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 2010: Jan-March

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31st March   

Update: Bongo Republic Lawmaking...

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Lib Dems will oppose the passing of a bill without debate to enable direct website blocking powers for the government
Link Here  full story: Digital Economy Act...Clause 11 grants government control of the internet

House of Commons logo The Liberal Democrats have called for the Digital Economy bill to be scrapped and re-introduced afresh in the next Parliament, and say they will oppose its rushed passage if, as expected, it is speeded through to become law in the wash-up ahead of a general election.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, told the Guardian that although the party's opposition might not be enough on its own to prevent the bill from passing, he hoped that the arguments being put forward - that the issues needed more debate than has been possible - might sway one of the other parties into delaying its passage.

During the negotiation and discussion in the wash-up we will make it clear that we think that it isn't a suitable way to deal with the issues remaining such as site blocking, Burstow said. We will put amendments down and make the case and hope that the government and the Conservatives will agree that it shouldn't proceed at this stage, Burstow said.

The government published a new clause 18 for the bill to replace one which has raised the ire of lobbying groups. The key difference from the previous clause appears to be that the secretary of state for business would have the final say on whether an internet site could be blocked.

Hundreds of people protested outside Parliament last week over those provisions of the bill. The Open Rights Group has also been critical of the amount of time that has been devoted to debating it: while it has had three readings in the House of Lords, including a committee stage, it has had only one reading in the Commons, and if it proceeds to the wash-up it will not receive a detailed line-by-line examination in committee. Instead, it would be pushed through with the minimum of debate.

 

24th March   

Gaff Gag...

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Straw proposed ban on disclosing information about senior Royals
Link Here

UK Government arms The government is trying to change the law to protect the Prince of Wales from scrutiny when he intervenes in public affairs.

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, has tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to impose a blanket ban on anyone disclosing information about Prince Charles, the Queen and Prince William.

The move comes after a freedom of information (FoI) application revealed how Charles scuppered a £3 billion redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks.

The royal family is exempt from direct requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. However, public bodies can be asked to release information that may include details about the royals.

Critics of Straw's amendment say it would seriously undermine freedom of information laws. More than 60 MPs have signed an early day motion calling for it to be dropped. Clarence House said Charles had not lobbied for the changes.

 

21st March   

Update: No Scrutiny of the Digital Economy Bill...

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UK parliament proving to be a cheap second rate copy of the real thing
Link Here  full story: Digital Economy Act...Clause 11 grants government control of the internet

House of Commons logo The Open Rights Group has revealed that in the last 3 days more than 10,000 outraged citizens have written to MPs demanding a debate on the Music Industry's Digital Economy Bill (DEB).

To the absolute dismay of most outside the music and movie industries, some of the most controversial elements of the Bill are unlikely to receive any major scrutiny and will be dealt with quickly under the so-called wash-up , a short period between the announcement of an election and parliament being closed down.

It's a deeply unsatisfactory and very worrying development, a senior executive from an ISP told The Guardian. The fear is that no one will know what is being cooked-up before it becomes law. It's legislation on the hoof.

But this situation suits the BPI just fine. This week a leaked memo from the BPI fell into the hands of Cory Doctorow which showed that the LibDem amendment – a proposal under the DEB which would allow for websites to be blocked if, essentially, the BPI didn't like their activities – was in fact written by the BPI. Very cosy.

But the controversies don't end there. Doctorow also received an internal document prepared by the BPI's Director of Public Affairs and prospective Labour parliamentary candidate, Richard Mollet. In the document he admitted that the only reason the DEB had a chance of passing is because MP's are resigned to voting on it without debate.

Translation: if MPs got to debate the Bill, they would tear it to unrecognizable pieces as they realized what terrible rubbish it really is, wrote Doctorow.

According to Jim Killock at the Open Rights Group, UK citizens aren't leaving anything to chance with 10,000 of them having written to their MPs in the last three days to demand a debate on the Digital Economy Bill: It is outrageous for corporate lobbyists including the BPI, FAST and UK Music to demand that MPs curtail democracy and ram this Bill through Parliament without debate, says Killock, adding: The British people did not elect UK Music and the BPI to write our laws.

 

13th March   

They're So Big!...

Politically correct feminist whinges at bra adverts
Link Here

Puritans Erotic underwear advertisements should be banned from London buses to protect children from being bombarded with sexual images, a Conservative MP has said.

Nadine Dorries tabled a 10-minute-rule Bill in the House of Commons which seeks to place restrictions on images of partial nudity in advertising.

The MP for Mid Bedfordshire drew attention to a recent Armani advertising campaign on buses in the capital which featured images of Megan Fox, the film star, in scant lingerie.

The 14ft billboard space on London's double-decker buses has been used to promote underwear ranges in recent months.

Dorries said it was the sheer size of the posters that most offended her. You can't help but see these. On the Armani ads you can barely see the name of the company, she said.

Everyone knows I'm not a politically correct feminist ...BUT... this is part of a wider trend towards the objectification of women.

Her Bill also calls for lads' mags such as Nuts and Zoo , which contain semi-nude photographs of women, to be removed from the lower shelves in newsagents to put them out of the reach of children. It will be introduced formally to Parliament on March 31.

 

13th March   

Update: Responsibility Declined...

ISP responsibility requirement dropped in Digital Economy Bill
Link Here  full story: Digital Economy Act...Clause 11 grants government control of the internet

House of Lords logo Plans to make ISPs responsible for child safety online have been withdrawn in the House of Lords.

In the continuing debate over the Digital Economy Bill, the Lords discussed whether ISPs should be obliged to highlight methods of filtering internet sites and protecting children online.

But the plans were shelved for the time being as they would require substantial Government funding and an increased burden on ISPs.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote, who proposed the amendment, argued the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (CCIS) wasn't doing enough by merely promoting self-regulation by parents.

She added that it would only require ISPs to promote online safety and to provide consumers with information on filtering options, and that the plans didn't require them to produce filtering software of their own.

ISPs argue they're already offering protection advice. As an ISP we have a number of services in place to help parents but we can only do so much. Parents have a part to play too, said a spokesman for Virgin Media.

 

6th March   

So Much to Ban and So Little Time...

Scottish parliament ask for evidence to support a hurried ban on paying for sex
Link Here

The Scottish Parliament Following the recent resignation of Steven Purcell due to ill health, Councillor Jim Coleman is now the acting leader of Glasgow City Council - highly likely he now believes it was an 'act of God' and the 'crusade' to rid Scotland of any sexual pleasure/titilation must continue.

Scottish Parliament's 'Justice' Committee is calling for evidence on Trish Godman`s attempt to ban all 'paid-for sexual activity' (among other things).

See article from scottish.parliament.uk :

Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill - call for written evidence on Stage 2 amendments

The Justice Committee has agreed to take evidence at Stage 2 on some of the amendments lodged for Stage 2 which it considers raise significant new issues that were not considered during the Committee's Stage 1 inquiry.

Amendment 8 (lodged by Trish Godman) proposes changes to the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 to create three new offences – engaging in a paid-for sexual activity, advertising paid-for sexual activities, and facilitating engagement in a paid-for sexual activity, all to be subject, on summary conviction, to a fine of up to £1,000.

Amendments to amendment 8 (8A-8D, lodged by Margo Macdonald) propose the addition of two further offences – causing alarm etc. by engaging in a paid-for sexual activity and profiting from coerced paid-for sexual activities – subject to the same penalties.

These amendments are grouped for debate with consequential amendments 9 and 9A, which specify which of the new offences are to be classed as “exploitation offences” for the purposes of the Antisocial Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004.

Oral evidence

The Committee plans to take oral evidence on all three topics at its meeting on Tuesday 23 March.

Formal proceedings on the amendments will not take place until the oral evidence has been heard.

 

Call for written submissions

 

The Committee would welcome written submissions

The closing date for written submissions is Wednesday 17 March (to enable all submissions to be circulated in advance of the 23 March meeting).  

Submissions should not normally exceed four sides of A4.  The Committee prefers to receive written submissions electronically in MS Word format. These should be sent to:

cjlb@scottish.parliament.uk

You may also make hard copy written submissions to:

Justice Committee

Room T3.60

The Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh
EH99 1SP

Already some submissions have been received and published here , including some from sex workers themselves. These include those from Margo MacDonald, UK Network Sex Work Projects and Teela Sanders.

 

6th March   

Updated: Copyright on Bad Ideas...

Lib Dem peers propose a state internet filtering law
Link Here  full story: Digital Economy Act...Clause 11 grants government control of the internet

House of Lords logo Not So Liberal Democrat peers have proposed a new clause for the Digital Economy Bill that sets the ball rolling for state internet filtering:

Lord Razzall and Lord Clement-Jones have proposed the following new clause

Preventing access to specified online locations

In Part 1 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, after section 97A insert—

97B Preventing access to specified online locations

(1) The High Court (in Scotland, the Court of Session) shall have power to grant an injunction against a service provider, requiring it to prevent access to online locations specified in the order of the Court.

(2) In determining whether to grant an injunction under subsection (1), the Court shall have regard to the following matters—

(a) whether a substantial proportion of the content accessible at or via each specified online location infringes copyright,

(b) the extent to which the operator of each specified online location has taken reasonable steps to prevent copyright infringing content being accessed at or via that online location or taken reasonable steps to remove copyright infringing content from that online location (or both),

(c) whether the service provider has itself taken reasonable steps to prevent access to the specified online location, and

(d) any other matters which appear to the Court to be relevant.

(3) An application for an injunction under subsection (1) shall be made on notice to the service provider and to the operator of each specified online location in relation to which an injunction is sought.

(4) Where—

(a) the Court grants an injunction under subsection (1) upon the application of an owner of copyright whose copyright is infringed by the content accessible at or via each specified online location in the injunction, and

(b) the owner of copyright before making the application made a written request to the service provider giving it a reasonable period of time to take measures to prevent its service being used to access the specified online location in the injunction, and no steps were taken, the Court shall order the service provider to pay the copyright owner's costs of the application unless there were exceptional circumstances justifying the service provider's failure to prevent access despite notification by the copyright owner.

