29 Feb 2008 : Column 1351

29 Feb 2008 : Column 1351

House of Commons

Friday 29 February 2008

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

9.33 am

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (motions to sit in private):—

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 0, Noes 36.
Division No. 106]
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Peter Bone and
Mr. Philip Hollobone

Benyon, Mr. Richard
Blackman, Liz
Bottomley, Peter
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Field, Mr. Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Greenway, Mr. John
Hands, Mr. Greg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Lammy, Mr. David
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
McCabe, Steve
Merron, Gillian
Purnell, rh James
Randall, Mr. John
Rosindell, Andrew
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Stanley, rh Sir John
Twigg, Derek
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wicks, Malcolm
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Peter Luff and
Keith Vaz
Question accordingly negatived.
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1352

Orders of the Day

British Board of Film Classification (Accountability to Parliament and Appeals) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.48 am

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am most grateful for this opportunity to call for the Second Reading of my Bill. I am also grateful to the large number of colleagues in all parts of the House who have given up their precious constituency day to be here.

There is growing concern in this House and in the country about the rising tide of violence. Whatever the complications around counting, reporting and recording, the statistics suggest a rise of about tenfold over the past 25 years in violent crime in general and, more specifically, in rape; and the trend remains upwards.

The Bill seeks to address what I believe is one of the fundamental drivers of our increasingly violent society. It has received the endorsement of leaders of several of our religious communities, including the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Anglican Bishop of Bristol, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the League of British Muslims.

I am very grateful that the Prime Minister has agreed to see the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and me to discuss the issues raised by the Bill.

This morning, I shall offer compelling evidence that the growth in violent offences is linked to the growing availability in the media of extremely violent and explicitly sexual material. Part of that material falls within the orbit of the British Board of Film Classification, which is responsible for classifying films on an advisory basis for local authorities, and has statutory powers with regard to videos, DVDs and certain classes of video games. My Bill would reform that organisation.

It is manifestly obvious that some very important media lie outside the remit of the BBFC, particularly television and the internet. In a private Member’s Bill one can only do so much; my aim is to suggest ways of setting boundaries that we could then extend to other areas. I hope that the House will bear with me if I spend the bulk of my speech focusing on the need for reform, and then briefly outline the provisions.

I shall start with a group of videos banned by the Director of Public Prosecutions a generation ago. They were re-examined by the BBFC three years ago, and one of those that it decided to release videos to ordinary high-street outlets such as HMV was “SS Experiment Camp”. Let me quote from the sleeve of this video:

The film shows in voyeuristic detail women being tortured to death by SS camp guards. A BBFC spokesman commented on the film:

29 Feb 2008 : Column 1353

It is certainly true that far more brutal films have since been released, but I urge those in the House who feel—and I know there are some—that although material may be tasteless, adults should be allowed to watch whatever they like in a free country, to read the report published by the Ministry of Justice last September. Its title is interesting in itself: “The evidence of harm to adults”—it focused exclusively on adults—“relating to exposure to extreme pornographic material: a rapid evidence assessment.” The survey was based on 124 independent studies from around the world. I shall quote some of the findings. It says that

The material, incidentally, was hardcore, but not necessarily violent pornography. The report continues:

There will always be those who claim that there can be a correlation without a cause—that this whole phenomenon can be explained away by saying that those who are prone to rape have a greater predisposition to view pornographic material. As someone who worked for a number of years as a statistician, I can tell the House that it is possible to pursue that sort of chicken and egg argument until the cows come home. We do not accept it, and never have accepted it, in areas such as simulated child pornography, where child porn is made with actresses who are actually adults but appear to be children. We do not accept it in the case of racist literature. Interestingly, the Ministry of Justice report addresses this point head on, and comments:

There we have the chicken and the egg.

I shall give one or two further examples. In Leicester in 2004, Warren Leblanc admitted murdering his 14-year-old friend Stefan Pakeerah in a murderous assault with a claw hammer and knife. I know that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East will be dwelling on that case, so I will not do so, but the testimony of the father is well worth listening to. An even more horrific case was that of the two 10-year-old schoolboys who were convicted of murdering toddler Jamie Bulger. When the noble Lord Alton was an MP, he commented on the remarks of the trial judge, Justice Morland. Lord Alton said:

He went on to point out:

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Last year the BBFC at least sought to ban the successor to the game “Manhunt 2”. Its director, David Cook, said:

Indeed, I understand that under the points system in the game, the more sadistic the killing, the higher the number of points a player gets. The BBFC’s video appeals committee overturned this ban, but found its own ruling overturned in the High Court. Although this process has finally yielded the right result in that case, the House will not be surprised to hear that one of the provisions of my Bill is to reform the video appeals committee.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am following my hon. Friend’s argument with great interest. Can he tell us why the High Court overturned that decision?

