Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 6:
After Clause 16, insert the following new clause-- Video recordings designation
In the Video Recordings Act 1984 , at the end there shall be inserted the words "and having special regard to the likelihood of video works, in respect of which such certificates have been issued, inciting their viewers to anti-social behaviour,
crime or disorder".
At the end of section 4 of the 1984 Act there shall be inserted the following new subsection "The Secretary of State shall not make any designation under this section unless he is satisfied that adequate arrangements will be made for an appeal
in prescribed circumstances against a determination on the grounds that a video work submitted for the issue of a classification is likely to incite its viewers to anti-social behaviour, crime or disorder."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Ashbourne.
In February we had a short debate about the appointment of Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith as the new president of the British Board of Film Classification. It was an appointment which I welcomed. I said then that it was the intention of a cross-party group
of Peers to lay an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill before your Lordships' House today. The purpose of that amendment is to strengthen the public's right to have their voice heard when gratuitously violent films are released and, inter alia, also
to provide better protection for children. I am very pleased to say that I have received a faxed note today from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which says:
- "The NSPCC believes that the appeals procedure against classification decisions should be opened up by the British Board of Film Classification. The procedure should allow bodies like us, as well as members of the public, to appeal if it is
felt that the film or video might incite viewers to anti social behaviour such as child abuse".
My amendment is jointly sponsored by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, by the noble Lords, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Dholakia, and by many others, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and more than
60 Members of your Lordships' House who have kindly added their names to the amendment, underlining the widespread concern about the proliferation of violent imagery and the disparity between the huge influence wielded by the industry and the comparative
powerlessness of the public.
On 17th March the Daily Telegraph reported that Mr. Whittam Smith had told the Home Office:
- "In principle he is in favour of broadening the system of appeals against classification".
Under the present arrangement, film makers are allowed to appeal if they feel that a classification is too restrictive. Under the amendment before your Lordships today, organisations designated by the Home Secretary--those could be children's charities
such as the NSPCC or the Children's Society or professional associations such as the Professional Association of Teachers--would be given the right, along with the industry, to appeal against BBFC decisions. Mr. Whittam Smith told the Daily Telegraph that
- "in principle in favour of anybody with a genuine interest in classification being able to use the appeals process".
In reality, the amendment I am moving today is far more modest than the general right of appeal which Mr. Whittam Smith says he favours. This does not open the process to anybody.
In a letter to me dated 30th March, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who has been extremely considerate and patient in dealing with the points which I have raised with him in meetings and in correspondence concerning this matter over the past
few weeks, said that neither he nor Mr. Whittam Smith consider the amendment before your Lordships' House today to be workable. Let me deal directly with the arguments the Minister put in his letter of yesterday.
First, he says that the other interest groups will demand equal treatment. He does not say who the other interest groups are. It would be interesting for us to learn their identity. But if this argument were reduced absurdum, the National Association
of Paedophiles would need to be treated comparably with the NSPCC, the National Front with the Commission for Racial Equality, and organisations promoting heroin and cocaine given comparable treatment to the National Drugs Misuse Council. It would be political
correctness of the worst kind. The real point is that other interest groups are already represented by the industry and have an unlimited right of appeal already--a right currently enjoyed by no one else.
Secondly, in his letter dated yesterday, the Minister said that different groups may appeal against each other. But this is already perfectly normal in many appeal situations. The whole point is that the BBFC would then need to consider conflicting
arguments in arriving at its decisions. The designated list of those who can appeal would be entirely composed of organisations chosen by the Home Secretary. What greater control could the Home Secretary wish for?
Thirdly, the Minister said:
- "A person could only reasonably appeal against a classification decision after having seen the video work".
What happens in reality is that if a film is trailed in advance and many people are aware of the general storyline, people then raise their opposition or their concerns. It will be at that point, in advance of circulation, that the Home Secretary's
designated organisations could ask to see the film. Their response and/or their appeal could be required--it would be quite proper for the Minister to expect this--in a very short time span. That is wholly practical and it would add no more time than the
industry adds when it appeals a decision under the existing arrangements.
