a very fair way. Those who are charged with the duty to put the case against the appeal should ensure that one knows all about it beforehand. If I may say so with respect, to cite this as something to attack under the regulations or in the procedure again escapes me.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, perhaps I may assist my noble friend to comprehend what I was getting at. I was not suggesting that the consequences of the legislation were so much heinous as inevitable—the collection of mess which has arisen from this, one example of which my noble friend hmself has very fairly drawn attention to. The consequences arising from this Act I think were inevitable, and what I was saying is that it was in my view unnecessary.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, yes; I appreciate that my noble friend has put his case very fairly. I was saying merely that I could not see any ground for criticism in regard to an appeal procedure being very clearly set out and I was glad the appeal procedure was there. Of course, I was not talking about anything that was unnecessary in the regulations; I was merely pointing out that in regulations it is obviously advantageous to have simple language which everybody can understand, and I was saying that this was unecessarily complex.

To conclude, these regulations are, in my personal judgment—and I emphasise the word "personal"—completely necessary to carry out the provisions of an Act which were meant to protect members of the public, in order that they might know precisely what kind of video they were purchasing and also to protect everybody, including children, against the kind of videos that are a disgrace to a great industry and which are extremely harmful—and that is an understatement—to our young people and even to our not-so-young. The judges, the social workers, the church, all are united in thinking that the voice of violence on television is a harmful voice; so is the pornography that sometimes comes on to our screen. I see—I do not use the words "no harm"; but I see benefit in the Act. I originally said so—I see benefit in these regulations which carry out the provisions of the Act—and I say so now.

9.34 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerhy, for providing us with an opportunity to discuss my right honourable friend's proposals for designation under the Video Recordings Act 1984 and his regulations on the labelling of video recordings and their containers. Perhaps I may say personally how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for giving me advance notice in his own fair hand of the questions he intended to raise.

As your Lordships are aware, this Act is designed to provide a swift and effective means of dealing with "video nasties" and to provide guidance—to retailers and to parents—about the suitability of video works for persons of different ages. Video nasties, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly reminded us, have caused a great deal of justifiable concern. The Bill received widespread support during its passage through your Lordships' House when it was piloted with great skill and effectiveness by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. I welcomed very much his contribution and, indeed, those of all other noble Lords to this evening's debate.

My right honourable friend made clear, when the Bill was first introduced, that it was his intention to designate the principal officers of the British Board of Film Censors, or the British Board of Film Classification as it is now known. Under Section 4(1) of the Video Recordings Act—this, I hope, clarifies a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—the designated authority is responsible for making general arrangements for the classification of video works. As already stated this evening, my right honourable friend proposes to designate the noble Earl, Lord Harewood, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and Miss Monica Sims, who are, respectively, the president and the vice-presidents of the British Board of Film Classification, on the understanding of course that the board itself will carry out the classification of video works. In other words, the functions of the designated authority are to make the arrangements for the classification process to be carried out.

The BBFC will carry out the detailed classification process in accordance with arrangements made by the designated authority. In response to a query by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who asked about the term of appointment of the designated authority, the answer is that it is indefinite. Looking to the future, my right honourable friend would naturally envisage designating any future presidents or vice-presidents of the board on the same basis.

The board has been classifying films for the cinema for more than 70 years. Although local authorities are ultimately responsible for deciding what films may be shown in cinemas in their areas, they are, in almost all cases, content to rely on the recommendations of the board. This demonstrates vividly, I would suggest, the respect and public confidence in which the board is held. It is against this background that my right honourable friend considered it sensible to entrust the important new task of classifying video works to the BBFC. In the view of my right honourable friend, the board has the expertise and the experience to enable it to take on this task. It also has the benefit of public confidence built up over more than 70 years. In his view, there is a good deal of advantage in entrusting arrangements for classifying films for the cinema and responsibility for classifying video works to a single body.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, referred to some of the delay that has taken place. It was always recognised that it would take several months from the enactment of the Video Recordings Act to make the necessary arrangements to enable it to be brought into force. The BBFC will be taking on a substantial new task which has considerable resource implications and which raises many considerations of policy and practice that have had to be properly explored and settled.

As the House is aware and as mentioned already this evening, the board suffered a very severe blow at a crucial time with the tragic death in January this year of Lord Harlech, who was president of the board. Lord Harlech was distinguished in a great many fields. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the wisdom, the understanding and the sensitivity that he brought to bear as president of the BBFC. He is very sadly missed by all who knew him, either as a friend or as a colleague.

The British Board of Film Classification is most fortunate that the noble Earl, Lord Harewood, has agreed to become the new president. As I have already indicated, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and Miss Monica Sims have joined the board as vice-presidents. My right honourable friend is confident that the new president and vice-presidents will form a strong and effective team to provide the guidance and leadership which will be especially important as the BBFC takes on the task of classifying new video works and grapples with the many problems which that is bound to generate. Perhaps I may say that I am glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, that he is satisfied with the choice of those people and has confidence in them. He has expressed that this evening.

