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That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the levying of fees prescribed under the Act in respect of anything dealt with by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.[Mr. Watson.]
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House the important issue of controlling the sale of violent video games. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts is on the Front Bench.
Hon. Members may recall that I raised at Prime Minister's questions on 15 September 2004 the case of Stefan Pakeerah, a 14-year-old Leicester schoolboy who was brutally murdered. Stefan's parents believe that the perpetrator of that savage attack was influenced by the video game "Manhunt". Stefan's mother, Giselle Pakeerah, has been campaigning to ban the sale of the PlayStation2 game. Stefan's father, Patrick Pakeerah, said:
Since the tragic attack, I have been sharing the concerns of the Pakeerah family and have received a growing number of letters from concerned parents on the issue. I am grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and other parliamentary colleagues.
The intense worry about video and computer games is based on the belief that the violent games are totally inappropriate for all children. Video games have come a long way since the creation of Pong in the early 1970s. Nowadays, there are thousands of games to choose from, and the technology becomes more and more sophisticated every day. In a little more than two years, video game consoles have gone from processing 350,000 polygons per seconda measure of graphic and action qualityto 125 million polygons per second. The increasingly realistic and exciting nature of electronic games has helped to make them immensely popular with children and youths. According to David Walsh, a researcher with the National Institute on Media and the Family, 79 per cent. of American children now play computer or video games on a regular basis. Children between the ages of seven and 17 play for an average of eight hours a week. I am the father of two childrenLuke, aged nine, and Anjali, aged seven. They, too, play these games.
For the video games industry, 2004 was one of the most successful gaming years ever. Sales totalled £1.34 billion in the UK last year, a rise of 6.6 per cent. on 2003, according to the European Leisure Software Publishers Association. The game most anticipated for 2004 was "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas", and it has sold an astonishing 1.75 million copies since its release at the end of October 2004. Without a doubt, we are in the midst of a gaming explosion. According to Deloitte and Touche, the worldwide number of game-compliant devices other than personal computersmobile phones, consoles and hand-held computers, for examplewill see a sixfold rise by 2010, from 415 million now to 2.6 billion.
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Most of the games on the market are appropriate for young players, and the best of them can bring a lot of benefits. Besides being fun, some of the games provide practice in problem solving and logic, as well as in strategising. However, the few games that feature violence, gore and antisocial behaviour have raised concerns. The virtual reality aspect of games has entered a new phase of reviving history by replaying it. The recent launch of JFK Reloaded, which allows players to simulate the shooting of former American President John F. Kennedy, can be easily downloaded from the internet without any control measures, and be played by children younger than the recommended age limit. This disgusting game, with its appalling content, should not be allowed on the market.
The case of Stefan Pakeerah shocked the city of Leicester. Warren Le Blanc lured Stefan from Glenfield into the woodlands near his home at Stokes Wood Park, New Parks, Leicester, then chillingly inflicted more than 50 injuries with a claw hammer and a kitchen knife. He initially intended robbing Stefan of drugs and cash to raise money to pay off a debt. Mrs. Pakeerah, a senior nurse, remembers her only son as an intelligent, handsome, courteous and amazingly popular young man with an excellent sense of humour and a real zest for life. More than 350 people attended Stefan's funeral, and there are more than 1,200 entries on a memorial website set up in memory of Stefan by one of his friends. It is obvious that Stefan was loved by many people and held in very high regard. Passing sentence, Judge Michael Stokes QC said to Le Blanc:
"You've committed a truly appalling crime and have taken the life of a 14-year-old boy in the most brutal fashion. You and you alone carried out a prolonged murderous vicious attack with weapons upon someone who thought you were a friend."
Stefan's parents believe that their son's killer mimicked a game called Manhunt, in which players score points for brutal killings. The game has been banned in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand's chief censor, Bill Hastings, has cited the game as the most violent ever made. I pay tribute to Mrs. Pakeerah, a brave and courageous mother, who in her grief could easily have let matters pass, but who has started an impressive campaign on this issue. She will not give up until something is done.
Violence is a recurring theme in the media, and the two combined have often been linked with aggressive behaviour in young people. The current trend in video games is for the players to be the bad guys, acting out criminal fantasies and earning points for attacking and killing innocent bystanders. Although the games are rated 18 for adult audiences, it is common knowledge that they are popular among young people. Nine out of 10 children have a computer or games console. A quarter play video games every day.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con):
I well remember the ghastly case that the hon. Gentleman raises well, and it was a clear example of virtual reality spilling out into violent real life. Does he agree that there are two main problems? The first is the apparent reluctance of the British Board of Film Classification, which has been responsible for such games since 1984, to act to ban them or give them a serious classification unless there is clear evidence of a link, which it is difficult to prove scientifically. The
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second is that too many of the games that are rated as being for adults only are sold to under-age children through high street retailers who do not realiseas they do when it comes to selling cigarettes or alcohol to young peoplethe damage that such games can do. Parents do not know what they are letting their children get into.
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