Previous Section Index Home Page

I wish the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) and his wife all the best. I hope that he does not have to hang around too long before he is the parent of a second child. His role as parent will probably be far more important to ensuring that his children and their friends grow up not seeing violence as an integral part of their lives than any regulation that we choose to pass or any debate in Parliament. If he has to choose
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1418
between tackling the problem in the two places in which he spends his time, his role as parent will be paramount.

I say to the hon. Member for Canterbury that there is not a Member in the House who does not share the concerns that he has highlighted about violence in our society, particularly against women. I took some exception to the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), which seemed to suggest that he had a monopoly on concern about that. It is of concern to all of us, and the only matter for debate is what action we can take, in the House or through the regulatory bodies that we establish, to ensure that we provide an environment in which children will grow up well.

The hon. Member for Canterbury kindly agreed to come and see me before today’s debate so that I would have some idea of the issues that he had in mind. He said to me during that conversation—I hope that he will not object to my raising it this afternoon—that he was concerned not only about children, but about the impact that videos and films that were classified would have on adult behaviour. We have been debating the subject for more than four and a half hours, and it appears that that concern is not shared across the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, who is not with us now, was focusing on children. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), if I read him right, was primarily concerned with the impact of videos and films on children.

Mr. Gale: Let me set the record absolutely straight. I think that we all accept that children are much more impressionable than adults, because they are at an impressionable age. I said carefully that the empirical evidence, in so far as there is any, suggests that the impressionable of any age are affected—some adults are fairly impressionable and could be just as easily affected as younger people.

Margaret Hodge: I hope to come on to that later.

As the hon. Member for Canterbury knows, the Ministry of Justice has collected evidence from research that it has done. It might be appropriate for me to talk about it now, because it is about pornographic material and the link that that can have to behaviour. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman said this, so it might be worth putting it on the record: the piece of research done by the Ministry of Justice considered only extreme material. When it defined that material, it was talking about material that would never have gained classification under the current BBFC system—not even as an R18. As all hon. Members know, R18 material is available for sale only in licensed sex shops and is therefore subject to severe restriction.

The research applies to material that would in no circumstances whatsoever have obtained any of those classifications. It is only when that extreme material was examined—material that is censored, to use the term of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore)—that the contention is supported that extreme pornographic material can have a harmful effect on those who access it. There is some element of consensus in the House, but we must be careful about the evidence when that element of consensus exists.

29 Feb 2008 : Column 1419

Stephen Pound: Is not my right hon. Friend’s point about that dark abyss beyond R18 one of the principal motivators of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)? None of us is prudish. I do not think that any of us objects to consenting adults appearing in films, and if consenting adults want to buy them, so be it. We are really concerned by the denigration of the performers and the observers and the constant moving of the boundaries further and further away beyond the R18 rating and beyond even unimaginable horrors. Is that not what we should—to use a dreadful, trite, hackneyed parliamentary phrase—be putting down a marker for?

Margaret Hodge: My point was that the marker is there already. Those films that could cause the deepest offence and could impact on the behaviour of adults are not classified.

I agree with what a lot of hon. Members have said. First, judgment is terribly personal on such matters. The BBFC will not always get it right, but it is doing an incredibly good job in a difficult area. Judgment is personal and judgment will change. Let me give my personal judgment. In preparing for today’s debate, I, like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), asked for a copy of “SS Experiment Camp”. Last Saturday night my husband and I watched two films. The first was “This is England”, which I had not managed to see before, and which had received BAFTA and Oscar nominations; the other was “SS Experiment Camp”. Some of the scenes in “This is England” were utterly outrageous and horrible and could very well have had an impact on the behaviour of young people. The film was set in the ’80s, but it could have been in 2008. One scene showed the crazy and unnecessary vandalism of a building. It was horrific to watch such pointless vandalism; if one wants to link action in a movie and action in real life, the scene could have done so.

The film included—Members must excuse me if this is unparliamentary language—a scene of the most horrific Paki-bashing by a young group of National Front members. They knocked the living daylights out of a young Pakistani boy. Such a scene could resonate with some of the most violent racist abuse nowadays, which I certainly see in my constituency, and it was utterly horrible, yet “This is England” is a powerful film that succeeded in gaining BAFTA and Oscar nominations.

Mr. Whittingdale: It is important that we understand clearly what the Minister is saying, because “This is England” won the award for best British film. Does she think it was not properly classified or that it should have been censored more?