Mr. Brazier: Yes, certainly. The gist of the decision was that the standard of proof set by the video appeals committee in determining whether the game was damaging was so high that it could almost never be attained, in any case. The High Court said that that process was legally flawed. The basis that the committee used to justify allowing it would effectively allow anything. In an earlier ruling, nine years ago, the video appeals committee had effectively opened the doorway to almost all forms of non-violent pornography.

Another example that is far more recent than the film I mentioned earlier is the film “Irreversible”. This film includes a scene of the rape of a very attractive actress, which runs for nine consecutive minutes. If one types “irreversible rape” into Google, five of the top 10 links are to clips of that rape scene, which has been passed by the BBFC. If that is not glamorising rape, it is difficult to imagine what would be.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Years ago, I was on the local council, which used to review films and could overrule classification. I would like to know whether that can still be done. Whenever we did overrule classification, the danger was that we would give a lot of publicity to the film, and then everyone would go and watch it in a neighbouring authority area. Is my hon. Friend touching on that issue in his Bill?

Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Of course, local authorities do sometimes make a stand. In the field of rap music, which is unregulated, Brighton has just said that it will close licensed premises that use such music that features incitement to violence. As my hon. Friend points out, a local authority standing alone is of limited value, for exactly the reasons he sets out. We have to go back to the sources, and the BBFC is what we have at the moment.
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1355

I turn to one more example, from a quarter that might surprise some Members of the House. Boyz magazine has given me the following quote and asked me to use it:

that is, sex scenes showing males operating without condoms. It goes on to say that

three young men now facing effectively a sentence of death. The quote continues:

I shall not conceal from the House the fact that I have some disagreements with Boyz magazine in some areas, but I am extremely grateful that it has come out strongly behind my Bill.

It is remarkable that a number of the BBFC’s former leading lights have condemned the institution’s current attitude. Speaking to the Daily Mail, former BBFC chairman Andreas Whittam Smith said that he believed that it had been taking a more relaxed approach to violence. He was, of course, overturned by the wretched video appeals committee when he tried to take a stance on violence as chairman. Referring to a recently released film, “Eastern Promises”, Mr. Whittam Smith said:

Michael Bor, the former principal examiner of the BBFC, came to see me. He said:

It is not just the Ministry of Justice report that accepts the argument that violence and sexual material encourage violence against women. The Advertising Standards Authority launched a seminar last year under its chairman Lord Smith, the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, on violent imagery in advertising. The ASA has an excellent record in that area, unlike the BBFC. For example, in 2005 it banned a Reebok advertisement on the grounds that it glamorised gun violence. A few years ago, Professor Andrew Sims, past president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, commented that

Earlier I quoted Government research and referred to the Prime Minister’s open door. Now let me refer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who said last November that

29 Feb 2008 : Column 1356

He went on to say that

The previous August he had remarked that

My Bill aims to make the British Board of Film Classification accountable to Parliament and the public in a way that should encourage a return to more responsible decisions. Clause 1 gives a power of scrutiny over the appointment of the four principal officers of the BBFC to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is the Committee responsible for studying crime and violence. In each case, the BBFC would be required to submit a shortlist of three names to the Committee, allowing it to interview each person. The BBFC would then make the appointment, but the Committee, as well as the Secretary of State, would have a veto.

Currently, the BBFC makes all its appointments internally. Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, the Home Secretary was given the power—it now lies with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—designate the body with control over videos, so that the Government in effect have a veto over that key position.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The hon. Gentleman’s Bill does not delete sections 5(1) and 5(2) of the 1984 Act, so even under his proposals there would also be the opportunity for a veto by either of the Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Brazier: That is true, but that veto has never been exercised in practice, and as there are no hearings, it is very unlikely that it would be. The Bill would get it out into the open, and the hon. Gentleman will hear some more reasons in a moment why we need to do that. In his statement to the House on constitutional reform last July, the Prime Minister announced:

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