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6 Jan 2010 : Column 176

This is a short Bill designed to repeal and revise the provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984, including the offences under the Act. The offences were made unenforceable because of a failure to notify the offences and other provisions of the 1984 Act in draft to the European Commission in accordance with the technical standards directive.

Until the Video Recordings Act is repealed and revived, no new prosecutions can be made under the Act. This means that publishers of video games and DVDs can distribute their goods free of classification requirements, and retailers can sell or supply adult material, including explicit pornography.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): This matter was discovered some weeks ago. Have the Government caused an investigation to be held to find out why the European Commission was not informed about the draft?

Mr. Simon: The failure to notify the draft was in 1984, under the previous Conservative Administration, about whom I do not want to make cheap political points today. None of the Ministers or officials serving at the time is still in post. It was an unfortunate oversight, and we believe it to have been an isolated incident. What is important now is to rectify the situation, so that the current anomalous loophole, whereby inappropriate material can be sold to children without classification, is closed as soon as possible.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The Minister accepts that it was down to a previous Administration. The practical cost to the House is an afternoon's business. He said that it was an isolated incident. Is he satisfied that it will not happen again, and that we will not waste hundreds of person-hours of this Chamber's time making the same mistake?

Mr. Simon: The Cabinet Office is looking to see whether this kind of thing might have happened on other occasions and, as far as we are aware, this is an isolated incident. As I say, the important thing is for the loophole to be swiftly closed today in this House, so that the protections that have been afforded to the public for 25 years by a very successful piece of legislation introduced under the previous Administration are enforceable once again-they have not been enforceable
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since August, when this oversight was discovered. I am sure that the House will agree that there is an urgent need for the legal protections to be reinstated.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Minister says that there is a loophole and he talks about trying to make the law enforceable. According to the House of Commons Library, there were 81 successful prosecutions for offences under the Act in 2006 and 139 in 2002. Is he saying that those prosecutions were not valid at the time? Would they-

Mr. Speaker: Order. It pains me greatly to interrupt the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) but, as always, I am trying to be helpful. I listened with great interest to what he said, but I would not want the Minister to be diverted from the path of righteousness, and what has just been said over the past couple of minutes bears very little relation, if any, to the allocation of time motion.

Mr. Simon: I shall take your guidance, Mr. Speaker; I would be happy to discuss that matter with the hon. Gentleman later in our proceedings, but it behoves me to take the guidance from the Chair. May I say-this is in response to the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am attempting to keep my remarks to the motion-that this is the first use of the fast-track procedure, as recently recommended by the relevant House of Lords Select Committee? We are dealing with what used to be called an "emergency piece of legislation". This Bill does not change, in any way, the existing 1984 Act; it simply repeals and then revives it quickly in two short clauses, in order to make the existing Act enforceable, which is why we are seeking to deal with this quickly today with the minimum of delay.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): We agree.

12.42 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I do not wish to disagree with the motion, but I want to make a point on procedure. It is not good procedure for this House to proceed with Bills in a single day unless there are overwhelming reasons to do so. Such reasons are sometimes associated with national security and sometimes with urgent circumstances outside the House. There is a reason for our procedures in this House and a reason why we have a delay between Second Reading, Committee and Report: to enable matters to be properly considered in order and to ensure not only that Members who wish to contribute to the debate can do so, but that those outside the House are able to make observations on the Bill as it proceeds. I have no doubt that this is a simple tidying-up provision, and there is every indication that it will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It could therefore have been dealt with simply over the normal time period and in two chunks to enable us to maintain the principles of parliamentary procedure; I do not entirely understand why it should be dealt with in a single day. That is an exceptional way of doing business and there does not seem to be the exceptional need for such an approach on this occasion. We had several days prior to the Christmas recess when
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we could easily have slipped in the Bill's Second Reading and then proceeded in the normal way. Perhaps the Minister could tell me why that did not happen.

Mr. Simon: That could not have been done because the situation was caused by a failure to notify under the technical standards directive. In order for the provision to work, we had to notify it in draft under that directive. We did that three months before 15 December. The first day on which we could have had the First Reading was 15 December, and we did so. Today-the second day back after the recess-is the first opportunity that we have had to deal with this on the Floor of the House.

There are two very important points to make on why we are dealing with the Bill so urgently in one day. First, we are not changing the law in any way. The existing law has been debated using all the full procedures and has been in force for 25 years-it is only the enforceability that turns out not to have been enacted, and we need to address that.

The second point that I want to stress is that the lack of enforceability has serious consequences. Almost any kind of serious, explicit, violent, brutal, nasty DVDs and video games can be supplied at the moment to anybody- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry; that was a long intervention.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the Minister for that long intervention, which was helpful. I am grateful to him for explaining the constraints on First Reading. I am simply making the point that this is not an approach that I think the House should readily accept from the Government. It is not my intention to divide the House on this issue, or to do anything of that kind. However, we need to make the point that procedure exists for a purpose. If we can improve procedure so that we take less time on things that do not need a lot of debate, I am all for it-it is part of the modernisation of the House that we spoke about in Prime Minister's questions. However, we need the delay between Second Reading and the completion of the passage of a Bill in this House if we are to make good law, and making good law is what this House is about. It sometimes achieves very little in the way of that because of the curtailing of procedures. That is the only observation that I have to make and I hope that we can now proceed.