(5) In this section—

copyright owner includes a licensee with an exclusive licence within the meaning of section 92 of this Act,

infringing content means content which is produced or made available in infringement of copyright,

online location means a location on the internet, a mobile data network or other data network at or via which copyright infringing content is accessible,

operator means a person or persons in joint or sole control of the decisions to make content accessible at or via an online location, and

service provider has the meaning given to it by section 97A(3) of this Act.

Update: Shared Interests

5th March 2010.

Lord Clement-Jones one of the proposers of the  new clause became the talk of the internet when it was noticed that he receives significant money from a law firm standing to gain from measures in the Digital Economy Bill

See Register of Interests from publications.parliament.uk

CLEMENT-JONES, Lord

Partner of DLA Piper (international law firm) and adviser to its global government relations practice.

The member is paid £70,000 in respect of his services as Co-Chairman of DLA Piper's global government relations practice

Update: Amendment Passed

5th March 2010. Based on article from guardian.co.uk

One of the most contentious parts of the controversial digital economy bill was voted down by the House of Lords last night – only to be replaced by a clause that campaigners say is even more draconian.

The Liberal Democrats forced through a surprise amendment to the bill's notorious clause 17 on Wednesday – in a move that dealt a defeat to the government but troubled critics, who suggest it will have the opposite effect that its creators intend.

Instead of sweeping new powers that threatened sweeping alterations to British copyright law, the Lib Dems added a clause that gives extra oversight to the high court.

The new proposal – which was passed in the House of Lords by 165 votes to 140 – gives a high court judge the right to issue an injunction against a website accused of hosting a substantial amount of copyright infringing material, potentially forcing the entire site offline.

Putting forward the amendment, Lib Dem peer Lord Clement-Jones said that it would placate concerns over the so-called three strikes rule – which could see those accused of sharing files illegally online having their internet connections cut off – and added that it was a more proportionate, specific and appropriate way to approach infringement than the previous proposals made by the government.

But instead of making the proposed system more transparent and accountable, critics say it will simply leave it open to abuse.

This would open the door to a massive imbalance of power in favour of large copyright holding companies, said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. Individuals and small businesses would be open to massive 'copyright attacks' that could shut them down, just by the threat of action. This is exactly how libel law works today: suppressing free speech by the unwarranted threat of legal action. The expense and the threat are enough to create a 'chilling effect'.

In particular, there are concerns that the amendment could follow in the footsteps of America's controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has been accused of encouraging companies to file bogus copyright claims to block material they dislike.

The high costs and dangers of dealing with copyright claims in court mean that many web hosts simply take down the material in question without checking whether the copyright case is legitimate – even going as far as shutting down entire websites in some cases.

The new amendment could also have dire implications for websites like YouTube, where users can upload copyright-infringing material without the knowledge of the site's owners.

Update: A Good Summary from Metro

6th March 2010. Based on article from metro.co.uk

Metro Video-sharing websites such as YouTube could be blocked in Britain after a last-minute change to a new law

They are facing a major clampdown on using copyright material under an amendment passed by the House of Lords.

The change grants TV and music companies the right to demand their material is taken down. If the request is refused, they can take their challenge to court, where high legal costs will make it pointless to launch a defence.

Under the new law, copyright holders must ask ISPs and the website itself to remove the material or any links to other sites hosting it. If it is not taken down, a court order can force the ISP to block the site.

The amendment is aimed at websites with substantial amounts of copyrighted material. However, critics say the law, which is set to be passed in April, is unclear about what substantial means and that it is unfair to block an entire site over a few minor breaches. They say ISPs would simply shut out a site rather than risk the high legal costs of defending a case.

Nicholas Lansman, secretary-general of the Internet Service Providers Association, said: Our members are extremely concerned that the full implications of the amendment have not been understood.

 

28th February   

Updated: An Advert for Miserable Scotland...

MSP proposes amendment to criminalise prostitution, customers and advertisers
Link Here

End Prostitution NowJames Coleman, the mean minded deputy leader of Glasgow City Council, is at the forefront of the End Prostitution Now initiative, which - according to the city council - has attracted support from MSPs, fellow councillors, unions and religious nutters.

West Renfrewshire MSP Trish Godman is one of the supporters. She has now proposed legislative amendments in the Scottish Parliament as follows:

Offences of engaging in, advertising and facilitating paid-for sexual activities (1) The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 (asp 9) is amended as follows. (2) After section 11 insert— Engaging in, advertising and facilitating paid-for sexual activities

11A Engaging in a paid-for sexual activity

(1) A person (A) commits an offence, to be known as the offence of engaging in a paid-for sexual activity, if A knowingly engages in a paid-for sexual activity with another person (B).

(2) A sexual activity is paid for where B engages in that activity in exchange for payment.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), it is immaterial whether the payment is made—

(a) by A or by another person, or
(b) to B or to another person on B's behalf.

11B Advertising paid-for sexual activities

A person commits an offence, to be known as the offence of advertising paid for sexual activities, if that person knowingly advertises, by any means, the availability of sexual activities that can be engaged in for payment.

11C Facilitating engagement in a paid-for sexual activity

(1) A person (A) commits an offence, to be known as the offence of facilitating engagement in a paid-for sexual activity, if A knowingly facilitates the engagement of another person (B) in a paid-for sexual activity with another person (C).

(2) A sexual activity is paid for where C engages in that activity in exchange for payment.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), it is immaterial whether the payment is made—

(a) by A, by B or by another person, or
(b) to C or to another person on C's behalf.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), facilitating the engagement by B in a paid for sexual activity includes (but is not limited to)—

(a) arranging B's engagement in the activity,
(b) making payment to C or to another person on C's behalf,
(c) making available premises in which the activity takes place, or
(d) transporting B, or arranging transport for B, to where the activity takes place

Update: Who is Behind the End Prostitution Now campaign?

28th February 2010. From Melanie-H  on the Melon Farmers Forum

This amendment criminalises all selling and buying of sexual services. Prostitution definitely but if Councillor Jim Coleman gets his way could apply to strip clubs, peep shows, lap dancing.

All Saunas and Agencies would be illegal. No advertisements in any paper, or Internet. (The Sport advertisements would be illegal, only foreign websites would work, adult-work maybe, but punter link would stop). Escort sites would have to be hosted offshore.

No doubts the End Prostitution Now propaganda tool will have a major influence on the outcome.

From their website www.endprostitutionnow.org

End Prostitution Now is a campaign led by Glasgow City Council which aims to raise awareness of the harm caused through prostitution and put the focus on the buyers of sex - the DEMAND - who have in the past been invisible from public debate.

But Glasgow Council seem to be denying that they are running it

There are no references to this campaign in the most recent annual Company report of the Glasgow Community and Safety Services Limited Company and even stranger when Glasgow City Council were approached under the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland 2002).

See article from whatdotheyknow.com

Dear Glasgow Council

Please could provide me with the following information, regarding the political campaign initiated by Glasgow City Council to change Scotland's laws regarding prostitution:

a) The cost to the Glasgow taxpayer of your 'End Prostitution Now' political campaign and associated activities.

b) Any additional funding or assistance received from other sources towards the End Prostitution Now' political campaign and associated activities.

c) Details of the number of people employed by Glasgow City Council working on this political campaign and associated activities, and of any other persons involved in this Glasgow City Council political campaign and associated activities not employed by the council.

d) Minutes of the meeting at which funding and approval for this political campaign and its associated activities was given.

e) Copies of any communication, or details and minutes of any meetings, between Glasgow City Council employees and outside campaign groups, campaigners, or politicians regarding the setting up or operation of this political campaign.

f) Brief details of any other political campaigns currently or recently being run by Glasgow City Council.

Glasgow Council replied:

The Council is treating your request as a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

On inspecting our records, it would appear that Glasgow City Council does not hold the information which you have requested. Neither does anyone else hold it on our behalf. Accordingly we are unable to comply with your request.

I can confirm that Glasgow City Council does not run political campaigns.

 

25th February   

Update: Would You let this Man Censor the Internet?...

Opposition unites against powers to let the government change censorship of the internet without consultation
Link Here  full story: Digital Economy Act...Clause 11 grants government control of the internet

Blair Revolution Revisited Peter Mandelson Controversial proposals that would give Lord Mandelson unprecedented powers to amend censorship laws will be jettisoned next week when the Government suffers the first large defeat of its flagship media plans.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat lords will unite to vote down Clause 17 of the Digital Economy Bill, which has been criticised by internet giants such as Google and Yahoo!, when the Bill is put to vote in its report stage.

The Government maintains that the plans are necessary to future proof the Bill against emerging methods of piracy.

But internet firms and the Opposition said that despite attempts by Lord Mandelson to water down the proposals and increase parliamentary scrutiny of any fast-tracked legislation, via measures such as a 60-day consultation period, the proposals still allowed ministers to impose arbitrary measures.

Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Shadow Culture Secretary, said his party will vote against the clause next week. He added: The Government has failed to address any of the concerns we raised with them. They still want a wide ranging and unconstitutional power yet can't tell us what they want to use it for.

 

24th February   

Offsite: Today is a good day for free expression...

Select Committee reports on privacy and libel
Link Here  full story: Censorship by Libel...British libel law allows the rich to censor the truth

House of Commons logoWhen the culture, media and sport select committee began its work more than a year ago, many feared the worst.

Yet the more they probed and the more they heard from organisations defending free expression, the more the MPs began to understand the vital need to distinguish between investigative journalism, a noble cause, and prurient journalism, a less salutary one. Some aspects of the report are disappointing. One that relates to privacy is potentially alarming. On balance though this is an important step forward, giving cross-party support for fundamental change to England's hideous libel laws.

The committee details the enormous costs faced by publications, particularly small ones, in defending themselves. The report criticises law firms for deliberately stringing out suits so they can ratchet up costs and force people into settling and apologising, even where they have nothing to apologise for. It stops short of reversing the burden of proof, but it does suggest reinforcing the defence in court for brave reporting and making it harder for companies to sue to protect their reputations. The committee's chairman, the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, says he and his colleagues were eager to correct the balance which has tipped too far in favour of the plaintiff .

The MPs denounce the ease with which foreign-based oligarchs, sheikhs and their like have used avaricious legal firms and pliant judges to chill the free speech of NGOs, authors and others – so much so that US Congress has considered legislation to protect Americans from British courts. They criticise Jack Straw, the justice secretary, for not tackling the problem of libel tourism , and the damage to the country's reputation, describing the measures taken by US legislators as a humiliation.