Margaret Hodge: No, I think the film was completely properly classified. It would have been outrageous if anybody had suggested censoring it, but it contained violent scenes, portraying a reality in Britain in the 1980s that could be mirrored in the reality of Britain in the first decade of the 21st century. We need to experience the film. Violence is sometimes portrayed in films—I shall discuss interactive games in a moment—that reach the top of various competitions.

I started to watch “SS Experiment Camp”, but I could not manage the whole lot because it was so poor.
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1420
It would not convince a soul. There was gratuitous ugliness and hideousness, but I thought that there were no connotations of a Nazi concentration camp. I say that as someone who lost family in the camps. People in Nazi concentration camps were not dolled up to the nines, wearing make-up. At one point, the inmates were drinking wine and eating the sort of food that would never have been seen in the camps. It was a pathetic, out-of-date pornographic portrayal. The film had no impact on me whatever.

Of course, judgment is personal. I have enormous respect for the hon. Member for Canterbury for promoting the Bill, but the film he selected as a basis for the measure would not encourage violence in any way because it is such a poor film—it is just bad.

Mr. Brazier: I may be able to reassure the Minister. I had never heard of the film when my Bill received its First Reading; it was one of the large number of films and games sent to me as examples.

May I take the Minister back to the study conducted by the Secretary of State for Justice and published in December? She dismissed it as being composed only of such extreme material that it would be banned in the UK. She cannot really claim that, because the document was based on 124 studies from all over the world. The material was indeed extreme, but as the bounds are pushed steadily back some of it is coming into the British orbit.

Margaret Hodge: I hope to come to the evidence on content in a research-based desk study undertaken in 2006, which encompassed studies from throughout the world, not just in the UK. Context matters a lot because it has an impact on whether a piece of work could be said to influence behaviour in a particular society.

Stephen Pound: As one who has led a fairly sheltered life, despite appearances to the contrary, I too have had a look at some material in connection with this matter. Surely the point about “SS Extermination Camp” is not that it is a bad film but that it is a film about the gratuitous torture of human beings, and whereas today there is a bad film about torture on the market, tomorrow there could be a better film about torture. That is what concerns me. The minute that we have the public availability of a film that relies on that form of viciousness, the question of whether it is bad, good, aesthetic, well lit or well acted, is irrelevant. It is out there and another one could then follow it.

Margaret Hodge: I disagree with my hon. Friend, who made a fantastically good contribution to today’s debate. A good film that portrays torture well, as “This is England” did, has a far greater impact on our views and possibly on our behaviour than a bad film that portrays torture in a poor way.

Several hon. Members spoke about the internet, which is the big challenge. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Canterbury covered only videos and films. The internet is of greatest concern because of the difficulty in controlling the source of information and therefore in being able to ensure that we censor where we have to censor while being able to classify. It was largely arising from that convergence over all the
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1421
platforms that the Government, in responding to the legitimate concerns that the hon. Gentleman raised, asked Tanya Byron to examine the area to see whether we should have further regulation or changes in regulations to protect our children from material accessed by them, either through video games, the cinema, DVDs, or, most importantly, the net. As has been said, she is due to report in March. She has undertaken her work in a serious, comprehensive, sensitive and good way, she has talked to everybody and she has been assiduously independent of anybody. I have no doubt that we will debate her findings when they are published, and if she suggests that further action is needed in this new converged world, we will respond to that.

When I was Minister with responsibility for children we started to look at the emerging problems of the net, particularly in relation to child pornography and pornographic images, and interestingly, what came out of that work was an understanding, which Tanya Byron may or may not reflect, that if we wish to protect our children from accessing inappropriate material, action must be taken on what is classified, which is action by the content producers. Action also needs to be taken by internet service providers. We touched on that issue in the strategy document on the creative industries that we produced last week.

Action should also be taken in relation to parents, because they have a key responsibility for protecting their children from accessing inappropriate material. Work can also be done to educate the children themselves, and their peer groups, so that they can begin to understand the harm that they could experience by viewing the material. So this is not just about our taking action here by passing a bit of a law, even if it is the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. That would not be effective on its own. We need to get all the stakeholders working together. That is the way forward.

Mr. Brazier: Of course the Minister’s last remark is exactly right. The Bill seeks only to look at one area. However, the point must surely be that, in getting all those groups to collaborate, we will all need to agree on where we set the boundaries. Part of the problem is that anything that can go out to adults can now reach children relatively quickly. Indeed, one of the two Bulger murderers was a 10-year-old who, according to the testimony of the trial judge, was heavily influenced by at least one of the violent videos that his father had been watching.

Margaret Hodge: Several Members, including the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, have raised that issue. However, it is important to put on record what I understand to be the facts. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe what I am saying to be right, I shall be willing to reconsider. All I can give him are the facts that I have been given.

