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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government do all that they can, as do local authorities that have responsibility in their areas for safety in the surrounding hills and mountains. They do a great deal to bring to the attention of schoolchildren the value of this work and to publicise it in the wider community. From my experience in Oldham, no institution is held in greater respect locally than the Oldham mountain rescue unit.

Video Games


2.59 pm

Asked By Baroness Howe of Idlicote

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of this Question to parents, users and providers. We are committed to using the nine criteria set out by Dr Tanya Byron in her report Safer Children in a Digital World. These formed the basis of the consultation document which was published in July last year. We are currently considering responses on which of the four options best fulfils the criteria, and we will announce a decision shortly.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. He will be aware of the real concern that many parents have about the dangers of these sadistic and violent videos to children. I am glad that Dr Tanya Byron’s recommendations are going to be taken into account along with those of the other place’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which agreed with her. I wish the Government well in their considerations and their deep concern for children’s well-being.

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, when we publish our decision I hope the noble Baroness will be equally comforted by what we conclude. It is worth putting on the record that, while we rightly recognise the issues of parental concern, clarification, signage and the argument that these things are not clear, we start from the position that this is a successful UK industry, it has doubled in size in the last two years, it is a significant employer and we are regarded in the creative industries as world-leading in the design, implementation and software of video games. So while we wish to provide a framework for guidance, we do not wish to contain the industry.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, does the Minister agree that since, with modern technology, a lot of video games are the equivalent of interactive films, there is a strong case for collocating the regulation of both with the British Film Classification Board?

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Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that four options were put out in the consultation, one of which was a hybrid structure or, as he describes it, collocation. We are examining the pros and cons of combinations of the BBFC’s historical and current approach, the voluntary pan-European approach—the so-called PEGI system—and a completely new approach. He will understand that there are a number of pros and cons for each. As well as trying to get the right answer, we are focused on trying to find the answer to the point that lies behind his question: that as the world increasingly goes online and the delivery of video games moves from physical to digital formats, whatever system is designed needs to be able to survive that transition.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, can I press the Minister further on the hybrid system proposed by Dr Byron and the BBFC? Surely one of the key criteria is clarity of guidance for parents and video games users. Does the proposed hybrid system not risk causing confusion, when it will differ considerably from the European system and given that so many games are now played over the internet?

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, those are some of the questions around maintaining or enshrining a hybrid system. There is an attraction to a unitary system and self-evidently to Britain aligning itself with the European system. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for not saying at this stage, “Therefore the answer is...”, as we are still examining the pros and cons. However, as he rightly points out, avoidance of confusion or lack of clarity is an important criterion.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to differentiate between education and regulation of video games? As a father of four young children under the age of 13 who are all mildly addicted to video games, I share the concerns of many parents about the enormous amount of time—the waste of time—that children spend on video games and the potential effects on their behaviour. What aspects of video games need regulation?

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, the noble Lord is slightly ahead of me. I am the father of only two children addicted to video games, but if my experience is anything to go by, they are trying to keep up with at least four, if not six, in their consumption. I share his observation that there are some questions. The particular issue raised by the noble Baroness is classification, thereby allowing parents, providers and retailers clarity on what is being sold, licensed, distributed, bought and used. The question of regulation is different.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I accept what the Minister has said so far but, as he will know better than most, this is a vast industry. It is also very complex, with a huge amount of competition in it. There are two or three very different systems competing hard at all times, and the edge of the industry is also in the main line of film-making in this country and doing well. My concern is the same as everyone else’s in this country,

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including the noble Baroness, Lady Howe: that the Government keep their eye on the main focus of protecting our children—the Minister’s children, the noble Lord’s children and the country’s children—because that is going to be a difficult problem, not only for this Government but for future Governments, and it needs to be looked at on a large scale, not piecemeal.

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s sentiments with regard to providing the necessary level of protection and clarity for children and parents. However, it is worth dwelling on the fact that the average age of a game user is between 20 and 30, and adult consumption of games is the growth sector in the industry. In our legitimate desire to provide guidance and protection for children and parents, we must not stultify an industry that is producing innovation and creativity consumed by consenting, highly informed and highly technically experienced adults in this sector.

Political Parties and Elections Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Bill information page
Copy of the Bill as debated
Today's Amendments
Explanatory Notes
Delegated Powers 1st Report
Constitution Cttee 1st Report

Committee (6th Day)

3.06 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): Before I call the first amendment, it may be helpful if I explain to the Committee that the amendments on the Marshalled List have now been renumbered for ease of reference.