...Read full article

See also article from business.timesonline.co.uk

Rules for reporting:

  • No legislation on privacy
  • Press Complaints Commission to recommend prior notification to the subject of articles, subject to a public interest test
  • A new law to clarify Parliamentary privilege and ensure free and fair reporting
  • The burden of proof should be reversed in the case of big corporations so that they must prove libel and not the defendant
  • Action to curb the use of super-injunctions and research to discover the extent of their use
  • A new regulator, a Press Complaints and Standards Commission, with powers to fine and halt publications

 

19th February   

Update: Press Censor Escapes Ban...

Parliamentary committee considers PCC and libel reform
Link Here  full story: Censorship by Libel...British libel law allows the rich to censor the truth

PCC logoTougher powers for the Press Complaints Commission and an end to the right of companies to sue for libel will be proposed next week in a long awaited report by MPs. But the much criticised press watchdog will escape calls for its abolition or for any form of state regulation of the press.

The PCC needs a radical shake-up to turn it into a body that is proactive, rigorous and is taken seriously by the public, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will say. New powers could extend to halting the printing of a newspaper edition. John Whittingdale, the committee's chairman, says the watchdog should also have the ability to impose large fines.

The commission has come under fire this week for failing to uphold complaints about a Daily Mail article into the death last October of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately. The column attracted 25,000 complaints from readers who perceived it to be homophobic. But the PCC said it should be slow to prevent columnists from expressing their views, however controversial they might be . It was a point of principle that newspapers could print views that might offend people, it said.

The complaint made to the PCC that the Daily Mail's column on Gately's death was inaccurate, intrusive and discriminatory was not upheld. Gately died at his holiday home on the island of Majorca. His civil partner Andrew Cowles made a complaint to the PCC about what had been written by the columnist Jan Moir. The PCC said that it could fully understand why Cowles and a record number of complainants were upset, but ruled that Moir's comments had not breached press guidelines.

In a second move that will please media organisations, the committee is expected to reject calls by Max Mosley, the former Formula One chief, for victims of media exposés to be notified in advance. There are fears that a requirement for prior notification will lead to judges imposing injunctions that would prevent many investigative stories going to print.

A third key recommendation expected in the report, to be published next week, is that businesses with more than ten employees will lose the right to sue for defamation.

The wideranging report by MPs will cover press standards, privacy, libel and libel tourism , super-injunctions and costs in defamation cases.

 

17th February   

Offsite: Named as Incompetent...

Government retreats over Internet Domain Name Registries
Link Here  full story: Amending the VRA...Digital Economy Bill and video censorship

House of Lords logoOur previous blog article: Digital Economy Bill 2009 seeks to crush UK Internet Domain Registry industry with bureaucratic red tape and unfair legal costs was almost correct in its analysis of just how appallingly badly draughted clauses 18 to 20 of the notorious twice disgraced, unelected, Labour Minister Mandelson's Digital Economy (destruction of) Bill was, as originally published:

Digital Economy Bill [HL] House of Lords debates, 26 January 2010,

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Government Whip; Labour): I turn to the amendments in question. Following representations made by the industry, the Government realised that the scope of the domain name provisions in the Bill could have unintended consequences.

Specifically, the definitions in Clause 18 as currently drafted would bring any organisation or company in the UK that runs its own name server within the scope of the powers-that was not intended.

Similarly, the UK-based domain name registry operations of some third countries are also caught. Again, that is not what the Government had in mind when they proposed this draft legislation.

...Read full article

 

15th February   

Offsite: Standing Order 14...

MPs try to take back control of Westminster from the party machines
Link Here

Henry PorterNo MP can tell you exactly when Standing Order 14 was introduced to the House of Commons, but sometime during Charles Stewart Parnell's campaign of obstructionism in the cause of Irish nationalism in the 1880s, the government passed a new order that declared that except in certain circumstances government business shall have precedence at every sitting .

It was a crucial step towards the executive's dominance of parliament and is today still the authority that gives government the right to schedule the business in the House of Commons and arrange things so that important pieces of legislation are never properly scrutinised by our elected representatives. If you want to know how New Labour got so many badly drafted, authoritarian laws on to the statute book you start with Standing Order 14.

...Read full article

 

14th February   

Update: Digital Economy Bill...

Video Recordings Act amendments discussed in Lords Committee
Link Here  full story: Amending the VRA...Digital Economy Bill and video censorship

House of Lords logoThe Digital Economy Bill was discussed in Lords Committee on 8th February 2010.

A long list of amendments were discussed and withdrawn. Here is a brief summery of these.

Exemptions: Amendment 246 Moved by Lord De Mauley

This was an unneeded suggestion to add to the list of material that would exempt a video game from the need for classification. In reality the list in the original bill is sufficient, but this issue has become something of a band wagon issue having received press attention. So a fair few lords lined up to add their name to the cause including Baroness Howe of Idlicote, The Lord Bishop of Manchester and Lord Addington.

Government Censorship Power: Amendment 247 Moved by Lord De Mauley

Rightfully questioned the powers being given to the Secretary of State in the name of future proofing games censorship.

BBFC as R18 Experts: Amendment 248 Moved by Lord De Mauley

This amendment relates to the BBFC retaining powers to classify games containing R18 pornography. It also questioned whether both the VSC and the BBFC should duplicate the work of differentiating between 18 and R18 material. The BBFC seem to be held as the 'experts' in identifying porn.

At least the debate seemed to assume that  R18 is here to stay and no seemed to be taking the opportunity of the bill to re-ban porn.

Hybrids: Amendment 250 Moved by Lord Howard of Rising Also amendment 251 Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote

These amendments raised the dual censor issue of what to do with hybrid media, ie games containing video or DVDs containing games etc

Duty to promote online safety: amendment 251A Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote

(1) It shall be the duty of internet service providers and mobile phone operators to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements-

(a) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of online safety;
(b) to provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information on filtering options of public electronic communication services for the purposes of online safety-

(i) at the time of purchase of the service; and
(ii) to make such information available for the duration of the contract.

(2) In this section online safety means safe, responsible use of the internet and other communication devices by children and young people.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote said she was speaking for children's charity CARE and wanted to make the availability of parental control facilities to be made more prominent. Again there were lords queuing up support this amendment. The government pointed out that in reality it is far too complex a question for a sentence to be attached to this bill and that the issues are being widely discussed for future measures.

Age Verification Schemes: amendment 251A Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote

Additional protection from harmful material through online on-demand programme services using age verification scheme

For section 368E(2) of the Communication Act 2003 (harmful material), substitute-

(2) An online on-demand programme service must not contain any material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen.

(3) If an online on-demand programme service contains the following material, the material must only be made available using a clearly identifiable and robust age verification scheme to determine that the person purchasing or otherwise obtaining access to the material is not under eighteen-

(a) material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen;

(b) material which is contained in a video work for which a classification certificate has been issued containing the statements mentioned in section 7(2)(c) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (recordings to be supplied only in licensed sex shops);

(c) material which falls within subsection (4) unless it is contained in a video work for which a classification certificate other than one containing the statements mentioned in section 7(2)(c) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (recordings to be supplied only in licensed sex shops) has been issued.

(4) Material falls within this subsection if it is pornographic and portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following-

(a) an act of penetration of the vagina or anus of a person with a part of a person's body or anything else;
(b) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex;
(c) the performance by a person or an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal;
(d) an act of masturbation;
(e) an act of ejaculation;
(f) human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions; or
(g) an act of restraint or violence which is associated with sexual activity.

(5) In this section-

classification certificate and video work have the same meaning as in the Video Recordings Act 1984;

pornographic has the same meaning as in section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (possession of extreme pornographic images).

Perhaps the easiest practical attack on the availability of porn and lords drew parallels with the age controls inherent in physical R18s being limited to sex shops.

Lord Davies of Oldham for the Government said: My Lords, I am happy to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester on these points, but I cannot accept the amendment because we have a law in place that achieves its effect. Section 368E(2) of the Communications Act was introduced by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009 and requires that, if an on-demand programme service contains material which might cause serious impairment to children or young people, it should only be shown in a way that would ensure that they do not usually see it or hear it. The regulations are in response to a European Union directive that applies to all on-demand programme services all the time.

I accept entirely the anxieties of the noble Baroness about these issues, which prompted her to table the amendment, but the question is whether we should go further than the present regulations. We are in discussion about this with Ofcom and the Association for Television On-Demand, the leading video-on-demand industry body to make sure that any moves we make are the right ones to ensure that children are adequately protected. If it turns out on reflection that it is necessary for the Government to take action, we can introduce further regulations under the same provision as those in force at present, to strengthen and reinforce the protection. I reassure the noble Baroness that she has raised an important topic but her amendment is not necessary.

Fees: Amendment 254 Moved by Lord Howard of Rising

This amendment questioned whether the government were right to withdraw from powers to control censorship fees.

Content Advice: Amendment 255ZA Moved by Lord Howard of Rising

This amendment discussed exactly how mandatory content advice labelling should be. Very mandatory or just a bit mandatory.

 

13th February   

Digital Economy Bill...

Changes to the Video Recordings Act being debated in Parliament
Link Here  full story: Amending the VRA...Digital Economy Bill and video censorship

House of Lords logoThe Digital Economy Bill has started its progress in Parliament starting in the House of Lords. It has already been discussed in committee and will next be heard at the Report Stage in the Lords on the 1st March 2010.

There are several sections of interest to Melon Farmers:

  • Online infringement of copyright

    This includes open ended and general powers for the government to censor the internet in the name of copyright protection
     
  • Powers in relation to internet domain registries
    Setting up another tool for the government censorship of the internet
     
  • Video recordings Act

The Government are making the following basic changes

  • This section separates out video censorship into two sections, video games censorship (PEGI ratings will be implemented by the Video Standards Council) and video works censorship (as implemented by the BBFC).
     
  • The current exemptions from mandatory games classification will be reduced so that anything that would be rated 12 or upwards will now be subject to mandatory vetting by the games censors.
     
  • The government seem to be adding a new power for the censors to revoke as well issue certificates
     
  • People submitting video works are to be forced to agree to a 'code of practice' re the labelling of their products.
     
