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18 Jan 2010 : Column 774

Health: Dementia


3 pm

Asked By Lord Ashley of Stoke

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as with all government funding, the financing of services for people with dementia was last reviewed as part of the spending review period which ends in 2010-11. Future funding for services for dementia after 2011 will be determined as part of the next spending review, being decided now.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she aware that after last week's report by the National Audit Office there are grave doubts about dementia services? It is questionable whether they are receiving either the cash or the priority that they should have. Will my noble friend look at that for me? Will she give a categoric answer, because, so far, the answers have been quite vague?

Is my noble friend aware that dementia causes great distress to no fewer than 700,000 people as well as their families and costs the nation £17 billion a year? Will she look at the matter urgently? Some people who suffer from it are blind and deaf and have no understanding. Their lives are diminished savagely by the disease. It needs urgent attention from the Government.

Baroness Thornton: My noble friend points to why this Government regard dementia as a priority. We are in the first year of a five-year plan which aims to transform dementia services across the country. My noble friend referred to the National Audit Office's report published last week. We are studying it with great interest and take it very seriously; it is high on our agenda. We will respond more substantively to the National Audit Office's findings at the Public Accounts Committee hearing scheduled for 25 January. Without wishing to pre-empt our evidence to that committee, I can say that we have been engaged in a range of activities to support the delivery of the dementia strategy and are seeing some progress even though we are in the first year. For example, we have appointed a team of deputy regional directors with backgrounds in health and social care to provide local leadership alongside the SHAs for implementing the strategy.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Does the financing of care for people with dementia include respite care for those people who carry a great burden in caring for them?

Baroness Thornton: In addition to the £8.6 billion that is given to PCTs every year for all their services, we have for the past two years added an extra £150 million specifically directed at developing their dementia services. However, the caring responsibilities are also covered by the additional funding that we give for carers. I know that respite care is covered under one or other of those headings.

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Baroness Murphy: What outcome measures will the Government adopt to monitor whether money given to primary care trusts and local authorities is wisely spent?

Baroness Thornton: We regard that as a very important part of the strategy. The £150 million that is available this year and next is not ring-fenced but will go to PCTs in the same way as the rest of their funding. We know that it is very important that we set up structures to monitor that, which indeed we have done. I expect that I shall be reporting to the House at some point in the future on exactly how effective that has been.

Lord Addington: My Lords, will the Minister give us some idea about how this fits into other NHS priorities, as something like one-quarter of people in long-term stay in hospital tend to have dementia, or something related to it? How does this fit into the priority plans, and how do those plans all tie in together? If one scheme has pressure on it this week, another one will have it next week. How do the two fit together?

Baroness Thornton: I think that the noble Lord is asking me how we deal with people with dementia, both in care and in hospital. The first points of our strategy are about keeping people out of hospital-that is the first thing-with early diagnosis, support for families and keeping people in their homes. Another major part of the strategy is to ensure that those who deliver services and care for people with dementia, both in social care and in hospitals, have the training that they need to ensure that they can recognise dementia and treat it in an appropriate way.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, can my noble friend reassure me that any extra resources that are available in this area partly go to the issue of early diagnosis, because it seems clear from a lot of the work that is being done at the moment that better and earlier diagnosis leads to a great reduction of the burden, both on the patient and the carer? I declare an interest as a patron of the Alzheimer's Research Trust.

Baroness Thornton: I recognise that this is the part of the Question that I dealt with before Christmas. It is quite right that the National Alzheimer's Society in its very important work is concerned about keeping people out of hospital and shortening their stay when they are in hospital. It is very important that we achieve both those objectives for people with dementia.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, apart from having an earlier diagnosis, which is clearly a very important message to come out of the report, can the Minister assure us that a lot of attention will be given to evening up the amount of resources and help that are available across the country? In other words, there should be no postcode lottery.

Baroness Thornton: As ever, it is a matter of finding a balance between the right kind of independence at local level for decisions to be taken that reflect local needs and ensuring that the standards we all want to

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see enforced for the care of people with dementia are there. That is partly addressed by the national strategy, so the noble Baroness is quite correct.

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

State Pension Credit (Disclosure of Information) (Electricity Suppliers) Regulations 2010

Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Mandatory Life Sentence, Determination of Minimum Term) Order 2010

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2010

National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Environment) Order 2010

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

3.07 pm

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.


3.07 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I say a few words about today's business. The next business will be the Second Reading of the Video Recordings Bill; we will then take Committee stage of the Bill as last business tonight. The deadline for tabling amendments to appear on the Marshalled List will be 6 pm; after that deadline has passed, a message will be displayed on the annunciator showing the expected start time for Committee stage of the Video Recordings Bill. It may also be helpful to say that, although no dinner-break business is scheduled this evening, it is expected that the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill will be adjourned at the usual time of around 7.30 pm for around 30 minutes. I trust that these arrangements are agreeable to the House.

