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Since then, the 18 certificate has been increased in size to about that of a 50p coin, but it is nothing like what is on a cigarette packet. Therefore, even if children do not buy such games from retailers—I will refer to those briefly in a moment—they can visit the homes of adults, pick up a game, take it home and go upstairs to play it on the computer without their parents being aware of the fact that it contains a lot of violence. That is why I produced my Bill to amend the Video Recordings
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Act 1984. Although it did not succeed, it drew our concerns to the House’s attention.

The university of Missouri, Columbia, has already produced what I regard as a definitive report—I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it—suggesting that there is a link between the violence in computer games and the violence of individuals. We have no equivalent research here. One thing that I hope the Minister will initiate, which I have urged on her many times, is the production of good research on the subject.

As the hon. Member for Canterbury mentioned, when we raise the need for proper rather than voluntary regulation, the industry always says, “Well, video games are quite similar to films. How is a video game different from a film?” That is quite simple: video games are different because they are interactive.

People who are watching a film at the cinema cannot participate in what is happening on the screen, or if they do they are removed from the cinema. However, someone sitting at a computer playing a video game, or someone with one of those small devices that young people have these days, the name of which I forget— [Interruption.] PlayStations or PSPs, something of that kind. [Interruption.] Well, whatever they are called, when people play these things, they can interact. They can shoot people; they can kill people. As the hon. Gentleman said, they can rape women. That is what is so wrong about the present situation. Dr. Tanya Byron’s report will come out soon. The hon. Member for Canterbury and I are due to meet the Prime Minister around that time, on 18 or 19 March, and the Bill will give the House an opportunity to discuss matters further.

I have two final points to make. The first concerns the role of retailers. People under 18 can buy the video games that we are debating from some of our biggest retailers, such as Tesco and Asda. Such retailers are not doing what they have to do to prevent the sale of those video games to people under 18. No less a figure than the iconic Trevor McDonald, on his programme, sent mystery shoppers under 18 to seek to buy such video games from retailers. They were successful. I have asked Ministers many times how many retailers have been prosecuted for selling video games unlawfully to those under 18. We never seem to get the figures, but I hope that we will get them today to aid the hon. Member for Canterbury in what he is doing.

Mr. Don Foster: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising an important point about upholding the law. We may debate changing it, but we should be upholding it. Is he as surprised as I was to discover that the figure he is struggling to obtain—the average number of prosecutions a year for the past few years—is just 14?

Keith Vaz: I am very surprised. Perhaps in future I should write to the hon. Gentleman for my figures, rather than to Ministers and the Attorney-General. The industry is huge and the number of video games sold every single day in this country is enormous, so it is astonishing how many unlawful sales are not detected.

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Mr. Dismore: I get the impression that my right hon. Friend is drawing his remarks to a close, but he has not addressed a key part of the Bill: the significantly increased role of the Home Affairs Committee, which he chairs. I am concerned about the extent to which the Committee might have discussed one particular issue. As he knows, the Liaison Committee has just undergone an exercise to determine what appointments should be scrutinised by Select Committees. All Select Committees, including my own, were asked to feed into it. Was the Home Affairs Committee asked to consider whether there should be scrutiny of the British Board of Film Classification, and did it make that recommendation to the Liaison Committee, which finalised its list yesterday?

Keith Vaz: No, we did not, because we have not had an opportunity to discuss the issue. We are waiting for the House’s views on the Bill. When we have considered them, we will certainly put forward our recommendations. I shall come in a minute to the hon. Gentleman and his role in debates on private Members’ Bills.

The hon. Member for Braintree spoke of his multiple children. I do not know whether that means more than two, but I have two.

Mr. Newmark: I have five.

Keith Vaz: My goodness me. The hon. Gentleman will have to look at a lot of computers to check what his children are doing. My son Luke will be 13 on Sunday, and my daughter Anjali will be 11 in April. They disappear to their rooms with video games, and I check on them to see what they are watching and what they are doing on the internet. Of course parents have a role, but it is a partnership. They cannot do everything on their own. They have to check what their children are watching and playing, but retailers also have a responsibility, as do the Government and manufacturers. It is a partnership. One group cannot do it alone, and the hon. Member for Canterbury is trying to ensure that Parliament has a role as well. We cannot just say, “This isn’t a matter for us. Because the internet is big, we won’t interfere. It’s all too much in this modern age.” We must take the first step, which is what the Bill seeks to do.

The Bill deserves a Second Reading. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is here this Friday morning. I know his record on speaking on private Members’ Bills, and I hope very much that he will not do today what he normally does, which is to speak for a long time in order to talk the Bill out. That would deny the public the opportunity for the Bill to have a Second Reading.

Mr. Dismore rose—

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend will have his chance to speak later.

Mr. Dismore: As you have attacked me, I think I am entitled to intervene.

