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Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for once again taking the initiative on video recordings. Some noble Lords present--although not many, I suspect--may remember that this is the subject on which I made my maiden speech in 1984. It is a sad reflection that many of the points that I made then need restating 14 years later.
I am concerned about the diet of sex and violence that we see in the video industry today. I realise that those with responsibility for classifying videos cannot control what Hollywood produces, but they are the guardians of deciding what material is appropriate for what age groups in this country. In this day and age, that is, indeed, a weighty task, so I support the proposals to add more definition to the task of the designated authority; namely, the British Board of Film Classification.
One of my other concerns is the public accountability of the BBFC. I noted in the recent annual report descriptions of the home viewing panel and work with students, and I do commend these interactions with the video watching public, but they have still no right to appeal against classification decisions or to find out why certain decisions were made. They are more a test of, "Did the BBFC get it right?".
In 1984, I asked whether members of the public would be able to appeal to the Video Appeals Committee against a decision by the BBFC. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has proposed that recognised organisations, other than producers, will be able to appeal against the classification decision in certain circumstances. This would give some balance back to a process that currently allows practically no redress when a particular video is released which causes public concern.
I know that other appeals processes do not give an objector this sort of opportunity to pursue their objections. But I am sure that noble Lords will agree that comparing a planning application to classifying a video cannot be taken to extremes. An application for one house will affect only one particular area. Licences for pubs and betting shops can be revoked if the licensee acts outside the terms of the licence.
In contrast, a video work is classified by an unelected body, is likely to be reproduced thousands of times, circulated around the country and shown in individual homes, where, by the very admission of the BBFC, it could influence an individual to antisocial behaviour. I believe that there should be an appeal process that allows an organisation apart from the video producer to appeal against a video classification in the circumstances outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I give the amendment my full support and I commend it to the House.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I have sympathy with the principle of this amendment because of my concern about video games. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, knows that I initiated a debate on 9th February on a particular video game, Grand Theft Auto, which was advertised with the slogan, "CRIME DOES PAY". I shall not go over that ground again, but that game had been granted an 18 certificate, so that it was a criminal offence, with fairly heavy penalties, for it to be supplied to persons under the age of 18. Very few adults have played, or play, that game or similar computer games, so we have an anomalous situation where the game is played virtually only by those of 17 years or younger. It can only encourage car crime and joy-riding, leading to danger to life and limb. Indeed, in the game, once the car had been stolen, other crimes may be committed.
We in the United Kingdom have the worst record in Western Europe for car crime, and have had for some years. The game gives young people the impression that stealing cars and committing other offences is a normal pastime. I presume that there will be few noble Lords
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, gave me a very good reply from the Government's point of view; that the Government cannot do very much on the subject. He agreed that it is not possible to regulate situations in homes and within families or to charge parents with supplying the 18-certificate game to their children or to other children, although that is a criminal offence. This is a difficult situation. I understand that the Government are in a cleft stick on this, but I have sympathy with the amendment and commend anything that could be done to improve the situation that I have described, which is highly anomalous.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, covered the ground so completely and satisfactorily that there is little else that I can add, except to commend the amendment to your Lordships' House and to say that I hope very much that the Government will accept it.
The subject of the amendment affects parents very deeply, particularly good parents who are trying to do the best for their children in a world which is beset with difficulties for them. As I understand the purpose of the Bill--it is one with which I entirely agree--it is to try to prevent young people falling into crime and to propose ways of dealing with them if they do. I cannot understand why there should be any question over trying to tighten the restrictions on such videos or giving those who object to them the right to appeal.
I have read many reports purporting to state that there is no link between seeing violence and actually practising it. I have never understood that argument. Why we believe that advertisements can affect people, but not video nasties, I cannot think. When I was at school, and in the schools in which I have been involved, teachers spent a lot of time trying to put before children those things which are good, right and true in the hope that they will have some effect. Even if they do not have any effect, teachers certainly will not put the reverse before children because they want them to grow up to be good citizens. I simply do not understand the argument that one influence has an effect but not the other. Screen violence has a profound effect. What is so worrying is that even children from good homes can nowadays see on television things that would have been simply unthinkable 25 or 30 years ago. They may have opportunities to see in their own homes the videos that were singled out by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. This is a serious situation and we should do everything that we can as a society to support good parents who are trying, in a difficult world, to do the best for their children.
I shall be interested to hear the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. There may be some legal argument about why it is not possible to accept the amendment, but I hope that even if there are technical difficulties he will say that he will consider the matter further and produce a further drafting of the amendment.
Although I do not subscribe to the fact that this might be regarded as a provision which runs against artists' freedom to express themselves--as far as I can see, anybody who wishes to see such films, which strike me as being singularly disagreeable, can do so at the cinema--I believe that there is a case for trying to prevent such films being shown in the home. I really believe that there is a distinction. I know that it is difficult to legislate on what goes on inside the home. It seems to me that the two minimum requirements are to give more power to the organisation which is responsible for the standards which are set for home videos and to provide a right of appeal. I should have thought that there could be no real disagreement on this. I very much hope that the Government will accept the amendment.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, delivered a comprehensive and damaging description of the BBFC which will require study in order to get on board the full detail. Having heard the greater part of it--he was five minutes into his speech when I arrived--and looking at the amendment, I felt like someone who has taken his car for an MOT and hears it condemned as shambolic and unroadworthy and who is then given a short list of things to do to make it all right.
Whatever we do with the amendments, that institution should be, as it were, on probation for the next year or two to see whether it is running on the right fuel, whether it should be paid out of the proceeds of the film industry, for instance, and whether it is one of those institutions which those noble Lords who have taught in various places will find familiar as institutions which have developed their own culture and see the world from the position of that culture and do not see the world as the world sees it.
The amendment does not address that issue, except in one respect. The first leg gives to the board what my noble friend Lady Young has described as a new power, and which I strongly hope will be a new duty, to consider the likelihood of video works in respect of which certificates have been issued inciting their viewers to antisocial behaviour, crime or disorder.
All noble Lords have become accustomed to hearing from the Dispatch Box opposite a catalogue of negative research reports, all saying that the connection between violence in video and violence in behaviour cannot be
It is obvious to all noble Lords that there is this connection. Even the last three tranches of research, to which the noble Lord referred, bear that out. The most recent was published in January of this year by Browne and Pennell at the instigation of the Home Office. While it is again inconclusive on the direct connection, it states that when parental violence was present offenders and non-offenders differed significantly, with offenders distinctly preferring violent films and characters. The implication is that a history of family violence and offending behaviour are necessary pre-conditions for developing a significant preference for violent film action and role models. The children to whom that referred had all committed--the control had not--violent crimes.
Statistically, there may not be the required connection, but all noble Lords must be satisfied, as indeed most have been, as my noble friend said, by the enormous sums paid out by industry to secure the changing of other people's behaviour by showing them things on television. It is perverse, is it not, to suggest that one can change it one direction by producing film material but not in the other?
I want also to draw to your Lordships' attention the merits of having some form of appeal system available outside the industry which this is meant to regulate--outside the people who create this material, but from among the people who have to receive it, whose children have it before them for up to 30 hours a week. They are the people who are affected. The appeal from within the industry protects bank balances. The appeal from outside the industry protects character. That is an essential piece of common sense. However long or short the future life of that board may be, I ask your Lordships to submit it to this new provision.
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