Let us consider the Stefan Pakeerah murder. That was an horrific, terrible crime, involving a horrible way to die. Stefan was subjected to a hammer and knife attack by a 17-year-old, who has since been given a life sentence. Stefan’s mother and father suggested that the actions of Warren Leblanc—the man who was found guilty of murdering their son—had been influenced by
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1422
his alleged obsession with the video game “Manhunt”. They may have made that statement, but the rationale for the statement is less clear. The game was discovered not in Warren Leblanc’s possession but in the victim’s possession. It does not feature the use of a hammer, and it was not considered by the police to be a contributory factor. No such connection was ever suggested in court. Indeed, the prosecution and defence barristers insisted in court that the video game had played no part in the killing. It was reported that Leblanc was motivated by fear of a gang to which he owed money.

That is the information that I have been given. If the hon. Gentleman can provide me with other information, I would honestly be willing to look at it. However, we need to be extremely careful before we make assertions in the House about a connection between a particularly horrific murder and the playing of a game. I accept that it is a violent game, but it is none the less a game with a classification. We have a responsibility to ensure that we carry through our legislation based on evidence, and we need to be accurate about that evidence.

Mr. Whittingdale: I agree entirely with the Minister. I wonder whether she can confirm my recollection that no evidence was produced to suggest that the young boys responsible for the murder of Jamie Bulger ever saw “Child’s Play 3”.

Margaret Hodge: That is absolutely right, and I was going to come to that. My understanding is that “Child’s Play 3” had been in the house, but there was never a suggestion that either of the two boys who killed Jamie Bulger had seen it. Anyway, that particular film was rated 18, so it should not have been rented or sold to the boys, given the issues that have been discussed.

Mr. Brazier: The Minister is surely not denying—this was not denied at the time, when the issue was raised in the House—that Lord Justice Morland, the judge on that case, said that there was a link. Moreover, it was clearly established that the father of one of the murderers had taken out that video and that it had been in the house for some weeks.

Margaret Hodge: The hon. Gentleman should be really careful about the assertion that he is making, because it is really important that we base what we do on evidence. Nobody is suggesting that the film was not in the house, but there is no suggestion that either of the two boys who killed Jamie Bulger had seen it. If the hon. Gentleman proves me wrong, I will be really happy to make a retraction, but at present all I can say to him is that my best understanding is that the link that he is attempting to make in the two instances that we have been discussing has not been evidentially established. We must be really careful when we deal with these issues.

I want to talk about the British Board of Film Classification, because I agree with the hon. Member for Wantage and others in the House who have said to us that although it does not get it right every time, it does an extremely good job in incredibly difficult circumstances. Nobody has mentioned today that it looks at some 17,000 works a year. [ Interruption. ] My apologies to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—he
29 Feb 2008 : Column 1423
did mention that. The BBFC looks at an enormous number of works, and it takes extremely seriously the task of ensuring that it works in tune with the general consensus of the public’s views at any one time.

Mr. Bone: Does the Minister not think that there is a danger that the message from this debate, in the light of the agreement of all three Front Benchers that the classification system is working very well, is one of complacency?

Margaret Hodge: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it allows me to say that I think he has misinterpreted what I have been saying. There is a consensus among all three Front-Bench spokespeople that the issues behind the Bill that have been raised are hugely important, incredibly complex and need to be addressed. Certainly from the Government’s point of view, it is because of that consensus that we established the Tanya Byron review, the outcome of which the hon. Gentleman should await. During our consideration of that review, there will be plenty of time to engage with the question of how best to respond, and whether action needs to be taken to change the way that we establish the BBFC or to change its accountabilities.

I should point out that the hon. Member for Wantage was right in saying that the Secretary of State does not approve BBFC senior appointments; the Government are involved only in naming them as the designated authority. The BBFC can appoint whom it likes, and if the Government do not approve, we then have the option of choosing not to designate them, under the terms— [ Interruption. ] Well, perhaps the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bath are both right, then.

I very much welcome the inquiry that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is undertaking. That provides an opportunity. Tanya Byron is undertaking her independent review and the Select Committee, concurrently, having regard to what she says, I hope, is undertaking a review of this hugely difficult issue and putting it in a wider context—

It being half-past Two o’clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 7 March.

29 Feb 2008 : Column 1424

Remaining Private Members’ Bills


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 9 May.

Expenses of Public Servants (Publication) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 6 June.

29 Feb 2008 : Column 1425

National DNA Database

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Michael Foster.]

Next Section Index Home Page