  • There's also added complex wording targeting more complex mixtures of media
     
  • And of course the government have added the power to change the Video Recordings Act at any time in the future via an order of the secretary of state

40 Classification of video games etc

(1) Section 2 of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (exempted video works) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)—

(a) after video work insert other than a video game,
(b) after paragraph (a) insert or, and
(c) omit paragraph (c) (and the word or before it).

(3) After that subsection insert—

(1A) Subject to subsection (2) or (3) below, a video game is for the purposes of this Act an exempted work if—

(a) it is, taken as a whole, designed to inform, educate or instruct;
(b) it is, taken as a whole, concerned with sport, religion or music; or
(c) it satisfies one or more of the conditions in section 2A.

(4) After section 2 of that Act insert—

2A Conditions relating to video games

(1) The conditions referred to in section 2(1A)(c) are as follows.

(2) The first condition is that the video game does not include any of the following—

(a) depictions of violence towards human or animal characters, whether or not the violence looks realistic and whether or not the violence results in obvious harm,
(b) depictions of violence towards other characters where the violence looks realistic,
(c) depictions of criminal activity that are likely, to any extent, to stimulate or encourage the commission of offences,
(d) depictions of activities involving illegal drugs or the misuse of drugs,
(e) words or images that are likely, to any extent, to stimulate or encourage the use of alcohol or tobacco,
(f) words or images that are intended to convey a sexual message,
(g) swearing, or
(h) words or images that are intended or likely, to any extent, to cause offence, whether on the grounds of race, gender, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation or otherwise.

(3) In subsection (2) human or animal character means a character that is, or whose appearance is similar to that of—

(a) a human being, or
(b) an animal that exists or has existed in real life, but does not include a simple stick character or any equally basic representation of a human being or animal.

(4) The second condition is that the designated authority, or a person nominated by the designated authority for the purposes of this section, has confirmed in writing that the video game is suitable for viewing by persons under the age of 12.

(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section—

(a) by amending the first condition, or
(b) by adding a further condition (or by amending or removing such a condition).
(6) Regulations under this section may make provision by reference to documents produced by the designated authority.

(5) In section 3 of that Act (exempted supplies), after subsection (8) insert—

(8A) The supply of a video recording in the form of a machine of a type designed primarily for use in an amusement arcade is an exempted supply unless the video game (or, if more than one, any of the video games) that it contains—

(a) depicts, to any significant extent, anything falling within section 2(2)(a), (b), (c) or (d) or (3), or
(b) is likely to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage anything falling within section 2(2)(a) or, in the case of anything falling within section 2(2)(b), is likely to any extent to do so. The supply of any other video recording is an exempted supply if the recording is supplied for the purpose only of its use in connection with a supply that is an exempted supply under subsection (8A).

(6) At the end of that section insert—

(13) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section and the regulations may, in particular—

(a) add a case in which the supply of a video recording is an exempted supply for the purposes of this Act, or
(b) repeal a provision of this section.

41 Designated authority for video games etc

(1) After section 4 of the Video Recordings Act 1984 insert—

4ZA Designated authorities for video games and other video works

(1) The power to designate a person by notice under section 4 includes power to designate different persons—

(a) as the authority responsible for making arrangements in respect of video games (the video games authority), and
(b) as the authority responsible for making arrangements in respect of other video works (the video works authority).

(2) Where there are two designated authorities, references in this Act to the designated authority, in relation to a video work, are references to the designated authority responsible for making arrangements in respect of the video work, taking account of any allocation in force under section 4ZB.

4ZB Designated authorities: allocation of responsibility for video games

(1) Where there are two designated authorities, the video games authority may, with the consent of the video works authority, allocate to that authority responsibility—

(a) for a class of video games, or
(b) for video games, or a class of video games, when (and only when) they are contained in a video recording that is described in the allocation (whether by reference to its contents, to the manner in which it is, or is to be, supplied or otherwise).

(2) If an allocation is in force—

(a) the video works authority is responsible for making arrangements under this Act in respect of the allocated video games, and
(b) the video games authority ceases to be responsible for making such arrangements.

(3) An allocation—

(a) must be made by a notice, and
(b) may be withdrawn at any time by a notice given by the video games authority with the consent of the video works authority.

(4) When making or withdrawing an allocation under this section, the video games authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

(5) A notice under this section must be—

(a) sent to the Secretary of State, and
(b) published in such manner as the video games authority considers appropriate.

(6) A question as to which designated authority is responsible for making arrangements in respect of a video game may be conclusively determined by the video games authority.

4ZC Designated authorities: video works included in video games

(1) The video games authority may make such arrangements in respect of video works included in video games as it considers are necessary for the purposes of fulfilling its responsibilities in respect of video games.

(2) Where there are two designated authorities, the arrangements made by the video games authority under section 4 must, to the extent that the video games authority considers appropriate, include either or both of the following—

(a) arrangements for having regard to any classification certificate issued by the video works authority in respect of a video work included in a video game;
(b) arrangements for obtaining and having regard to a determination by the video works authority as to the suitability of all or part of a video work included in a video game.

(3) For the purpose of determining the extent to which arrangements described in subsection (2)(a) or (b) are appropriate, the video games authority must—

(a) consult the video works authority, and
(b) have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

(4) In this section, suitability means suitability for the issue of a classification certificate or suitability for the issue of a classification certificate of a particular description.

(2) Schedule 1 (which contains further amendments of the Video Recordings Act 1984) has effect.

Schedule 1 Classification of video games etc: supplementary provision

1 The Video Recordings Act 1984 is amended as follows.

2

(1) Section 4 (authority to determine suitability of video works for classification) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)(b)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (i), after issue insert or revocation, and
(b) in sub-paragraph (ii), after issuing insert and revoking.

(3) After subsection (1B) insert—

(1C) The arrangements made under this section may require a person requesting a classification certificate for a video work to agree to comply with a code of practice, which may, in particular, include provision relating to the labelling of video recordings.

(4) After subsection (3) insert—

(3A) The Secretary of State must not make a designation under this section unless satisfied that adequate arrangements will be made for taking account of public opinion in the United Kingdom.

(5) For subsection (5) substitute—

(5) No fee is recoverable by, or in accordance with arrangements made by, the designated authority in connection with a determination in respect of a video work or the issue of a classification certificate unless the designated authority has consulted the Secretary of State about such fees.

(6) Omit subsection (6).

(7) After that subsection insert—

(6A) When making arrangements under this section, the designated authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

(6B) The Secretary of State may not issue guidance about the matters to be taken into account when determining the suitability of a video work for the issue of a classification certificate or a classification certificate of a particular description.

(8) In subsection (8)—

(a) after Act insert—

(a) , and

(b) at the end insert , and

(b) references to the designated authority, in relation to a  classification certificate, are references to the person or persons designated under this section when the certificate is issued, (but see also section 4ZA(2)).

3 In section 7 (classification certificates), at the end insert—

(3) For the purposes of this Act, a video work is not a video work in respect of which a classification certificate has been issued if every classification certificate issued in respect of the video work has been revoked.

4 After that section insert—

7A Classification certificates for particular video recordings

(1) A classification certificate issued in respect of a video work may be issued so as to have effect only for the purposes of a video recording that is described in the certificate (whether by reference to its contents, to the manner in which it is, or is to be, supplied or otherwise).

(2) For the purposes of this Act, a video recording contains a video work in respect of which a classification certificate has been issued if (and only if) a classification certificate that has been issued in respect of the video work has effect for the purposes of the video recording.

5 In section 8 (requirements as to labelling etc), omit subsections (2) and (3).

6

(1) Section 11 (supplying video recording of classified work in breach of classification) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)—

(a) for containing substitute , or no video recording described in the certificate, that contains,
(b) for a video recording containing that work substitute such a video recording, and
(c) after unless insert—

(a) the video work is an exempted work, or
(b) .

(3) In subsection (2), after paragraph (b) (but before or) insert—

(ba) that the accused believed on reasonable grounds that the video work concerned or, if the video recording contained more than one work to which the charge relates, each of those works was an exempted work,.

7

(1) Section 12 (certain video recordings only to be supplied in licensed sex shops) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsections (1) and (3)—

(a) for containing substitute , or no video recording described in the certificate, that contains, and
(b) for a video recording containing the work substitute such a video recording.

(3) In subsection (6)—

(a) for containing substitute , or no video recording described in the certificate, that contains, and
(b) for a video recording containing that work substitute such a video recording.

8

(1) Section 13 (supplying video recording not complying with requirements as to labels etc) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), after unless insert—

(a) the video work is an exempted work, or
(b) .

(3) In subsection (2), before paragraph (a) insert—

(za) believed on reasonable grounds that the video work concerned or, if the video recording contained more than one work to which the charge relates, each of those works was an exempted work,.

9

(1) Section 14 (supplying video recording containing false indication as to classification) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), after unless insert—

(a) the video work is an exempted work, or
(b) .

(3) In subsection (2)(a), after sub-paragraph (i) (but before or) insert—

(ia) that the video work concerned or, if the video recording contained more than one work to which the charge relates, each of those works was an exempted work,.

(4) In subsection (3)—

(a) after unless insert—

(a) the video work is an exempted work, or
(b) .

(5) In subsection (4)(a), before sub-paragraph (i) insert—

(ai) that the video work concerned or, if the video recording contained more than one work to which the charge relates, each of those works was an exempted work,.

10

(1) Section 22 (other interpretation) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), at the end insert—

video games authority and video works authority have the meaning given in section 4ZA.

(3) In subsection (2), after Act insert (and subject to regulations under subsection (2A)).

(4) After subsection (2) insert—

(2A) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the circumstances in which, for the purposes of this Act, a video recording does or does not contain a video work.

11 After section 22 insert—

22A Regulations

(1) Regulations under this Act are to be made by statutory instrument.

(2) Every power of the Secretary of State to make regulations under this Act includes—

(a) power to make different provision for different purposes, and
(b) power to make transitional or saving provision.

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 2A or 3 may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(4) Any other statutory instrument containing regulations under this Act is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

12 Until such time as section 2A of the Video Recordings Act 1984 comes into force, section 22A(3) of that Act has effect as if the words 2A or were omitted.

 

5th February   

Social Justice?...

Cameron considers blamist Iain Duncan Smith for department of Social Justice
Link Here

David Cameron plans to bring back right-wing Tory Iain Duncan Smith to head a new Whitehall department if he wins the general election.