The truth is that the Government could have come forward with their own proposal at any time since I wrote to them before the Committee stage. These are the same arguments deployed against my 1994 amendment, which I moved in another place, which was
only successful when an all-party group told the Government to overcome what they claimed were insurmountable hurdles. I was especially grateful, I might add, for the help given to me at that time by the then shadow Home Secretary, Mr. Tony Blair.
In the February debate, to which I alluded, the Minister likened the situation to the planning process. It is not in many respects to be likened to the planning process. First, when an application for planning permission is made a local council will
advertise the fact in the local papers and publish notices that an application has been made. The British Board of Film Classification is obliged to do no such thing. In fact it is only in the board's annual report, which is published a year after the
event, that full details of the application for certification are available, by which time of course it is far too late to do anything about it. The only other method of letting the public know is by press release, which the BBFC has done on several occasions.
By the time the public sees the film, again it is too late.
Secondly, if a local community does not like the decision made by a local council in the case of a planning decision, it is able to vote the local councillors out. A local council is demonstrably accountable. The British Board of Film Classification
is not. A local planning authority is meant to be a democratic body. It was made quite clear in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, that councillors are not simply meant to rubber-stamp planning applications but to play an active role.
In contrast, there has been continued and ongoing concern about the board's accountability. In another place in July last year Mr. Julian Brazier MP, the Member for Canterbury, raised the issue of the BBFC's openness and accountability. In response,
via a press statement on 7th July 1997, the then director of the BBFC, James Ferman, defended the board's accountability by saying:
- "Under the Video Recordings Act 1984 the board is already accountable to Parliament".
Mr. Ferman continued by saying that if Mr. Brazier,
- "looks in the House of Commons Library, he will find the board's very detailed annual reports which have set out every year since 1985 the composition of the board, its procedures and a statement of accounts".
Section 6 of the Video Recordings Act 1984 does indeed require quite clearly that the designated authority, the BBFC,
- "shall, as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so after 31st December, make a report to the Secretary of State".
It is clear that the board has previously failed lamentably to fulfil this responsibility. The last annual report that should have been published as soon as practicable after 31st December 1996, was not published until 2nd December 1997. I am grateful
to Stewart Gregg of the Movement for Christian Democracy for discovering that and for pointing it out to me.
By any stretch of the imagination a whole year later clearly does not meet the requirement to present an annual report, as soon as is practicable. After its presentation to the Secretary of State, the annual report has only just been laid before Parliament.
That means that at one point the latest information about the board's activities with which Parliament has been presented, was two years old. Even if the board does present its annual report on time it does little to address the issue of public participation.
The board has a monopoly on film classification. It is also funded by the very industry that it is supposed to regulate.
Thirdly, I return to the analogy with planning law that the Minister drew in our February exchange. It is generally accepted that the granting of planning permission should not have detrimental effects on the people of a local area. However, there
are different categories of planning applications to identify the application which might cause harm. In such cases licences must be obtained for certain properties to be able to act or trade in a certain way. Therefore, it would be more correct to draw
a parallel between film classification and the granting of licences for the use of specific purposes. For instance, if premises are to be used as a betting shop or a public house, the police and local residents are frequently consulted. There are powers
to take licences away if there are problems of harm, crime or disorder. There will be a court hearing at which local residents are able to make their case and the police are able to express their concerns. There are licensing magistrates.
To all intents and purposes this is a system of appeals. Provision is made for appeals in situations where there might be harm and so it should be for films as well. There is an ever-growing amount of evidence of the harm that violent images can cause.
The BBFC's own annual report for 1996-97, page 3, says that handled irresponsibly, screen violence can teach techniques, encourage aggressive attitudes or reinforce aggressive behaviour. The House should be in no doubt about the seriousness of this situation.
Dr. Ken Parsons of Manchester University has demonstrated how children are being affected by the playing of violent video games. After a study of 61 teenagers over a six month period, he concluded that playing a game can be like real life for a child
and that young people may well become addicted to violence as a result of playing the game. That is particularly grave if it happens during a time of key personal development. That is hardly surprising given that children are often playing computer games
for up to 30 hours a week.
