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 1999

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2.7.99 Video Appeals Committee
7.6.99 Video Appeals Committee
27.5.99 Obscenity Bill: 3rd Reading
10.5.99 The Blue Channel
7.5.99 Obscenity Bill, Committee
9.3.99 Obscenity Bill: 2nd Reading
24.2.99 Obscenity Bill: 1st Reading
20.1.99 Video classification Appointments
13.1.99 Computer Games Classification

 
2nd July 1999

House of Commons

  Video Appeals Committee

Laurence Robertson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to whom the Video Appeals Committee is responsible; to who appoints its members; and if he will make a statement.

Jack Straw : Section 4(3) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that adequate arrangements exist for appeals against classification decisions which submitting companies consider to be too strict. The Video Appeals Committee is the independent, appellate body set up for this purpose. Its members are selected by the British Board of Film Classification but it is independent of the Board and the Home Secretary. Although the Committee has no statutory authority, it has been the Board's practice to accept its decisions.

7th June

House of lords

  Video Appeals Committee

Lord Ashbourne : Whether the Video Appeals Committee is empowered to overturn decisions of the British Board of Film Classification concerning the classification of pornographic videos.

Lord Williams of Mostyn : Section 4(3) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 requires the Home Secretary to be satisfied that adequate arrangements exist for appeals against classification decisions by the designated authority, the British Board of Film Classification. The Video Appeals Committee is the independent body which hears such appeals. Although the committee has no statutory authority, it has been the practice of the board to accept its decisions.

27th May

House of Lords

 Obscenity Bill: 3rd Reading

The Earl of Halsbury: I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. The Earl of Harrowby: I respect entirely the views of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and understand his concerns. I respect his desire to fulfil the tryst which he told us about probably on Second Reading, or perhaps at Committee stage, but I have serious reservations about the Bill.

The noble Earl has a distinguished record in both the public and private fields. I bow to that and also to his age, although I point out that my age is only 12 per cent less than his. Nevertheless, it is desirable to place on record the fact that there must be many in this House who are extremely uncomfortable with the Bill. We all know that in a full and detailed debate it would not pass because of the many omissions that would be necessary in Clause 2. The coverage is inadequate. The subject is most complex. We also know that it will be killed before it gets half-way down the corridor.

I do not propose to divide the House. I am not a professional politician and do not know the rules of the House. I have great respect for the noble Earl, and his record demands it. Among other things, he is President of the Institute of Psychology. Perhaps the good reason for my being on my feet is that I have a not dissimilar position in the Institute of Psychiatry. Nevertheless, the Bill is very questionable. I have been privileged to be a Member of this House, although I seldom speak, for 12 years and I do not want to see its reputation downgraded in any respect. It is worrying that a Bill which is clearly non-viable in every respect, whatever one's feelings on the subject, should leave this House. Whether or not one is with the noble Earl, it would not stand up. I ask the noble Earl seriously to consider, at the end of what I hope will be a very short debate, not moving the Bill but begging leave to withdraw it. Lord Rowallan: I rise simply to inquire of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, how he expects the Bill to come onto the statute book, for if it succeeded in passing through the other place and became law surely the first thing that would run foul of its terms would be the Bill itself, which could not even be printed or published. Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I intentionally did not take part in the previous stages of the Bill, but I was present throughout the debates and listened to them. I should like to place on record, especially for those outside the House who may not know our customs--in a sense, I support the noble Earl, Lord Harrowby--that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has benefited from the traditional courtesy and customs of this Chamber. This Bill is a Private Member's Bill and has not been seriously opposed; nor, in my view, has it even been seriously discussed. In my opinion this House has treated the Bill in the best way possible, effectively by ignoring it. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said at Committee stage, it is unamendable. At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out its major defects. Despite the fact that the Bill is now being allowed to pass, it is not doing so after full debate and the considered opinion of this Chamber. I hope that no one will represent the situation otherwise outside this House. Viscount Brentford: My Lords, at Second Reading I had serious doubts about the Bill. However, it pinpoints that the law of obscenity is unsatisfactory at present. I do not know exactly the best way of clarifying it. Everyone has their own views on how the law of obscenity could be clarified. I hope that the passing of the Bill will send a signal that action is needed to improve the law of obscenity . I warmly encourage the noble Earl to let the Bill pass. Its future is fairly doubtful, but it will send a necessary signal to the Government and the nation. Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, although I speak from the Front Bench, I speak personally as this is not a party issue.

The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has done an important service in attempting to draft in a different way statutory limits on the grossly offensive obscene material which circulates today. The existing limits have proved ineffective and the position continues to deteriorate.

I support the noble Earl's aim. However, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, advanced important criticisms of the Bill which no one has been able to refute. The Bill is flawed and I cannot support it. At this stage I do not intend to oppose the Bill as it will not pass into law. The Bill as drafted will not do. But the problems to which it draws attention should be addressed. Lord Carter: My Lords, I had not intended to speak. However, since other noble Lords have spoken perhaps I should say a few words from the Government Front Bench.

The House is grateful to the noble Earl for the time and commitment he has given to producing a Bill which seeks to address the difficult and sensitive subject of obscenity , an issue which has caused and continues to cause much debate. The noble Earl has made clear that he believes that the law on obscenity should be more precisely drawn and to this end has produced a schedule to his Bill containing a long and varied list of activities, some rather more demanding than others.

As the Bill currently stands, it would criminalise much that has been available in books, paintings and on film for many years. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn pointed out at Second Reading of the Bill, the Bill classifies as obscene works of art and artefacts, including works of a religious nature, which have been open for public viewing over many hundreds of years. The Bill will place considerable restraint on our freedom to enjoy and appreciate works of fine art and literature and would prevent us from deciding for ourselves whether those works of art are suitable for our children's viewing. It would also constrain debate on issues of public interest.

A curtailment of these freedoms is unacceptable--as we have just discovered, not only to the Government. I admire the noble Earl for his tireless enthusiasm on this subject, but the fundamental flaws remain. It is the Government's view that they are insurmountable. That is why we must continue to express our inability to support the Bill. The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, nevertheless, I commend the Bill.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

10th May

Select Committee on Public Accounts

  The Blue Channel

Mr Steinberg: Could I just take you very quickly to Annex A at page 32. This is just for information. It explains there the three Customs channels. It seemed to me when I read this Report that you have got the red, the green and the blue channel and I cannot understand why you need a red, a green and blue. Why do you need the blue channel? It is superfluous, it is contradictory. You come through Customs and you have something to declare or you come through Customs and you have not got anything to declare regardless of where you are coming from. Even if you go through the blue channel you could still be stopped if you are coming from Europe and be carrying contraband. Why do you need three channels in the first place?

