Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I am a very strong supporter of the new PEGI system for video games; this amendment is certainly not supported from these Benches on the basis that it is going to cause any problems for the VSC. It is entirely motivated by the need to have a proper demarcation between the two in cases where linear content is contained within video games. This is a very important potential loophole, which Ministers have addressed in other ways. The whole purpose of these amendments is to deal with the issue of demarcation between the BBFC and the VSC. As the noble Baroness said, this amendment to the primary legislation would mean that the Secretary of State would not need to issue guidance on how this system will work. There would be a ready-made method of demarcation, and we believe that would be greatly preferable and much clearer right from the outset of the operation of this Bill.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, our Amendment 148 in this group addresses much the same point as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. They all seek to clarify the division of responsibility over video work, and raise a concern that the BBFC classification will not be the one by which the product is marketed. Amendment 148 raises an issue highlighted by the BBFC as to how the usual procedure for gathering evidence for a prosecution would operate. As it stands, if the BBFC classification were the one under which a video work was marketed, it would be a straightforward matter for the enforcement body to go to the BBFC to check the material against its records. Will the Minister explain how the video games authority will be able to provide adequate certificates of evidence?

Lord Maxton: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly. I am slightly confused both by the last debate and by this one. This provision, of course, applies only to video games that either are bought on a disc or are on television. It cannot, as far as I am aware, apply to the downloading of any video games through the internet which are sourced from outside this country, and many of them will be. I am not quite sure how any of this applies to that, and I would be grateful if the Minister would give me some answers in his reply.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this important debate, and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for moving Amendment 146. I emphasise that our overriding policy intention is to ensure that video games be classified by the authority designated for that purpose.

As we discussed extensively in Committee, it is vital that some flexibility is set out in the Bill to enable certain kinds of games to be allocated across to the BBFC for classification. This flexibility is achieved by the new Section 4ZB. The section makes clear that the Video Standards Council can determine conclusively which authority is responsible for classifying a certain

8 Mar 2010 : Column 29

class of video games. We believe this is the correct approach, as it is the video games authority which will be ultimately responsible for setting up arrangements to classify video games. The VSC will allocate across any games to the BBFC, but it can do so only after consultation with that body. Also, before withdrawing any allocation, it must consult the BBFC. In addition, the VSC will have to take into account any guidance the Secretary of State issues. So it is clear where the responsibility lies, and it is also clear that the obligation is on the VSC.

Under new Section 4ZC we have defined how the video games authority will deal with non-integral film material contained within a game. It is now a legal requirement for the video games authority to have regard to any BBFC determination or BBFC classification made about such film content within games, so the Government would contend that Amendment 147 is already provided for in the Bill. It is quite clear that the video games authority has no flexibility in those terms, but must refer the matter to the BBFC.

4.15 pm

In setting up arrangements to take account of BBFC determinations and classifications, the VSC would be under a duty to consult the BBFC and to comply with any guidance that the Secretary of State issues. The question of guidance has been raised in the debate, and I reassure the House that the Secretary of State will offer guidance to make absolutely sure that the spirit and intent of the Act are reflected in its implementation. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was particularly concerned about that point. We trust the two designated authorities to decide when referral is appropriate, and to share any information that is required to make sure that the process of classification is implemented properly. We have been reassured by both bodies that they will do that. Further, our detailed discussions have satisfied us that they will work together to interpret and apply the legislation correctly.

The Government contend that the Bill already sets up the structure to meet the anxieties that have been raised, but one or two points were raised with particular force and precision, and I want to reply to those. On the question put by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about evidence being made available for prosecutions, we understand of course the need to support the prosecuting authorities, and the Bill as currently drafted enables the BBFC to provide material evidence to the court on which it has made a determination.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, stressed once again the urgency of this matter. That is why we want the Bill to pass through both Houses of Parliament with not only the proper degree of scrutiny, but with the proper degree of urgency as well. I emphasise that the guidance from the Secretary of State will be published before the video games authority is designated under the Act. This will take place within months of Royal Assent, and I am sure that the whole House will join with me in hoping that that Royal Assent is not unduly delayed.

The noble Baroness also asked how a game would be identified as one to be restricted to the 18-plus category so that it is allocated across to the BBFC.

8 Mar 2010 : Column 30

The VSC and the BBFC are in discussions with each other and will identify the criteria that make a game likely to be restricted to 18 plus. The game will be allocated across if it is likely to be designed as R18 because that is the proper responsibility of the BBFC.