12.46 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I, too, shall be brief, Mr. Speaker, because of the guidance that you have given. I want to be reassured that when it comes to the substantive debate the Minister will deal with the points of substance to do with what has happened over the past 25 years, including the point made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)-issues such as what has happened to those who have been prosecuted and whether they will be entitled to compensation. If the Minister will deal with those points, I shall be happy to support the motion.

12.46 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): You are a reasonable man, Mr. Speaker, so I can only presume that your necessary intervention earlier was caused by my not
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explaining myself sufficiently. I shall try again to overcome the difficulty that there seemed to be the first time around.

I take the points made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath): we should not be having Acts of Parliament made in one day, with all stages debated on that day, unless it is absolutely necessary. The purpose of my initial intervention on the Minister, which I hope I shall be able to clarify in my short speech, was that, given that there have been hundreds of prosecutions under the 1984 Act as it stands, can we satisfy ourselves that the Bill is so necessary and urgent that it must go through all its stages in one day? I urge the Minister to clarify where we are with the prosecutions under the 1984 Act. If they are no longer valid and therefore need to be rescinded, I should have thought that that would be important.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I understand entirely the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but will he bear it in mind that every day that we wait to bring the legislation back into force, people will legitimately be able to sell inappropriate material to minors? Local authorities are being prosecuted because they have sought, apparently erroneously, to prosecute people for doing what we would all agree is wrong. We need to get on with it very quickly. Does he not agree?

Philip Davies: I absolutely agree. In effect, that was the point that I was trying to tease out from the Minister in the first place. We need to know where we stand with existing prosecutions, because if they all have to be rescinded and if none of them now has any basis in law,
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we would need to do this all in one day. I hope that the Minister can explain that to our satisfaction so that we know the urgency of this matter.

12.49 pm

Mr. Simon: I shall construe your silence on the matter, Mr. Speaker, as consent that I might reply to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) within the terms of this part of the debate. Prosecutions that occurred since the error was discovered in August will not have been able to proceed and will not be able to be instituted retrospectively. That is why-I think that this is what he was getting at-it is important to pass the Bill. As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, not only does the situation continue with every day that goes past, but evidence from around the country shows that it is reasonable to assume that the problem will grow. The more people are not prosecuted for supplying very inappropriate material, the more people will see an angle through which they can make what one might call an evil buck. Over the past few years there have been between 100 and 200 prosecutions a year, on average, and a great deal of other activity, which might not be prosecuted, is deterred by the enforceability of the law. I hope that I have answered the points raised by the hon. Member for Shipley.

On the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), we will deal with the substantive issues in greater detail in the Second Reading debate on this short two-clause Bill. It does not in any way change an existing Act. It simply repeals and revives. On that basis, I commend the allocation of time motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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Video Recordings Bill

Second Reading

12.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Siôn Simon): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and others for their encouragement. We live in an age where videos, DVDs and more recently Blu-ray discs constitute a hugely important part of every family's entertainment. Figures compiled by the British Video Association show that a record 258 million DVDs, Blu-ray DVDs and videos were sold in 2008, with a total market value of £2.3 billion. A further 79 million videos, DVDs and Blu-ray DVDs were rented in 2008. The number of films sold on video has more than trebled in the past 10 years from 61 million units in 1999 to 196 million last year. According to the British Video Association, 6.5 million DVD players were sold in 2008, taking cumulative DVD hardware sales since launch to 55 million- the equivalent of two players for every household in the UK.

Videos and DVDs are an essential element of domestic life in the 21st century, yet they are a relatively recent part of our cultural experience. The video recorder was invented in the 1960s and began to take off as a mass market phenomenon only in the late 1970s. In 1979 there were 200,000 video recorders in the UK but by 1984, when the original Video Recordings Act was introduced, over 4 million had been sold. Looking to the future-I am sure that hon. Members will make this point later-there is a definite shift in how we consume both video and video game content. The online distribution models are developing and will no doubt continue to do so at an increasing pace.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Is the Minister aware of any convictions that are currently being challenged or are the subject of an appeal as a result of what appears to be a defective process?

Mr. Simon: Certainly, there will have been prosecutions that were pending or in process when the defect, to echo the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, was discovered. Those will have had to be stopped once it became apparent that the law was no longer enforceable because of its non-notification. We have heard of a handful of putative-usually putative-appeals or claims for compensation against previous convictions, although all our advice tells us that such speculative attempts to exploit the loophole further are likely to be unsuccessful.

Although the online environment is clearly the future and is going to grow, we must not be dismissive of the traditional boxed product. Only yesterday, senior executives from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony were all reported as saying that digitally distributed product is unlikely to overtake the boxed product for some considerable time to come.

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