Clause 66 : Determination of applications

Amendment A1

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

A1: Clause 66, page 37, line 33, at end insert “, including social or economic consequences”

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank those who have renumbered these amendments. Although it has resulted in us having to renavigate our way through the Bill, at least we have clear beacons by which we can see our way through to, I hope, concluding this Committee stage in the not-too-distant future.

We are on Part 4, on the subject of licensing. In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments A6 and A20, which stand in my name. We have had a comprehensive discussion in previous debates about the need to inform local authorities about licence applications, particularly those that might impact on their areas of responsibility. These amendments are similar and have been suggested by Network Rail. They highlight the concern that other bodies, not just local authorities but public bodies and stakeholders’ private bodies, might also benefit from that information. As the Bill is drafted, they might find themselves excluded.

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If we use Network Rail as an example, many licences relate to matters that might impact on the use of existing rail infrastructure. The early indication of likely licences would allow the transport infrastructure providers to anticipate and prepare for any likely increase or decrease in traffic on the infrastructure. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me that licence authorities will keep the lines of communication open, not only between public bodies but also with interested parties in the private sector. I beg to move.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): I need to clarify the position because other amendments in this group have not been spoken to. I look, in particular, to the Liberal Democrat Benches, to ask whether they have de-grouped.

Lord Tyler: We are hoping that the Minister may give us some response on the amendments we wanted to draw to the attention of the Committee. I should be delighted to come back later.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. His amendment would introduce a requirement on the licensing authority to consult transport infrastructure providers that may be affected by a marine licence application He mentioned Network Rail in particular. We have already talked in previous debates about statutory consultees and I have given our reasons for not wanting to have a list. However, he raises a very interesting and important point and I hope to give him the reassurance he requires. I certainly accept that the nature of geological, coastal and estuarine issues and marine processes mean that works at one location on the coastline can have long-term effects many miles away. It is clearly important that the owners of rail infrastructure are consulted on applications that might not be in the immediate vicinity, but I can assure noble Lords that this is something that we envisage licensing authorities doing on a regular basis and I want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that we will make that clear through guidance, because he has raised an important point.

Lord Tyler: Perhaps I may address Amendment A10—I think we have all found the renumbering of amendments slightly confusing and I apologise if the Minister anticipated that I would want to speak at some length on this issue. I thought that we had touched on it so extensively in previous sessions in Committee that it did not need me to go into great detail. Amendment A10 is really trying to establish that those elected bodies that have a legitimate and proper concern in this area should not be excluded from the licensing process under this part of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that, before the Minister completes his analysis of this group, he will respond briefly to that point. It is simply to make sure that local authorities are not excluded. He will be well aware that, throughout the Committee and on all sides of the House, there has been anxiety that local elected bodies, which will be so

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crucial in establishing ownership of the new regime, particularly in its transitional phase, should not feel excluded or divorced from the process. This applies to licensing just as much as to other parts of the Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I want to raise one more point on Amendment A10. The Minister will recall that, on the issue of planning, we discussed the Bristol Channel and he said that we could not resolve it in any other way because it was a devolved matter. Amendment A10 refers to the appropriate inshore fisheries conservation authority. I wonder if the Minister is aware that, in meeting members of the various sea fishing committees who are over in Brussels today, the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Mr Borg, is advocating the extension of the Brittany maritime charter approach to the whole of the Channel area, including fish, and that the Commission is intending parallel work in the Baltic to establish joint policies. Could not the same be relevant to the Bristol Channel area? All it will take is talking to the Welsh devolved authority.

I am aware that Defra has just put out for consultation the shape that the IFCA areas should take. I believe that three different options are listed on its maps and no doubt all have their merits. But I have to come back to the same point as regards the Bristol Channel: given all the other pressures, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, reasonably to decide where the IFCAs should begin and end, even given that some of the territorial waters fall to Wales and some to England. A joint approach is really the only one, and if the commission is looking at this for other joint areas, could we not lead the way with a pilot between England and Wales?

3.15 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for coming back to Amendment A10, and I thank the House authorities for the renumbering of the amendments. It has made our consideration a lot easier, although I must admit that we became totally confused on the first group. However, it is much appreciated.

