HL Deb 13 January 1998 vol 584 cc931-3

2.47 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to modify the system of classification under which the computer game Grand Theft Auto, which allegedly involves thefts of cars and driving at excessive speeds to evade police cars, has been granted an 18 certificate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, there are currently no plans to change the system of classification for computer games, which, if they show gross violence, human sexual activity or criminal activity likely to encourage similar acts in real life, must be submitted to the British Board of Film Classification and are then subject to the same level of classification as videos. The computer game Grand Theft Auto has been granted an 18 certificate by the BBFC and it is therefore considered suitable for supply only to adults. Its supply to anyone under the age of 18 is an illegal act subject to criminal penalties. The maximum penalty for supplying a computer game in breach of its classification is six months' imprisonment, a £5,000 fine, or both.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. In reply to a previous Question he indicated that the Government are greatly concerned and have the situation under review. As they aim to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, should criminal offences of this kind be allowed to be presented as games or normal pastimes? Are the Government now ready for computer games on burglary and mugging, bearing in mind that it is mostly young people who play these games and not the adults who bought them?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the Home Secretary has recently appointed Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith to be president of the BBFC and to be the designated authority for the classification of videos under the Video Recordings Act. It may well be young people who watch these games, but I repeat that it is an 18 classification and its supply to anyone under the age of 18 is a criminal offence. If there is any evidence of such supply, it should be reported to the appropriate authorities for them to take criminal proceedings.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that demonstration copies of Grand Theft Auto are being distributed with magazines on sale to the public but that my 12 year-old son, who has played the demonstration copy, assures me that he is not motivated to go out and steal cars?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that excellent news. But it still remains the fact that the supply of such a video for reward is a criminal offence. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would therefore wish to have a private word with his son.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that such games are played by young people in their homes and that it is difficult to know what goes on in the home? Does he also agree that as the Government have made tackling crime one of their three priorities during their presidency of the European Union, they should take any measures that would reduce car crime in this country? We have the worst record for that in western Europe.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Such video games are commonly played in the home. Self-evidently, I would suggest, parents have a responsibility to supervise their own children. One has to strike a suitable balance between banning everything that can conceivably be a pleasure to any section of the population and protecting the vulnerable. We think that at the moment the law is about right.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, at what stage in the production process does such a game have to go for certification? Do all such games have to go for certification?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, a game has to go for certification when it is at its final stage of production. It is then a question of whether the video game is exempt under the Video Recordings Act. If it is within one of the categories that I mentioned earlier, it loses its exemption and therefore needs to be classified.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether this video game or any similar game is available in any of Her Majesty's prisons?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not know whether any such games are in any of Her Majesty's prisons; but I do know that the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, is keenly concerned that no video or video game should be shown to any inmate in any part of Her Majesty's prison estate if it has an inappropriate classification for the age of that inmate.