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Mr. Alton: Although I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point, does he not accept that he is inviting the House to tilt at the wrong windmills? Nobody is saying that the V-chip is a panacea. All we are arguing for is the right for people to have the technology if they so wish. Does he also accept that all the arguments that he has just advanced could be applied to the United States of America or Canada, where legislators have arrived at conclusions that are different to his.

Dr. Cunningham: Of course it is true that those arguments could be applied on both sides of the debate, but just because the V-chip is being adopted in Canada or the President of the United States of American has decided that it should be introduced in his country does not mean that it will work or deliver the goods. I am saying that it is dangerously misleading to suppose that such an introduction will have a major impact. I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that if people want to be able to buy the technology, and either retro-fit it to existing television sets or buy it in new television sets or videos, there should be nothing to stop that, but I am not sure why we need to legislate, because nothing prevents that from happening now.

That brings me to perhaps a more important point that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill did not spend much time discussing--who will rate the programmes? That will be an enormous bureaucratic exercise. Who will be responsible? Who will pay for it? I may be wrong, and I hope that I am not misreading the hon. Gentleman's intentions, but I understand that he wants to leave it to the broadcasters. Is that correct?

Mr. Alton: The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Broadcasters classify programmes at the moment, and that is why there is a watershed at 9 o'clock. Broadcasters must determine whether a programmes is suitable for transmission before and after that time, so no extra work would be involved. The House must take action, because the broadcasters will have to tag material electronically to allow the V-chip to be of use. Even if everyone buys a V-chip, it will be of no use unless we require the broadcasters to tag programmes.

8.30 pm

Dr. Cunningham: Exactly, but who would be responsible for tagging the programmes? The hon. Gentleman suggests that it should be left to the broadcasters, but there would be a natural tendency on their part to put the lowest possible rating on a programme they could get away with to ensure that more people had the opportunity to see it especially where advertising and commercial pressures were involved. The problem with selling these ideas separately is that all programmes must be vetted, tagged or rated before the V-chip can be effective.

Ms Eagle: Does my right hon. Friend know how live programmes could be classified, since nobody knows what will happen on them?

Dr. Cunningham: I suppose my hon. Friend has broadcasts such as that of Prime Minister's Question Time in mind. I do not know the answer to her question, and she has raised an important point.

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I am not opposed to people having the technology, but I am doubtful about legislating on the matter and leaving it to the broadcasters. The Bill proposes a new Broadcasting Standards Commission; the Opposition support that proposal strongly. Far from requiring the Secretary of State to produce a White Paper or requiring other organisations to do more research, we should let the new body--which will be responsible for standards and complaints--have a look at the situation. It could then report to the House on what it believed to be the way forward.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): Many hon. Members will agree with my right hon. Friend's remarks about technology, but does he agree that the general concerns in the nation and in the House are that there is too much violence on television, that too much of it is unnecessary and that too much of it is too violent? The Government recently initiated a change from one standards body to another, but it seems not to have done the trick. How can we be reassured by the creation of another body? Is not the recommendation in the new clause at least a move in the right direction?

Dr. Cunningham: I am not saying that research should not be done or that these matters are not important. I am saying that there are other ways in which to deal with them, and I have proposed some.

I am as concerned about censorship as I am about some of the other issues. I do not believe that it will be helpful or beneficial to a better understanding of life or an appreciation of art and culture if people can use technology to block out important parts of plays. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill referred to civil actions in the United States on the basis of films. It seems incredible to me. If film makers are to be the subject of civil litigation, why should that not apply also to books? If people can carry out alleged copycat actions after watching a film, why can they not do so after reading a book? "The Silence of the Lambs" was, after all, a book before it was a film. We are getting into dangerous ground.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to Shakespeare. I am a lifelong supporter of Shakespeare, and I watch the Royal Shakespeare Company at every opportunity--particularly its season in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Are we saying that if Shakespeare's plays are made into films and put on television that people will V-chip the murder of Julius Caesar or the emergence of Coriolanus from the city after he has slaughtered people? Is that what we really want? That is a cause for concern.

If, through the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, we can take action along the lines that I hope the Secretary of State will announce, we can far more realistically--and, I hope, without raising false hopes--create the climate of opinion necessary to reduce some of the violence that we are talking about.

One of the things that worries me about the proposals relates to the current and agreed 9 o'clock watershed. Critics say that that watershed simply pushes violence on television into the early hours of the morning, but if proper parental control is exercised, children--the people about whom we are most concerned--ought to be in bed by 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. The fact that they are

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not tells us a lot about what is wrong with parental control. There is a real danger that the introduction of such technology will create the excuse--although it may not see it through--for the erosion of the 9 o'clock watershed. People might say that violent films can be broadcast earlier because they can be coded, allowing the V-chip to be used.

Mr. Dafis: The right hon. Gentleman is talking about technology, but he let slip a remark that he thought that something needed to be done about the level of violence on television. Do I take it that he regards the current situation as unsatisfactory?

Dr. Cunningham: Yes. I have said that more than once, and I am happy to confirm that that is my view. I share the concerns of the hon. Gentleman, and those of the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, but I do not share their views on the potential solutions. Above all, I do not want to raise false hopes that, by making technology available, the problems can be solved and will go away.

Sir Timothy Sainsbury (Hove): I sympathise strongly with the objectives of all the new clauses, and there is no doubt that there is widespread sympathy in the country for them. I wish to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) about the difference between television and other media. Television is not only in the home, we do not have to pay anything to watch it. It is not like hiring or buying a video, or going to the cinema--even if that costs as little as nine pence, as the hon. Gentleman said. No transaction is required; we are required only to turn it on. In addition, the number of hours of viewing per day and per week that numerous surveys show to be the average--particularly among the young--make television different. Also, we can video record and replay what we see on television.

It is not only the vulnerable who are at risk from violence, particularly the gratuitous and realistic violence that we see too much of. If such violence is continuous, almost anybody will be affected by it. However, I am far from convinced that any of the new clauses address the problem. A number of reasons why they fall short of meeting that objective have already been expressed, so I shall not repeat them.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) that prime responsibility rests with broadcasters to moderate the amount and type of violence. Of course, there are important responsibilities for parents, teachers and government. I hope that I will hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the Government are concerned, are giving the issue attention, and will continue to do so.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: I have rarely heard a new clause introduced in a way with which I felt such strong agreement than when the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) introduced the new clause. His description of the effects of television on children, his concern that that is in many ways uncharted territory, his description of the influence of film in encouraging imitative and mimicking behaviour and his concerns about inuring and desensitising children are all views with which I strongly agree.

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