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Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I support the clear statements made by the noble Baroness. I support the

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amendment on the grounds that it is unethical for this Government, who stress their ethical approach, to provide no appeal on behalf of the general public. It does not enable those who believe that a classification is too low to appeal against it. It is unbalanced for there to be no right of appeal from the offended side. Surely that is totally unjust. That, is pre-eminently my reason for supporting the amendment.

If the Minister believes the amendment to be unworkable, as has already been said by the vice-president of the BBFC, I wish to hear how there can be a workable form of appeal. It is unjust for there to be no right of appeal by any organisation on behalf of the public or by those who believe that an age classification is too low.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of the amendment. I hope that much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others has convinced your Lordships that the amendment is desirable. When the Bill was published there was much in it to be welcomed. When I spoke at Second Reading, I congratulated the Government on many aspects of it. However, I also pointed out that much of the content, admirable as it is, is concerned with the consequences of crime and better ways of coping with existing crime and disorder.

Crime and disorder are symptoms of a sick society. Most of what is in the Bill relates to ambulance work. I believe that if we vote for the amendment we shall be doing something modest but nevertheless worthwhile towards the provision of preventive medicine.

Lord Milverton: My Lords, I support the amendment, as I have told the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is one way of showing that many of us are not afraid to say that the human body is to be respected. One is tired of saying, "We must not be abused". Such an amendment should be a light to people who say, "No, it cannot be helped", and such nonsense. We can show them that some of us believe that there is no reason for the human body to be abused and not given work and dignity.

That is one aspect of the amendment and it is why I am ready to support it. I hope that the Government will support it too, but, if not, that they will look at the matter, stating that they have respect for the human body. I believe that anything that destroys, destroys life. If work and respect are not given to a human body, we are destroying life--the mind, the soul and the body. That is what is happening in the world today.

Let us stand up with courage against those who say, "We cannot do anything about it. We have to accept it". We do not have to accept it. We have life: mind, soul and body. Anything which harms, destroys or abuses that life is wrong. Videos may not directly influence us, but in time they deaden us because we see so much of them. We must have the spirit of light within us to say, "No, we are not going to be deadened by all the rotten violence which we see before us". We need a strong character to turn it off.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, I have great sympathy with all noble Lords who have spoken. We

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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. Who will comprise the appeals committee? 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 for films?

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?

While I sympathise with the amendment, I wish to know more of the detail, control and make-up of the committee. I shall reserve judgment until I have heard the Minister's reply.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I, too, have a degree of sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment, in particular subsection (2), which suggests a wider system of appeal. At present, the appeal system applies only to the makers of a film or video and not to the general public.

This is the third time that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has tabled this or a similar amendment: in Committee, on Report and again today. However, because of the lateness of the hour on earlier occasions, we were unfortunately unable to debate those matters and to debate them in the Committee atmosphere which allows one to pose the sort of questions which the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, has asked. In Committee one can receive answers and question the Government and the mover of the amendment further in relation to the issues arising. To debate such a matter for the first time, ab initio, and to have to wait on the government response is a fairly unsatisfactory position for the House.

The matters which are being discussed go extremely wide and it would not be right for either the Government or myself to advise those who sit behind us on how to vote. It is a matter which should be left to conscience. But I shall certainly wish to hear the Minister's response and I shall listen carefully to it. If I were the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I should be extremely reluctant to press the amendment to a vote at this stage. The Bill has yet to be discussed in another place. Moreover, we have not had an adequate opportunity to discuss it in the Committee atmosphere to which I referred earlier.

Having said that, I shall be very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has to say about the Secretary of State's attitude to such an amendment and what he believes should be done to ensure that the

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public have an opportunity to make heard their views on videos of the sort that we are discussing and on occasions, if it is appropriate, to be able to appeal against the designation of a particular video work.

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.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, is that not already in the Bill?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes, but in an entirely different context, as I was about to indicate. If that definition were to be the definition attached here, I do not believe that that would satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in the slightest way. Therefore, that is not merely a technical or tendentious point. However, it may be helpful were I to reiterate what is the present state of the law before I deal with specific invitations in relation to the government stance.

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 am not sure what lessons one can draw from Jonesboro. I do not know the facts except that I know that very small children, hardly more than infants or babies to most of us, had a diet of the use of guns at a disgracefully irresponsibly early age. What their exposure was to film, I do not know. I do not know what was their exposure to videos. But I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that one has

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a diet of material on television which many of us believe is unsuitable for unsupervised children. Alas, that is a fact.

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.

The noble Lord has been kind enough to say that we have had a lot of discussion and correspondence. Indeed, I had a lengthy talk with him and his colleagues and I wrote to him on 30th March, yesterday. It may be helpful if I indicate what is our stance, because I have now received that request from a number of your Lordships.

I said to the noble Lord yesterday:


    "The first point I would like to establish is that Mr. Whittam Smith is not in principle opposed to broadening the appeals process, as I said at our meeting",
that is, the meeting I had with the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The letter goes on:


    "Indeed, as his comments in the Daily Telegraph show, he believes that there are substantial practical problems with the proposals you outlined in your amendment".
I was asked where the Government stand. I do not believe that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary could have made his stance plainer. The whole underpinning theme of the Crime and Disorder Bill is the protection of small children. He has been quite unambiguous in his expression of concerns and his determination to achieve that protection.

He appointed Andreas Whittam Smith recently. I do not believe that there was a single noble Lord in this House who spoke in the debate who did not welcome his appointment. He is just now in place. He has made it perfectly plain that he regards the concerns expressed this evening with great seriousness.

Mr. Whittam Smith has made a suggestion which I hope commends itself to those of your Lordships who put the inquiry. He is certainly not of a closed mind as regards an appeals procedure. He is now undertaking a review as the first aspect of his stewardship. He is in an extremely difficult position because it is one of the few

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activities whereby whatever he does, he knows he will be assailed by someone. In a sense, whatever is done will only be as little wrong as you can establish. He has said that he is content to consider the setting up--and I hope this will commend itself to your Lordships--of an advisory panel for the interests of children.

I believe that that would meet the concerns expressed by the NSPCC and those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because we would then have children's interests on an informed basis feeding into the classification procedure at an early stage. I would commend that to your Lordships as being, first, open-minded on the part of Andreas Whittam Smith; and, secondly, being a proposal of practical utility. I cannot see that the amendment would work. Indeed, I cannot see that the appeals mechanism is workable in the form suggested. However, I do not wish to be negative and simply say that the wording is wrong. I return to the proposition that if one has an input, any voice--

6 p.m.

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but can he give us some indication as to who would appoint the members of such an advisory panel?


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