Video Recordings Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes
5th Report from the Constitution Committee

Second Reading

3.08 pm

Moved By Lord Davies of Oldham

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Video Recordings Bill is a short Bill with a single, but important, purpose. It is designed solely to repeal and revive the provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984, including the offences under the Act. The 1984 Act established a system of age classification for video works, administered by the British Board of Film Classification, together with a regime of criminal offences and penalties.

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As I explained in my business statement to this House last week, this Bill is the first to be introduced with the intention of fast-tracking it since the Constitution Committee published its report on Fast-track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards.Also in my statement, I gave a full explanation of our reasons for seeking to use the fast-track process, which are set out more fully in the Explanatory Notes. However, I know that many in the House are concerned by the constitutional implications of fast-track legislation. To help to allay those concerns, and for the benefit of those noble Lords who were not able to be present last week, it would be helpful for me to briefly restate our reasons for taking this approach.

Unfortunately, the offences under the 1984 Act 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. This failure to notify was discovered only in August last year in the course of preparing the draft Digital Economy Bill, to which we will be returning in Committee later today.

Until the provisions of the 1984 Act are made enforceable, 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 classified and unclassified material, including explicit pornography, to any person regardless of age, with limited statutory powers to stop or prosecute them.

This is not a theoretical concern. While many suppliers, to their great credit, are continuing to act responsibly, some are not. A briefing paper on the Bill produced jointly by the British Board of Film Classification and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, which I am sure many members of this House will have seen, lists a series of infringements of the VRA's provisions taking place across the whole country. I will not repeat them here, but suffice it to say that this is a real problem and unscrupulous suppliers across the whole country are taking advantage of the unenforceability of the Act. The Government are therefore seeking to fast-track the Video Recordings Bill in order to restore the protection afforded to the public under the 1984 Video Recordings Act as soon as possible.

The Bill consists of only two clauses and one schedule. Clause 1 repeals the provisions of the 1984 Act and immediately revives them. Clause 2 relates only to the Short Title, commencement and extent of the Bill. The Schedule to the Bill sets out transitional provisions to ensure that the repeal and revival of the provisions of the 1984 Act do not change their effect. The Bill does not introduce any new provisions or offences into the 1984 Act; the 1984 Act is simply revived without any substantive changes.

On the issue of repealing and reviving the Act, I know that there is a great deal of interest in the question of whether past convictions under the 1984 Act will stand. I am pleased to reassure noble Lords that, as I understand it, these convictions continue to stand unless and until they are formally set aside by the court. The normal time limit for making an appeal is

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21 days from the magistrates' court and 28 days from the Crown Court. Where the normal time for appeal has expired, the Crown Prosecution Service has advised prosecutors to oppose applications for extensions of time and permission to appeal against conviction.

My understanding is that the court is likely to give permission to appeal out of time in these cases only in exceptional circumstances, as it will look beyond technicalities and consider whether there has been any substantial injustice. As such, the court would be unlikely to grant permission to appeal out of time where the conviction was obtained following a full court process.

I am also aware that the fact that the 1984 Act is currently unenforceable due to a failure to notify in draft under the technical standards directive has caused concern that other legislation might be affected in a similar manner. Once again, I am pleased to reassure the House that the Government are not aware of any other UK legislation that is currently unenforceable because of a failure to notify its provisions in draft under the technical standards directive. Furthermore, to make absolutely sure, the Permanent Secretaries of the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have written jointly to colleagues in other departments to bring this matter to their attention. They have stressed the need to check current compliance with the directive and have provided help and guidance on how to do that.

The House may also ask whether the Video Recordings Act is still relevant in an age when films and video recordings can be downloaded from the internet at the click of a button and are available to view in the home, with no censorship or control over inappropriate content. The internet, of course, raises important questions about how to control inappropriate content and the Government have some concerns in this area. That is why we followed Professor Tanya Byron's recommendation and established the UK Council for Child Internet Safety.

None the less, it is important to realise that the market for boxed videos and video games is still considerable and is likely to continue to be so for some time to come. When the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984 there were 4 million video recorders in the United Kingdom. In 2008, according to the British Video Association, there were 55 million DVD players in the UK. The total market of DVDs, Blu-ray DVDs and videos sold in 2008 in the UK was worth £2.3 billion. That is a large industry and there continues to be a large market for buying a physical product containing video recordings and video games. Indeed, senior executives in three of the major electronics companies-Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft-have gone on record recently as saying that the technology is such that it will be some time yet before the digitally distributed product will overtake sales of the boxed product.