A recent Home Office report into the viewing behaviour of young offenders, which was unfortunately widely misreported in the press in January, finally concluded something that we all knew in our hearts for very many years. It states that, there is
some evidence that young people do imitate films. The BBFC needs to be much more open to the concerns of people drawn from right across the spectrum. Its present disposition is invariably elitist and often very patronising. For instance, the decision last
week to allow films such as "Crash", "Lolita" and "Kiss" to be made available for home viewing illustrates how out of touch it has become. This is not about censorship because each of the films which I have just mentioned
can be seen by adults in the cinema. But should they be easily available in thousands of homes where children are bound to see them?
For 25 years, at one level or another, I represented people in the inner city of Liverpool. In those streets and humble homes where often there was great material poverty, one thing that one would often find would be piles of videos, many of them totally
unsuitable for young children and young people to see. The Daily Mail described last week's decision as, being a gross betrayal of public interest. In a leading article it said of the BBFC, that, encased in their own celluloid bubble they appear to exist
on another planet. They are utterly remote from that inhabited by ordinary people who have all too real reason these days to fear for the safety of their children.
Two days after the BBFCs decision, a national newspaper reported on the death of four children and their pregnant teacher gunned down in Arkansas by two boys aged 13 and 11. The older boy, Mitchell Johnson, had bragged to his school friends,
- "Everybody I do not like is going to die. I have a lot of killing to do".
Where does a child learn language like that? In a report in The Times of 26th March, Mr. Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas, said that he blamed a national culture in which films, television, language and music promoted a glorification of violence.
- "What makes all of us angry is that our culture would create the kind of atmosphere where a 11 or 13 year-old student could feel that the way to respond to whatever anger is inside them is to take up a whole battery of arms and indiscriminately
shoot their fellow students and teachers".
The report continued by saying that he was not sure much else could be expected in a country where children are exposed to tens of thousands of murders on television and films.
The prevalent gun culture in the USA is the other combustible in this lethal cocktail. But guns have always been present in American society. In contemporary times the old restraints have been displaced by the coarsening of society; by the glamorising
of extreme violence and by the normalising of viciousness and brutality. Who can doubt that the culture of casual violence has played its part? Certainly, increasing numbers of film makers from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, to the actor, Dustin Hoffman,
have been excoriating in their criticism of the industry for dressing up gratuitous violence as entertainment or as a form of art.
The stark reality is also that some parents are not fulfilling their responsibilities with regard to supervising what their children are watching. According to a survey in March 1997 by SMRC Childwise, nearly half of British children aged five to six
years claimed that at weekends they watched television after the 9 o'clock watershed. These issues illustrate why we need to take action on a variety of fronts.
Perhaps I may draw the threads of this argument together and concentrate in my final remarks on why this amendment is practical, workable and urgently required. The BBFC state in its annual report that the most direct channel of accountability is replying
to letters and telephone inquiries. This amendment will provide a far more satisfactory method of accountability and a way of allowing the public to voice their concerns, not merely their reactions on a telephone once it is too late.
The BBFC is faced with a huge problem about how to gauge public feeling. It is clearly frustrated that so often the tabloid press is left to be the vehicle for the expression of public opinion. Its annual report and press releases continually make
reference to circumstances with which it has become depressingly familiar. It says that, somebody sees the film in question in its country of origin or at a film festival prior to international release and writes an article attacking it as the most dangerous
film ever to be offered to the public. The press then canvass the opinions of dozens of prominent figures.
Then long before the BBFC has had a chance to view it and make its own analysis, it is deluged with warnings and injunctions not to permit the showing of the film. This amendment will provide a civilised and workable alternative to this vicious circle.
The film "Crash", described by the BBFC as, an unusual and disturbing film, concerns a couple who are unable to find sexual satisfaction inside or outside marriage and who fall in with a group of people who associate sexual excitement with car
crashes. A BBFC press release says that their legal adviser took the view that rather than sympathising or identifying with the attitudes or tastes of the characters in this film, the average viewer would, in the end, be repelled by them. The film was
granted an 18 certificate uncut for cinema release and now for home viewing by the viewer.
At the end of the press release James Ferman welcomed this advice by saying,
- "Now the debate can move to the public arena".