Dame Valerie Strachan: The answer is with the Single Market there is no obligation on an EU passenger travelling within Europe to make any sort of declaration. They are perfectly free to walk through the airport so you need a channel through which they can walk and that is what the blue channel is. It is an open channel. They are not making any declaration, they are just marching through. They may be stopped in the blue channel for us to do checks against drugs, firearms, pornography, etcetera, but they are not required to make a declaration. The person going through the green channel is making a declaration. They are saying, I do not have goods above my duty free allowance. Mr Steinberg: Are you saying that if there was no blue channel there would have to be a pathway out?

Dame Valerie Strachan: Yes. Mr Steinberg: That would be by law?

Dame Valerie Strachan: Yes. Mr Steinberg: You could not have a red and a green and they have got to walk through one of them?

Dame Valerie Strachan:   That is right. Mr Steinberg: That defeats that purpose because I was going to suggest you got rid of the blue channel. I read the Report and this is one if the very few Reports where I just do not agree with the C&AG. I find it very difficult to accept his findings when he talks about an increased use of the telephone in the red channel. Does the fact that people know the red channel is not being manned and there is a telephone there encourage smuggling?

Dame Valerie Strachan:   That is a very good question. Do bear in mind that the amount of revenue that comes through the red channel or has ever come through the red channel, including when we had it staffed up to the hilt, is actually a tiny, tiny proportion of the overall amount. We are talking about very small amounts of money. Is it an incentive that there is not someone there? Clearly it is. That is what we discovered when we had the experiment at Heathrow, that if you staffed it up to the hilt more people would make declarations than if you had nobody there. That is partly, I think, because perfectly law-abiding people do not realise that they have not discharged their obligations simply by walking through the red channel. If you walk through the green channel you have made your declaration and said, "I have nothing to declare." If you walk through the red channel you have not discharged your obligation, you have simply chosen a path which enables you to make a declaration. What the NAO is saying, and I agree with them, is that we must make it much clearer to law-abiding citizens that they must make a declaration. If there is no Customs officer there they must pick up the telephone and make the declaration that way. Mr Steinberg: I take the point you are making but I cannot accept that people will do it. People are not that honest, I am afraid. The fact is if I personally were to walk through a red channel and saw nobody there I would keep on walking and if I was smuggling cigarettes or liquor though I would certainly not go to the telephone where it tells you to press button one for this, button two for that and button three for something else. Nowadays you can never speak to anybody. You only speak to a recorded message that tells you to press buttons. If I am coming into an airport I would say, "Sod that", and just keep on walking. You have got more chance of not being caught going through the red channel than going through the green channel.

Dame Valerie Strachan: That is not true. There are two issues there. One is the nature of the telephone service. I agree with you that if we have a telephone service we need to have human beings at the other end of it that are able to deal with what comes through. At Heathrow and Gatwick that is what happens. You pick up the handset and you are directed straight through to a real person who will deal with your query. The second point to make is one of the things you might find surprising is in that exercise I have referred to quite a lot of people did pick up the telephone and make a declaration, more than you might have expected. But if you are tempted to walk through the red channel, no, you will not be safer than walking through the green channel because the red channel opens out into the green channel and if there are Customs officers in the green channel then you may be stopped in the green channel. Even if you have not seen any officers in the green channel there may be officers just beyond. By all means take a chance but you will be taking a very real risk.

7th May

House of Lords

  Obscenity Bill, Committee

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Amendment No. 2 is in response to some gentle teasing by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. He said that whereas I had provided for laboratories, and so on, and had given them emancipation from the restrictions in the Bill, I had done nothing for museums and galleries. His point carried weight and therefore I drafted Amendment No. 2, which gives effect to that.

According to The Times on Wednesday, there will be a, 1.8m glimpse of sex life in Nero's Empire, on exhibition. Unless something is done about it, the museum can do what it often does, which is to make replicas and sell them to the public. Therefore, the restrictions that I seek to make on showing such items to children and young persons is fully justified.

Amendment No. 3 is tabled in response to someone who said that, on the principles of sex equality, as I had included nymphomania, I should include the male equivalent. He did not know what the name was and I replied, "It is satyriasis". I have included that in the list of forbiddens. I beg to move. Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government's view was made clear by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn at Second Reading. I wish to say a brief word about Amendment No. 2 because an issue of public policy is involved. The effect of the amendment would be to exempt museums and exhibitions from the demands of the proposed legislation, but only if the building concerned had facilities for segregating the viewing or study by adults, young persons and children. The amendment does not elucidate the phrase, "adults, young persons and children"; nor does it indicate what each of the parties may see. The implication is that a group of adults, young people and children could not see an exhibition together, even as a family.

I understand that the aim of the amendment may be to protect young people from seeing potentially harmful material held in public or private collections, but parents are clearly in the best position to determine what is suitable for their children in these circumstances. The amendment actively prevents them carrying out such a role.

A further effect of the amendment would be to prevent people borrowing books from libraries. It does not define what is meant by "relevant books" and the consequence is that it could prohibit people from borrowing any book. Surely the extent of the restrictions which would be imposed on our cultural life by these proposals is unacceptable. I am sorry to say that the Government's opposition to the Bill is not diminished by these amendments. The Earl of Halsbury: The remedy is in the hands of the Government. They can move an amendment of their own on Report. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, made substantially the same speech that we have heard from the Minister today. However, the Government did nothing about it. Therefore, I must take the opinion of the House and press the matter to a Division. Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Perhaps I did not make myself clear. This is a Private Member's Bill. We have expressed our opposition to the Bill and to the amendments, but we shall not oppose them. If the noble Earl puts the matter to the Committee, it will not be opposed.