I turn briefly to the question of the composition of the consultative council which was also queried by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. As foreshadowed during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, the BBFC is setting up a consultative council to advise it on its work in the video field. It is to comprise members of the video industry, representatives of local authority associations and individuals of distinction. That category includes Dr. Alan Gilmour of the NSPCC, Mrs. Anne Jones, a head teacher, and Mrs. Susan Baring who I understand is a representative of the Council of Probation Committees. I am sure that such people will provide a wide cross-section of advice, opinion and experience. Of course those not directly represented will no doubt be quick to get in touch with the board with any criticisms of its performance.

Mention has also been made during the debate this evening of the appeals committee. The appeals committee is similarly to be balanced in its composition with people of integrity who, I am sure, can be relied upon to serve conscientiously and responsibly. I shall be happy to arrange for the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, to receive a list of members of the appeals committee. However, in answer to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and his query about the appeals system, let me point out that the BBFC nominated the members of the appeals committee and its nominations have been approved by my right honourable friend. My noble friend also asked how many of them there would be. The number is 12.

In response to my noble friend's query concerning opportunities for the public to appeal against the board's decisions, perhaps I may say that I think it is expected that the designated authority and the board will have the interests of members of the public in the forefront of their minds in their deliberations and decisions. It would not be practicable for a certificate, once issued, to be withdrawn. Consequently direct appeals by members of the public cannot be readily built in; nor does the Act require or contemplate that. However, there is of course nothing to prevent members of the public from representing their views to the designated authority either directly or through the consultative council with a view to influencing its judgment in future cases.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, also raised another question in terms of implementation and timing. Perhaps I may point out that my noble friend Lord Glenarthur indicated in an Answer to a Question from my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford on 1lth June that it is proposed to bring the Act into force in a series of stages. It will come into force on 1st September this year for new works. It will then come into force in a series of further stages over the next three years for existing material in such a way that potentially objectionable material will be dealt with as early as possible. As explained by my noble friend, use is to be made for these purposes of the register of films maintained by the Department of Trade and Industry. Alphabetical lists of films on this register will be made available to video dealers so that they will be able readily to ascertain at what point particular video works will become subject to the requirements of the Act.

I entirely accept that under this scheme not only will material too extreme to be shown in the cinema, and thus not on the DTI register, fall within the scope of the criminal provisions of the Act at the end of the first stage, but so also will a good deal of innocuous material. However, the latter will simply need to be classified sooner rather than later and I do not think that there is any great unfairness of hardship in that.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, also raised some questions with regard to labelling regulations. The purpose of these regulations is to make provisions to enable video dealers, customers and parents to see at a glance the age group for which a video is suitable. The regulations are made under Section 8 of the Video Recordings Act which envisaged the labelling of both video recordings and their containers, and the regulations provide accordingly.

The classification certificates for which provision is made in Section 7 of the Act are based on classifications currently used by the British Board of Film Classification. Similarly, the labelling regulations before your Lordships this evening take due account of the symbols associated with films classified for the cinema.

The regulations require an indication of the classification given to the most restrictively classified video work on a video recording to be contained on the recording itself and on, or visible through, any container in which the recording is kept. These regulations should ensure that it will be possible to see immediately whether a particular recording contains only works suitable for general viewing or whether, on the other hand, it contains material suitable only for persons who have attained the specified age. This will achieve the same sort of effect as the notices displayed in cinemas as to the classification of the films that they are showing.

These labelling regulations have been drawn up in close consultation with the video industry and the British Board of Film Classification. We have made a number of modifications to their original proposal as a result of representations which they have received. I hope that some of those points put the question of labelling regulations into context. We believe that they are important because the requirements will provide clear and helpful guidance to consumers and suppliers. We do not believe that they will impose unreasonable burdens on video dealers.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to the question of exemptions, which was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. His comments about educational and religious material raise the whole question of exemptions in Section 2. That part, Section 2, exempts works designed to inform, educate, or instruct, or works concerned with sport, religion or music, subject only to the proviso in Section 2(2) about material containing sex or violence. I imagine that much of the material used by educational establishments will benefit from this exemption. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, showed me copies of some of the letters he had received from bodies particularly concerned with education, and I think their concerns will be met by this exemptions provision.

I would also point out that Section 3 exempts a range of different kinds of supplies—including supplies which are neither for reward nor in the course or furtherance of a business—regardless of the content of the material concerned. If a work is an exempted work, no question then arises as to whether or not the supply of the work is also exempted. The work can be dealt in without it having been classified. I hope that clarifies the point for the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, also raised the question of fees. I think the answer to that question is that the tariff of fees has been designed to cover the cost of the classification process. I think the last of the specific questions raised by the noble Lord. Lord Houghton, with which I can deal tonight, refers to his concern about the Obscene Publications Act. In making no provision in a Video Recordings Act concerning the application of the Obscene Publications Act to video recordings, Parliament must be taken to have decided that works classified by the Board should not be automatically immune from prosecution. Nevertheless, we share the noble Lord's concern about local variations in prosecution policy, that they should be avoided, and that any prosecution should be undertaken only after the most careful consideration of the case.

