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I understand that Ofcom is re-evaluating the situation-I welcome that, and the fact that the Minister was pleased to have a meeting with the PMSE sector. But what are the timescales involved in the Government making this decision? When will Ofcom have finished its re-evaluation? On the face of it, this was a very useful first step by the Minister, but a number of issues flow from it and many questions remain to be answered before it will be clear that this sector is being treated fairly. I beg to move.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, in our previous debate on this clause, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, optimistically stated that we would have to wait until Report for further enlightenment on the Government's spectrum policy. I am not sure what he was expecting, but while we have been waiting there has been a relevant development. The European Commission has recently cleared the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Orange. As part of this clearance, undertakings have been given involving the release of 1,800 megahertz of spectrum. I would be interested to know whether the undertakings satisfy the Minister, and whether the Government believe that competition in the mobile broadband market will now be secured.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, in Committee I set out why Clause 38 is an important element of the Government's plans to implement their wireless spectrum modernisation programme. Without the clause, there would be a delay in the introduction of next-generation mobile services that would benefit our citizens and the economy as a whole. However, I am aware of the noble Lord's concerns about what will happen to the programme-making and special events industry in this country as a result of plans to clear the 800 megahertz band. I have written to the noble Lord on this matter, as he acknowledged, but it may help if I put on record the key points.
The Government recognise these concerns. They also recognise the contribution that the PMSE sector makes to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the UK. However, it is important to recognise that PMSE users have been given several years' notice that they will be required to vacate certain channels, known as the interleaved spectrum, that until now have been available to them. In the case of these channels, the proposal is that no compensation will be paid, as sufficient notice has been given. However, PMSE users will have access to other interleaved spectrum channels, details of which should be available later this year.
There is a different position for licensed users being moved from Channel 69-this was the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones-which is the dedicated channel for PMSE, where most radio microphones operate. These users are being offered compensation,
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Ofcom has consulted on this twice, with the most recent consultation closing in September last year. It has evaluated the responses and is carrying out further analysis to ensure that, along with the Government, it has the most robust information available on which to make a final decision. This is a difficult decision, as it must be made within the powers that have been laid out for Ofcom by Parliament, and must also be compatible with European state aid rules. We intend to make it as soon as possible.
I am looking to see if I can help the noble Lord with any more detail. Ofcom has been tasked to produce this information and we hope to have a decision and an announcement of the package and terms in weeks rather than months. That undertaking, although not completely precise, is a little bit firmer. I personally share the noble Lord's concern, as do the Government.
The issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is complex. I am afraid that I am not briefed on it, so I will write to him with a detailed response. I hope that, in the light of these assurances and the extra information I have provided, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will feel able to withdraw the amendment. He has my assurance that as soon as we can provide the additional information, we will do so.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Obviously I am pleased that there is a slightly firmer hand on the tiller when it comes to Ofcom making its determination. What worries me is that when the Bill has gone through, everybody will go to sleep again and the PMSE sector will be left waiting for a decision. However, I take the Minister's assurance that Ofcom has been tasked to produce the material in weeks rather than months. That is a significant statement about Channel 69 compensation.
I turn to what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said. I agree that his question was legitimate in the light of the decision that has been made by the Commission. I find it extraordinary that the Government do not have an answer to hand about the implications for the auction and spectrum allocation of the merger of the two mobile broadband operations. Going from five to four will fundamentally change the competitive situation. I hope that, by the next stage of the Bill, there will be a statement on that, even though it was not me but the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who asked the question, and on Report he cannot jump up and down and ask, "If not, why not?".
(a) by adding or removing a case in which a video work is not an exempted work, or
(b) by amending a description of such a case.""
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 151 and 190A. I reiterate that the Government's predominant concern in introducing a video classification system is to protect children from inappropriate video content. We fully accept that, if exempted videos contain certain material, they should be subject to statutory age classification requirements and regulation. Any video content depicting scenes of gross violence, mutilation or human sexual activity currently falls within the scope of the Bill even if that content is contained within a video which is predominantly about music or sport.
By giving the Secretary of State a power to amend the non-exempt criteria, we will ensure that the wording of the Bill properly reflects the type of content available and achieves the most effective level of regulation on the ground. Furthermore, we are committed to carrying through consultation on the issue by autumn of this year.