On Question, amendment agreed to. The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 2:

This Act shall not apply to museums, galleries, exhibitions or libraries funded in whole or in part by public or charitable funds or benefactions for the preservation of antiquities, literature or the furtherance of education provided that--

(a) there are facilities for segregating the viewing or study by adults, young persons and children;

(b) the relevant books may be studied in situ but not borrowed; and

(c) replicas or photographs for sale or free shall not be obscene as here defined.

The Earl of Harrowby: I cannot subscribe to Amendment No. 2. I have no idea what attitude my noble friends on this side of the Committee will take, but I am totally opposed to it because of its implications. What it leaves out is totally unacceptable. I regret to say that the Bill is, first, ill timed and, secondly, with due deference to the noble Earl, not a matter for a Private Member's Bill. Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I understand what the noble Earl says, but I hope that he will follow the Government's example and, although he disagrees with the amendment, I hope that he will not seek to oppose it in a Private Member's Bill. Lord Cope of Berkeley: I have been asked for the opinion of the Opposition Front Bench, but I express only a personal view. In the context of the whole Bill, such a subsection is desirable. The Minister suggested improvements which could be made to the wording of the new subsection, although I realise that he is against the Bill. Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I should like to put the record straight. I did not suggest improvements; I criticised the amendment. However, I and the Government believe that the Bill is incapable of amendment to make it acceptable. I did not suggest particular improvements to the amendment. Lord Cope of Berkeley: As regards Amendment No. 2, the Minister denied suggesting improvements. He seemed to make a constructive criticism--which I described as "improvements"--which would enable us to consider improvements.

On Question, amendment agreed to. Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My excuse for intervening is that, admittedly long ago, I was the Home Office representative on the Select Committee whose report lead to the 1959 Act. However, by the time the Act was being considered I was no longer Home Office Minister. I should like to comment briefly on that provision, which my noble friend intents to be substituted by Clause 2 (4).

Section 4 of the 1959 Act was a useful measure of liberalisation. It charged the court--in effect, the jury--with weighing two considerations, one against the other. They were of a different nature, and therefore it was not easy to do it and the matter went wrong for many years.

The philosophy was that, on the one hand, obscene publications could do considerable harm. Anyone who heard the speeches of my noble friends Lord Northbourne and Lord Halsbury could have little doubt that there was substance in that. On the other hand, certain publications served the interests of art, literature, science and so on. Therefore, the court was charged with weighing the potential harm against the potential benefit. That went wrong for a number of years because it was misinterpreted. In particular, there was one expert witness who appeared in case after case and who used to say, "Allegedly obscene publications are of benefit to my client. It is said that they encourage masturbation. I encourage my patients to masturbate because it releases tension, as does the consumption of obscene publications". As a result, as your Lordships can see, the balance with which the court was charged in Section 4 was completely obviated. Indeed, the question turned on whether the article was obscene in the sense of doing harm.

Although that was misinterpreted for a long time, in the end an appellate court restored the law to what was intended in 1959. I believe that it would be a pity to get rid of Section 4 of the 1959 Act because, although deprecating obscene publications as potentially harmful, it recognises that in certain circumstances their benefit to literature, art or science can be promoted. Therefore, I ask my noble friend to reconsider that matter. It requires consideration in the light of Clause 2 subsection (4). Lord Annan: I am very much in accord with what my noble and learned kinsman, Lord Simon, has said. I do not want to go back to the Act of 1959. I note what I said at Second Reading and I hasten to say that I shall not repeat it in full. Following the passage of the 1959 Act a commission was set up under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Williams and it reported on this extremely complicated business. It is a complex matter and if your Lordships read the report, you will see why. I shall say no more, except to say that I am sorry, although I never had high hopes that the noble Earl would amend this Bill in the light of that report. That is why I cannot possibly agree with the amendment, although I hasten to say that I have no intention of opposing it. Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Professor Bernard Williams's report was debated in your Lordships' House. It was a marvellous, clearly written report, as one would expect from his chairmanship. However, when it was subject to analysis and scrutiny in your Lordships' House, virtually nothing was left of it. In particular, there was a highly cogent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and that report sank without trace, I thought for good, until my noble friend resuscitated it at Second Reading.

As my noble friend has said, this is a complicated matter and this will probably not be the last word on it, but I do not believe that we should take the Williams's report as our jumping-off point. We should certainly consider it in the light of the debate in Committee. The Earl of Halsbury: I was told that one could not draft a Bill like this, but I have proved that it is possible. I have tried to simplify things. What sort of a world do we live in? I have here a banner headline from last week's edition of the Sunday Times:

W.H. Smith puts lesbian porn on sale.
The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 3:
insert Satyriasis

 Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I thought I was fairly hard-boiled in such matters, but I confess that I did not understand all the terms that my noble friend set out in the schedule. I believe that he derived them from careful study in the library of the Royal Society of Psychiatrists. Lord Wilberforce: With apologies to my noble kinsman's wish to add to the schedule, I suggest that the form in which he puts Amendment No. 3 is slightly confusing. He adds this word, which I cannot pronounce and the meaning of which I do not know, after the end of line 35. I believe that he is seeking to insert it after line 35, as line 36, with the others consequently renumbered. I do not believe that my noble kinsman wants the word added to the end of line 35.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

9th March

House of Lords

  Obscenity Bill: 2nd Reading

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I do so somewhat nostalgically as I feel that this may be my swan song. Aged 91, I cannot believe that I shall be included among the 91 hereditary Peers on whom the axe will not fall in October, or whenever.

I begin by explaining how I became involved in this unsavoury subject. In about 1994, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, finding herself overcommitted in the field of good works, asked me to take over a commitment that she had made which she found herself unable to fulfil. It was to chair a committee of inquiry into pornography, violence and the media.

Accordingly, I embarked on a piece of research which had been on my mind for quite some time. Your Lordships may remember that a number of years ago an exhibition was put on by the police, I think in the Grand Committee Room, to instruct your Lordships and another place on the real bestialities which go on in the world of commercial pornography. In the course of discussions with a senior member of the vice squad-- I cannot remember whether that expression applies to this country or America--I asked why he did not attempt an ostensive definition of pornography. The word ostensive is a linguistic expression derived from the Latin ostentave, to show. One teaches children the meaning of nouns by showing them what they stand for. One says "dog" and points to a dog; and one says "daffodil" and points to a daffodil. That is how children learn their basic vocabulary. So I asked, "Why don't you make an ostensive list of all pornographic items which will appear in legislation?". He shook his head at me and said, "You would never come to the end of it. It simply could not be done".