Keith Vaz: Well, you may.

Mr. Dismore: When I speak on private Members’ Bills, it is because I have something to say. Last week I decided not to speak at all on the Temporary and
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Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, because I wanted to ensure that it made progress. I hope that my right hon. Friend will stay to hear what I have to say about the Bill. I have a lot of sympathy with its aims but some concerns about the details of the mechanism that it sets out.

Keith Vaz: I did not realise that my hon. Friend did not speak last week, for which I think we are all grateful. I will not be able to stay and listen to his speech, because I have to go back to my constituency. It is a Friday morning, and I am rarely here on a Friday morning.

Mr. Dismore: You should be, on a sitting day.

Keith Vaz: No; I am sorry. I am here because I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Member for Canterbury, I am a sponsor of the Bill and I believe that the issue is important. Those who try to talk it out, whoever they may be—perhaps my hon. Friend will not; perhaps he will speak briefly today—will do this country a disservice. They will do our children a disservice and, more than that—

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): No.

Keith Vaz The Minister says, “No”, but those people will go against what the Prime Minister wants to do about the issue. Whatever the Minister may say, the Prime Minister is very concerned. The Minister may not be concerned about it, but the Prime Minister is, as was the previous Prime Minister, as she knows. The issue concerns our children and protecting them from the violence that video games sometimes portray. The vast majority of video games sail through the classification; I think the figure was 99 per cent. We are talking about the tiny minority of games that are full of dreadful violence: glorification of the Nazis, violence against women and, in the case of the game “Bully”, violence against children. That is what the Bill addresses, not freedom of speech or censorship. I hope that it gets a fair wind from the House.

10.37 am

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). There is absolutely no doubt that the Bill addresses a matter of public concern, and my hon. Friend is doing a public service by allowing us to debate it. Normally, he and I agree about almost all matters, so it is with some sadness that I say I do not agree with all his remarks this morning.

Everybody accepts that there must be a degree of control. I should not think that anybody would argue that there should be no restrictions whatever and that one should be able to buy any kind of video game or other content. The question is where to draw the line. I think that everybody would accept that certain types of content are beyond that line and are unacceptable in society, such as child pornography, videos depicting forcible rape scenes and snuff movies, where it is
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apparently the case that the people being tortured or killed are actually suffering that fate in reality. Those are clearly unacceptable.

Age ratings are just as important. I agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) that the protection of children is perhaps our highest priority. That does not just mean protecting children from scenes of sex or violence through an 18 classification; it means going below 18 to say that some material is suitable for 15 or 12-year-olds but not for younger children. A lot of debate in the British Board of Film Classification is not about whether something should have an 18 classification but about the correct age rating below that. There is a lot of argument about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury suggested that society was somehow becoming more tolerant of violence and that films were now being released that would not have been released some time ago. That is the case, and there are certainly examples of that, but I should not like him to suggest that there has not always been huge controversy over films. I remember the controversy over Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”, which was said to push violence to a new extreme. I actually think that it is quite a good film. It is not very easy to watch, but it is well made and it has a serious point. I also remember the controversy about David Cronenberg’s “Crash”, in which the main character enjoys having sex with the victims of car crashes. I went to see that film as part of the London film festival. It was not particularly good. I did not think that it had great merit, although I recognise that Cronenberg is a good director. Nevertheless, I accepted that some people would take a different view. Nothing in it was so unacceptable that I should prevent other people from going to see it. There are many other examples that I could give.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has not mentioned the issue of faith, but that, too, generates huge controversy. Many people found Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” deeply objectionable, and a number of them thought that it should be banned. Actually, it was made by somebody who has some religious belief, and who argued that it was a deeply religious film. Again, I think that it is a film with some merit.

Then there are films that were banned but that have now been released. My hon. Friend referred to some of the so-called video nasties of the early 1980s. I well remember the furore about “The Driller Killer” and “I Spit on your Grave”. I saw “I Spit on your Grave” on sale in WH Smith a few months ago; it has now been passed for release. There is no doubt that society has changed its attitude. The Hammer horror films were originally rated 18. Vincent Price baring his fangs was thought to be so horrifying that nobody under 18 could watch it. Nobody today would seriously argue that the Hammer horror films should be rated 18.

Similarly, “Straw Dogs”, a hugely controversial film, was banned for many years, mainly because of the rape scene in it involving Susan George. Not only is it now available on release on DVD, but it has been shown on television, as have a number of the films that I have mentioned. Of course, if people believe that the BBFC was wrong to allow the release of a film, as soon as it is shown on television they have a method of protesting against that—they can make a complaint to Ofcom, as
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Ofcom has powers to rule against harmful or offensive content being shown on television, but as far as I am aware, it has not done so.

