Column 387that there was a controversy and that the arguments put were emotive and not proved by logic when one looked at the details. We should also remember that many of the tabloids that sensationalised the story are owned by companies that have interests in satellite television channels and other electronic media and entertainment provision which are unaffected by the video classification rules that we are debating. We should bear it in mind that it is possible to argue that the tabloids have a direct commercial interest in a tightening of the regulation of one of their competitors. Satellite television and other extra-terrestrial delivery of electronic entertainment are escaping regulation at the moment and certainly are not subject to the same stringent regulations that we are now suggesting for the video industry. We should bear that little vested interest in mind.
I am sceptical about the effectiveness of the clause because it will be useful or relevant only if we assume that there is a firm causal link between viewing habits and behaviour. I know that many in the House believe that that is the case. I have considered the evidence, but so far I am not convinced that there is sufficient evidence either way. At the moment, the evidence is inconclusive. I would support the commissioning of further research so that we can try to establish whether there is a link, but if links and causal links exist, they are complex and to simplify them to a firm link between something seen on a video and some behaviour that is then indulged in is not a proper basis on which to legislate. We should be trying to commission further work in that area.
The concern about uncontrolled exposure of young children to violent imagery is entirely understandable. It is something about which I and the whole House are concerned. But we should not jump to easy conclusions or legislate in a knee-jerk manner and assume that we have solved a complex and difficult problem. Solutions in these difficult areas of social policy and the interaction between entertainment and people's behaviour are never as easy as a firm causal link.
It is easy, especially at a time of disgust and incredulity in the aftermath of a nasty and inexplicably brutal crime, to look for an easy answer. But we owe it to our constituents and the future health of our society to remember that the answers are not simple and that we should be serious and down to earth about what some of the questions are.
There is a long history of moral panics about the detrimental effects of the media and a long tradition of shifting blame for social breakdown on to the media. It is a pastime which has a long and venerable tradition, going back to the penny dreadfuls, the music hall and the time when films first became available. Then there was rock music. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley was meant to have caused much social breakdown with his new way of dancing. Then there came horror comics and television, and now it is video games. We need a reasonable assessment of the effects that the new technologies are having, not just a knee-jerk reaction.
Blaming those media for all our social ills is a bit like blaming witchcraft for crop failures. It conveniently apportions blame and allows some action to be taken which may make us feel better, but in reality it is all but irrelevant to the real causes.
Column 388Amendment No. 82 states that the British Board of Film Classification must pay special regard
"to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers". What is meant by the phrase "potential viewers"? Presumably, it could include all members of the sighted population who in any circumstance might see a video. How do the Government interpret that phrase? Amendment No. 82 also charges the board to consider young children as potential viewers even if the products available are so rated that young children would not under normal circumstances see them. If every person in the country is a potential viewer of everything, one wonders why we bother with a rating system. How does the board intend to observe that requirement?
How will the BBFC decide
"who is likely to view the video work in question if a classification . . . were issued"?
The board will also have to consider, when considering a classification, the harm that might be done to society. What criteria will it apply? Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me.
How can we view in proper perspective legislation for potential harm to society perpetrated by the availability of videos when there is no statutory duty to consider the harm done to society by, for example, persistent mass unemployment? I am not sure that we have the right priorities.
I am concerned by the five categories of subject matter in amendment No. 82 --criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific behaviour or incidents and, last of all, human sexual activity. I do not want to embarrass the Minister, but why is human sexual activity included as one classification? I assume that rape would be covered by the classifications of criminal or violent acts. It seems odd that human sexual activity should be bunged together with awful behaviour.
I welcome the fact that the BBFC is to retain discretion to interpret the new statutory rules and will bring its considerable influence to bear on such matters. However, I am concerned at the subjectivity inherent in the clause, which ranges too wide. It could be argued that "King Lear" would fail to receive a classification because it depicts criminal activity and violent or horrific behaviour and that Regan, Goneril and Edmund are partly motivated by human sexual activity. Why would not "King Lear" fall within the ambit of the proposed new clause?
The Government boasted in their 1992 election manifesto that this country's video classification rules are already the toughest in western Europe. My concern is that the proposed new clauses might allow the BBFC to take an unreasonably tough line. Will there be a way of keeping the situation under review, to ensure that there is no over-reaction?