My right honourable friend therefore has it in mind to advise chief officers of police, with the concurrence of my right honourable friend the Attorney-General, that a specimen recording should be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice before any steps are taken to proceed under the Obscene Publications Act in respect of a work which as been classified by the board. If this suggestion is followed by chief officers of police, as I am sure it will be, consistency will be achieved in advance of the introduction of the Crown Prosecutions Service, to which the noble Lord is looking forward. May I also take this opportunity to echo on behalf of your Lordships the words of appreciation to the police which were made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich?

In coming to a conclusion I should remind your Lordships that the Video Recordings Act is widely supported both in Parliament and outside. It responds to the real public concern about video nasties and I believe that the publicity which it generated was an important factor in helping to stem the availability of that material. It also establishes a classification system which will provide guidance about the suitability of video works for different age groups. I am particularly grateful to the noble, Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his warm support of the proposed regulations.

I have tried to pick up some of the more general points made during the debate. I will write to noble Lords whose questions have not been answered in my reply. But the decision which now has to be made is not about the Act—that is already on the statute book—but about the orders to bring it into effect. Noble Lords will appreciate that if the proposed designation were to be rejected, fresh proposals would have to lie before Parliament for a further 40 days, excluding the Recess, before a designation could be made. That would take us well into the autumn and would delay the implementation of the Act by several months. Such a delay would be contrary to the wishes of the great majority of your Lordships and of the general public and I believe it would also be contrary to the interests of the video industry.

The Government have every confidence that the British Board of Film Classification will continue the good work for which it is widely recognised as it now takes on responsibility for the classification of video recordings. All concerned appreciate the importance and sensitivity of this new responsibility. Parliament will be kept informed by means of the annual reports which will be required to be laid before each House. The British Board of Film Classification is determined to make these new arrangements work and I am sure that we all wish it well.

I conclude by saying that am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for enabling us to discuss these important matters. I hope that I have been able to provide him with some of the reassurance he was seeking and I am pleased to commend to the House both the proposed designation of the president and vice-president of the British Board of Film Classification and the regulations on the labelling of video recordings and their containers.

9.54 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am sure the best service I can do for the House at this hour is to keep my concluding remarks as brief as possible. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, whether or not I agreed with what they said. It was probably unavoidable that I and others should rehearse some of the arguments that we used in the course of the passage of the Bill. It is difficult to confine oneself wholly to the administration and the nitty-gritty of the scheme when there is this emotional background on both sides. All I will say to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and others who have been a little concerned at my working-class overtones, if I may put it that way, is that we are a democracy and democracy involves participation. That is all I am pleading for. I know it is only classification, although there are marginal qualifications to that. After all, part of classification is to exclude things from classification altogether and expose them to the rigours of the criminal law.

However, I am not saying for a moment that the opinions of some people are better than those of others. When my noble friend Lord Mishcon says that what people want to know is what sort of video it is, the answer is that it depends upon a person's opinion. What sort of video it is, is a matter of opinion, very largely; and opinions can differ. All I have been advocating is the presence of something that is not there in any of the bodies connected with the administration of this Act. The voice of the people, I think, should be represented there. Their opinions may be no better than those of others, or not as good; but participation means that people who are concerned should be there, and they are not there. That is what I am saying. It is an important thing to say, nevertheless.

I think that democracy should be seen in all our institutions. The representativeness of institutions should be visible when we are doing things of this kind. But I leave that now. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for so much that she has said and I wish to stress the special value of this debate at this moment. It is the only occasion upon which opinions, facts and predictions of the noble Baroness can be read just now about the working of the Act. That is going to be of great value and I shall be very surprised if today's debate is not widely and anxiously scanned in a number of quarters for guidance as to their own part in the matter for the future administration of the Act.

I am especially grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said about the use of the Obscene Publications Act. That has been very tiresome indeed and has put a lot of people to a great deal of anxiety and a great deal of expense. I am sure that what the noble Baroness has foretold in this regard will be widely welcomed and I am sure that if that is done we shall cease to have, in this field at any rate, many of the complaints about the use of the Obscene Publications Act that I am getting at the moment.

I am grateful for all that and I am very much obliged to all who have taken part in the debate There is nothing in this Act that my noble friend Lord Mishcon has raised that I object to. I thought that we had accepted tacitly, if not overtly, the classifications that were being used by the British Board of Film Censors and that they are being translated into the field of video. I think that they are generally acceptable as having gone through a fairly long period of experience and tests. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the first of the two Motions on the Order Paper.

Motion, by leave withdrawn.