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Lord Birkett: My Lords, although I am technically still a vice-president of the BBFC, I must emphasise that I speak for myself and out of my own experience. I do not entirely recognise myself or the BBFC from a great number of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. I certainly do not recognise myself as having lived in an insulated bubble, as described by the Daily Mail, but then, if I were going to sit for a portrait, I would not go to the Daily Mail as the painter thereof.

The amendment has two halves. I cannot believe that they will work. The first half is unnecessary. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which I know are shared by many of your Lordships, about violence in the cinema, and especially in video, but I do not believe the amendment is necessary because the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 amended the Video Recordings Act with the following words, "The designated authority"--that is, the BBFC--

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Further to that, "potential viewer" is defined in that amendment as:

    "any person (including a child or young person) who is likely to view the video work in question".
At the BBFC we are very much aware that the mere sticking of a certificate on a video box does not by any means guarantee that it will not be seen by people of the wrong age.

However, that amendment encompasses what the noble Lord has put down in his amendment. As I know that belt-and-braces legislation is not favoured in your Lordships' House, I suggest that his concerns may be shared by all but that the necessity for that half of the amendment does not exist.

More importantly, the second half of his amendment deals with the appeals procedure. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is a little unfair in describing the BBFC as being funded by the industry as if it had a subvention or private source of finance from the industry which somehow put it in the pocket of the industry. The truth is that the BBFC is simply funded by a fee that it charges for classifying either films or videos. That fee is calculated precisely to make the BBFC break even. There is no likelihood of it making a profit and, if it did so, it would not have anything to do with it. It cannot make a profit. Equally, it cannot make a loss if it is to remain in existence. I believe that the funding is as equitable and simple a matter as can be and the BBFC is not the industry, unless one proceeds on the basis that the industry is the only people who need certificates.

That leads me to the question of why, up to now, only the film and video industry has had a right of appeal. The reason is fairly simple. The makers or distributors of the films and videos concerned have a very large financial stake in the matter. If a certificate is granted for an age group much higher than the film maker intended or wished, or in the most extreme cases the BBFC refuses to certificate a work, the financial consequences will be colossal. That is why there must be a mechanism whereby an appeal can be made on behalf of the industry or the maker of the video in question.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords may say that that is all very well but surely the commercial interests of the video maker are only half of it. What about the public good and the concern of the average viewer or member of the public? I believe that if a system of appeal is to be arranged it must be thought through a lot more carefully than this. If Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith is keen that some form of wider appeal should be possible, no doubt he will talk to the Home Office, and between them they will work something out. But at the moment the problem is very much as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has described it.

Sometimes an enormous amount of protest and controversy arises before a video or film ever appears, based entirely on the views of people who have not seen the work in question. I recognise very well the words in the annual report read out by the noble Lord--because I wrote them. It is indeed a quandary. Often we are faced

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with storms of protest in relation to works we have not even seen, let alone certificated. I do not see how the public or those bodies designated by the Home Secretary according the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will get to see the work. Once it has been certificated--at which point anybody can see it--the damage, if any there be, has been done. Even if the appeal overturned the decision of the BBFC, it would take a certain amount of time to withdraw the work in question. I predict that, if that happened, the saleability of the work would rocket in the days before its withdrawal, which would be counter-productive to everything intended by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

At present, I cannot see how an appeal system of this kind can work. I was slightly dismayed by the phrase, "in prescribed circumstances", in the noble Lord's amendment. I did not know what it meant. Now that the noble Lord has explained his intention that certain organisations should be designated by the Home Secretary, the matter is a little more precise, but scarcely precise enough. At present, however well-intentioned the amendment, it will not wash. If the Home Office and the BBFC between them wish further progress to be made, I am sure that both are more than capable of making it.

5.30 p.m.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Alton. Despite the observations made by my other noble friend, I do not have the audacity to clash with anything that he has said, given his vast knowledge. I confine myself to the relatively mild observation that, if producers are so worried about financial implications, perhaps they should not sail quite so close to the wind in their productions.

This amendment is modest in its ambition. It seeks merely to redress the balance which has for far too long favoured the entertainment industry. One cannot criticise the right of that industry to appeal against a ruling by the BBFC on, say, classification. However, in the name of justice, why should not those at the receiving end have a similar right via duly authorised bodies? The industry is quick and loud in protesting its innocence in relation to charges of moral corruption, despite regular evidence to the contrary which all too depressingly links violence in films, videos and games to real events. The most recent example, sadly, is the events in Arkansas in the past few days.

We were told by apologists for the entertainment industry--the point was tellingly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young--that such programmes did not have any effect. Really? In that case the industry with which I was associated in one way or another for much of my working life, namely, advertising, is wasting its time and, perhaps more importantly, the time of its clients. We are told that this is what the public wants. Why, then, are family videos in great demand in video shops? We are told that producers are only mirroring life. That is remarkable. I wonder how many of us derive sexual gratification from car crashes. It may well be that Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith, for whom I have a high regard, is ready to deal with these concerns. I very

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much hope so, and I wish him well. In the meantime, we should take a stand now. To ignore the evil of gratuitous violence on our screens is to shirk our responsibilities to future generations and to society itself.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, despite the fact that I am not entirely convinced by the drafting of the amendment--I am slightly more convinced than I was since the former vice-chairman of the BBFC spoke--it is absolutely ridiculous to suppose that the climate of violence which surrounds young children today does not affect them. It is like saying that an upbringing in the countryside surrounded by dogs and kind people produces exactly the same effect as an upbringing in a deprived urban home where violence is part of the domestic environment. It is beyond belief that the two can result in the same outcome.

The first 10 years of my life encompassed the Second World War, but I was not surrounded by the kind of images with which our television screens bombard us today; nor were my children, who are now in their middle and late thirties. The availability of such images, and the way in which they have overwhelmed the media, particularly via our television and computer screens, must exercise an effect on young people's perception of the world about them. That influence blurs the distinction that children should be able to make between fiction and reality. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already mentioned the Jonesboro incident to great effect. When we see young children committing acts that are not childlike, and apologise for what they have done, we realise that they do not understand at the start what they are doing. They do not perceive where their actions will take them. However, when eventually they realise what they have done, they do what children do when they have done something naughty at home: they apologise, as though somehow that gets rid of the problem.

A noble friend on these Benches asked whether anyone was going to stand up for freedom of speech. I read Milton's Areopagitica when I was a girl. A copy used to be handed down from president to president of my party. It is part of our instinct and is written into our constitution. The question arises as to the limit of that free speech, and how government can affect it.

I am not satisfied that the amendment is quite what is required. I want to hear the Minister acknowledge that there is grave concern among people from many different backgrounds about the problem that I have tried to describe. People are deeply disturbed. We do not need the Sun or any other organs of the press to tell us about it; we know in our hearts and from conversations with colleagues and friends that there is unease about this widespread phenomenon.

I want the Minister to acknowledge the importance of the issue, and I want to hear how the Government, in their hundreds of reviews, intend to respond to the unease about this real problem. If I do not hear that, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, puts his amendment to a vote, I may very well support it.

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