We consider that the amendment will answer the concerns which were expressed strongly in debate and previous stages of the Bill. I emphasise that this view is supported by the British Board of Film Classification, the Video Standards Council and the British Video Association. I beg to move.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I welcome this amendment, which marks an acceptance by Government that there is a problem in relation to harmful material in music, sport and documentary video works being supplied to children without restriction. I also welcome the Minister's commitment to consult on exemptions. There is clearly a need to close the loophole which allows harmful material to avoid regulation; and this view was supported by colleagues around the House on previous occasions.
The recent debate on Andrew Dismore's Video Recordings (Exemption from Classification) Bill demonstrated that this concern is shared by colleagues in another place. It is also supported by the Home Office review, published last week, on the sexualisation of young people. Recommendation 26 of the report proposes that the current gap,
Given the widespread concern about the issue from the industry, law enforcement, the regulator and the Home Office, and in both Houses, it is good to know that the Minister has confirmed that a consultation is going to take place in the autumn, and that the intention is to take action to close the loophole rather than what was on the agenda before, which was whether to close it.
On a related child protection issue, I welcome the commitment by the Government to hold urgent discussions to look at how to prevent children freely accessing hardcore pornography from UK video-on-demand services. I have written to the noble Lord,
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I also asked that the Minister give noble Lords a clear indication of when those discussions and consequent actions are likely to be completed. Again, I would be grateful for any comments that he can make. The noble Lord, Lord Young, also referred me to the Home Office's review on the sexualisation of young people, which also deals with the issue. Most noble Lords will have seen the considerable coverage given to the recommendations of the author, Dr Linda Papadopoulos. In Recommendation 27, she asks that regulation of UK-based video on demand services is strengthened,
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I thank the Minister for this group of amendments and for working with the relevant group of stakeholders and us to address our concerns. I would have preferred as a general principle to have seen the loophole closed in primary legislation, but I understand the need for proper pre-legislative consultation on the matter. As it is, I hope that the matter will be resolved quickly and to everyone's satisfaction.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in welcoming this amendment and in supporting the remarks of my noble friend Lady Howe, I remind the Minister that in 1993, in the immediate aftermath of the killing of James Bulger in Liverpool, I produced an amendment in another place introducing restrictions on the sale of video violence, which included gratuitously violent material. My reason for doing that was that the trial judge made it clear at the time that one of the two boys involved in the killing had been exposed not only to pornography but to necrophilia and gratuitously violent material.
It has always struck me as bizarre that we suggest that what we see has little effect on us. When we consider that the advertising industry spends about £4 billion trying to sell us its wares on television, it is common sense to accept that exposure to what we see has a profound influence on us. When we consider the violence in society today, there is no doubt that the desensitisation of children and young people is a major factor, and that it has been promoted as a result of the violent culture that we have created in the United Kingdom.
I therefore hope that the Minister will ensure that the consultative process takes place rapidly, that if legislation is necessary it will be brought before your Lordships' House in good time, and that we will consider other ways, such as the introduction of the so-called V-chip, which can be placed in televisions, allowing parents to sift out violent material from their
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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on having introduced Amendment 145, in particular. At the same time, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on her efforts, which have stimulated the Government to produce the amendment. It is important. Like the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I regret that it is being done by secondary legislation, rather than directly by primary legislation, as in the original amendment that we discussed in Committee. This is probably three-quarters of a loaf, even if it is not the full loaf.
Lord Davies of Oldham: Well, my Lords, it may not be the full loaf, but it is the real thing in terms of the Government's determination to act in this respect. I want to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who stresses the urgency of the issue. I fully understand that point. I did not say that we would be consulting in the autumn; I said that we sought to carry out a thorough consultation on the issue by the autumn. My timetable is a little earlier. We will be consulting throughout the summer and up to the autumn on this important matter.
Of course, we do need to consult because this is not a straightforward issue. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the House is well aware of his views on these matters. I have to say that at times he presents as known facts that which other reputable authorities would regard as somewhat contentious. I am not sure that violence among young people in this country is down to television, films and broadcasting. It seems to me that it is likely that, in historical terms, there was a considerable amount of violence among young people in society well in advance of anything being depicted on our screens, either large or small, and therefore we should not draw too ready an issue of cause and effect.
That does not alter the fact, however, that the Government are clearly under an obligation where parents express concern about material which might be available to young children against which they would be protected in other circumstances. This would certainly be the case so far as films are concerned if these are inserted into video games or into video programmes which might purport to have totally different content but which nevertheless have something which parents would want to restrict their children from seeing and which we would all recognise might be harmful to children. It is then necessary that action is taken.