Noble Lords may also ask whether it is necessary to repeal and revive the 1984 Act against such a tight timescale, given that there is other legislation which can be used to prosecute those supplying obscene material, particularly to young people. While there are some limited legal protections afforded by the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which can be applied to video

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recordings, the threshold for the commission of an offence under that Act is very high. As a consequence, there is a considerable gap between the protections provided by the classification regime under the 1984 Act and what might fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act.

There is another important facet of the Video Recordings Act which is missed by focusing on legal sanctions. It is true that the Act stops the circulation of the worst kind of material by ensuring that it will not receive a classification and by making it an offence to supply unclassified video works. However, the vast majority of DVDs and videos on sale do not contain material which is unacceptable. A majority, of course, contain material which attracts an age classification. It is these age classifications which are used by consumers, particularly parents, to help them make purchasing choices about the suitability of the content of such products for their children. Independent research conducted on behalf of the British Board of Film Classification shows that 71 per cent of adults make use of the classification rating of films to guide their purchasing decisions at least some of the time.

The briefing document on the Video Recordings Bill, which I referred to a moment ago and which is jointly produced by the BBFC and LACORS, contains the worrying information that submissions to the BBFC in November last year are down, year on year, by 38 per cent since the problem with the Video Recordings Act came to light. Thus, there is a compelling case for the Government to take action as quickly as possible to close this legal loophole. Indeed, all the key stakeholders representing those who manufacture and supply videos and DVDs, and those who enforce the regulations on video classification, have endorsed the need to close the legal loophole which currently exists by making the 1984 Act enforceable as soon as possible.

In concluding, I will also touch on the issue of video games and how this Bill interacts with the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently before the House. In line with the recommendations made by Professor Tanya Byron in her report SaferChildren in a Digital World, we plan to amend the Video Recordings Act 1984 as part of the Digital Economy Bill. Our amendments will introduce a new system of classification for video games using the Enhanced Pan-European Games Information system and will appoint a new statutory body, the Video Standards Council, to undertake the role of classifying games. We cannot bring these changes into force, however, until the Video Recordings Act has first been repealed and then revived by this Bill. I know that a number of noble Lords feel strongly about the need for an improved approach to classifying video games. In furtherance of that objective I urge all those who take this view to support the passage of this Bill to ensure that this can subsequently happen in the Digital Economy Bill.

Thus, in summary, the Video Recordings Bill does not introduce any new provisions or offences into the 1984 Act. It simply restores a system of classification that has been in operation for the past 25 years and which has worked to stop the circulation of the worst kind of video material. It is a system that is well understood and liked by a clear majority of the public and the industry. Indeed, the latest survey carried out

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on behalf of the BBFC shows that those surveyed agreed 99 per cent of the time with the classifications set by the BBFC.

The Bill is essential to ensure proper protection of the public from the inappropriate supply of violent and sexual video material by making the offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984 enforceable. As soon as the Bill has received Royal Assent, we will issue a press release announcing that fact and ensure that all the key stakeholder bodies are aware so that they are able to notify their members that the Act is enforceable once again.

I am sure noble Lords will share the Government's desire that these public protections be reinstated as soon as possible. Accordingly, I beg to move.

3.21 pm

Lord Luke: My Lords, we on these Benches are most grateful for the opportunity to put on record our absolute support for the speedy passage and implementation of the Video Recordings Bill. I underline the fact that we endorse the purpose and intentions of this Bill. It is most regrettable that there has been uncertainty in criminal proceedings, and so we look forward to reinstating the legislation in the proper manner.

As we are all now aware, this Bill was a Private Member's Bill which unfortunately did not complete due process. Regrettably, the new procedure was not recognised in time for this Bill and consequently the Act is not currently enforceable. The mistake was first noticed when preparations were made for the current Digital Economy Bill, which, as the noble Lord has mentioned, has amendments to the Video Recordings Act within its scope. The result has been that publishers of videos, DVDs, X-rated and R18-rated video games can distribute their wares without any classification. Moreover, it means that no further prosecutions can be made.

According to the British Board of Film Classification, many responsible members of the home entertainment industry have continued to submit their works to the BBFC to be classified. However, as the Minister said, submissions were 11 per cent down in September 2009, 20 per cent down in October 2009 and 38 per cent down in the first half of November 2009. Can the Minister inform the House of any updated figures since that time? We can see, therefore, that it is vital to ensure that this legislation is once again active and enforceable.

Perhaps the Minister can provide the House with more details about the possible consequences and effects of the discovery that the Act is not enforceable. Can he, for instance, inform us what the status will be of those with previous convictions under this piece of legislation? The Minister said that those who are outside the timeframe of 21 days for appeal would be unlikely to be successful if they now tried to appeal. However, might there be a case for saying that those people may not try to appeal against their conviction, but may try to set aside the Act altogether?

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