|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it seems to me that it ought to be Andreas Whittam Smith, who made the suggestion. However, there is no doubt in my mind, although I have not specifically consulted him in this respect, but that he would welcome suggestions from all interested parties, including the Children's Society and, not least, those of your Lordships who had a long-term interest in such matters. I believe that it would be a useful step. It would be a source of expertise at the time when it is needed; that is to say, right at the very beginning.
I recognise--indeed, we all have to--that this is only part of a problem. The video classification does not deal with violent comics or with television in the home. From the little television that I watch in my own home, I am rather surprised on some occasions to see that it is readily available to unsupervised children as young as seven or eight. Whether or not such programmes are screened before or after the nine o'clock watershed, the situation strikes me as being rather artificial. However, I should point out that that is my own personal view rather than a governmental one. It seems to me that the watershed may have its deficiencies. I stress again that that is my view and not necessarily that of the Government. Indeed, the two are always coincident, except on certain occasions.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am much obliged. The Minister cannot give a commitment; indeed, it is not his to give. However, will he bear in mind the great importance of publishing the advice of such an advisory panel on children's interests? If it is merely a closed
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is quite right; I cannot give the commitment. All I can say is that the Government believe in openness. I further believe that, if those who give advice know that it will be public, that would be an important internal structure of discipline because it would make the quality of the advice better.
As regards the request of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I am afraid that I cannot give him that information. I have had discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, quite recently; indeed, as recently as my letter of yesterday. I do not know what the noble Lord's definitive view will be. However, I believe that, given a fair wind and determination, there ought to be no real difficulty. Certainly, Andreas Whittam Smith is determined. Therefore, I do not see why such a panel should not be adopted within a few months; and, indeed, one of practical utility.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps he could clarify one point as regards the Government's justification for the following. On the one hand, if the BBFC did its work properly and honoured its obligations to take into consideration the effect on children and all the requirements that are already an obligation for it, even taking advice from the advisory committee that could be set up under the promise of Andreas Whittam Smith, and found in favour of not giving the video a licence, there is a right of appeal by the industry. Alternatively, if the BBFC, still taking all those things into account and still being advised by an advisory committee--that is, if there were to be one--took the view that a film should be licensed which, in turn, gave rise to great concern and disquiet among parents and those interested and worried about children watching such a video, there is no right of appeal. I do not understand how the Government can justify that state of affairs.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as is notoriously well known, there is no right of appeal at present by anyone other than the producer or the distributor. However, that is the scheme of the legislation which we inherited. We are looking into the situation at the moment. I have said that Andreas Whittam Smith has been put in place to do a specific job. His appointment was roundly welcomed by everyone who spoke in our debate on the subject. He has said that he is not in principle opposed to broadening the appeals process. When he reaches his conclusion, the Government will obviously give it proper consideration. However, I cannot commit the Government before I know the nature of his conclusion.
For the reasons that I set out fully in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which he was courteous enough to refer to, Andreas Whittam Smith does not believe that the amendments will work; neither do the Government. On the basis of the explanations that I have given, not least the further invitation to consider the input of a children's advisory group, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. As I said, the proposal is not workable.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I have a sense of history almost repeating itself because precisely the same arguments which the Minister has put so eloquently today were put forward in 1984 when I moved amendments in the other place to provide for the very points to which the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, referred during his earlier contribution. It was the amendment that I moved for the Video Recordings Act 1984 (which was ultimately incorporated by the Government) which provided for special regard to be given to harm through behaviour. The noble Lord with whom I jousted on the subject before will be well aware that that was introduced into law for that very reason. The noble Lord is also no doubt aware that, following the enactment of that legislation, where people have tried to challenge decisions of the BBFC it has been a virtual impossibility.
Perhaps I may give the House one example in that respect. A young single black woman, a single parent, who was living in Brentford decided that it was against the interests of her child for the film "Natural Born Killers" to be made available on video for home viewing. She sought to take her case to the courts, but the entire wealth of the industry would have been stacked against her. She was advised ultimately that it would be impossible for her to take her case through a court of law. Therefore, the law provided no justice for her at all.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, I should point out that the situation will not arise where every member of the public will want to exercise his or her right in the way that the young single parent to whom I referred attempted to do. We are seeking to provide that prescribed organisations--that is, those designated by the Home Secretary; indeed, I have suggested that they might include children's organisations such as the NSPCC--should simply have the same right of appeal that already exists for the industry. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, pointed that out and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, incisively made that point in her recent intervention. Your Lordships would be ill-advised to accept as a substitute for that an advisory panel for the interests of children. Indeed, such panels already exist; for example, organisations like the NSPCC do that job admirably. As I said earlier, the society very much welcomes the amendment before the House today.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that it would have been better had these debates taken place on Report. Of course I agree with him. However, he will recall that on Report a vote had been taken only moments earlier and the time was fast approaching midnight. Indeed, if it had not been for my own vote being cast with the
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.