But there can be no adequate debate. There is no mechanism for allowing such a debate while the industry has total access to the appeals procedure and ordinary members of the public have no method of finding their way into the appeals procedures. This
amendment will make a small contribution to challenging the prevailing culture of violence and it will enhance the role of those who protect children. Powerful vested interests prefer the status quo. I hope that tonight your Lordships will resist the status
quo and those powerful vested interests and support the amendment. I beg to move. Lord Ashbourne:
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for once again taking the initiative on video recordings. Some noble Lords present--although not many, I suspect--may remember that this is the subject on which I made my maiden speech in 1984.
It is a sad reflection that many of the points that I made then need restating 14 years later.
I am concerned about the diet of sex and violence that we see in the video industry today. I realise that those with responsibility for classifying videos cannot control what Hollywood produces, but they are the guardians of deciding what material
is appropriate for what age groups in this country. In this day and age, that is, indeed, a weighty task, so I support the proposals to add more definition to the task of the designated authority; namely, the British Board of Film Classification.
The last annual report from the BBFC acknowledges that video violence could affect individual behaviour. It states:
- "The board's 1996 international conference on screen violence confirmed the causes for concern, which centre on the teaching of aggressive habits, the rewarding of antisocial impulses, and the fostering of increased callousness towards victims
of violence through desensitisation".
Surely then it is not unreasonable for noble Lords to support the proposal that before making a classification the BBFC should take into consideration the additional criteria of the likelihood that a particular video could incite the viewer,
- "to antisocial behaviour, crime or disorder".
One of my other concerns is the public accountability of the BBFC. I noted in the recent annual report descriptions of the home viewing panel and work with students, and I do commend these interactions with the video watching public, but they have
still no right to appeal against classification decisions or to find out why certain decisions were made. They are more a test of, "Did the BBFC get it right?".
In 1984, I asked whether members of the public would be able to appeal to the Video Appeals Committee against a decision by the BBFC. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has proposed that recognised organisations, other than producers,
will be able to appeal against the classification decision in certain circumstances. This would give some balance back to a process that currently allows practically no redress when a particular video is released which causes public concern.
I know that other appeals processes do not give an objector this sort of opportunity to pursue their objections. But I am sure that noble Lords will agree that comparing a planning application to classifying a video cannot be taken to extremes. An
application for one house will affect only one particular area. Licences for pubs and betting shops can be revoked if the licensee acts outside the terms of the licence.
In contrast, a video work is classified by an unelected body, is likely to be reproduced thousands of times, circulated around the country and shown in individual homes, where, by the very admission of the BBFC, it could influence an individual to
antisocial behaviour. I believe that there should be an appeal process that allows an organisation apart from the video producer to appeal against a video classification in the circumstances outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I give the amendment
my full support and I commend it to the House. Baroness Young:
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, covered the ground so completely and satisfactorily that there is little else that I can add, except to commend the amendment to your Lordships' House and to
say that I hope very much that the Government will accept it.
The subject of the amendment affects parents very deeply, particularly good parents who are trying to do the best for their children in a world which is beset with difficulties for them. As I understand the purpose of the Bill--it is one with which
I entirely agree--it is to try to prevent young people falling into crime and to propose ways of dealing with them if they do. I cannot understand why there should be any question over trying to tighten the restrictions on such videos or giving those who
object to them the right to appeal.
I have read many reports purporting to state that there is no link between seeing violence and actually practising it. I have never understood that argument. Why we believe that advertisements can affect people, but not video nasties, I cannot think.
When I was at school, and in the schools in which I have been involved, teachers spent a lot of time trying to put before children those things which are good, right and true in the hope that they will have some effect. Even if they do not have any effect,
teachers certainly will not put the reverse before children because they want them to grow up to be good citizens. I simply do not understand the argument that one influence has an effect but not the other. Screen violence has a profound effect. What is
so worrying is that even children from good homes can nowadays see on television things that would have been simply unthinkable 25 or 30 years ago. They may have opportunities to see in their own homes the videos that were singled out by the noble Lord,
Lord Alton. This is a serious situation and we should do everything that we can as a society to support good parents who are trying, in a difficult world, to do the best for their children.