The Government amendment would permit retrospective consideration of titles already released. In another place, Lord Ferrers said that the Home Secretary had considered the matter carefully and took the view that a system involving retrospection could not be made to work. My next question to the Minister echoes one put by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. How will such retrospective consideration be triggered? Who will decide which titles should be re-examined? I am happy that we are discussing these matters, as they are extremely important. It is also important that we do not over-react or oversimplify some of the complex
Column 389causes of difficulties and violence. If the Minister can give me some assurances on the points that I have raised, I should be happy to support the amendments.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North): I should like to support what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). The Government's amendment is very essential. I think that everybody in public life knows the power of an "eye gate" before an "ear gate", and videos have an effect on young people. It is the duty of this House and of the Ministers concerned, to see that proper safeguards are in place. I do not think that we need worry about what will happen in this case. The amendment deals with something that needs to be dealt with. I am sure that the two Ministers, when they come to the end of their careers--I am not suggesting that they are about to do so- -will be happy that they did this, because it will have an effect on the future men and women of our country.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Everything possible that could be said about the matter has been said, but not everybody has said it. So I am grateful for a moment of the House's time to say thank you on behalf of the Home Affairs Select Committee for the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has responded to our difficult recommendation that retrospection should be provided for in the Bill. That is the effect of Lords amendment No. 82, which gives effect to the Committee's sixth recommendation. In that regard, I give the thanks not only of the Committee and the House but I think of the whole country, and extend them to Mr. James Ferman and the BBFC, who told us, in the evidence that they gave, that this could be achieved without too much difficulty and trouble. The combination of what Mr. Ferman said and what the Committee recommended just tipped my right hon. and learned Friend over.
Mr. Howard indicated assent .
We decided to have an investigation, which lasted only one day in June, at the height of public concern about the effects of video recordings on children. We said:
"Commonsense, and the existence of bodies like the BBFC, support the notion that videos can corrupt and, rather than engage in endless arguments about the precise way in which the videos damage children, it is obviously more profitable to consider what can be done to limit any such damage."
By the time that we had conducted our inquiry, the Government had already tabled their new clause to toughen up what the public considered to be the very weak state of our video classification laws.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider further the other recommendations of the Committee. We suggested that a warning notice should be given to adult purchasers or hirers of high-classification videos at the point of sale. We suggested that more work should be done on parental responsibility for the use of such videos and how the classification, if tightened, could be brought home to parents so that they could use their powers to stop this evil affecting the minds of their young children. We cast, as we went, a little straw in the wind and suggested that it might be helpful to have identity cards,
Column 390because that would make it much easier for those who have the burden of selling videos in shops to identify precisely the ages of those to whom they were providing the equipment.
I think that the Government have shown themselves to be not only a listening Government but a responsive Government and a constructive Government. On behalf of the Home Affairs Select Committee, I hope that they might go one stage further and give effect to all our recommendations.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon): I do not wish to detain the House for too long. But you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be aware that this is the first and only opportunity that we have had in this House to debate the issue. Given the amount of heat that it has generated in the past few months, I think that it is right that it be properly aired. No one could argue with the aim of the proposed amendments. Film is an extremely powerful medium and, although there is not much research at the moment, common sense suggests that young people who watch scenes of explicit violence or sex are likely to be influenced by them. That is why it is clearly right for us to have some means of preventing children from seeing films that deal with subjects that they are not yet sufficiently mature to understand. That is why the BBFC was set up by the film industry in 1912.
Much criticism has been levelled at the BBFC in recent months, but I join my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) in paying tribute to its work and to its director, James Ferman. This country has a tougher regime of censorship of films and videos than any other country in Europe. I well remember attending a lecture by Michael Winner when I was a student, in which he complained bitterly about the cuts that he had been forced to implement in his latest film "Deathwish 2". Having visited the BBFC with one or two of my hon. Friends and seen examples of the scenes that it required to be cut, I can say that I believe that the BBFC was quite right to insist on their removal. It is interesting to note that in other countries they were shown.
Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, the BBFC is required to issue a certificate to any video before it can be sold or offered for rental. As a result, many videos have already been banned. After the passing of the Act, not only were so-called video nasties such as "Driller Killer" and "I Spit On Your Grave" outlawed; the BBFC also refused to issue certificates for films such as "Straw Dogs" and "The Exorcist" because of the risk of their being seen by children. Even now, the BBFC is debating whether to authorise the video release of "Reservoir Dogs", a film which has been so successful that two years after its first release it is still showing in commercial cinemas. Incidentally, I hope that the BBFC will decide to grant "Reservoir Dogs" a certificate. It is undeniably a violent film, but it is also a very powerful film which deserves to be seen by adult audiences. I can understand the view of those who feel that more needs to be done, and the paper by Professor Newson is extremely worrying. I am therefore happy to support the provisions in the amendments that will increase the penalties for those breaking the Video Recordings Act, and tighten the exemptions from it. I am anxious, however, that the new criteria that the Bill sets out for the BBFC to use in judging the suitability of a video for
Column 391release, and the additional powers of retrospective review, should not lead to more than a tiny number of films being deemed unsuitable.