He wants to break up Ed Balls' Department for Children, Families and Schools, which was only created in June 2007 by Gordon Brown, and give Mr Duncan Smith charge of a new Department for Children and Social Justice.

Meanwhile an article on timesonline.co.uk illustrates that Duncan Smith is somewhat inappropriate for the role.

Innocence, Ian Duncan Smith warns, is being destroyed by children's television and computer games. We are driving children to lose their childhood, and some video games are incredibly violent, like Grand Theft Auto . They are meant to be 18 but nobody cares what it says on the label.

Politicians also need to do more to deal with alcohol abuse. We are an alcohol-obsessed country, more than almost anyone else in the world, but in Westminster they are terrified of doing anything about it. They are scared stiff of upsetting the electorate. I would hope Cameron is brave enough to confront that. Alcohol is every bit as dangerous as illegal drugs. You can argue that it's more dangerous than heroin because it's easier to get.

There should, he says, be a swingeing tax on all wine, beer and spirits. We are into unpopular territory now, but to deal with something like alcohol that is damaging the fabric of the nation, we need to raise prices. There is a direct connection between the price of alcohol and consumption.

He also thinks the 24-hour licensing laws must be reversed. This was absolutely driven by the drinks industry, determined to sell more alcohol.

Offences of engaging in, advertising and facilitating paid-for sexual activities (1) The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 (asp 9) is amended as follows. (2) After section 11 insert—

 

30th January   

The Only Ones Being Sexualised are the Nutters...

Scottish report finds few sexualising images in stores
Link Here

The Scottish ParliamentAny crackdown on sexual imagery in goods aimed at children would be fraught with difficulties , a new Holyrood report has found. The study also said that relatively few goods of this nature were aimed at children in stores. 

Holyrood's equal opportunities committee commissioned independent research after hearing in evidence sessions that items such as high-heeled slip-on shoes were available for babies and underwear items for girls had sexual slogans printed on them.

Attention was also drawn to Bratz dolls, which were condemned by the NSPCC as increasing the sexualisation of children.

The report, which has not yet been passed by the committee, said: The attempt to control the production and distribution of sexualised goods, or at least control children's access to them, is likely to be fraught with difficulties, not least in terms of how we define what is to be regulated in the first place. While it did not discourage any attempt to impose controls, it said it could be costly and have counterproductive consequences .

Many of the stores surveyed for the report, such as Tesco, Littlewoods, Debenhams, D2 Jeans and Marks & Spencer did not sell any goods with sexual imagery aimed at children.

However, Sandra White MSP, who had sat on the committee, did not accept the report's assertions. She said: This sounds like a cop-out, and I would hope the committee would reject this part of the report. I don't see how it would be difficult to control. We've just banned cigarette machines and advertising, so why can't we look at legislating (to protect] young people from sexual imagery?

Ed Mayo, co-author of Consumer Kids, a critical study of children's marketing, who gave evidence to the committee, agreed with Ms White: It's a wonderful piece of academic research, but what it doesn't do is come off the fence. We know children are exposed to sexual material more than before, but what it's difficult to work out through this study is where the responsibility lies. There's no one group that is responsible for pushing too much too young to children. Everybody is. It's a good overview, but it leaves a question mark as to what schools can do, what parents can do and what the Scottish Government can do to act on this.

The study was led by Professor David Buckingham, from the Institute of Education at London University.

 

30th January   

Update: Fitna Repeats...

Wilders to show Fitna in the House of Lords
Link Here  full story: Geert Wilders...Geert Wilders winds up the muslim world

House of Lords logoDutch MP Geert Wilders will travel to London on March 5 to show his short video compilation Fitna at the invitation of two members of the British upper house of parliament, the House of Lords.

Last February Wilders was refused entry to Britain to screen his film because the government said his presence would be a threat to public order.

But in October, a British immigration tribunal ruled Wilders should not have been refused entry.

 

23rd January   

Update: Video Recordings Act 2010...

VRA given Royal Assent and is back in force
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

House of Lords logoThe Video Recordings Bill was given Royal Assent as scheduled on 21st January 2010.

The law comes into force immediately.

 

23rd January   

Free to Disagree...

Government asked about their stance on the OIC Defamation of Religion UN motion
Link Here

House of Lords Questions
11th January 2010

Lord Patten asked the government what is their stance on the resolution promoted by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference before the United Nations General Assembly on the defamation of religion.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): The Government share the concern of the Organisation of Islamic Conference that individuals around the world are victimised because of their religion or belief. We all need to do more to eliminate religious intolerance and to ensure that those who incite hatred or violence against individuals because of their religious beliefs are dealt with by the law.

But the Government cannot agree with an approach that promotes the concept of defamation of religions as a response. This approach severely risks diminishing the right to freedom of expression. We believe that international human rights law already strikes the right balance between the individual's right to express themselves freely and the need for the state to limit this right in certain circumstances. International human rights law provides that only where advocacy of religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should it be prohibited by law.

We believe that the concept of defamation of religions puts in danger the very openness and tolerance that allows people of different faiths to co-exist and to practise their faith without fear. It risks changing the focus of international human rights law from examining how countries promote and protect the right to freedom of expression to censoring what individuals say. If this happened, people might feel unable to speak out against human rights abuses or hold their government to account. It is also inconsistent with the international human rights legal framework which exists to protect individuals and not concepts or specific belief systems.

For this reason the UK, along with our EU Partners and other like-minded countries, voted against the resolution put forward by the Organisation of Islamic Conference at the 64th session of the UN General Assembly on Combating Defamation of Religions.

 

21st January   

Update: Video Recordings Act 2010...

Passes 3rd Reading in the Lords and is set to become law
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

House of Lords logoThe Video Recordings Bill has received its 3rd Reading in the House of Lords on 20th January 2010.

The bill is scheduled to receive Royal Assent and come into immediate effect on 21st January.

So once again all videos and DVDs have to be vetted by state appointed censors and ludicrous restrictions, such as a ban on mail order porn, are restored.

 

20th January   

Update: Early Day Condemnation...

British MPs support motion condemning Uganda's proposed anti-gay law
Link Here  full story: Ugandan Ethics Minister...Nutter minister rants about gays and miniskirts

House of Commons logo55 British Members of Parliament (MPs) have condemned Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

They have signed an Early Day Motion (EDM 575) in the UK Parliament, urging the scrapping of the Bill. Support for the parliamentary motion comes from across the political spectrum, from left to right. Many more signatures are expected as MPs return to the House of Commons.

The EDM, drafted by east London Labour MP Harry Cohen, urges the Ugandan government to uphold international humanitarian law by abandoning the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, decriminalizing same-sex acts between consenting adults in private, and outlawing discrimination against gay people.

That this House calls on the British Government and the European Union to press the government of Uganda not to proceed with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which violates the equality and non-discrimination provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter of Human and People's Rights; abhors that this Bill, currently before the Uganda parliament, proposes the death penalty for repeat homosexual acts, extends the existing penalty of life imprisonment for anal intercourse to all other same-sex behaviour, including the mere touching of another person with the intent to have homosexual relations and imposes life imprisonment for contracting a same-sex marriage; notes that under the provisions of the Bill membership of providing funding for gay organisations advocating gay human rights and providing condoms or safer sex advice to gay people will result in a sentence of between five and seven years for promoting homosexuality and that a person in authority who fails to report offenders to the police within 24 hours will incur a three year prison sentence; further notes that this monstrous proposed law contains extra-territorial jurisdiction so that it will apply to Ugandans who breach its provisions whilst living abroad, even in countries where such behaviour is not a criminal offence, and that such Ugandans living overseas could be subject to extradition, trial and punishment in Uganda; and demands that the Ugandan government uphold international humanitarian law by abandoning the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, decriminalising same-sex acts between consenting adults in private, and outlawing discrimination against gay people.

We hope this motion will send a signal from the British parliament to the Ugandan government that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill constitutes an outrageous attack on the human rights of Uganda's lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens, said Peter Tatchell of the London-based gay human rights group OutRage!

Even if the death penalty is dropped, the Bill will still be unacceptable. It will still violate the equality guarantees of international human rights agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, added Tatchell.

 

19th January   

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Lords debate replacement on VRA
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

House of Lords logoThe Video Recordings Bill has received its 2nd Reading in the House of Lords on 18th January 2010. The bill was unopposed and the short debate centred on the legal status of past prosecutions.

The committee and report stages were rubber stamped with no amendments or debate

The 3rd reading is now scheduled for 20th January 2010 and the bill will then come into force immediately on Royal Assent.

 

16th January   

Update: Licensed to Censor...

Bill to exempt small venues from government music censorship
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

pub band My bill would exempt small venues from the absurdities of the Licensing Act, which is stifling emerging artists

In November last year, Britain's Got Talent finalist Faryl Smith performed a song for her fans at an album signing at HMV in Kettering, Northamptonshire. The local council immediately threatened HMV with criminal prosecution because it hadn't applied for a licence.

Back in May, the headteacher of a school in Daventry had to scrap the annual musical when he was told he risked a £20,000 fine or even imprisonment because the school hadn't got a licence for the show.

And locals in Gloucestershire were bitterly disappointed last summer when a free brass band concert was cancelled at the last minute.

What links all these ridiculous situations is the Licensing Act, which stipulates that all live music performances need a licence, whatever the venue.

It is a result of these absurdities that I have introduced the live music bill which has just received a second reading in the House of Lords.

Small venues are vitally important to Britain's creative culture. Many of our most successful and popular musicians started their careers gigging in bars, student unions or cafes. The decrease in live music in small venues, as evidenced by the DCMS's most recent substantive survey into the act, is potentially denying us a generation of new performers.

The bill – which has the support of UK Music, the Musicians Union, Equity and the National Campaign for the Arts – amends the Licensing Act in three respects.

First, the bill establishes an exemption for live music in small venues. The exemption applies to a venue that has a licence for the sale of alcohol and has a permitted capacity of not more than 200 people. The live music can also only take place between 8am and midnight on the same day. This exemption is conditional on a mechanism that can trigger a local authority review and make live music in a venue licensable if complaints by local residents are upheld.

Second, the bill reintroduces the two-in-a-bar rule so that any performance of unamplified and minimally amplified live music of up to two people is exempt from the need for a licence.

