Sir Francis Patrick Neill, Knight, QC, having been created Baron Neill of Bladen, of Briantspuddle in the County of Dorset, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Wilberforce and the Lord Jenkins of Hillhead.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. In reply to a previous Question he indicated that the Government are greatly concerned and have the situation under review. As they aim to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, should criminal offences of this kind be allowed to be presented as games or normal pastimes? Are the Government now ready for computer games on burglary and mugging, bearing in mind that it is mostly young people who play these games and not the adults who bought them?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Home Secretary has recently appointed Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith to be president of the BBFC and to be the designated authority for the classification of videos under the Video Recordings Act. It may well be young
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that demonstration copies of Grand Theft Auto are being distributed with magazines on sale to the public but that my 12 year-old son, who has played the demonstration copy, assures me that he is not motivated to go out and steal cars?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that excellent news. But it still remains the fact that the supply of such a video for reward is a criminal offence. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would therefore wish to have a private word with his son.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that such games are played by young people in their homes and that it is difficult to know what goes on in the home? Does he also agree that as the Government have made tackling crime one of their three priorities during their presidency of the European Union, they should take any measures that would reduce car crime in this country? We have the worst record for that in western Europe.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Such video games are commonly played in the home. Self-evidently, I would suggest, parents have a responsibility to supervise their own children. One has to strike a suitable balance between banning everything that can conceivably be a pleasure to any section of the population and protecting the vulnerable. We think that at the moment the law is about right.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, a game has to go for certification when it is at its final stage of production. It is then a question of whether the video game is exempt under the Video Recordings Act. If it is within one of the categories that I mentioned earlier, it loses its exemption and therefore needs to be classified.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not know whether any such games are in any of Her Majesty's prisons; but I do know that the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, is keenly concerned that no video or video game should be shown to any inmate in any part of Her Majesty's prison estate if it has an inappropriate classification for the age of that inmate.
Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But is he aware that many families are suffering extreme distress because youngsters in such cults are often ordered to disconnect themselves from their relatives outside and, even if they leave the cult, they may be followed and intimidated? What can be done about that? Will the recent Protection from Harassment Act help?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this is a worrying problem and one sympathises with any family that is broken up by the activities to which the noble Baroness refers. It seems to the Government that if a child is involved--that is, someone under the age of 18--sufficient protections are available at present. If the person involved is over the age of 18, there is the possibility of civil injunction or, as the noble Baroness rightly observed, using the protection against harassment legislation. If criminal acts are evidenced, I would urge anyone with knowledge of them to bring them to the attention of the appropriate authorities.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Moonies, as they are known, are on the increase, whether their numbers are static or whether they are, happily, declining?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a growing body of evidence that some of the recruiting methods of such cults are causing great disquiet not only to those who look on from afar but also to the families and the young people involved? Although persons aged over 18 may be involved, is it not a good insurance policy to warn young people before they reach the age of 18 that such techniques exist? When I was a Home Office Minister, I found great reluctance in the Home Office to take this matter seriously.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sorry to hear that the noble Baroness experienced that in the Home Office. When she was a Minister, the noble Baroness answered a Question--I happen to have a copy
Lord Milverton: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the danger of some of these so-called cults and religions is that those who are taken in by them lose their minds, in that they lose the capacity to reason and to think? That is a danger which all mainstream religious bodies and schools should point out. No person, young or old, should be forced to lose their mind or their capacity to reason and to think intelligently about matters of religion.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord. Apart from the responsibility of those who teach young people in schools, mainstream religion equally has duties which the noble Lord doubtless discharged in his pulpit in past years.
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