The British Film Institute has already warned that it believes that the amendment could mean that many internationally acclaimed films that gain a cinema release with an "18" certificate will not be certifiable for video release. I do not believe that films such as "The Godfather", "Raging Bull" and "Schindler's List", which have "15" or "18" certificates, will be affected--that would clearly be ludicrous--but I also hope that other films made specifically for adult audiences are not caught by the provision. Horror films such as "The Silence of the Lambs", "Nightmare on Elm Street" and Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" clearly should not be seen by children, but they are good films, and it would be entirely wrong to deprive the 70 per cent. of households that do not contain children of the chance of seeing them on video.
Finally, I want to say a brief word about "Child's Play 3"--a film which has received considerable media attention, most of it wholly uninformed. It was perhaps understandable that, in the wake of the murder of Jamie Bulger, attempts should be made to explain the horror of that tragedy. It is possible that exposure of the two boys responsible to violent videos played a part; but, as the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has pointed out, the police reports did not support the theory that the crime had been influenced by exposure either to that video or to videos in general.
Unlike most people who have commented on the subject, I have seen "Child's Play 3". It was not a particularly enjoyable experience; it is not a very good film, but nor is it a particularly remarkable film. The scenes of violence in it are mild in comparison with those in hundreds of other films that are available today on the shelves in video shops. If the intention is to ban films such as that, it will also be necessary to ban hundreds of other films. I cannot believe that that is what the Government want.
The need to control young people's access to violent films is undeniable and that is why I strongly support the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the work of the BBFC. Used judiciously, I believe that the extra powers in the Bill could help to increase still further the protection available to children. However, at the end of the day, the responsibility for controlling our children's viewing habits must lie with their parents. There is no substitute for that. Just like alcohol and cigarettes, some videos will not be suitable for children. The way to stop children seeing them is not to ban them but for parents to exercise proper control.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under -Secretary on his fluency, particularly since he has recently given up vows that would have been more appropriate for a Trappist monk. Before the debate concludes, I invite him to address the issue of the effective ban that will be imposed by amendment No 81 on all videos that depict or encourage criminal activity. My hon. Friend's example of bomb making was a good one.
Can my hon. Friend explain why the amendment was produced only in time for the Lords and was not the subject of a separate Bill? Does he agree that there have been numerous representations from the police and other
Column 392authorities about a ban on the distribution of such material? Is not it strange that this should be tabled in the House of Lords rather than in this House, which would have given us a decent opportunity to debate the issue? Are not we in danger of falling into the trap--the Broadcasting Act 1990 was a classic example--of technology superseding the legislation passed by the House? Instead of an amendment being tacked on to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, would not it have been more appropriate, particularly if there have been many representations from the police, for a separate Bill so as to provide the House with a proper opportunity to discuss the technology and the implications of a serious and important ban and an extension of criminal penalties into the video lending industry?
Mr. Nicholas Baker: I am afraid that I shall not reply now to all the points that have been raised in this very good debate. I shall write to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I must say to people who feel as she does that there is no doubt in my mind--this has been echoed in many of the speeches- -that something needs to be done. The BBFC is based in the film industry. It has been classifying films for years. It has experience and it knows how to do it. We are talking about reclassification and I think that the hon. Lady failed to appreciate that in what she had to say. I shall write to her about the other points that she raised.
I must tell the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), even if he is not prepared to attend to me now, that a great deal of consultation with the industry will take place before we can go ahead. If the hon. Gentleman has any points to add, they will be listened to.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) made a number of detailed points and I will write to him as soon as I can. I welcome the support that has been given from both sides for what we propose.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to, some with special entry.
Lords amendment: No. 124, after clause 133, to insert the following new clause-- Amendment of law relating to homosexual acts in Scotland --
". In section 80(6) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 (which defines "homosexual act" for the purposes of section 80), after "gross indecency" there is inserted "or shameless indecency"." Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): I rise to raise a point of clarification. The amendment appears to go beyond what was agreed in this place. I should be grateful for clarification from the Minister. The decriminalisation that was going to take place appears to
Column 393have been muddled. Will the Minister give hon. Members an undertaking that the promises that were given by the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), to decriminalise these acts are still the position of the Government? Will the Minister clarify the position of the Merchant Navy, which is governed by civilian employment law, and confirm that there is no question of criminality being extended to it or to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary?