I included in the Bill a preamble which, on the advice of friends, the Public Bill Office and the parliamentary draftsmen who advised, I have instead included in the text of the Bill. It may sound obscure, but I wrote as a preamble:

Whereas the young or the innocent at any age may by chance or through curiosity or seduction be led to peruse matter listed in the schedule to this Act, habitual recourse to which for the purpose of enjoyment may lead to corruption and depravity and their harmful consequences ... Be it enacted

and so forth. The essence of that appears in the middle of the Bill. If one ties the legislation only to corruption and depravity, defence counsel will turn to the jury and say, "You have read it. Do you feel corrupted and depraved?". Of course, no one feels corrupted and depraved by reading something for the first time. It is corrupting and depraving when one has habitual recourse to it for the purpose of enjoyment.

I used two terms; "the young" and "the innocent at any age". By "the innocent at any age" I had in mind, for instance, a young priest or a novice nun who might be of full legal age but has never seen the evil side of life and might come across it by accident; left behind in, say, the dentist's waiting room.

Having defined the Act, I had to make a list of activities, which appears in the Bill, engaged in circulating the obscenities. It can be imported; it can be manufactured in this country; it can be reproduced by some photographic process after it has been manufactured; and so forth. It is another list.

I beg to move That the Bill be now read a second time.--(The Earl of Halsbury.) Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his tenacity in returning to this subject once again and bringing it before your Lordships. He has been working on it for many years. I congratulate him also on his research enabling him to list in the Bill some 40 nouns and phrases. I further congratulate him on his opening speech and hope that the swan will continue to sing on many occasions, at least during the coming year.

The noble Earl said that, for him, the subject went back to 1994. I can claim that, for me, the subject goes back to the 1950s when my father, as a Member of another place, was a member of a committee which led to the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

That legislation produced as a test "that which is likely to deprave and corrupt". The jury would be asked whether they felt depraved and corrupted by the material and counsel could wheel in sex therapists and sexologists to prove to them that the pornography could be helpful to impotent people and assist them in their sexual exploits. They would argue that it certainly did not deprave and corrupt.

Today, we must ask ourselves what values we wish to see permeated through the media and publications generally. Last night I watched a few minutes of a programme on sex education. It showed some teenage children who had indulged in sexual activity. Their parents were horrified by the fact that their son or daughter had met the person of the opposite sex only half an hour or so before engaging in sexual activity. Are our teenagers learning such values and, if so, from where? A television series about homosexuals tells a story of an adult male indulging in sexual activity with a 15 year-old (under-age) boy. I believe that that promulgates two values: first, that it is all right and positive to break the law; and, secondly, that sexual activity without a relationship is also positive and good.

What are the values that we wish to inculcate? Is pornography in any way contributing to our values? I believe that it is. It is a serious problem. Therefore, I welcome attempts to look again at this subject to see whether or not we can bring about some restrictions which will enable publications to produce positive values and not what I believe are extremely negative ones.

We have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world. Is that a fact of which Parliament can be proud? We should be tackling this subject again. Your Lordships' House is perhaps the best place to begin that work. Whether this skilful Bill is the best way in which to carry forward that work is a question open to mind. I can see great advantages in it because if any charges are brought under it, it will be necessary to determine questions of fact rather than of opinion.

In the past few years there has been mooted an alternative phrase--that which is offensive to a reasonable person. Should a phrase along those lines be the basis in law rather than having an all-embracing schedule of activities? I was under the impression that the Home Office felt quite warmly towards that phrase as an alternative method of trying to tackle the subject again. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister has any views on that. An ideal way to tackle the subject of obscenity today would be for the Government to include a new definition, one way or the other, in law.

The phrase "that which is offensive to a reasonable person" leaves the issue clearly before the jury as to what would be offensive to them. It takes away the role of the expert sexologists who say that no pornography depraves or corrupts. It is purely left to the jury to decide. I prefer that.

However, it is important to tackle the subject of obscenity one way or another to try to restrict it so that it is possible to stop the ever-increasing wave of obscenity which is hitting us from every direction. If our civilisation is to survive, we need to tackle the subject and curtail it so that we do not become one of the most depraved and corrupt nations in the world, which is the direction in which we are moving.

Therefore, I support the principle of the Bill. I look forward to hearing whether any noble Lord has other ideas as to the best way to tackle the subject. I warmly welcome the fact that the noble Earl has drawn attention to it. Lord Annan: My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Earl on the charm with which he introduced the Bill. Anyone in his 90s, like the noble Earl, or even someone in his 80s, such as myself, has seen an enormous change in the nation's response to sexual morality. Things which were unmentionable in public, and just as unmentionable in the bosom of the family, are now bandied about in the media.

At the moment, it seems that we are a nation obsessed by sex. How did that come about? It is the result of 150 years or more of sexual repression. Things relaxed a little in the 1920s, but right up to the Second World War the details of sexual behaviour were still taboo. Even then, books were prosecuted, films censored to a degree unbelievable today and the visual arts were policed for obscenity.

Then came the Wolfenden Report and the passage of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The dam burst. Prosecutions of novels like Lady Chatterley's Lover were thrown out by juries and the new game was to outdo one's rivals in shocking the public. After nearly two centuries of repression, is it any wonder that there has been such a violent reaction? Is it any wonder that all sorts of people revel in the fact that now they can see or read about things for so long forbidden?

I turn to the Bill. I was delighted by the noble Earl's account of the research that he had done, but I wondered whether he had read the report of the committee on obscenity and film censorship of 1979,  I ask because the Williams Report recognised, just like the noble Earl, that the present law is in a mess. Obscenity is not covered solely by the 1959 Act. A dozen or more Acts are involved--some prior to and some post 1959. In eight appendices, the workings of the present law were put under the microscope and the laws of other countries were examined. The report itself ran to 166 pages.

That committee considered that the terms "obscene", "indecent" and "depraved and corrupt" had outlived their usefulness in legislation. The law should be drafted on the basis of harm caused by the existence of the material in question. The public has a legitimate right and interest in not being offended, but harm alone can justify prohibition.

That means that only a small class of material should be forbidden to those who want it because it is not likely to cause harm. Moreover, the printed word should neither be restricted nor prohibited. It is not immediately offensive.