There are always differing views in the House on these matters, but I speak against a background where the work of the BBFC enjoys the confidence of the nation generally. Where serious material in video games merits its attention, the BBFC will be brought in because it will be an obligation on the Video Standards Council to bring it in. That is the basis of the Government's contention that the Bill already meets these anxieties. The amendments are important in clarifying the debate, but I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment, and that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will not move his, on the grounds that the Government have given careful thought to these matters and the Bill provides answers to the issues they have raised.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and the detailed way in which he has dealt with the advice that has been given to all parties affected by the amendments. As I said, although the preferred route is still through primary legislation, the assurances he has given and the clear way in which he has set out how he expects the bodies concerned to work together in coming to a conclusion on which role each should play-not least when matters come before a court of law-will be very helpful indeed. Once we get to the Royal Assent stage, the guidance could be only a matter of months away, which will be a huge help. The sooner this is clear and available for those concerned to act upon the better. I-

Lord Davies of Oldham: Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, I omitted to respond to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Maxton. I emphasise-the noble Baroness will be fully aware of this-that we are talking about boxed video games here. That is the subject of the provision.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I am grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord De Mauley, and everyone else who has spoken on the issue. I again thank the Minister for his help, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 146 withdrawn.

Amendments 147 and 148 not moved.

Amendment 149

Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote

149: After Clause 41, insert the following new Clause-

"Duty to promote online safety

(1) It shall be the duty of internet service providers and mobile phone operators to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements-

(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-

8 Mar 2010 : Column 31

(i) at the time of purchase of the service; and

(ii) to make such information available for the duration of the contract.

(2) In this section "online safety" means safe, responsible use of the internet and other communication devices by children and young people."

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I apologise for being on my feet yet again. Amendment 149 requires internet service providers and mobile phone operators to promote online safety and to provide consumers with information on filtering options prominently at the point of purchase and throughout the duration of the contract. It does not prescribe how they should go about doing so; neither does it require them to produce filtering software of their own. It simply requires that ISPs and MPOs make buyers aware of filtering options, thereby promoting child safety online, just as toy makers, traffic light wardens and shopkeepers already do offline.

In Committee the Minister suggested that the amendment was unnecessary because the task that it seeks to address is already taken care of by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. Having studied the Minister's speech and the excellent work of the UKCCIS carefully, I am, however, even more convinced of the need for my amendment. As the Minister knows, that body is a coalition of concerned bodies that seek to promote child safety on the basis of voluntary self-regulation and observation of best practice. On this basis, there are some important things that it can do and some very important things that it cannot.

One of the things that it can do, and is doing, is to promote the idea of the BSI filtering kitemark so that people considering filtering options will be able to identify safe and reliable filtering technologies. This is very welcome, but while the kitemark is a good mechanism to ensure the quality of filtering products, it does not and cannot ensure parental knowledge of filtering software per se. While the UKCCIS does good educational campaigns, such as "Zip it, Lock it, Flag it", these initiatives are not permanent, as my filtering amendment would be. Campaigns, as we all know, come and go.

That there is a pressing need for the filtering amendment is eloquently demonstrated by the UKCCIS itself in its annual report, which shows that only,

That comes from Ofcom, March/April 2009. This suggests a real lack of awareness of filtering options and what they can do and the challenges surrounding this are becoming more pressing with newer handsets that allow unfettered access to the internet. Interestingly, a Home Office report entitled The Sexualisation of Young People, already referred to during today's debate-the author being the prominent, well known psychologist, Linda Papadopoulos-recommends that game consoles and mobile phones should be sold with parental filtering mechanisms turned on.

In summary, this amendment is needed for three reasons. First, while some ISPs and MPOs already provide information on filtering, there are still companies that do not. They should. This is something that the UKCCIS cannot make them do and the voluntary basis of education is too slow. It took the

8 Mar 2010 : Column 32

industry far longer than was appropriate, and many more years than the Government wanted it to take, for companies to sign up to standards relating to child pornography.

Secondly, while many companies provide information on filtering, not all do it in a prominent way at the point of sale and-I emphasise-throughout the duration of the contract. Again, the UKCCIS cannot oblige companies to do this. Finally, there is evidence that more work needs to be done to educate parents, as the UKCCIS safety strategy suggests. I do not believe that it is fair to place the high burden of expectation that the Minister has thrust upon the UKCCIS, which, for reasons I have set out, it cannot possibly deliver by itself. The combined effect of Amendment 149 and the work of that body, however, would put in place a credible framework and I believe, frankly, that our children deserve nothing less. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend and I commend to the House the very measured way in which she has moved it today. Amendment 149 has a light touch and a very sensible approach. It does not just rely on the voluntarism that is implicit in the Minister's remarks in Committee, remarks which I have carefully read. I was sorry not to be able to be present to hear them at the time.

I do not believe that the only factor that shapes a young person is exposure to gratuitous violence, as the Minister implied earlier on, any more than I think that exposure to information on the internet is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the internet can be the most extraordinary tool for good and it can be used in an education setting in the most wonderful ways. Parents want to have some control over what their children see, though, and we should encourage them to want to have some say over what their children are exposed to.

That is why we need a more robust approach towards child protection, and merely relying on the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, wonderful though that body is and good work though it undoubtedly does, is not sufficient. The difficulty with depending on a body that in turn is forced to depend on a voluntary approach is eloquently illustrated by examination of one of the council's current initiatives: the proposal of a BSI kitemark for filtering software, to which my noble friend referred.