I am therefore moving these amendments as a constructive response to the case that has been made. I am not sure that we had the benefit of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, last time but, as he says, he has a very long history on these matters and we pay respect to his constant concern about these issues. I reassure him and the House that this issue was
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Amendment 146 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I am pleased that since Committee stage the Government have sent out a fact-sheet which is effectively guidance to the effect that the BBFC will be allocated ancillary games on product which is primarily film and R18 games. A number of us had called for this allocation to be in the Bill, but it is still welcome to have this confirmation from the Minister about how matters will be taken forward. This allocation is a sensible and practical decision, given the home entertainment industry, a desire for a one-stop shop for Blu-ray discs and the need to have special arrangements in place for the kind of problematic material that can be found in R18 games.
It is important to have clarity so that the responsibilities of the two designated authorities are properly understood. I welcome the fact that the Minister anticipates that, if products come on the market that are essentially film-type material but are marketed as games, these would be allocated to the BBFC. It would be helpful to have further confirmation of this approach from the Minister when he replies.
The fact-sheet that was sent to me by the noble Lord, Lord Young, however, does not deal with how it is decided whether works fall within an allocated category, which is why I have tabled this amendment. I hope that the Government will look at this matter again. Given the difficulties associated with R18 material, it makes sense for the BBFC to determine whether a video game falls within that category, since it is the expert in this field. Without this amendment, we risk the video games authority wrongly determining that a work does not pass the R18 threshold and therefore does not need to go to the BBFC. This has ramifications in terms of ease of access, since the work would no longer need to be sold in a sex shop. It would also mean that there would be no specialised scrutiny of the content.
Will the Minister indicate how he expects these matters to be resolved? Will there be guidance from the Secretary of State if the BBFC is convinced that a work that has just been classified 18 by the video games authority should have been classified R18? The amendment is a logical consequence of the Government's correct decision to allocate difficult works to the BBFC because of its expertise.
Amendment 147, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is crucial to the successful application of the new regulatory regime for video games. It is vital that this new regime is introduced effectively and in a manner that does not damage the tried and tested regime for linear material. Under the Bill, the video games authority would have only to "have regard to" any determination by the BBFC for linear material in the game, even where it is for a film within a game that has already been classified by the BBFC. That, surely, cannot be right. It can lead only to consumer confusion and to major problems for the enforcement authorities.
The amendment has the full support of LACORS, which, as we know, represents local authority enforcement officers. The fact-sheet which the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, kindly sent me does not really resolve this issue, but it helpfully promises:
"The VSC must consult the BBFC about the appropriateness of the arrangements that it makes for getting the BBFC determinations about the linear video content. As added reassurance, the Secretary of State will issue guidance on how this system will work if clarification is required due to the new way of working under this revised scheme".
This clarification is helpful along the path, and I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate when we might expect this guidance. However, my preferred route is still through primary legislation.
My amendment would mean that we are not dependent on guidance from the Secretary of State at some future juncture. This is an important issue, because it goes to the very heart of the BBFC's role as the regulator for linear content in this country. It has undertaken this role for nearly 100 years and has won the support-perhaps hardly surprisingly as it has existed all that time-of the British public and parties from all sides of this House. I appreciate that it is not the Government's intention to undermine this role, but I fear that the Bill will have that effect if it is not amended.
This amendment would make it very clear that the video games authority would have to implement the BBFC's determination for non-integral linear material. My understanding was that the Government always intended to leave the BBFC with this responsibility, and my amendment would ensure that that remained the case and that another regulator with no experience in linear material-to be fair, it does not claim to have any experience-could not, under the terms of the Bill, overrule the BBFC's classification. Will the Minister assure the House that it will not have that ability under the Bill?
Again, LACORS supports this amendment because it needs there to be clear responsibility for classification decisions in order to enforce the Video Recordings Act. Again, the fear is that, given that the video games authority appears to have sole responsibility for classification, even of linear material, it will be very difficult in a court of law to have proper assistance when providing evidence. I am sure that this is not the Government's intention, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter and accept this amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I signed my name to the amendment so cogently put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and I think her extremely cogent speech demonstrates that sometimes ministerial letters can raise more questions than they answer. There are certainly a number of questions in the speech of the noble Baroness today.
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