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For convenience, I shall deal next with clause 3, which gives a similar power of veto to the Home Affairs Committee over the BBFC’s guidelines. They are the guidelines that the BBFC’s examiners work to and they are available on its website. Let us be in no doubt at all that the guidelines have been progressively liberalised. If we compare the guidelines for 2005 with those of five years earlier, we see that the differences are striking. For example, the guidelines in 2000 for videos rated at 15 said:

In 2005, that was watered down to:

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Crucially, all reference to knives was removed from the guidelines in 2005. There have been a string of films portraying knife attacks since then, and we have also seen a large growth in knife crime. I am not suggesting cause and effect, but I believe that such films are a factor. Similarly, to give one more example, the BBFC’s 2000 guidelines for 12-rated videos said:

In 2005, however, the guidelines said:

In videos, people can dwell as much as they like, whatever their age, and there is lots of evidence that children play again and again even quite short clips that they find intriguing.

Amazingly, the BBFC’s own polling conducted in 2004, shortly before the 2005 guidelines were issued—it was conducted by TNS Media, a reputable body—showed that a clear two-to-one majority among those in the public who had an opinion believed that too much violence was allowed into films for those two age bands. That poll was properly conducted by a reputable polling organisation. The BBFC did not like the outcome, so it went off and conducted an online poll—in fact, we can follow the paper trial through its own documents. In its consultation document, the BBFC admitted to directing people, including

to the website survey. The results were, of course, unsurprising. In the new online survey, which was not properly conducted, only 13 per cent. of respondents thought that the standards of violence in the guidelines were not strict enough. Sadly, the BBFC chose to follow its own cooked web poll and watered down standards on, for example, knife crime, instead of following the poll that it had commissioned from a reputable organisation.

More recent surveys record even more startling results. Media Watch, the campaigning organisation, whose work I strongly commend, commissioned an independent survey by CommunicateResearch, another top independent polling organisation. If any hon. Member goes to CommunicateResearch’s website when they leave the Chamber—they will not do so, I hope, before I finish—they will see the top item: the research it published yesterday showing that 76 per cent. of people support the tighter regulation of violence in films and games, and on TV; that 68 per cent. believe such violence to be linked to actual violent crimes; and that 80 per cent. believe that the BBFC process for approving films should be transparent and accountable to Parliament. That—to return to the query that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised—is why we need greater accountability to Parliament.

Currently, only the industry can appeal against a ruling by the BBFC, either to restore cut material or to lower a classification. No appeal from anybody else is allowed. Appeals are currently handled in the BBFC by the supposedly independent appeals committee. The last violent video game to be rejected before “Manhunt 2”—“Carmageddon”, which was rejected in 1997—was released after its makers employed an expensive Queen’s counsel on the appeal.

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It may be argued that there have to be limits on appeals because otherwise there might be a vast number of them. In Australia, any single member of the public can appeal to a genuinely independent appeal body, but all my Bill asks is that if 50 MPs sign an early-day motion as a result of public concern, it should trigger an appeal. No one is suggesting that MPs should be directly involved. I do not want direct political interference; we just want accountability, so that an independent body will look at the matter if there is a lot of public concern.

Clause 2 proposes that the BBFC be required to keep a list of volunteers from whom a jury of 12 should be randomly selected to hear each appeal. It also proposes to limit the service of the panel from which juries are selected; it is time-limited to prevent panellists from becoming case-hardened. Incidentally, it is a crucial feature of Australian law that everyone involved in the process is time-limited.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I was somewhat intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s proposal on the jury, and I am pleased that he has moved on to the detail of the Bill, as my main concerns lie there, rather than with the broad thrust of what he is trying to achieve. What happens if the jury is hung?

Mr. Brazier: I look forward to the hon. Gentleman joining me in Committee so that we can sort that out. In fact, there is an answer: the Bill provides for the appointment of a chairman to the jury, who will presumably have the casting vote. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question, but we can debate it further in Committee—and I hope that he will serve on it. Let me remind the House that at this stage, we are debating whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I have been listening with interest to my hon. Friend. I come at the issue with the perspective of someone who has multiple children, who seem to have access to all sorts of information. I am curious to know whether the Bill deals with access to material on multiple platforms. Violence is not disseminated solely through videos and DVDs, as there are now hand-held devices through which various messages are delivered. Will the Bill deal with those platforms as well?