Finally, the bill contains a total exemption for hospitals, schools and colleges from the requirement to obtain a licence for live music when providing entertainment where alcohol is not sold, and the entertainment involves no more than 200 persons. This will enable schools, colleges and hospitals to perform concerts and music therapy treatments which currently require licences.

The government's consultation on this issue is flawed. The proposed exemption for up to 100 people is inadequate. The live music bill, supported by the recommendation of the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee, proposes that a figure of 200 would result in a more effective exemption.

The timing of the consultation and the process by which an exemption can be achieved is also put in jeopardy by the imminent general election which means the bill presents the most realistic opportunity to get a small gigs exemption in place this year. You can demonstrate your support for the bill by signing up to the No 10 Downing Street petition in support of the bill's aims.

 

14th January   

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Extending the VRA to Northern Ireland
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

Northern Ireland AssemblyTranscript from Legislative Consent Motion Executive Committee Business Northern Ireland Assembly debates, 11 January 2010

Nelson McCausland (DUP): I beg to move

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the Video Recordings Bill.

This is a short Bill that will repeal and revive certain provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984. The Bill is needed because it has recently come to light that penalties for offences under that Act are unenforceable. That is due to a failure to notify certain provisions in the 1984 Act and the labelling regulations that were made under it to the European Commission under the European Union's technical standards directive. The aim of the Video Recordings Bill is to rectify that situation.

The Video Recordings Act 1984 introduced a system of classification for video films and some video games. It created a series of offences concerning the supply of classified videos and video games to persons under certain ages. The 1984 Act also contains offences concerning the supply of unclassified material. The Act requires that videos, DVDs and certain boxed video games would be classified by the British Board of Film Classification. It makes it illegal to supply unclassified material and to supply age-restricted material to people below the specified age rating. It also limits distribution of adult films material.

Video and film classification is a transferred matter, because it is not listed in schedules 2 or 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The criminal law, and the creation of offences and penalties, remains expressly reserved under paragraph 9 of schedule 3 to the 1998 Act until the devolution of policing and criminal justice matters takes place. Without the repeal and revival of the Video Recordings Act 1984, the penalties for offences under that Act are unenforceable, and we are unable to protect the public and our children from the distribution of inappropriate and offensive material.

When passed, the Video Recordings Bill will come into force and will become the Video Recordings Act 2010. It will extend to England, Wales and Scotland, and, if the Assembly agrees to the legislative consent motion, it will extend to Northern Ireland. Consent for Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Bill has been sought from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure and from the Executive.

Both have given their consent to proceed with the proposed Bill. The Assembly must now consider the principle of extending the Bill to Northern Ireland. We need a united approach to video and film classification across the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and to the matter of criminal offences and penalties, as well as the enforcement mechanism for those offences.

Our children and vulnerable adults must be protected. I hope that Members will agree and support the motion, which has been designed to allow a parallel timetable for delivery and to ensure that the legislation continues to be consistent across the United Kingdom.

Barry McElduff (Sinn Féin)

The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure considered the legislative consent motion on the Video Recordings Bill at its meeting on 3 December 2009. The Committee had been briefed by departmental officials on the implications of the Bill three weeks earlier on 12 November 2009.

The Committee agreed, on a without-prejudice basis, to support the motion, which will see the extension of the provisions of the Video Recordings Bill to this region. The Committee understands that the purpose of the Bill is straightforward, as the Minister outlined. Its purpose is to repeal and revive the existing provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 in order to make the criminal offences in that Act enforceable. That will mean that proper public protections are in place around the supply and classification of age-related films and video games. The Committee welcomes that move and the positive implications for protecting children and young people.

The Committee welcomes the extension of the provisions of the Video Recordings Bill to this region, and I commend the motion to the House.

..followed by supportive speeches from other parties and members...

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved: That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the Video Recordings Bill.

 

13th January   

Update: Exempt from Reason...

Andrew Dismore sponsors Video Recordings (Exempt from Classification) Bill
Link Here  full story: VRA Exempt...Video Recordings (Exemption from Classification) Bill

Andrew DismoreAndrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):

I beg to move, that leave be given to introduce a Bill to extend the criteria under which music and sports video works and documentaries lose their exemption from classification.

Although we passed-or perhaps I should say re-passed-the Video Recordings Bill last week, for technical reasons of urgency it was not practical to propose amendments at that stage. However, some small but highly significant amendments are needed to ensure a more robust regime for child protection. As chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I am an ardent supporter of the right to free speech and expression, but I acknowledge the need for a system of regulation that protects children from harmful content in film, videos and DVDs.

At the current time, we have a very effective system of classification. The British Board of Film Classification undertakes extensive research into public opinion about what is acceptable content. The BBFC also takes account of research evidence and the advice of psychologists, health care professionals and the police, among others, to produce guidelines, which are updated every four years, that ensure that the content that reaches children in the UK legally in the form of film, DVDs and videos is of an age-appropriate nature and is not harmful to them.

However, there are gaps in the current regime covering videos and DVDs under the Video Recordings Act 1984-the VRA-and that is what my Bill aims to address. The VRA permits a number of exemptions to the classification regime. Currently they relate not only to video games but to other video works such as music and sports videos. When the Act was passed in 1984, the assumption was that such works were unlikely to cause any concern. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has recognised that the regime for video games needs to be updated, and the Digital Economy Bill, currently in the other place, is intended to do so. As an aside, it is important to note that in doing so it should in no way undermine the classification regime for linear-non-interactive-material by confusing the responsibilities of the BBFC and those of the Video Standards Council, which is intended to be the statutory authority for classifying video games.

Except in relation to video games, exemptions are unfortunately not addressed in the Digital Economy Bill. That is a missed opportunity and the reason why I have chosen to bring forward my Bill, which would extend the criteria under section 2 of the VRA to result in specified video works losing exemption from classification. At present, exemption can be claimed for video works such as music and sports videos, which can be very popular with children. Those videos can then be sold to children perfectly legally, even if they contain material that is potentially harmful. My Bill is not intended to extend the VRA to all such exempted works, only to those that contain content that is potentially harmful, such as graphic violence, sexual content falling 12 Jan 2010 : Column 561 short of actual sexual activity, imitable dangerous behaviour and drug use. Harmless video works of football matches or artists from the The X Factor would remain exempt.

I have seen some of the less benign sport and music videos myself. For example, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's UFC Best of 2007 is a combat video featuring martial arts and other fighting techniques. It is available on the high street to any child because its distributor has, quite legally, claimed exemption from BBFC classification under the VRA. It therefore carries no age rating or consumer advice. It contains close-up images of bloody and sustained head blows, which are replayed in slow motion from every conceivable angle to ensure that the best possible view is given of the moments of impact.

Another work that I have seen is Motley Cre's Greatest Video Hits , which features topless lap dancing and a George W. Bush lookalike in a limousine with a prostitute. The packaging carries an E for exempt rating. Gorgoroth's Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam features bloody bodies being crucified and a sheep's head on a spike. The American band Slipknot is hugely popular with children, some as young as 10, as well as with teenagers. As expected from the band's reputation, its 10th anniversary DVD features strong content designed to offend parents. Among the most concerning images are those of the consequences of self-mutilation carried out by two teenage girls who have carved the name Slipknot into their arm and torso respectively, yet the video carries a letter E in a green triangle indicating that it is exempt from VRA classification.

Those are all works that parents could and should legitimately expect to be regulated, yet under the current legislation they can all be sold legally without any age restriction. Indeed, it is worth noting that some of that material is rated and age-restricted in other countries. For example, the German film classification body rated the Slipknot DVD as suitable only for those aged 16 and above and the Gorgoroth DVD as suitable only for adults.

Trading standards officers would welcome the power to prosecute the supply of such unclassified works, but believe that the current legislation exempts them because, for example, they do not contain gross violence, which is a very high threshold, or actual sexual activity. Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, which represents local authorities on this matter, and the BBFC both support my Bill's minor amendments to section 2 of the VRA in order to broaden the criteria that determine when a video work loses its exemption. Such amendments would enable law enforcement agencies to prosecute the supply of video works that are currently exempted, to protect children from potentially harmful media content.

I understand that the Government believe that the enforcement authorities can already take such action. However, the view of those who actually have that responsibility is that they cannot, because of the very high bar set by the VRA in order to lose an exemption. For example, had the Slipknot DVD shown the two girls actually in the process of mutilating themselves with a sharp blade, that may well have constituted gross violence under the VRA, but showing the scars after the event almost certainly does not constitute violence sufficient to lose exemption from classification.

Many responsible members of the home entertainment industry voluntarily seek classification certificates for exempted video works that contain such potentially harmful material. Members of the British Video Association-the BVA-do so even though they are not legally obliged so to do. Their actions in this regard are to be commended. I understand that BVA members support amendments to the Video Recordings Act that would make it a legal obligation on distributors to have potentially harmful material classified, as proposed in my Bill, but there are distributors who do not take the same responsible attitude. That lack of a level playing field serves only to add to consumer confusion.

A parent looking through a shelf of music or fighting videos, some of which are rated 15 or 18, but some of which are marked E for exempt, is likely reasonably to draw the conclusion that the E video is suitable for younger children. Otherwise, the parents would assume, surely it would have been classified. Yet often, the content of E for exempt videos is virtually identical to or worse than that of an age-restricted product. I would therefore like to urge my hon. Friend the Minister to support this Bill.

To conclude, this Bill is aimed at modernising the VRA and improving consumer-and most particularly-parental empowerment, to protect their vulnerable children from harmful video material. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, that Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mike Gapes, Rob Marris, Mr. Virendra Sharma, Mr. Edward Timpson, John Austin, Ms Karen Buck, Clive Efford, Mr. John Whittingdale, Judy Mallaber and Keith Vaz present the Bill.

Mr. Andrew Dismore accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 February and to be printed.

 

13th January   

Comment: Video Recordings Bill...

Re Commons debate replacement VRA
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

Keith VazThe Video Recordings Bill completed all Parliamentary stages in the House of Commons on 6 January 2010 without opposition and has now passed to the House of Lords for consideration.

Thanks to Alan:

Scarcely credible! Is it actually compulsory to be a sanctimonious twat in order to stand for parliament? Do these deeply unsavoury see-you-next-Tuesdays ever consider that no other major European country finds it necessary to have home videos approved by a censorship body?