I shall mention two things in that regard. First, while a kitemark is helpful, if parents are already aware of filtering options, there is a more urgent need to make them aware of filtering options at the point of sale and for the duration of the contract, hence the importance of this amendment. Secondly, an e-mail from the council that I have seen states:

"This is still very much work in progress".

This reminds me of the problem relating to the timetable for voluntary agreements on signing up to the Internet Watch Foundation's list of blocked websites. The comparison pertains directly to time proofing; it shows why legislation is needed and how it can complement the council's work. Voluntary arrangements by themselves are simply not enough.

8 Mar 2010 : Column 33

In 2004 British Telecom started using technology to block illegal child abuse images at ISP level. These measures stop customers accessing these images, deliberately or by accident. Early in 2006 the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Office, Vernon Coaker, said that the Government wanted all ISPs to use similar technology to block content found on the Internet Watch Foundation's list of child abuse websites. Mr Coaker said that 90 per cent of ISPs had either already implemented or pledged to implement the blocks by the end of 2006. It beggars belief that there are companies that still do not block this content. To put things into perspective, Twitter has been around since 2006, YouTube since 2005 and Facebook since 2004. The internet moves very quickly and the Government need to move along with it at the same speed.

Given that a UK council survey has shown that only 15 per cent of parents have provided filtering for their children's phones, it is clear that making parents aware of filtering options is an urgent priority. We should not wait for ineffective and slow voluntary arrangements to work when more effective and simple legal alternatives such as my noble friend's amendment are on the table-that is, unless we are prepared to give the impression that child protection issues are of only minor importance. I strongly support the amendment.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, Clauses 4 to 9 of the Bill are about sending a message, as is the amendment. At the moment Tony Neate struggles on with Get Safe Online, the government-promoted website for this information. However, it is badly underfunded, and this would be a way of spreading the load among many other people. Therefore it can only be recommended.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, as I said when the amendment was discussed in Committee, the Government recognise and agree with the objective that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, seeks to achieve. In that debate I outlined the very important work that the UK Council for Child Internet Safety is doing in leading the Government's work in this area and in bringing together-I stress this-a wide range of interested parties, including the internet service providers and mobile phone operators at whom this amendment is aimed.

I emphasise the sustainability of the council's work. For example, it has already brought about changes in the school curriculum that will continue into the future. It is also running a public awareness campaign, with the message to "Click Clever, Click Safe" to raise awareness among children and their carers of how to stay safe online. That message is being promoted by all council members. The council's work with industry, and the previous work of the Home Secretary's task force, shows the ongoing commitment of these companies to doing what this amendment calls for: promoting the safe use of the internet by children. I am glad to say that the companies involved include those that run some of the most popular sites on the internet. Their commitment to this cause is also shown by the success of the Internet Watch Foundation. That body has been running since 1996 and currently has 100 companies as members and supporters. It is recognised-and we

8 Mar 2010 : Column 34

should acknowledge this-as a world leader in the fight against criminal content online, particularly images of the sexual abuse of children. It is a self-regulatory body, independent of government, although we totally support its work. The longevity and success of this body are testament to how seriously issues of online safety are taken by the industry.

A couple of points have been raised by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked about parents not being aware of filtering software. Actually, in our view and on our information, many parents are aware of such software but-and I simply state this-some say that they do not want to use it. They want more information about all aspects of safety, and this is what the UKCCIS is doing. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about not all ISPs telling parents about parental controls. I know that all major ISPs are in the UKCCIS and so are committed to promoting online safety. This covers the vast majority of the UK population, so including most children.

Due to this ongoing and widely supported work, we do not believe that the amendment is needed. However, I hope the House will rest assured that the Government agree with its spirit. As well as supporting the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, I urge noble Lords to follow the work of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, where we will be working with our partners to set up a framework of support, education and protection, which will not only help today's children but will continue that help into the future as circumstances and technologies change.

I have a final couple of points. First, on the question of compulsion rather than voluntarism, the internet develops quickly, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. A voluntary arrangement can take account of new services and not just put a burden on ISPs. Finally, this amendment seeks to impose specific obligations on a limited section of the wide variety of companies involved in the internet. This would require the Government to conduct a full consultation to see whether such a burden was proportionate. We simply do not have the time to undertake such a consultation and, given the work that is already going on in this area, it is unlikely that the additional benefit to be gained would outweigh the cost to industry of complying and to the public purse of monitoring and enforcing any new rules.

We share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, but we believe that the current arrangements have made significant strides within the industry and are creating the right sort of climate to promote both awareness and responsibility on the part of ISPs and mobile phone providers. In the light of those comments and of assurances previously given, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said and, indeed, I should particularly like to thank my noble friends Lord Alton and Lord Erroll for their contributions in support of the amendment. I certainly do not have the slightest wish to disparage the excellent voluntary work done

8 Mar 2010 : Column 35

both by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety and by the Internet Watch Foundation, for which I have great respect.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page