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It is important that this legislation is future-proofed and enforceable. We cannot predict how many video games may contain film-type linear material in future. We need a system that consumers understand and that law enforcement officers can implement. This amendment protects us from a situation where any so-called game, even one that has substantial film material, is rated solely by the VSC, which would be extremely confusing for the consumer and the citizen. It also prevents a product that is primarily linear being repackaged as a game to avoid robust BBFC classification.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, these amendments follow neatly the earlier debate this evening and, as I see it, they are about preserving the integrity of a system which over the course of almost a century has built up a reputation for making, on the whole, sound judgments about the age appropriateness of cinematic material. It makes sense for the video works authority-which I assume, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has said, to be the BBFC-to continue to assess all film content, even if it forms part of a game. It is what it does and it is what it does best.
Your Lordships may remember the argument that arose not all that long ago when a games manufacturer created visual footage of the inside of Manchester Cathedral, without permission, as the setting for a very violent fantasy fighting scene, including all sorts of nasty creatures, none of which I recognised as regular worshippers, using futuristic weapons. The episode showed me how much we have moved on from the days of pixelated Pac-Men wobbling across the screen.
We need to ensure that this Bill creates the best possible system that responds to a rapidly evolving
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Lord Addington: My Lords, once again we come back to the idea of knowing what is on the tin-letting people know what they are going to get out of this. This may not be the right way forward but it is definitely a way forward. We need to have some idea of the correct type of classification-what actually is involved. If you have to shoot three video images on a game first then get a film, the film may be the supreme content. This approach may at least be one way of getting there.
I am left with the image of the right reverend Prelate's congregation being rather more colourful than he originally imagined. We shall leave that there. Possibly the pillars in the cathedral obscured certain parts of it.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contribution to this debate. However, I fear that we have two perspectives which do not agree and therefore I am going to argue the case that the amendment should be withdrawn. The amendments relate to that interesting case-the right reverend Prelate indicated just how interesting the situation can be-when film content is included in games and the extraordinary context in which certain actions can be carried out. We all recognise the problem. We all recognise that where a piece of film is found within a video game there is an issue of potential challenge. The Government's position, as outlined in the Bill, is clear and that is why I will be seeking to defend the Bill as it stands and seeking to identify why it would be a mistake to move away from the Bill in the way in which the amendments suggest.
The video games authority should determine the classification for the game but it has to make appropriate arrangements to seek the determination and views of the video works authority, the BBFC. It has to make arrangements to seek those views but only with respect to the film content, for which the BBFC, as has rightly been identified across the Committee, enjoys a high reputation in terms of the many years it has been involved in this work.
The video games authority must have regard to the views of the BBFC-the video works authority-in determining the final classification of the game. I want to emphasise that if it came to a question of a court of law on the issue and if we came to the point where the issues became serious enough to be taken to court, both the organisations would be able to appear and to give evidence if required. Nothing strikes the BBFC out of the assessment for the classification. It has an important role to play. If for any reason there was a contest in court about a film that it had classified it would be expected that it would submit its evidence on its judgment. We are not taking it out of the decision. However, what we are saying-this is what is really at stake between the position of the Bill and the amendments-is that we are fulfilling the key criteria put forward by Professor Tanya Byron when she presented her recommendations on the concept we should develop: that there must be a clear system which is simple and effective for consumers with regard to games. The video games authority is that system and must be identified as such.
Of course it does not come wreathed in laurels as the BBFC does, with its half a century and more of involvement in this. How can it? It is in a newer position. We are seeking to establish a clear authority for games. That is a prerequisite, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and to a certain extent the noble Lord, emphasised. Everyone, from parents who are concerned about their children to all who are concerned about content-the industry as well as the general public-must know where responsibility lies. The Bill makes it absolutely clear that the video games authority has that authority.
If the BBFC gave a separate classification certificate for filmed content in a video game, as the amendment proposes, it would surely undermine the purpose and effect of having a separate classification system for the games because we would have two classifications in operation or we would hand to the video works authority-to the BBFC-something that it had neither sought nor expected and that neither we, nor I think the mover of the amendment, seek to create. We are trying to establish the video games authority as the single authority that is responsible at the end of the day for classification.
The current wording in the Bill is both certain and rational. It makes sense for the BBFC to continue to classify filmed content-that is its well established role, for which it is held in high repute-and for the video games authority to classify video games where a game contains film content. Of course the video games authority must make sensible arrangements to obtain the BBFC's determinations on that filmed content and to classify the game as a whole while having regard to the BBFC's judgment. This allows the two designated authorities to work effectively together while respecting their individual roles and boundaries and giving to the public one clear authority that is responsible for the classification at the end of the day.