It confirms me in my long-held belief that there's only one person to enter parliament whose motives were beyond reproach - and we remember him on the fifth of November.

 

11th January   

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Commons debate replacement VRA
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

Keith VazThe Video Recordings Bill completed all Parliamentary stages in the House of Commons on 6 January 2010 without opposition and has now passed to the House of Lords for consideration.

During the short debate Keith Vaz got a few whinges in:

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour) :

Does the Minister intend, in his speech, to touch on the Byron review and the Government's commitment to prevent violent video games falling into the hands of young people? Are the Government still committed to the conclusions of Byron? Will the recommendations be implemented in full? When will the Digital Economy Bill come before the House? It deals with all the other issues that the Minister cannot deal with in the context of the present Bill.

Siôn Simon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Birmingham, Erdington, Labour):

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a tireless advocate of his views on the subject. Yes, the Government are committed to Byron and to child safety. The work of the Internet Watch Foundation and the Department for Children, Schools and Families-led group that has been set up in an unprecedented way across Government to look at all child safety issues online is very important, groundbreaking and central to what the Government are doing. As my right hon. Friend knows, those are matters not for today, but for the Digital Economy Bill, which is now in another place.

Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me a second time. He talked about the boxed games. One of the concerns is that when people buy video games, there is not sufficient notice on those games that they have adult content, which is central to what the Video Recordings Bill hopes to do-to ensure proper enforcement. Is there anything in the proposal or in any measure that the Government propose to introduce in the near future that will ensure that when retailers sell such games, it is clear that they have adult content-that is, by increasing the very small notification on the box that it is an adult game?

Siôn Simon: As my right hon. Friend knows, child safety, boxed games, and good information that is readily understandable by the public when adult content is included in games or DVDs are central to our approach and to the Byron recommendation that content should be clearly labelled and that content unsuitable for children should not be made available for children.

However, that is not a matter for today. None of the provisions that we are discussing today in this short two-clause Bill will affect that in any way. The size of the rating symbols on the boxes is a subject which I know my right hon. Friend and I will discuss at length in the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill. I look forward to that, but it is not something that I should be diverted into discussing today.

And on the subject of exempting games and sports videos from censorship:

Edward Vaizey (Shadow Minister (Arts), Culture, Media and Sport; Wantage, Conservative):

There is some concern that music and sports videos remain exempt from classification. Again, that exemption could have been removed in a draft submitted to the European Commission. There is overwhelming support for removing the exemptions. There is not a shred of logic or intellectual credibility to keeping music and sports videos exempt. Why should something be exempt just because it is of a particular genre? As I said to the right hon. Member for Leicester, East, we are worried about inappropriate content being distributed to minors and adults. Whether it is in a video game, DVD, film, a music video or something related to sport is irrelevant. The exemption is bizarre. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees-he is nodding.

Keith Vaz: I do not agree that we are talking about the same thing. A film with inappropriate content is not interactive. The point about video games, which is backed up by research from America, is that the player is part of the process. Players shoot and stab people in a video game, and that is different. I accept that inappropriate content is wrong, wherever it is found, but video games are different.

Edward Vaizey: I continue to assume that the right hon. Gentleman is against hardcore pornography and offensive content. For example, a video by the band Slipknot, which includes self-mutilation by teenagers, remains unclassified. Before we get into a debate on censorship, I am not saying that that content cannot be viewed by responsible adults, or that the video by Motley Cre, which depicts a George Bush lookalike with a prostitute, could not be viewed by responsible 18-year-olds. However, I think that all hon. Members agree that it should not be viewed by a 10-year-old, and should therefore be classified so that parents know, if their 10 or 11-year-old comes home saying, I've got the latest Motley Cre video exactly what it could contain. It is extraordinary that music and sports videos are exempt. We will continue to press for the removal of that exemption. However, we are where we are; the Bill has been introduced in its current form and we do not intend to stand in its way.

...

To pick up on the comments of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East about the Byron report, which focuses on keeping children safe in a digital world, I am genuinely interested in the Under-Secretary's thoughts about how and whether content should be regulated online. As he knows, an increasing number of video distributors submit their films for classification to the BBC for an online rating, but obviously more unscrupulous dealers do not do that. The legislation does nothing to ensure that there are any sanctions against people who distribute videos online.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour):

...

My second point is about the general debate concerning video games. I am keen not to stray beyond the measures of the Video Recordings Act 1984, but there were some very interesting comments from the Front Benches about their commitment to ensuring that the thriving and innovative video games industry in the United Kingdom, and particularly in London, survives. I am not against what is being proposed, and I have never been in favour of censorship; I have always been very clear that those who are aged 18-plus should be able to buy and watch whatever video games they want. Those who are not sufficiently old should not be able to do so, however, and those retailers who are prosecuted under this Act must be dealt with very severely indeed.

I say that because I disagree with the hon. Member for Wantage, in that I do not believe that watching a film is the same as participating in a video game. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have very young grandchildren, and I have children aged 14 and 12. A huge amount of research has been done on the issue, and it has been found that a half of all eight to 11-year-olds use the internet without adult supervision. I do not know how many Members present have children or grandchildren aged between eight and 11, but it is a real worry that a half of those in that age group are not supervised by adults when using the internet.

Some parents take the home computer out of their children's rooms and put it in a room where everyone has access to it so that they can watch over what their children are doing online. Parents have different ways of dealing with that issue, but the fact is that watching a violent film is different from participating in a video game. If a young person gets hold of Modern Warfare 2 , for example, they will be asked to participate in a terrorist attack; they will be asked to shoot at civilians in Moscow airport as part of the game. That is why the Russian Government have banned Modern Warfare 2 ; they felt that in an age when we are trying to educate our children about the need to understand the dangers of extreme violence, we should not place in their hands, under the guise of entertainment, games that allow them to act in a violent way.

I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about the Digital Economy Bill coming before this House soon, and it is always the hope of Ministers that such Bills will come to the House from the other place quickly, but I have counted that we have just 35 working days from now until 31 March. Nobody knows when the next general election will be held, of course, but there are only 35 complete working days in which legislation can be addressed in this House.

John Whittingdale (Maldon & East Chelmsford, Conservative):

The right hon. Gentleman refers to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 . It is already rated 18 and therefore it is already illegal to sell it to somebody who is under age, without the Digital Economy Bill needing to be passed. I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on the necessity of passing that Bill, but there are already provisions in place that prevent children from playing that game.

Keith Vaz:

...

The Byron recommendations must be implemented in full, as doing so will help to strengthen what the Government are trying to do enormously. As far as video recordings are concerned, I pay tribute to what the Government have done over the past few years. There has been a huge leap forward since I first took up this issue, along with others, after young Stefan Pakeerah, from Leicester, was stabbed to death in a park in Leicester in circumstances similar to those found in a video game watched by his killer, Warren Leblanc. I know that the judge in that case said that there was no connection, but the mother of the young boy stabbed to death felt very strongly that there was. Following subsequent meetings with two Prime Ministers and many Ministers, the Government have pushed forward on the matter.

I welcome what the Government have done, but it remains the case that any Member of the House can walk into any video store subject to the Video Recordings Act 1984, pick up a box set and see a tiny-it is still tiny-reference to the age limit for those playing the game. Through various campaigns involving people on all sides, we increased the 18 certificate sign from about the size of a 1p piece to probably the size of a 10p or, possibly, 50p piece. Actually, we have always said that, as with cigarette packets, splashed across the front of a violent video game should be the fact that it has adult content-and good luck to over-18s who wish to buy it! That would bring the fact to the attention of retailers who might, sometimes inadvertently, sell the game to someone under the age of 18.

I was interested to hear the statistics put forward by the hon. Member for Wantage on the number of stores that have been prosecuted. I have been after those statistics for some time. They are good news. The last time some mystery shopping was done-Trevor McDonald on one of his ITV programmes sent in a load of under-18 mystery shoppers-they were sold video games for over-18s, but the stores were not prosecuted. I welcome the fact that the figures are quite high. We are going through the bother of trying to get the Bill through quickly, and we should send out a message that legislation passed by the House will be implemented and that those who break the law will be prosecuted.

Don Foster (Bath, Liberal Democrat):

...

I share the concern expressed by the current shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr. Hunt, about DVDs and videos relating to sport, religion and music that do not carry ratings but which often contain material that many of us would think inappropriate, in particular for sale to young people. Such videos include self-mutilation, erotic dancing, sex toys, drug use and so on.

The Minister's officials have made clear a point that was not picked up by the hon. Member for Wantage. They have said:

Music, sports or religious videos lose their exemption from classification if they depict sexual activity, mutilation, gross violence or other practices likely to cause offence, and that in those circumstances, it is for the appropriate enforcement authorities to take action.

The implication is that there is no need for an amendment, because other bits of legislation could be used to prosecute people distributing such material. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that issue, because it is one that those in probably all parts of the House want to be resolved. My concern is to find out the means by which it is going to be resolved, or whether the Minister believes, as his officials appear to be saying, that there is no problem and that action can be taken under existing legislation.

And on the subject of online distribution:

John Whittingdale:

...

I wish to make a few observations about the Video Recordings Act 1984. I always approach any such legislation with some suspicion, as I am fundamentally opposed to censorship. I believe that in a free society it is up to adults to choose what they wish to see, but there are two important qualifications to that. The first is that there will always be some material that is so unacceptable in its violent or explicitly sexual content that it is deemed to be damaging to people to view it. I accept that, and some examples have been given in the debate.

I shall return to that matter, but perhaps more important is the fact that while adults are free to choose, we have always accepted that children require protection. I join right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of the BBFC. It is in the area of age classification that some of the most difficult decisions have to be taken. The film that required perhaps more cuts than any other, some time ago now, was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , because the distributor was keen that it should be given a certificate that meant children were able to see it. The BBFC felt that it contained inappropriate material, and there was lengthy negotiation. A lot of the controversy about films such as The Dark Knight and Casino Royale is about whether they should appropriately be a 12 or a 15.

The virtue of the 1984 Act was that it extended that protection, which already existed in cinemas, to viewing in the home. The Minister gave the statistics on the extent to which viewing in the home has taken off in the past 20 years. When the Act was originally introduced back in 1984, it was accompanied by a degree of what one can only call hysteria about video nasties, and it is worth reflecting on what has happened to some of the most notorious examples of films that were widely cited at that time.