I shall be interested to hear the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. There may be some legal argument about why it is not possible to accept the amendment, but I hope that even if there are technical difficulties he will say that he will consider
the matter further and produce a further drafting of the amendment.
However, it seems to me that this amendment says the very minimum that is required. It has two parts. The first would give the BBFC more power to deal with videos which encourage antisocial behaviour by adding additional criteria which would need to
be considered by the board. That seems a perfectly reasonable request and I cannot see why there should be any doubt about it. The second part of the amendment relates to an appeals system. It would allow designated organisations such as the police or
children's charities, or an individual, to appeal to the Video Appeals Committee in the same way as producers can appeal under specified circumstances. What is wrong with that? The amendment seems a minimum requirement for what is needed in this world.
Although I do not subscribe to the fact that this might be regarded as a provision which runs against artists' freedom to express themselves--as far as I can see, anybody who wishes to see such films, which strike me as being singularly disagreeable,
can do so at the cinema--I believe that there is a case for trying to prevent such films being shown in the home. I really believe that there is a distinction. I know that it is difficult to legislate on what goes on inside the home. It seems to me that
the two minimum requirements are to give more power to the organisation which is responsible for the standards which are set for home videos and to provide a right of appeal. I should have thought that there could be no real disagreement on this. I very
much hope that the Government will accept the amendment. Lord Elton:
Whatever we do with the amendments, that institution should be, as it were, on probation for the next year or two to see whether it is running on the right fuel, whether it should be paid out of the proceeds of the film industry, for instance, and
whether it is one of those institutions which those noble Lords who have taught in various places will find familiar as institutions which have developed their own culture and see the world from the position of that culture and do not see the world as
the world sees it.
The amendment does not address that issue, except in one respect. The first leg gives to the board what my noble friend Lady Young has described as a new power, and which I strongly hope will be a new duty, to consider the likelihood of video works
in respect of which certificates have been issued inciting their viewers to antisocial behaviour, crime or disorder.
It is obvious to all noble Lords that there is this connection. Even the last three tranches of research, to which the noble Lord referred, bear that out. The most recent was published in January of this year by Browne and Pennell at the instigation
of the Home Office. While it is again inconclusive on the direct connection, it states that when parental violence was present offenders and non-offenders differed significantly, with offenders distinctly preferring violent film and characters. The implication
is that a history of family violence and offending behaviour are necessary pre-conditions for developing a significant preference for violent film action and role models. The children to whom that referred had all committed--the control had not--violent
Statistically, there may not be the required connection, but all noble Lords must be satisfied, as indeed most have been, as my noble friend said, by the enormous sums paid out by industry to secure the changing of other people's behaviour by showing
them things on television. It is perverse, is it not, to suggest that one can change it one direction by producing film material but not in the other?
I want also to draw to your Lordships' attention the merits of having some form of appeal system available outside the industry which this is meant to regulate--outside the people who create this material, but from among the people who have to receive
it, whose children have it before them for up to 30 hours a week. They are the people who are affected. The appeal from within the industry protects bank balances. The appeal from outside the industry protects character. That is an essential piece of common
sense. However long or short the future life of that board may be, I ask your Lordships to submit it to this new provision. Lord Birkett:
My Lords, although I am technically still a vice-president of the BBFC, I must emphasise that I speak for myself and out of my own experience. I do not entirely recognise myself or the BBFC from a great number of the things that the noble Lord, Lord
Elton, said. I certainly do not recognise myself as having lived in an insulated bubble, as described by the Daily Mail, but then, if I were going to sit for a portrait, I would not go to the Daily Mail as the painter thereof.
The amendment has two halves. I cannot believe that they will work. The first half is unnecessary. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which I know are shared by many of your Lordships, about violence in the cinema, and especially in
video, but I do not believe the amendment is necessary because the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 amended the Video Recordings Act with the following words, "The designated authority"--that is, the BBFC--
- "shall, in making any determination as to the suitability of a video work, have special regard (among the other relevant factors) to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which
the work deals with criminal behaviour; illegal drugs; violent behaviour or incidents; horrific behaviour or incidents; or human sexual activity".