Arrangements that are so made by the video games authority with the BBFC must follow in the wake of consultation with the BBFC and have regard to any guidance that may be issued. As I have indicated, when it operates in that circumstance, it must have regard to the fact that if anything reached an unhappy
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We have set down the framework for an effective way of handling video games that takes on board and respects the BBFC's distinct role, which has been attested to in this short debate. This means that publishers have certainty about how games will be handled by the video games authority, and consumers have certainty and clarity about the type of content that they are buying.
That is in the Bill. I understand the anxieties that have given rise to the amendment, but I hope in the light of my explanation that it will be seen that nothing more is required in the Bill and that the amendment is otiose and can be safely withdrawn.
Lord Howard of Rising: I thank the Minister for his comments. He said that the Government's position was clear and that the proposals are sensible and rational, and went on to explain something that was about as clear as mud. Unfortunately, he has yet again explained on behalf of the Government how two organisations will work together and co-operate without being absolutely clear who will do which bit, as we have pointed out. However, in the interests of getting on with the debate, and given the Government's predilection for this sort of arrangement, which always ends up being a mess, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"Where there are two designated authorities, in the event that a video game includes one or more video works which are not video games, responsibility for making arrangements for determining whether such a video work is suitable for the issue of a classification certificate or for the issue of a classification certificate of a particular description falls with-
(a) the video works authority for any video work included in the video game;
(b) the video games authority for the rest of the video game."
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, in that the thing is not at all clearly explained. The situation is very muddled and confusing in many respects. Again, as he has said, we will have to read very carefully what the Minister has said, although the Minister has gone a long way to try to set out something that is as clear as mud, for which I thank him. I hope that it will be clearer when one reads it in detail.
(a) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of online safety;
(b) to provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information on filtering options of public electronic communication services for the purposes of online safety-
(i) at the time of purchase of the service; and
(ii) to make such information available for the duration of the contract.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, in moving Amendment 251A, I shall also speak to Amendment 255A. I do so on behalf of CARE, which has a particular interest in the safety of children, particularly as far as online material is concerned.
Amendment 251A would require those who sell internet access-internet service providers and mobile phone operators-to provide customers with prominent, easily accessible and clear information about the availability of parental control software at the point of purchase and throughout the contract. The key words "prominent" and "accessible" have been taken from the recommendations on social networking websites by the Home Office Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet. To date, the Government's energies have focused on trying to protect children with respect to the internet via best practice guidance, but this has been problematic, as Professor Byron explained. She says:
Moreover, although the Home Office task force has produced guidelines on various issues, it has not provided ISPs and mobile phone operators with guidance on filtering. Neither has the industry produced self-regulatory mechanisms in its code of conduct. The Internet Service Providers' Association makes no specific mention in its members' code of practice relating to informing customers of filtering software. It does have a section on ISP's requirements in relation to the Internet Watch Foundation. However, much more needs to be done to deal with material that, although not illegal, should not be accessible by children. The Mobile Broadband Group's code of conduct is better, but still lacks the vital protection proposed by this amendment, which makes information about child protection filtering mechanisms prominent and easily accessible at the point of purchase and for the duration of the contract.
I am aware that many companies make filtering options available, but surely it is time to move things forward by requiring the industry to make the option of accessing filtering software prominent and accessible at the point of purchase and throughout the duration of the contract. This amendment is simple and modest and will increase the chances that parents or guardians who buy internet access will acquire it with appropriate safeguards for their children.
that prevents minors from purchasing or accessing the goods or services in question. I bring this issue to your Lordships' attention because I believe that we must do more than we have so far to prevent children and underage teenagers from purchasing or accessing inappropriate online goods and services. The incongruity between what happens online and what happens offline makes a mockery of our law and creates a dangerous division between the real and the virtual world which we really should not continue to tolerate. Quite apart from the problems relating to children accessing inappropriate film content online, an issue which I have already covered, there is the issue of playing games online. One example of particular concern is "Quake Live", which is based on the offline first-person shooter game and has received an 18 rating. It is very disturbing that any boy or girl can access "Quake Live" online when they would not be able to purchase a comparable game from a shop.
