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 Members 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:
Female political prisoners are brought to Von Kleibens secret camp to have sex with Wehrmacht troops as part of a breeding studyat least the compliant, beautiful ones, that is. The plain Janes and the uncooperative experience a course of cruel experiments by Von Kleibens lesbian assistant.
It is tastelessbut then I find most Mel Gibson films tasteless...It is not going to create an attitude towards Jewish women that is harmful.
It is certainly true that far more brutal films have since been released, but I urge those in the House who feeland I know there are somethat 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 adultsit focused exclusively on adultsrelating 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 research reviewed in this report provides evidence of the negative psychological, attitudinal and behavioural effects on adults who access this material.
These include (for men): physiological arousal...leading to beliefs that women enjoy or desire rape...; attitudinal effects; rape myth acceptance; pro-rape attitudes; self-reported likelihood to use force or to rape; behavioural effects such as: aggression in the laboratory after exposure; using pornographic materials to prepare for sexual offences...; actual real life rape and sexual aggression.
There will always be those who claim that there can be a correlation without a causethat 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:
Research testing theoretical models has identified a mutuallyreinforcing relationship between extreme pornography as a causal factor in instigating sexual aggression, and a predisposition to sexual aggression creating an interest in extreme pornographic material.
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:
The context of my amendment two years ago was the killing of a young boy, James Bulger, in the city of Liverpool...In the aftermath of the verdicts, the trial judge remarked on, the striking similarities between scenes in the video Childs Play 3 and the attack on James Bulger.
440 other videos had been hired during the previous few years by the father of one of the boys. The videos included soft pornography, violent horror and necrophilia.[ Official Report, 3 April 1996; Vol. 275, c. 309.]
Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.
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 BBFCs 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. 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?
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.
As the leading and longest-standing gay weekly magazine, Boyz has taken a stance against bareback videos
we reported last October that three young models, aged 18, 21 and 26, contracted HIV on a British bareback video shoot
It is disturbing that the film was released despite the fact that...at least one of the models was very strongly opposed to the film being released...Boyz magazine is in favour of gay adult material being available to our readers, of course, but we do not support the promotion of films featuring unsafe sex. The BBFC is effectively certifying films which eroticise and promote unsafe sex amongst gay men.
It is remarkable that a number of the BBFCs former leading lights have condemned the institutions 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:
If I thought this was the type of film that was likely to make people leave the cinema, or even make them have to look away for quite a while, then I would question why the scene should be left in.
Nobody familiar with the media business could deny that there has been a liberalisation of attitudes to violence...We have to be much more sophisticated in recognising that young people are being desensitised by growing exposure to violence in the media; violence is becoming normalised in their perceptions.
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
there is now vast anecdotal evidence associating the portrayal of violence with violent behaviour and more than one thousand papers linking violence in the media to actual behaviour.
studies have shown that as many as one in two young men believe there are some circumstances when its OK to force a woman to have sex. In my mind, this is an example of moral collapse.
We need widespread cultural change, and addressing this moral failure represents a real challenge to British society: to families, schools, local communities and businesses.
the past decade or so has seen the growing sexualisation of our society, where sex is aimed at an ever younger audience and its cool to treat women like sex objects...we need those that work in the media and music industry to exercise their responsibility in how they present female role models.
the companies which make music videos, films and computer games have a social responsibility not to promote casual violence, the gang culture and the degradation of women.
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 powerit now lies with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sportdesignate 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. Gentlemans 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: