HL Deb 24 March 1999 vol 598 cc1290-2

2.49 p.m.

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the maintenance of standards of morality on television and videos by the bodies responsible; and, if not, whether they will consider introducing some form of censorship.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government believe that the current system of regulation ensures that television broadcasting reflects standards acceptable in society. We shall report shortly on the response to the consultation on the future of regulation. The British Board of Film Classification is responsible for classifying video works. The BBFC is required to take into account the fact that videos are seen in the home and therefore need to be classified on a different basis from cinema films.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that not unexpected but nonetheless disappointing Answer. Is he aware of the widespread concern about the apparently uncontrolled proliferation of foul language as well as explicit scenes of the most intimate sexual behaviour of heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites and the like on our television screens and on accessible videos? Is my noble friend further aware of recent research that shows two-thirds of all schoolchildren have access to televisions and videos in their own rooms? So much for the watershed! Given that state of affairs, is it not time that, because of the potential effect of such images being shown so often on our screens, we should give some; deeper consideration to the possibilities of a better scheme of control, even if that means some form of censorship?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I appreciate the strength of feeling with which my noble friend addresses this issue. If he has specific complaints, he should address them to the regulators, to the governors of the BBC, to the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, S4C or, indeed, to the Broadcasting Standards Council which considers complaints and then reports on standards of taste and decency. I have seen the report to which my noble friend refers. He is correct that a very large number of children have televisions in their bedrooms. That is a matter for parental control.

Lord Renton

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that when immorality is displayed on television programmes, it is bound to lead to an increase in immoral behaviour, and that therefore television programmes should cease to display immorality?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord's conclusion follows from his premise. It is by no means certain that people follow the behaviour that they see on television or on video, and it certainly does not follow that there should be the sort of blanket ban which I understand the noble Lord to be advocating.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, has my noble friend seen a recent drama series on the BBC, "The Lakes"? If he has, he will agree that it certainly does not reflect standards which are generally acceptable to the public. My noble friend should know that that series has caused widespread resentment in the Lake District and in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sheer misuse of the television licence income.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

No, my Lords, I did not see those programmes. My wife watched them, but she did not reach quite the same conclusion as my noble friend. If he has specific complaints, he should make them to the relevant broadcasting authorities.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, is it not the case that television and video follow what happens in society rather than leading society in terms of morality? With regard to the second part of the Question, perhaps I may put the position that we have always held on these Benches, which is that censorship in any form in a democracy is a very dangerous path to follow and is often much worse than the matters with which this Question is concerned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it was because I appreciate the noble Viscount's first point that I refused to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his simple causal relationship between showing immorality and being immoral. The noble Viscount is right. We must not allow our aesthetic distaste for some things which we see around us to tempt us into seeking to ban them.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Video Standards Council. Is my noble friend aware that a large majority of videos are classified by the BBFC? But the problem does not arise there; it arises with the illegal videos which either enter this country or are made in this country and which are easily obtainable, and sold in shops. They are dirty videos. Although this subject should be dealt with, the police have more than enough to do, dealing with red lights on bicycles! However, something needs to be done about these illegal videos.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend is right that under the Video Recordings Act 1984 no video can be legally sold in this country unless it has a classification from the BBFC. The police should take action to pursue illegal sales of videos.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, is it not the case that, unlike television and videos, the Internet is not regulated and that if there is such a problem in society, it is probably linked to the Internet and not to videos and television?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there is a real problem with the Internet, which is very difficult to control. That is why the Government supported the formation of the Internet Watch Foundation, which has a very difficult job to do. However, a recent joint study by the Home Office and the DTI indicated that it is having some success in controlling excesses on the Internet.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, in the light of the Minister's answers, why have the Government banned tobacco advertising on television?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Question is about morality, not tobacco. The sale and consumption of tobacco in this country is legal.

Back to