I was very interested in the comments of the noble Baroness. Obviously, it would be interesting to see the outcome of any discussions in Europe, and I can assure her that I will ask my officials to find out more information. I also take her point about IFCAs and how they should operate in the Bristol Channel, a point that I suspect is also relevant to the current committee relating to north Wales and part of England. She will probably know that the decision of the Welsh Assembly Government clearly indicated that they were going to make different arrangements from those being proposed for England by the UK Government. We are in the process of consulting on a number of options for IFCAs, and I shall certainly make sure that her comments are considered, but of course we do come across the issue of the relationship between the respective responsibilities of the UK Government for England and the Welsh Assembly Government. The noble Baroness knows from our previous debates on the planning system that there are some constraints on what might

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be called a statutory joint approach, but none the less we obviously want to do all we can to make sure that where the two Governments need to work together, it happens. I am grateful to her for raising the point.

On the wider question of local authority involvement, I fully accept that local authorities have a vital role to play in many of the arrangements related to this Bill, and we see them as very important partners. Under the current legislative regime put in place by the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, the Marine and Fisheries Agency, as a matter of good practice, consults the relevant local authorities on the applications in which they are likely to have an interest. I would point out to noble Lords that Clause 65 places a licensing authority under an obligation to publish a notice of any application in a manner calculated to bring it to the attention of any persons likely to be interested in it and must take regard of the representations it receives. I can confirm that this will naturally include local authorities for development activities that affect their area, while the same reasoning applies to inshore fisheries conservation authorities and many of the other bodies proposed by noble Lords in earlier debates. We stand ready to meet at any time representatives of local authorities through the LGA, particularly to discuss any issues that those local authorities may have because we want to ensure that there is as close co-operation as possible. It is clear that local authorities can have a hugely positive role to play in a lot of the matters we are debating.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The noble Lord is right about that, but is he sure that what British Rail has suggested is a bad idea? The effect on local communities of what happens under the Bill will probably be most keenly felt where operations near the shore involve taking material out and carting it away to somewhere else across the country. The effect of decisions about quarrying is very strongly felt in local authorities. The idea of lorries passing endlessly, day and night, full of dusty material worries people very much. Indeed, anyone who has served on a local authority will know that quarrying is a hot issue so far as planning is concerned. I presume that this material will be wet. It may not be dusty but there may be lorries night and day passing some communities. There will also be an enormous number of trains required to take the material wherever it has to be taken. British Rail is right to worry about them. I wonder whether the noble Lord is right not to think about transport as something that should be in the Bill in order to make sure that it is a major consideration when that kind of activity is going to happen at sea.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Of course a marine licence is needed only for activities that take place in the UK marine licensing area. Unless the work being undertaken is on land that is submerged, or partially submerged by water at high water springs, it will not need a marine licence. The Marine and Fisheries Agency, which is currently responsible for regulation, is not aware of any particular difficulties faced by Network Rail in obtaining licences where needed. I do not believe that there is any disagreement in principle about the need for consulting the appropriate rail

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infrastructure providers. I have already assured noble Lords that we would envisage licensing authorities doing that regularly. I have already said that I will ensure that this is achieved through the guidance, but I am doubtful of the need for making it a statutory responsibility.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the Minister for that response and for acting as a lighthouse in seeking to have the House adjusted to the new numbering system. I am grateful. This has been a useful debate on amendments designed to draw from the Government a commitment as to how the licensing process will involve such bodies. I am grateful that the Minister has been able to place these matters on record. With that commitment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments A2 to A10 not moved.

The Lord Speaker: Amendment 11 was an amendment to Amendment 10, so it cannot be put forward.

Amendment 11 (to Amendment 10) not moved.

Amendments A12 and A13 not moved.

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clauses 67 to 70 agreed to.

Clause 71 [Exemptions specified by order]:

Amendment A14

Moved by Lord Tyler

A14: Clause 71, page 41, line 17, at end insert—

“(1A) The appropriate licensing authority for an area may only issue an order under subsection (1) where that order—

(a) does not compromise the requirements under section 66; and

(b) the result of any environmental appraisal indicates that it is appropriate to do so.”


Lord Tyler: Before I address this group, starting with Amendment A14, I want to record again that the Committee will have to suffer from the understudy because the stars are performing in Grand Committee. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond: this is the third time that this confusion has occurred. It is mismanagement by the government managers, after the assurances that we have been given, that this should coincide. It is a curious way to secure agreement, at least from these Benches.

On Clause 71 and this group of amendments, our concern is that there should be a level playing field between the criteria on which exemptions are discussed, assessed and granted with the original issues of licensing. It is important to have consistency between those two sets of decisions. So the controls and safeguards for exempted activities, with which Clause 71 is primarily concerned, seem extremely important.

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