Mr. Brazier: The short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that it deals with some, but not others. As I said at the outset, a private Member’s Bill can do only so much. Whole areas of the media, such as the internet, are completely unregulated except with regard to child pornography. I am trying to set boundaries for the BBFC, which is what we already have, but I have already made it clear that that can be only a beginning. As we shift progressively away from straightforward videos and DVDs towards the wider world that he mentioned, any measures will have to be broadened.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): One of the key aspects of the BBFC’s work is that it reaches decisions prior to the release of films, often in discussion with film makers. I assume that, under the Bill, the appeal process can take place only after a film has been released, because people will need to have seen it in order to object. Is there not a danger
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of creating a real double jeopardy for the film industry? I have to tell my hon. Friend that that is why most in the industry are very concerned about his proposals.

Mr. Brazier: I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but the film industry’s concerns are not my primary worry. The fact is that the system works perfectly well in Australia and it can be put into effect at any stage. Sometimes people hear about the release of a particularly violent video in America, for example. It is interesting to compare the three common law jurisdictions of America, Britain and Australia. We are positioned somewhere in the middle. In America, the system is completely liberalised, except with regard to child pornography, for which there are very tough federal offences, including those for when adult actors pose as children. Australia represents the direction that I would like to move in. I am not suggesting that this issue is the only factor, but it is a fact that there is a great deal less violent youth crime in Australia than there is here, and I believe that this problem is one of the causes.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I do not want to delay my hon. Friend in advancing his important case, but I am puzzled by the intervention of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). Surely all the Bill does is provide an additional safeguard in extreme circumstances, not for routine films, which does not exist at present. When a film has been released and people find it distasteful and think that it should not have been released, there would be an additional protection. That is all the Bill does; it seems very sensible, prudent and pragmatic.

Mr. Brazier: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and I hope that my next example will make that point almost as well as he has just made it.

Let me return to the testimony from Boyz magazine, our largest circulation gay magazine, as this particular provision is the one that it most strongly supports:

the 19-year-old whom I mentioned earlier, who has a sentence of death hanging over him—

That was highlighted in our exchange of e-mails as the single reason for the magazine’s support for the Bill.

Currently, there is no way of reviewing a decision retrospectively, except at the behest of the BBFC. After the outcry over the original “Manhunt” case, for instance, a review by the BBFC would have been welcome. Thus, clause 2 allows for that sort of retrospective ruling. If people have heard about a film, they can initiate the process earlier, but retrospective rulings will be allowed. Again, however, that sets a much higher standard than in Australia, where just one person can trigger an appeal. My Bill says that an appeal will be possible if 50 MPs sign an early-day motion.

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Finally, clause 4 will introduce increases in penalties for offences. Ian Muspratt, chairman of the Video Standards Council—a body wholly independent of the BBFC—commented that

The current abysmal lack of enforcement, with weak penalties anyway, means that, while there is still some classification, the system for enforcement has effectively broken down. Mr. Muspratt described to me the vast numbers of illegal videos and DVDs moving around the country—that is the case even before we start thinking about the internet.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for agreeing to see the right hon. Member for Leicester, East and me. I am very much aware that the Government have commissioned Dr. Tanya Byron to research the children’s end of this issue. I must say, however, that although I was very impressed with the work that she is doing when I met her, this is not just an issue about children. Britain today has a rising tide of violence, particularly sexual violence against women and young girls, much of it which, especially when the women are trafficked, never reaches official statistics, but the official statistics are bad enough. The perpetrators are not typically under 18. The tide of violence available through the media, including films, DVDs, videos and video games is fuelling the problem. The evidence shows overwhelmingly that that is the case, so I urge the House to give the Bill its Second Reading.

10.18 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and I congratulate him on his good fortune in the ballot, which has given him the opportunity—one that few hon. Members have—to bring a Bill on such an important issue before the House. The hon. Gentleman presented his case with skill and eloquence—there was no hysteria in what he said—and he brought to Parliament’s and the public’s attention an issue of crucial concern. It is a 21st century issue that, as a result of technological changes over the past 20 years, will impact on every single household and every single child in this country and beyond.

I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport in her place on the Front Bench. She will recall our pleasant meeting a few years ago, when I and other Members brought the issue to her attention. At that time, I also met my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward)—then a Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We explored ways in which the Government could help to ensure that the classification of video games gave adults access to them while protecting our children from them.