Further to that, "potential viewer" is defined in that amendment as:
- "any person (including a child or young person) who is likely to view the video work in question".
At the BBFC we are very much aware that the mere sticking of a certificate on a video box does not by any means guarantee that it will not be seen by people of the wrong age.
However, that amendment encompasses what the noble Lord has put down in his amendment. As I know that belt-and-braces legislation is not favoured in your Lordships' House, I suggest that his concerns may be shared by all but that the necessity for
that half of the amendment does not exist.
More importantly, the second half of his amendment deals with the appeals procedure. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is a little unfair in describing the BBFC as being funded by the industry as if it had a subvention or private source of
finance from the industry which somehow put it in the pocket of the industry. The truth is that the BBFC is simply funded by a fee that it charges for classifying either films or videos. That fee is calculated precisely to make the BBFC break even. There
is no likelihood of it making a profit and, if it did so, it would not have anything to do with it. It cannot make a profit. Equally, it cannot make a loss if it is to remain in existence. I believe that the funding is as equitable and simple a matter
as can be and the BBFC is not the industry, unless one proceeds on the basis that the industry is the only people who need certificates.
That leads me to the question of why, up to now, only the film and video industry has had a right of appeal. The reason is fairly simple. The makers or distributors of the films and videos concerned have a very large financial stake in the matter.
If a certificate is granted for an age group much higher than the film maker intended or wished, or in the most extreme cases the BBFC refuses to certificate a work, the financial consequences will be colossal. That is why there must be a mechanism whereby
an appeal can be made on behalf of the industry or the maker of the video in question.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords may say that that is all very well but surely the commercial interests of the video maker are only half of it. What about the public good and the concern of the average viewer or member of the public?
I believe that if a system of appeal is to be arranged it must be thought through a lot more carefully than this. If Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith is keen that some form of wider appeal should be possible, no doubt he will talk to the Home Office, and between
them they will work something out. But at the moment the problem is very much as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has described it.
Sometimes an enormous amount of protest and controversy arises before a video or film ever appears, based entirely on the views of people who have not seen the work in question. I recognise very well the words in the annual report read out by the noble
Lord--because I wrote them. It is indeed a quandary. Often we are faced with storms of protest in relation to works we have not even seen, let alone certificated. I do not see how the public or those bodies designated by the Home Secretary according the
proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will get to see the work. Once it has been certificated--at which point anybody can see it--the damage, if any there be, has been done. Even if the appeal overturned the decision of the BBFC, it would take a certain
amount of time to withdraw the work in question. I predict that, if that happened, the saleability of the work would rocket in the days before its withdrawal and would be counter-productive to everything intended by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
At present, I cannot see how an appeal system of this kind can work. I was slightly dismayed by the phrase, "in prescribed circumstances", in the noble Lord's amendment. I did not know what it meant. Now that the noble Lord has explained
his intention that certain organisations should be designated by the Home Secretary, the matter is a little more precise, but scarcely precise enough. At present, however well-intentioned the amendment, it will not wash. If the Home Office and the BBFC
between them wish further progress to be made, I am sure that both are more than capable of making it. Baroness Wharton:
My Lords, I have great sympathy with all noble Lords who have spoken. We have discussed the matter many times in this House. However, I have reservations about the amendment. It is open to every member of the public to lay a complaint should there
be an appeals process, but I should like to know more of the detail. Of whom will the appeals committee be comprised? If there is a request to the BBFC to re-classify videos, how will that affect films? Will there be one classification for videos and another
Once a complaint has been lodged and is being considered, will the videos be taken off the market? What will happen to the videos in homes? How will the procedure be enforced, since there are hundreds of shops throughout the country selling videos?
It will be difficult to enforce the measure. Will the BBFC be asked to reclassify a video?
I presume that the Home Secretary will select members of the committee. Therefore, are we not carrying out the work of the BBFC and laying a contentious issue at the door of the Home Office for it to make the final decision as to whether a video receives
classification, is re-classified or is taken off the market? Lord Williams of Mostyn:
My Lords, I am most grateful to everyone who has spoken on this matter because plainly there are serious issues to be addressed.