Will the Minister confirm that these disciplinary offences will continue to be treated as such, that there is no suggestion of criminalisation and that the Government still favour
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) for raising these matters and I am happy to give the assurances that she sought about the effect of the words that my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) used in another debate.
I am anxious to give her the assurances that she sought about the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Merchant Navy and I should be happy to have a further, more detailed conversation with her. If she would care to call on us, we should be happy to arrange it.
Question put and agreed to .
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
"I am as concerned as any Member in the House"
about the highest standards in public life. He agreed that corruption was not something of which he would approve, in any circumstances. He further said:
"Our public servants and public institutions are acknowledged to be among the best in the world. In order to maintain that reputation in administration and in politics, wrongdoing will have to be rooted out wherever it is, and I shall seek to ensure that it is."--[ Official Report , 18 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 142.]
A statement will appear in The Guardian tomorrow, which I should draw to your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It says:
"A top Westminster lobbying company were paid"
thousands of pounds
"to give to two high flying Conservative MPs for asking Parliamentary Questions at £2,000 a time on behalf of Harrods during the height of the Lonrho and House of Fraser controversy." The two Ministers referred to in the article are the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), the Minister now responsible for trade and industry, and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), who is a junior Northern Ireland Minister. They were both named in the article
"as recipients of payments passed to Ian Greer Associates, by Mohammed Al- Fayed, the owner of Harrods, on top of a £50,000 fee for a Parliamentary lobbying campaign."
Column 394Given the Prime Minister's statement that he would seek to ensure the highest standards of public probity, have you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, received any sign that he will make a statement to the House tonight or tomorrow?
Mr. Garnier rose --
Mr. Garnier: Indeed so, Sir. Is it in order for a Member of the House to conspire with members of the press to introduce defamatory material under the cloak of privilege in order that tomorrow's newspaper may carry a report of that privileged occasion? Is it in order for Labour Front-Bench spokesmen to shoot the fox of the Liberal party, when the whole Liberal Front Bench, such as it is, has stayed up all night to make the same fatuous point?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): On a new point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you ensure that the matter of Ministers taking bribes at £2,000 a time is not shoved upstairs to some secret Committee but is dealt with by the House? The Government are riddled with corruption--they are past their sell-by date and it is time that they went to the people.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Alex Carlile rose --
Mr. Carlile: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that earlier this evening I and some hon. Friends tabled a motion relating to the probity of hon. Members and of the Government in the conduct of public business. The motion asks for an inquiry--not involving hon. Members--to examine the matter. Is there any way in which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can assist us in achieving that end?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware that I have spent most of this evening in the Chair. I have no idea what early-day motions have been tabled; nor do I wish to know their contents at this point.
Further consideration of Lords amendments adjourned.-- [Mr. Conway.]
To be further considered tomorrow.
That Sir Nicholas Bonsor be discharged from the Select Committee on Broadcasting and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. Conway.]
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): I present a petition on behalf of hundreds of my constituents who oppose many of the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. I share that opposition. It reads as follows:
To the House of Commons
The Petition of residents of York and neighbouring Parliamentary constituencies declares that the Criminal Justice Bill threatens to infringe basic civil liberties, which ordinary democratic citizens have fought for throughout history, and that the bill will remove the right to legitimate peaceful protest. It will give the police service unrestrained powers of arrest, without the need for any offence to have actually taken place, and it will deny the citizens' right to silence.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons do not allow the Criminal Justice Bill to be enacted.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, et cetera.
The petition is signed by my constituent, Mr. Dhara Thompson, and by 815 other residents of my constituency and neighbouring constituencies in North Yorkshire.
To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Bermingham: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Now that the House is silent and now that the occupant of the Chair has acquiesced in the Government Whip's application that consideration of the Lords amendments be adjourned in the middle of a series of points of order involving grave allegations, can you advise me whether it is right that the occupant of the Chair should acquiesce--
Mr. Bermingham: No. I hope that you will accept that I say this with courtesy, but I am challenging the way in which business proceeded this evening. Some other hon. Members might have had something to say and perhaps sought to catch your eye, but the Government adjourned the proceedings, thus, in effect, ensuring that the purpose of raising the points of order was lost. Is it in accordance with the rules of the House that those of us who believe in the democratic process should have our remarks curtailed by a motion to adjourn the proceedings, leaving only the Adjournment debate, and thus denying us the opportunity to continue to debate the serious matters that were raised earlier?
Column 396with motion No. 2 on the Order Paper and heard one of two petitions. We have not reached the Adjournment debate yet.