More important, the report argued that it would be an error to treat all the media uniformly:

" No one can dispute that reading a magazine, watching a live show and watching a film are three very different experiences ".

That was why, for example, the committee wanted a special board of film censorship to be set up.

The items to be banned were similar to those which the noble Earl cites in the schedule to his Bill; namely, sexual, faecal or urinary functions and genital organs and, in addition, scenes of violence, cruelty and horror. The restrictions should apply to matter or to a performance which is easily available. It shall no longer be a defence to say that an item had an intrinsic merit. As I read new Section 2A(4)(a) in the Bill, it still permits that kind of defence.

The Williams Committee went on to reiterate that the principal object of the law should be to prevent material causing offence to reasonable people. Only a small class of material should be forbidden to those who want it. To carry prohibition further would be to go against the principle that an assessment must be made of the likely harm to people of an article that some may well dislike.

I hasten to reassure the House that I do not intend to summarise further the arguments and recommendations of the Williams Report. I merely wish to emphasise that to change the law relating to obscenity is a very complicated matter. The noble Earl's method of changing the law seems to be like detonating a landmine and blowing up everything. The Williams Committee preferred to identify targets and pick off those offending practices with a rifle.

I shall take one example from the Bill. New Section 2A cites certain exceptions to the kind of events that the Bill would criminalise. Among those is one provision that states that no offence would be committed if the article is published or publicly exhibited,

in the interests of art, literature or science .

These days the defence could argue that everything that the noble Earl deplores could be slotted under one of those three headings. Who has not seen pornography purporting to be a part of a sociological scientific study of certain practices? It is not only Lady Chatterley's Lover that would survive the accusation of praising anal intercourse. We have seen that juries will not convict simply because a book describes the kind of practices that the noble Earl cites in the schedule.

Finally, I cannot find in the Bill whether it would be illegal to simulate some of the acts in the schedule. We do not see coitus practised in films shown at the cinema, but we see it simulated all too often. If simulation is to be an offence, I believe that the noble Earl will achieve something far greater than Oliver Cromwell achieved, in that all cinemas would be closed and a good deal of television banned.

Of course, I do not intend to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, nor will I oppose it in Committee or on Report unless the Government decide to endorse the Bill in another place. I await the Government's view with considerable interest. Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long. I want to commend the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, for his perseverance in bringing this matter to our attention for a second time. Many of us in this House and in the wider public are astonished that the law does not have more teeth with which to deal with the horrific material that some of us have had the misfortune to come across. This is the first debate on the subject in this Parliament, so I hope that there will be a full range of views heard.

The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has given us food for thought with this Bill. How can we successfully regulate the sensitive issue of pornography as we head rapidly towards the next century and when global technology allows hard-core pornography to be transmitted around the world in a matter of seconds?

I am encouraged that so much attention in recent years has focused on child pornography and making sure that something is done about that particularly distasteful material. However, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that there is no room for complacency. It is a sad fact that pornography impacts upon relationships. It is stories of relationships damaged by this insidious material that convinces me that we cannot ignore the issue of what is and is not considered legally obscene.

The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has adopted a list approach--favoured in principle by the police--for defining what should be obscene. I commend the noble Earl on the tremendous industry he has put into compiling this lengthy schedule. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that approach and the position taken by the Government on the Obscene Publications Act. I am sure that the House will have suggestions for refining the test proposed by the noble Earl and I shall watch with interest developments in Committee. Perhaps we shall conclude that a wide review of this issue is needed just as the Government has done for sex offences.

I return to the main theme of the debate. I hope that we shall see some firm steps taken to reduce the amount of pornography legally available in this country. Lord Northbourne: I wish to make two points. First, I congratulate the noble Earl on an enormously innovative approach to the issue. He confounds those who say that there should be a retirement age for your Lordships.

Secondly, the substantive point that I make is that censorship of obscenity or pornography is often regarded and presented as a restriction of liberty. It is equally true that the results of the promotion and publication of obscenity and pornography can be a limitation of liberty. It can be a limitation of the liberty of women to walk dark streets in safety; a limitation of the liberty of parents to be confident that their children will not be the subject of a paedophile attack, induced into child pornography or seduced in other ways; and a limitation of the liberty of the taxman who has to pay for the cost of policing and punishing sexual crime and violence.

There is absolutely no doubt from the evidence in America over the past couple of decades that there are strong links between pornography, sex crimes and violence. After a while soft pornography ceases to give the thrills that it did at first and people move on to hard pornography and from hard pornography they move on to acting out their fantasies. That has been proved again and again, and the evidence is now incontrovertible.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, made great play with the 1959 Act. Things have moved on since then. In 1970 the US Commission on Pornography concluded that pornographic material has its cathartic value. By 1986 a great many members of that commission had decided that they were wrong and the Attorney-General's Commission on Pornography in the United States concluded that,

exposure to pornography produces an enhanced interest in deviant sexuality.

The process is referred to as "escalation". It results from the concept of normalisation--that is, the more you read about these things happening, the more you begin to believe that they may not be so awful after all and to say, Lots of other people are doing them, so why shouldn't I? . One thus becomes desensitised. In any consideration of this subject, let us remember those who are today suffering from the crimes which arise out of pornography. Lord Cope of Berkeley: As has already been said, over my lifetime, which is only two-thirds of that of the noble Earl so far (in both cases), values have deteriorated out of all recognition, to the great detriment, I believe, of national life. It sometimes seems as if it will be impossible ever to reverse the process of decline and to raise standards once again.

However, the legal problems which have been discussed remain. Part of the reason for the decline in standards and values is that the limits were not fixed objectively but in terms of "tending to deprave and corrupt". As has already been said, the views of juries on that have altered as, notch by notch, the standards to which we have all become used have themselves declined. Competitive pressures on newspapers and magazines have led their proprietors and editors and, for that matter, television controllers to titillate audiences by ever more risque material both of a sexual and of an increasingly violent nature. The television authorities have proved reluctant to control that effectively, so that the boundaries have been pushed back and back, and juries have responded accordingly.