My hon. Friend talked about “SS Experiment Camp”. He kindly lent me a copy, and I spent 90 minutes—not the most enjoyable 90 minutes of my life—watching it. It is a truly dreadful film. It is what is called Italian schlock, and many people will find it offensive because of the subject matter—because it involves Nazis and extermination camps. It is pretty tasteless and pretty offensive, but I have to say that there is not a single scene in that film that I could argue should be banned. The scenes of so-called torture and sex are mild compared with anything that a person could see today in the Odeon down the road. I know that that will cause my hon. Friend concern, and he is right to have concern about some of the material—graphic scenes of torture and violence—that is now regarded as mainstream Hollywood entertainment. We are not talking about Italian schlock; we are talking about big-budget, multi-million pound films. My hon. Friend needs to be open about the fact that it is those scenes that he is trying to address.

Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the courteous manner in which he is making his remarks, but I am a little confused about where he is going with that point. Poll after poll, including that commissioned by the BBFC in 2004, has shown that a clear majority of the public are in favour of tightening standards, so why does he not support a measure that would result in greater accountability for the BBFC, so that it has to come in line with public opinion? We all agree that the transition to which he refers has occurred, but a poll published as recently as yesterday shows that the public want a change. Why does he disagree with the public, and why is he determined that the BBFC should continue to be allowed to operate in a completely unaccountable fashion?

Mr. Whittingdale: If I may, I will come on to the issue of accountability, because I accept that it is important. I am not necessarily persuaded by the public opinion research. Opinion polls have shown different results, as they always do. My hon. Friend cast doubt on the BBFC’s methodology, but it prides itself on the amount of research that it does on public opinion. I am sure that it will address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend, and if there are serious doubts about the accuracy of its polling, I suspect that it will be the first to want to address that.

Mr. Brazier: My hon. Friend completely misses the point. The poll conducted by TNS, for which the BBFC paid a lot of money, involved a large sample and one of the country’s top polling organisations. It was carried out with a view to changing the BBFC’s 2005 guidelines. The clear, unmistakable outcome was that the public wanted the guidelines tightened. The BBFC went on to carry out a poll—I have described the methodology—on a website. That poll had none of those merits, and it produced the opposite result. The BBFC chose to follow that.

Mr. Whittingdale: I heard my hon. Friend make that point in his speech, and I am sure that the BBFC will want to respond to it. I look forward to hearing its
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response. I merely say to him that one should not necessarily be dictated to by pubic opinion. We need to do more research on public opinion on the subject.

The issue affects not just the BBFC; I remember the extensive public research done by the Broadcasting Standards Council when it had responsibility for the regulation of broadcast media content. That, too, showed that there was undoubtedly a change in attitude. A lot of the material that was felt to be unacceptable 30 years ago is now regarded as perfectly acceptable; no one would pretend otherwise. The use of offensive language is another key criterion in determining classification. The use of the F-word used to mean that a film would automatically be rated 18, but that is no longer the case. I suspect that most people would accept that attitudes in that area have changed.

I do not say that the BBFC does not ban films; it does, but rarely. Some might say that it is a happy coincidence—perhaps it is not a coincidence—that yesterday the BBFC announced, for the first time this year, that it was banning a film. It is called “Murder-Set-Pieces”. Last year, it banned a film called “Struggle in Bondage”, which covered a lot of the ground that my hon. Friend talked about. It showed women being tied up and subjected to abuse, with no indication that they had consented to that. The BBFC felt that it was unacceptable and it rightly banned it.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): It is important to make it clear that the BBFC has no power to ban a film that is shown in a cinema. It only has the power to advise a local authority. It may interest the House to know that “Life of Brian” remains a banned film in Glasgow.

Mr. Whittingdale: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course completely correct to set out that distinction. As I suggested earlier, some of the most controversial questions have to do with age classification. In some cases, the BBFC has been too strict and should have been more liberal. Let me give an example. I went to see “Sweeney Todd”, Tim Burton’s new film, which is very good. It is a musical, but it contains gore and shows people having their throat cut, although it is a fairly unrealistic depiction. The BBFC decided that the film should be rated 18. I have a son who is just about to turn 15, and I would have no qualms about allowing him to see that film. I think that it would be perfectly acceptable for it to be a 15. On the other hand, I went to see “The Last King of Scotland”, which was rated 15, but which in my view should probably have been an 18. All of us will argue about where the line should be drawn, and probably everybody will have different views.

One should be aware that there are big issues at stake when deciding where to draw the line. The certification of a film can have a considerable impact not only on the amount of revenue that it makes, but on public expectation and people’s desire to see that film.

One of the films that led to the greatest number of complaints to the BBFC last year was “Casino Royale”, which contains some gritty, violent scenes. I am thinking of two in particular: a scene where Bond is tortured sitting naked on a chair; and a graphic fight scene right at the start of the film.

Keith Vaz: The difference between films and video games is that films are not interactive—one cannot add to Bond’s torture.

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