The way in which the hon. Member for Canterbury made his case is important, because this is a question not of censorship but of protecting our children in particular from having access to these terrible games, which show scenes of horrific violence, as he described. His Bill, which I am pleased to support, proposes a procedure that would ensure that the most violent of
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those games did not circulate in this country. I welcome the procedure and the vast amount of time that he has put into the subject.

The hon. Gentleman said in response to the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) that we do not come here to speak on behalf of the industry; it can make its case very eloquently. The industry is one of the strongest and most powerful in the media today, and London is the centre of that industry. Whenever those of us who raise the issue of video games have done so positively in relation to concerns about violence, we have been pilloried in the press that is sponsored by the video games industry for trying in some way to destroy it.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con) rose—

Mr. Newmark rose—

Keith Vaz: I give way first to the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands).

Mr. Hands: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is right to say that the industry is based in London; in fact, most of it is based in my constituency in Hammersmith. Does he share my concern at the irony that most of those companies are quite concerned about their image and are doing things to promote corporate social responsibility—for example, in relation to payroll giving—while at the same time showing limited corporate social responsibility in the titles that they put out?

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We welcome the fact that such companies are in London—they provide jobs and taxes for the Government—but it is important that there should be no duplicity over how they operate. I do not know the specifics of what they are doing on corporate responsibility, but I hope that they continue. Also, I hope they will show corporate responsibility in how they prosecute their policies.

Mr. Newmark: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, as this is a big issue. I appreciate the motives of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) in introducing the Bill, but he has himself accepted that the largest platform out there is the internet. The people generating that business are not based in Hammersmith or anywhere else in London; it is an underground business. Surely the House would far better spend its time trying to legislate to control the internet and the messages it sends.

I have another question for the right hon. Gentleman. If we are to teach our children about these issues, would not that message best come from the family? Families should be trying to deal with morality of that sort. It is hard to deal with a tiny fraction of the market by controlling DVDs and videos, as the Bill proposes.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right on both points. We in the House cannot control the internet, but that is no excuse for not taking the first step in controlling video games. I will come on to his multiple
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children later, when I discuss the effect of these issues on our children and the fact that parents need to be responsible. I shall cite a number of cases as examples. Let us be clear: we are not against the industry and we are not against having it based in London, contributing to our economy, but it has to show responsibility. We come to the table to help it.

The hon. Member for Canterbury is right to praise the Prime Minister for readily agreeing to see us in March and for setting up the Byron review. Indeed, successive Prime Ministers have been running ahead of their Governments, because in the meetings that we have had with them—we have also raised the issue at Prime Minister’s questions—they have been very concerned. However, I have to tell the House that Ministers, although courteous in their dealings with MPs, have not, I fear, understood the genuine concern among members of the public about how the issue has operated.

I say to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and to the successor to the Department of Trade and Industry, which the Minister represented at my last meeting with her, that they have to understand that there is real concern about the level of violence in video games. Therefore, the issue is not just about defending the industry and London’s position; it goes far beyond that.

The hon. Member for Canterbury mentioned the Pakeerah case. As the House knows, my concerns about these issues arise from the brutal killing of Stefan Pakeerah, a 14-year-old Leicester schoolboy who was murdered in a savage attack in which he received 50 blows with a claw hammer—an attack that mirrored exactly a scene in the video game “Manhunt”. I was not the first to say that; Giselle Pakeerah, his parent, has from the very beginning maintained and strongly believed that the fact that Warren Leblanc had a copy of “Manhunt” and that other children were looking at those scenes of violence led to the attack on Stefan.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) talked about parents. Giselle Pakeerah led a parents’ campaign, because she wanted to ensure that such a thing never happened again. She was firm in pushing me and other Members representing Leicester to ensure that the issue was raised. That led to our first meeting with the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, which was most productive. He understood, perhaps because he is the parent of a young child, that something had to be done.

At the meeting, we showed Mr. Blair a video game and, in particular, the casing around the video. We noted the fact that the 18 certificate on that casing—I am looking for a penny, but unfortunately I do not have one on me—was about the size of a 5p coin. The then Prime Minister was concerned that video game packaging was such that the need to ensure that under-18s did not have access to such games was not brought to the attention of parents, retailers and others.

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