Sooner or later, however, that process must stop--and it will take a change in the law to do it. As far as I can see, the best legal way of doing it is by something along the lines of this Bill. If the law specifically defines obscene acts by a list such as is provided in the schedule, it will be possible to enforce it. One can attempt either to pick out all those acts at once, in a long list such as is provided in the current Bill or, by the rifle-shot method of a short list, to pick off only a few items to start with. Obviously, that is a matter for consideration in Committee.

At present, enforcement is very difficult. For a time, I was Paymaster General in the Treasury. I remember discussing this matter on a number of occasions with Customs officers and being shown magazines which had been confiscated at ports and airports. They were quite appalling. Customs and Excise had the advantage that the law on importation prevents the importation of indecent or obscene books or articles--that is not the whole of it, but it is the nub of that law--and that made it a little easier for Customs and Excise than for the police in comparable circumstances. However, enforcement is still difficult. Indeed, it is made more difficult by a European court ruling that anything which can legally be printed here cannot be refused importation because that is against free trade. The 1959 Act thus came into play even in Customs and Excise cases. It is therefore difficult for Customs and Excise also to draw a line and to know which confiscations by its officers at a port would be supported by a court. That is why I think that legislation such as this, and a list of the type contained in this Bill, will be necessary. Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, for returning this subject to us. The issue of obscenity and the extent of the controls which it is appropriate for society to exercise over the availability of certain types of material induce strongly held views, as we have heard. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, indicated, this subject raises the difficult issues of morality and public decency. It relates to the relationship between individual interests and those of society at large. It involves difficult questions about the role and effectiveness of the criminal law in a society which all noble Lords who have spoken have described as changing rapidly.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, asked me whether we were thinking of a test of what reasonable people would consider offensive. No; the definition of "reasonable people" is very difficult and we believe that "offensiveness" is a lower test than "harm" and that that test would therefore have the reverse effect to that intended.

Perhaps I may turn to the faults of this Bill. I am not critical at all of the enormous amount of research and effort which the noble Earl has put into his Bill, but we have not yet considered the Bill. Most of the speeches have described a conceptual approach to the reform of the law, but we cannot look at law reform on a conceptual basis; we must look at the nuts and bolts, as I shall in a moment. However, perhaps I may first describe how the present law works.

As your Lordships know, that legislation is the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The test of obscenity in Section 1 is whether an article, if taken as a whole, is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all the relevant circumstances, to read, hear or see the material embodied in it. Section 4 of that Act--I think we should bear in mind that the noble Earl's Bill specifically seeks to delete that provision--gives a defence of public good. Such a defence is absent from the noble Earl's Bill. I am certain in my own mind that that is a deliberate absence because the noble Earl wants to strike out the defence. I am not criticising the noble Earl; he has done that deliberately; I am simply pointing out the consequences of the Bill.

One needs to bear in mind also--this has not yet been touched on--the extensive powers of search, seizure and forfeiture that are available to magistrates by virtue of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Several noble Lords have said that it is difficult to get juries to convict. That has been recited to me at first hand by senior officers in the obscene publications squad. Perhaps I may give the figures. In 1997-98, there were 275 prosecutions and 189 convictions under the Act. However, that relates to proceedings before a jury. The powers of search and seizure are quite wide and extensive. If a magistrate is,

satisfied by information on oath that there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that, in any premises within the relevant are on any stall or vehicle, premises or stall specified in the information, obscene articles are kept for publication or gain, then a warrant may be executed, the material may be seized and an order for forfeiture may be made, with, of course, the power of appeal. So one can strike the commercial pornographer in that way. We should bear that fact in mind.

I promised to deal briefly with the scheme of the Bill and to indicate the view that I outlined earlier; namely, that it simply is not workable in any circumstance. Perhaps I may invite your Lordships to consider the detail of it.

Clause 2 of the Bill says:

Subject to section 2A below, any person who knowingly, whether for gain or not--

(a) publishes,

(b) distributes, transports or delivers,

(c) provides for the public or private viewing of,

(d) advertises the availability of, or

(e) contributes financially towards the publication, distribution,public viewing or advertisement of, any obscene article shall be guilty of an offence.

I shall return to Section 2(1)(e) in a few moments to illustrate the dangers involved. However, we need to find out what "obscene" means by virtue of the noble Earl's definition in the Bill. We find the definition of "obscenity" as being that which is,

set out in the Schedule.

But no one has yet looked at the schedule in any detail. I must confess my own innocent ignorance in that many of the words in the schedule were not immediately familiar to me; indeed, they are not presently familiar to me. Nevertheless, I recognised one or two of them. The title refers to:

ACTIVITIES RELEVANT TO THE DEFINITION OF OBSCENITY;

we need to be quite careful about this. One of the activities relevant to that definition is:

Display of human genital organs.

So Michelangelo's productions and drawings in life classes are obscene. Moreover, to take the matter a little further, a vast body of Italian painting is obscene. As we know, large numbers of paintings which are on display in both private and public collections do display human genital organs. The schedule goes way beyond the normal definition of obscenity that one would expect; for example, in the list we find:

Human urinary or excretory functions.

These are remarkable propositions which need to be scrutinised with great care. I say that because I had not myself encountered the proposition in the past that urinary or excretory functions of the male species would be regarded as obscene if they were described or spoken about. There is much more damage here. However, there is something which is rather more lighthearted--namely, "Interlingual kissing". I am sorry to tell your Lordships that I had to seek assistance from my private office in that respect. I can safely say that apparently it is something which is as innocent as French kissing. But I am subject to correction from the noble Earl.

Let us move on to something more important:

Mutilation, torture or other acts of gross violence towards humans or animals, whether real or simulated.

Let us focus on that for a moment or two because it is serious. Would this apply--it undoubtedly would on this test--to any sober, scholarly work about the monstrous tortures inflicted in Nazi Germany upon 6 million Jews, gypsies and homosexuals?

Does that mean that a scholarly work about the Holocaust is obscene? I repudiate that. Does it mean that photographs which show the monstrous bestiality of the Nazi regime are obscene? Again, I refuse to accept that. Further, does it mean that descriptions in works like the Bible are to fall within the category of obscenity because masturbation or gross violence is mentioned in that work?

Perhaps I may put to your Lordships a deeply sober and solemn thought. Does that wording mean that descriptions whether by word in the Bible or in the Gospels or in religious artifacts, paintings and so forth of the Crucifixion of our Lord are obscene? They would fall within that definition.