The then Minister, Mr. David Mellor, named three films in the course of the debate. The first was The Driller Killer , which was banned after the passage of the 1984 Act but then released uncut in 2002, and last night I checked and found that it is available on Amazon for £3.98. The second was Zombie Flesh Eaters . That, too, was banned under the Act but then released uncut in 2005 and can now be found on Amazon at £5.98. The third was I Spit On Your Grave , which was also on the list of prosecutable movies until 2001 but was then released, although with substantial cuts made by the BBFC, and is now widely available. Perhaps the most remarkable example is a film that was on the Director of Public Prosecution's list of films that were banned, Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead , which at the time was regarded as wholly unacceptable but, indicating how tastes change, two years ago was given away free with copies of The Sun as a promotional move.

There is no question but that tastes change and that we have become more liberal, which I welcome. However, as I said, there will always be films that go beyond what is generally regarded as acceptable. The Minister mentioned one particular film, Grotesque . Two films were banned by the BBFC in 2008. The first was Murder-Set-Pieces , described as having scenes in which a psychopathic sexual serial killer...is seen raping, torturing and murdering his victims .

The second has the unlikely title of The Texas Vibrator Massacre -I leave its contents to the imagination of hon. Members. I shall return to those two films in a moment.

My hon. Friend Mr. Vaizey made the important point that there are loopholes in the existing legislation, which existed for good reasons at the time. It was not regarded as possible that a video concerning music or sport could be unacceptable. That loophole has undoubtedly been exploited. I hosted a dinner that the BBFC gave in the House just before Christmas, at which it showed us examples of some of the material that is now available in music videos and sports games that does not require certification because of the loophole in the 1984 Act. I understand why the Government did not feel able to address that matter in the Bill, but I share the wish that has been expressed that the loophole should be closed, and I hope that it will be in the Digital Economy Bill.

The second main point that I wish to make is that at the time of the passage of the 1984 Act, the world was completely different. Mr. Graham Bright, the Member who moved Second Reading, said that he defined a video recording as a video tape or video disc. It is thus a physical product. -[ Hansard, 11 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 525.]

Of course, it is now not necessarily a physical product. More and more video is being made available through online distribution, which at the time perhaps could not even have been conceived. We are seeking to address that through moves such as those by the BBFC to impose a voluntary system of regulation, but the films that we are concerned about are now very widely available. I return to the two that I mentioned, Murder-Set-Pieces and The Texas Vibrator Massacre . I checked last night and found that both those films are widely available through file sharing sites. An internet search for either with the words download or bit torrent will bring up any number of sites from which one can obtain them. Equally, they are available through cyberlockers. Both are on Megaupload and RapidShare and can be accessed without any attempt to verify the age of the person downloading them. There is serious concern about how we can continue to protect young people when it is now so easy to obtain such films.

We will debate the matter at greater length when we come to the measures against piracy through illegal file sharing that the Government are proposing to take in the Digital Economy Bill. It is worth remembering that it is not just protection of copyright that is at stake when we consider file sharing. There is equally the concern that it is being used to circumvent the protections that the House has put in place. In the most extreme cases, as I am sure the Minister will be aware, child pornography is being widely distributed through illegal file sharing. That is another reason why I share with other hon. Members the view that it is important that we get the Digital Economy Bill on to the statute book.

Having said that, I agree with the Minister that the majority of distribution of video content will still be through physical product for the foreseeable future, so it is certainly important that the Bill should be passed today and that we should reinstate the protections that we thought were already in place. However, there is a danger that we will be seen to be bolting the front door when the back door is wide open, and we will have to consider that in future.

That leads me to the more general conclusion that I suspect that there is nothing that this House can do to legislate to prevent the distribution of material online from sites that may be located on the other side of the world. When we consider what it is appropriate for people to view, we must remember that that is a matter for adults to decide. The most effective means that we can have to protect children is for parents to exercise responsibility, watch carefully what their children are doing and ensure that they are not obtaining access to content that could be damaging to them. I support the Bill, but I fear that it is beginning to look increasingly old-fashioned and outmoded given the extraordinary pace of development throughout the video sector.

Siôn Simon:

...

We have already congratulated the British Board of Film Classification on the job that it does, by which we meant the job of classifying films, but I think I ought also to congratulate it on the job that it does in lobbying Members of Parliament and providing briefing for these debates. Rarely can the entire participating body in a debate have been so thoroughly and extensively briefed by a single organisation. I visited the BBFC's offices fairly recently and heard its arguments about one or two aspects that we may not see in exactly the same way, but I think we are in accord on most of the issues that Members, in their different ways, have discussed today: that is, the central issues.

...

I am not sure whether I have fully covered the question of appeals and compensation, but in the absence of further interventions, I shall proceed to answer the questions about the potential for insertion of what might be described as the PEGI clauses of the Digital Economy Bill, which introduce the PEGI European classification system for video games in this country into this Bill.

One of the fundamental reasons why the House has considered the Bill, and why Opposition parties in both Houses have indicated that they consider it appropriate to fast-track it, is that we are not amending an existing piece of legislation which has been in force for 25 years. If the two main Opposition parties had come to us in advance and said We think it important to include the PEGI clauses , we might have been able to discuss the matter, but I do not think that that happened. We needed to act swiftly, and, legitimately, to use the special fast-track procedure. Part of the reason for concertina-ing the House's usual precautionary procedures was that we were making no change whatsoever. The point is that we need to get the legislation repealed and revived so that it can be amended during the passage of the Digital Economy Bill.

...

John Whittingdale: Is it the Government's intention to accept the other amendment that has been tabled to the Digital Economy Bill, which would remove the exemption for sport and music videos?

Siôn Simon: As things currently stand, we are not minded to accept that amendment, although I am not averse to talking about it. I take note of the uniformity of view on that matter, on the Labour Benches anyway. However, I know from my recent visit to the BBFC that it takes the strong view that we should make this change, and the BBFC is very influential in these matters.

Edward Vaizey: I should remind the Minister that on Tuesday one of his own Back Benchers, Mr. Dismore, is introducing a ten-minute Bill that would bring about this exemption, so there is all-party support for it.

Siôn Simon: I take that point. I do not have a strong, dogmatic view on this. I have considered it, and on balance I have come down on the side that says that given that it is about where we draw the line, the vast majority of content in music and sport videos does not need to be classified in this way, to the extent that it would be an intolerable burden. That is a reasonable position, and that is where I stand. We are not currently minded to accept an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to that end, although I do not take a dogmatic view on it.

 

9th January   

Digital Economy Bill...

Fast tracking Legislation mandating PEGI ratings for video games
Link Here

PEGI logoAs time winds down to the general elections, the UK government is attempting to push-through the Digital Economy Bill.

MCVUK reports that, while some aspects of the bill are still hotly contested, politicians are hoping to fast track at least some elements of the bill, including making the Pan-European Game Information PEGI ratings system enforceable by law.

Don Foster, Bath MP, stated: Swiftness is the essence of why we are here today. It is vital that we get back on to the statute book, as quickly as possible, legislation that provides protection against the sale of inappropriate material to children and counters the ability of people to sell pirate DVDs and so on.

Shadow Culture Minister Ed Vaizey added: The Digital Economy Bill will amend the 1984 Act and bring video games into a system of statutory classification using the European rating system known as PEGI—pan European game information. Broadly speaking, hon. Members of all parties support that. Everybody recognises that video games should be classified under a statutory system.

 

7th January   

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Replacement video recordings law completes in the Commons
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

House of Commons logoThe Video Recordings Bill was presented to Parliament on 15 December 2009. There was no debate on the Bill at this stage.

This Bill completed all Parliamentary stages in the House of Commons on 6 January 2010 without opposition and has now passed to the House of Lords for consideration.

Summary of the Bill:

The Bill repeals and revives, without amendment, the Video Recordings Act 1984. Its purpose is to rectify a procedural error made during the passage of the 1984 Act, thereby making the age-rated classification and supply controls contained in that Act enforceable in UK courts. The Bill would also allow the 1984 Act to be amended by the Digital Economy Bill 2009-10.

Video Recordings Bill:

1 Repeal and revival of provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984

(1) On the commencement of this Act, sections 1 to 17, 19, 21 and 22 of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (regulation of the distribution of video recordings)—

(a) cease to be in force, and

(b) having been notified to the European Commission in accordance with the Technical Standards Directive on 10 September 2009, come into force again by virtue of this subsection.

(2) In subsection (1) the Technical Standards Directive means Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations.

(3) The Schedule to this Act contains transitional provision.

2 Short title, commencement and extent

(1) This Act may be cited as the Video Recordings Act 2010.

(2) This Act comes into force on the day on which it is passed.

(3) This Act extends to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

5th January   

Call of Duty...

Tom Watson MP interviewed about his support of gamers
Link Here

Tom WatsonNowGamer have interviewed Tom Watson. The MP for West Bromwich East notable for starting a Facebook group called Gamer's Voice. This takes a more mature pro-gaming approach than the usual knee jerk blame bollox that we have come to expect from most politicians.

NowGamer: It's rare to hear a political voice, let alone an MP, speak out on the side of the games industry, so how have you got involved?

Tom Watson: Well, I love games and I'm inspired by the world of games that my kids are going to grow up in. The debate in Westminster is skewed against gamers. They need their voice heard. That's why I set up Gamers' Voice.

NowGamer: You seem to feel strongly that videogames are being misrepresented in parliament. Why do you think that is?

Tom Watson: There's a toxic mix of tabloid sensationalism and busy MPs who are too busy to plug in a console and enjoy themselves.

NowGamer: The gaming audience is getting older and the content of videogames seems to be following this trend by tackling darker and more adult topics, but in your opinion can a game go too far?

Tom Watson: It's about choice. There are games that repulse me. And as a parent, there are games that I won't let me kids get anywhere near. But as long as people know what the content is like, I don't have a problem.

NowGamer: The interactivity of games is often felt to make the way in which adult content is experienced in them significantly different from when seen in films or on TV. Do you agree with this position?

Tom Watson: I've never wept or screwed up my eyes in fear at a videogame. I have for plenty of films. The people who make the argument that games are more immersive and therefore dangerous should calm down.