Online retailers who sell age-restricted goods such as alcohol, tobacco, or access to gambling services are already required to make suitable arrangements not to sell goods to underage individuals. In practice, however, these often amount only to self-certification. My amendment would not only require a more robust framework to be put into place; it would also apply to all goods and services that are age-restricted. I am assured that gambling websites, which operate under the licensing regime of the Gambling Commission, function in a responsible way and could be a model for some, if not all, forms of online sales. They offer a number of ways in which age can be verified.
Before I end, I must say a word in anticipation of those who may be about to suggest that these amendments will place too great a burden on business. I very much hope that the Minister will agree that it is crucial that the well-being of children is indeed well protected. If it is not inappropriate to expect the state to develop and enforce complex laws to protect adults from unscrupulous businesses in order to protect both employees and customers, it cannot be inappropriate to expect the state and businesses to go the extra mile in protecting children and the vulnerable.
Amendments 251A and 255A are amendments whose time has come. I point out to your Lordships that tomorrow is Safer Internet Day, and it is clearly rather appropriate that we should bear it in mind. I was also interested to see in The Times last month some interesting research that had been carried out by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. On these issues-particularly pornography and near-pornography-the centre says that there is compelling evidence from around the world that pornography has negative effects on individuals and communities. This is something which we all know but which we need to bear in mind when framing new legislation. I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I support the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, first of all on the basis of promoting
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Dr Tanya Byron, who has already been referred to, was involved with TalkTalk in a research project looking at the interaction between children and the internet. That research reached the conclusion that 63 per cent of children had lied to their parents about their online behaviour. In other words, they knew that they were doing something online of which their parents would disapprove, and therefore the best protection was to refuse to tell them; in other words to lie about what they were doing. Some 44 per cent boasted that they could hide unsuitable internet activity from their parents. No doubt the lies were part of that hiding operation, but there may have been other ways of doing so as well. Some 53 per cent had deleted their browser history, so that their parents could not check where they had been, or which particular websites they had been visiting.
There is certainly an incongruity between the presence of proper legal protections offline and their absence online. We have very strong protections for all sorts of activities, as the noble Baroness has said. Although there has been some attempt to produce a safe and secure environment without recourse to the law, through the promotion of voluntary self-regulation and good practice guidance, the truth is that there is still great room for improvement. In that respect, I believe that the law and this Bill have a part to play. Although it is undoubtedly true that many providers of internet access already make filtering options available for purchase, Amendment 251A will ensure that we fully benefit from filtering protection by requiring providers to make filtering options available and to make them available in a prominent place on the website as it is offered, at the point of purchase and for the duration of the contract. This provides a very simple, light-touch type of control which would have a very good chance of being effective.
We know the dangers to which children are exposed via the internet from a number of sources. Amendment 255A deals with age verification, which is already required in quite a number of instances. It seems right to have the same concern for protecting underage children from accessing unsuitable material on the internet as we have for protecting them from accessing unsuitable things such as cigarettes, alcohol and the like offline. Why not do the same for online things as we do for offline things? I hope the Minister will be able to accept the spirit of these amendments, if not their words. I am sure that the wording can be improved by the labours of parliamentary counsel, but I think the principle is reasonably clear.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I am very pleased to support the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. I remember very clearly the debates during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 when the
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The Lord Bishop of Manchester: An issue which strikes me in relation to these helpful amendments is that responsible retailers who have invested in more robust age-verification systems fear being commercially penalised as their less scrupulous competitors will become magnets for those seeking to bypass the age-restriction laws. I appreciate that this makes it no less illegal for them to sell to minors, but the fact remains that we currently provide neither stick nor carrot for them to invest more heavily.
My support for these timely amendments, especially Amendment 255A, is borne partly by the practical desire to clamp down on these irresponsible online retailers, and partly from a wider concern-one that stretches to the nature of communication and interaction online. It is difficult for retailers to know whether the person at the end of the mouse is old enough to buy their goods. That belies the wider fact that the internet can create anonymity and fabricate masks. If we encrypt our identities, for whatever malevolent intent, the people at the other end will suffer. In this case, young people are asking retailers to break the law. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said, they often lie to, or hide the truth from, their parents.
We need to face up to the consequences of doing more and more things in our technological age without real interpersonal connectivity. I do not wish to detain your Lordships on this matter this evening, but I raise the issue because this amendment helpfully points to some interesting and also disturbing shifts in the tectonic plates which undergird our common life. In common with other noble Lords who have spoken, I very much hope the Minister will respond in a positive way, at least to the spirit of what has been said in this debate.
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