There is a poet and playwright who is our national genius. I do not know where that definition would leave his productions--namely, "Othello", "King Lear" or "Coriolanus". Need I stop, or need I go on? The grossest violence, almost the most unimaginable violence, is portrayed in those plays. It is idle to say that it was a long time ago and that children can safely watch them.

Perhaps I may be a little more lighthearted. Nymphomania is described as obscene and, therefore, any work of history--I believe that I am safe here--about Empress Catherine the Great would be in extreme difficulty. There is no reference to male over-indulgence--in other words, the male equivalent of nymphomania--so I shall not say anything about any possible records of current political life that one might or one might not be thinking about. Some of the points are serious, while others tend to be a little more frivolous. However, the point that I am seeking to make is exactly the one that the noble Lords, Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Annan made; namely, that it is not easy to get definitions right. If one has such an extensive list, which was certainly an eye-opener to me in the way I outlined, it simply is not workable.

The noble Earl was kind enough to indicate his assent by nodding his head when I put forward the proposition that he had deliberately, as his act of policy, so to speak, taken out the defence of the "public good". He does put defences in the legislation; but, similarly, they do not work. I shall spend a few moments explaining why that is so. The defence in fact is found in what are called "exceptions" in new Section 2A which says:

No offence is committed under section 2-- if any of the conditions described in sub-sections (2) to (4) is satisfied The exceptions, or defences, are as follows:

The article is made for public viewing for education in matters concerning health, hygiene or medicine, and has been certified by the Secretary of State.

So, far from reducing the power of the Home Office--and I see the noble Lord, Lord Baker, sitting in the Chamber, no doubt remembering the complaints regularly made about the Home Office wanting to interfere too much in people's lives--the Bill would require the Home Secretary to certify matter which is for public viewing for education regarding health, hygiene or medicine. That is simply not workable.

Then the overarching exemption follows:

The article is published or publicly exhibited--

(a) in the interests of art, literature or science--

with no mention of religion, and--

(b) in whole or in part at public expense.

I shall spend a few moments on this analysis because it leads us to a position of unworkability, and really-- I say this as gently as I can--to a position which is nonsensical in this sort of analysis. It would mean that I could publish something in the interests of art, literature or science which would otherwise contravene the very wide obscenity test contained in the schedule. If I published it at public expense "in whole or in part", I would have a saver; but if I am a private patron and I am not funded by the public, I would have no saver. That is no way to litigate--or rather to legislate! It certainly would be a way to litigate. In fact my former colleagues at the Bar Council would regard this as a long running pension indeed! In the absence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, "fat catterie" might well return to our land.

The provision simply will not work. I simply cannot understand why, if you publish in the interests of art, literature or science but not religion, and in whole or in part at public expense, you are saved, whereas if you are a public philanthropist and are not funded at public expense you are not saved. Therefore the great private collections of the 19th century philanthropists would not be exempt from the measure, but the collections funded at public expense by the equivalent of the alderman in Beachcomber would be safe.

It is worth thinking about the following point. I am perfectly happy for it to be suggested that I am wrong in my analysis, but I do not think I am. If the Bible offends against the definitions of obscenity--I hope I do not need to repeat them, as I hope that noble Lords attended Sunday school and can remember them perfectly well--anyone who, in the proposed new subsection 2(1)(e),

contributes financially towards the publication, distribution ... or advertisement,

of the Bible (for example, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) is committing a criminal offence. As I said, I am perfectly happy to have my analysis destroyed but I do not think it is capable of being destroyed.

I recognise that one or two of the remarks I have made have been rather lighthearted. However, there is something much more fundamental at issue here. The mere fact that some people behave differently to what your Lordships desire is not sufficient to make that criminal. There are many people who have different views on sexuality to what may be considered the norm, whatever the norm is. There are homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals who produce perfectly legitimate, respectable works of art or literature--I am not being patronising in the slightest--and who deal with their problems, their desires and their views in a perfectly legitimate way. It is not right to use the law to silence them. However, that is what this Bill would do.

I refer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about the obsession--as it sometimes appears in this country--with purely sexual matters. There are many offences against mankind which are not related to sex. I repeat that I am grateful to the noble Earl for the enormous amount of research which he has done. That has rightly been applauded. I wish to be able to read accounts of the First World War, or of the conflict in Vietnam, or accounts of slavery in the southern states, or Lincoln's noble work before 1865. However, they are all obscene on the definition we have before us. The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, first of all I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. In so far as many of their remarks have been kindly disposed towards me, I thank them for that.

Clearly this Bill needs a Committee stage and therefore I must proceed with it on the assumption that it will receive a Committee stage. But what kind of a Committee stage will it receive? What I have done, as it were, to "keep the game going", is to write to the Chairman of Committees, the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, to ask him to refer this whole matter to the Liaison Committee which is to meet at the end of the month to ask that committee how it thinks the Bill may best be dealt with; namely, whether it should be dealt with by a Select Committee of the House, or by a committee of inquiry, or something of that kind. In the meantime I wish the Bill to stand at this stage. I shall bring it back with a later proposal, either to refer it to a committee, or some alternative. On that basis, I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

24th February

House of Lords

  Obscenity Bill : 1st Reading

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to obscenity. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

A Bill to amend the law relating to obscenity :

Test of obscenity:

For section 1(1) of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (test of obscenity) there shall be substituted:

For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if, in whole or in part, it portrays, deals with or relates to any of the activities set out in the Schedule below

Anal fisting.
Analingus.
Anal sadism.
Auto-erotism.
Bestiality.
Bisexuality.
Bondage, or other acts of force or restraint associated with such activity.
Buggery.
Cunnilingus.
Coitus.
Coprolagnia.
Coprophilia.
Display of human genital organs.
Ejaculation.
Erection.
Exhibitionism.
Fellatio.
Flagellation.
Gynaecomastia.
Hermaphroditism.
Human urinary or excretory functions.
Interlingual kissing.
Masochism.
Masturbation.
Mutilation, torture or other acts of gross violence towards humans or animals, whether real or simulated.
Necrophilia.
Nymphomania.
Paedophilia.
Sadism.
Sado-masochism.
Scopophilia.
Sodomy.
Trans-sexualism.
Troilism
Urolagnia.
Urophilia.
Vaginal fisting.
Voyeurism."