If one looks at the phraseology of the amendment, the first part is not needed for the reason that has already been identified. It is expressed in an extremely broad way that the board must classify,
- "having special regard to the likelihood of video works ... inciting their viewers to anti-social behaviour, crime or disorder".
Antisocial behaviour is very widely put there and there is no attempt subsequently to define it.
Under the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the board has a duty--which is in the Act, significantly, because of the efforts of the noble Lord when he was a Member of another place--to have special regard to any harm which may be caused to
potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which the work deals with criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific behaviour or incidents or human sexual activity. I take the noble Lord's point
about his stance on principle and, indeed, the stance adopted by the right reverend Prelate. It goes further, and I am glad to be able to repeat this. "Potential viewer" means any person, including a child or young person, who is likely to view
a video work if a classification certificate were issued.
Therefore, I suggest to your Lordships that the first part of the amendment is of no value--I do not say that disagreeably to the noble Lord--because provision is already made by the criminal law to deal with that aspect. I recognise that that is not
the fundamental question at issue because it seems to me that your Lordships' attention has been focused more on what one should do about the appeal procedure. Therefore, I shall spend a few moments on that.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we must ensure that the interests of the child are heard and that there is the opportunity for better protection. I do not believe that this proposed appeal system is capable of working, first,
because there is no reference here to designated organisations. The point was made, rightly I believe, that at present the amendment allows an appeal at large. The appeal at large by any member of the public would be on the basis that the classification
should not be given, or should be amended on a preliminary basis, on the basis that it was likely to,
- "incite its viewers to anti-social behaviour".
That is extraordinarily wide. I do not know who did whisper from the Liberal Democrat Benches, "What about free speech?". There may be one or two usual suspects, but it is an extraordinarily wide provision and I accept the whispered encouragement.
To many of us, not least myself, antisocial behaviour includes smoking. I find it grotesquely antisocial, as I constantly remind my wife when she is standing outside the kitchen door having a furtive cigarette. (I must not take Hansard home with me
tomorrow.) Therefore, one must see how we can achieve something which is workable. Lord Alton of Liverpool:
I withdrew the amendment in Committee precisely so that the Government could come forward with workable proposals if they did not feel that my amendment was workable. Indeed, I went to see the noble Lord and we had a productive meeting. I am grateful
to him for the way in which he has dealt with me personally and for the courteous way in which he has dealt with the points with which he has been acquainted. However, the Government have not come forward with an alternative. Simply to reply on the good
offices of Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith, as much as I welcomed his appointment in February when we had a short debate on the matter in this House, is really not good enough.
For instance, last week Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith personally supported the decision of the board to release "Crash", "Lolita" and "Kiss". He said of "Crash" that the subject matter was too obscure to generate
antisocial behaviour. Many of us would wish to disagree with that decision, but what good is it to be able to approach an advisory committee on children's affairs? We need some sort of appeals mechanism so that we, as well as the industry, can say that
a decision will not stand up and that the materials in question ought not to be available for home viewing. At the moment we have a lopsided system. As my noble friend Lord Tenby said, the advertising industry does not believe that videos and TV have no
effect on those who watch them. The industry would not have spent £4,000 million last year trying to sell wares through TV advertisements if it thought that what we saw had no effect whatsoever upon us.
I do not pretend that everyone who views this kind of material behaves in an antisocial or violent manner. However, a child who is living on the edge may be tipped over the edge. If a child who is brought up in a home where there is no love, support
or parental help is exposed solely to a diet of gratuitous violence we should not be surprised if that child subsequently behaves in that manner. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, made that point. There have been many telling interventions
during this debate. I am grateful to noble Lords for debating these points.
My experience in 1994 was that, if we do not take the Government to the wire, they will continue to rely on advisory committees and nothing will be done to regulate an industry that is allowed to regulate itself. Vast amounts of money are involved
in that industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said on a previous occasion. If you think that a child is in danger of being run over by a railway engine, you do not wait until that happens before you put up a fence to protect that child. That is all
that I ask your Lordships to do today. If the Government feel that the amendment is in any way unworkable, there will be plenty of opportunity in another place to put that right. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 122.