(Thanks to Mike Jackson for some definitions:

  • Gynaecomastia is male breast enlargement. This is a natural condition which some men suffer from. Especially fat blokes in whom fatty deposits in the chest giving rise to what a Stephen King character one called "man tits"
  • Scopophilia is arousal from being stared at
  • Interlingual kissing could just be kissing on the lips (interlingual is "between languages" according to the OED but I would hope that they are not declaring interracial kissing to be obscene))

Offences:

For section 2 of the 1959 Act there is substituted:

(1) Subject to section 2A below, any person who knowingly, whether for gain or not:

(a) publishes,

(b) distributes, transports or delivers,

(c) provides for the public or private viewing of,

(d) advertises the availability of,

(e) contributes financially towards the publication, distribution, public viewing or advertisement of, any obscene article shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) In any prosecution for an offence under this section it shall not be a defence to show that the person was acting on behalf of or as an employee of another person.

(3) A person found guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable:

(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both.

(4) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section the court shall, in considering the penalty applicable to his case, take into account the extent to which habitual exposure for the purposes of enjoyment to the article in question, or to articles of that kind, may corrupt or degrade a person, particularly a child or young person.

Exceptions:

2A

(1) No offence is committed under section 2 if any of the conditions described in subsections (2) to (4) is satisfied.

(2) The article is made for public viewing for education in matters concerning health, hygiene or medicine, and has been certified by the Secretary of State.

(3) The article consists of publication of a report of judicial proceedings or of any evidence admitted in such proceedings.

(4) The article is published or publicly exhibited:

(a) in the interests of art, literature or science, and

(b) in whole or in part at public expense,

and the person is responsible for that publication or exhibition, or for the sale, publication or exhibition of articles connected to that publication or exhibition.

(5) A certificate under subsection (2) shall be in writing and published in such form as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(6) In subsection (4) "person" includes:

(a) any person acting on behalf of, and

(b) any employee of,

the responsible person.

Repeal:

Section 4 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (defence of public good) shall cease to have effect.

20th January

  Video Classification: Appointments

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government: When they will make changes to the authority responsible for making arrangements for the classification of video works under the Video Recordings Act 1984. Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today designated Lord Taylor of Warwick and Janet Lewis Jones under Section 4(4) of the Video Recordings Act 1984. Lord Taylor and Janet Lewis Jones were appointed as Vice-Presidents designate of the British Board of Film Classification on 12 November 1998, and my right honourable friend has designated them, in that capacity, to replace Monica Sims.
13th January

House of Lords

  Computer Games: Classification

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to modify the system of classification under which the computer game Grand Theft Auto, which allegedly involves thefts of cars and driving at excessive speeds to evade police cars, has been granted an 18 certificate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, there are currently no plans to change the system of classification for computer games, which, if they show gross violence, human sexual activity or criminal activity likely to encourage similar acts in real life, must be submitted to the British Board of Film Classification and are then subject to the same level of classification as videos. The computer game Grand Theft Auto has been granted an 18 certificate by the BBFC and it is therefore considered suitable for supply only to adults. Its supply to anyone under the age of 18 is an illegal act subject to criminal penalties. The maximum penalty for supplying a computer game in breach of its classification is six months' imprisonment, a 5,000 fine, or both.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. In reply to a previous Question he indicated that the Government are greatly concerned and have the situation under review. As they aim to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, should criminal offences of this kind be allowed to be presented as games or normal pastimes? Are the Government now ready for computer games on burglary and mugging, bearing in mind that it is mostly young people who play these games and not the adults who bought them?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Home Secretary has recently appointed Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith to be president of the BBFC and to be the designated authority for the classification of videos under the Video Recordings Act. It may well be young people who watch these games, but I repeat that it is an 18 classification and its supply to anyone under the age of 18 is a criminal offence. If there is any evidence of such supply, it should be reported to the appropriate authorities for them to take criminal proceedings.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that demonstration copies of Grand Theft Auto are being distributed with magazines on sale to the public but that my 12 year-old son, who has played the demonstration copy, assures me that he is not motivated to go out and steal cars?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that excellent news. But it still remains the fact that the supply of such a video for reward is a criminal offence. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would therefore wish to have a private word with his son.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that such games are played by young people in their homes and that it is difficult to know what goes on in the home? Does he also agree that as the Government have made tackling crime one of their three priorities during their presidency of the European Union, they should take any measures that would reduce car crime in this country? We have the worst record for that in western Europe.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Such video games are commonly played in the home. Self-evidently, I would suggest, parents have a responsibility to supervise their own children. One has to strike a suitable balance between banning everything that can conceivably be a pleasure to any section of the population and protecting the vulnerable. We think that at the moment the law is about right.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, at what stage in the production process does such a game have to go for certification? Do all such games have to go for certification?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, a game has to go for certification when it is at its final stage of production. It is then a question of whether the video game is exempt under the Video Recordings Act. If it is within one of the categories that I mentioned earlier, it loses its exemption and therefore needs to be classified.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether this video game or any similar game is available in any of Her Majesty's prisons?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not know whether any such games are in any of Her Majesty's prisons; but I do know that the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, is keenly concerned that no video or video game should be shown to any inmate in any part of Her Majesty's prison estate if it has an inappropriate classification for the age of that inmate.

 

UK Censorship
Archive
 UK Censorship News Archive: 1998 1999
 UK Parliament Watch Archive: 1996 1997 1998 1999
 Opinion: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
 Legal Debate Mail order R18s, satellite proscription etc
 Proscription of Adult Satellite Channels Department for Culture, Media, Sport & Proscription
 Human Rights Abuse - Where Do You Draw The Line? by IanG
 Films On TV Red Triangle films on Channel 4 and the cutting of Thelma and Louise on the BBC
 BSC Guidelines Worthless guidelines on taste and decency from the defunct Broadcasting Standards Commission
 Obscene Interpretation of the Law A police raid on porn historian David Flint
 Obscenity Trials The only obscenity is British Justice
 The Black Market for Sex Videos The Pornographer's Best Friend
 Customs Guidelines & Seizures Up until 2000
 The People vs HM Customs Heroic battles against HM Customs
 Escalating Costs HMRC uses as much money as it takes to ensure decisions cannot be challenged in court (Oct 2000)
 Customs Poking Around in your Lap-top