Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour)
It is a great pleasure to follow Andrea Leadsom. I had no idea there were so many issues involving wind farms in her constituency. When I travel up the M1 to Leicester on Friday, I shall be looking out for them, and I know that if local people need a champion against them, they have the best possible MP, as the hon. Lady’s speech today illustrates.
I wish to talk about violent video games. I want to make it clear that I am not against video games as such. I know that members of the public—and, indeed, Members of this House—play them and that the Prime Minister’s favourite video game is “Fruit Ninja”. I am not against those who play video games, therefore, but I have had concerns about violent video games for a number of years.
The issue was brought to my attention by the mother of a 14-year-old young man, Stefan Pakeerah, who was stabbed repeatedly by 17-year-old Warren Leblanc in Leicester in 2004. During the trial it became clear that
Warren Leblanc had become obsessed with a game called “Manhunt”. My interest in examining the issues associated with video games began with that case. I had meetings with Mrs Pakeerah with successive Prime Ministers, all of whom promised to do more to deal with violent video games.
I am glad to say that progress has been made, and I will discuss that later in my speech, but unfortunately some of the games have become even more violent. Only a few weeks ago, the coroner in the inquest in the case of Callum Green, a 14-year-old who committed suicide in Stockport after playing “Call of Duty” on a regular basis with his stepfather, said the following about video games:
“It’s very important that young children don’t play them or have access to them.”
Anders Breivik, who has recently been convicted of the murder of 69 young people on an island outside Oslo, was shown in his trial also to be obsessed with “Call of Duty”. In March 2012, Mohamed Merah killed seven people in three gun attacks in Toulouse, and he, too, was obsessed with the same violent video game.
I am not saying that over-18s should be prevented from playing any games that they want; my concern has always been that these games fall into the hands of under-18s, some of whom become susceptible to the violence played out in them. People have asked what the difference is between somebody getting into an 18-plus film and somebody playing a video game. The difference is that a violent video game is interactive. Obviously I do not support under-18s going to see violent films, but even if they get in to view a film they are not participants in what is going on.
A lot of independent research has been done on this matter. The university of Indiana found that young men who played violent video games for 10 hours a week exhibited less activity in frontal brain regions associated with emotional control and cognitive functions. Other research conducted by universities all points to problems that occur with young people—those under the age of 18—having access to these games, which is why the previous Government set up the Byron review. Tanya Byron, a celebrated columnist for The Times, produced an excellent report, but the tragedy is that her recommendations have still not been implemented.
The Deputy Leader of the House will be making his first speech from the Dispatch Box, and I congratulate him most warmly on his appointment. He is a former member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and I said to other members of the Committee, “Look how well he has done.” If they all work hard and eat their cereals, they will end up speaking for the Government one day. I congratulate him, because I know that when he replies he will be examining the points I am making. Will he please tell us when he anticipates the Byron review being implemented? Tanya Byron did a great job, and it is extremely important that if we set up commissions—I know that this was done under the previous Government—we actually accept their recommendations.
There are three responsibilities associated with violent video games, the first of which is the responsibility of the video games makers. We, in London, are at the heart of the creative industries. The Government have recently given tax breaks to those who make video games, so they have a responsibility to ensure that when they produce games of a violent nature, they accept that there is a possibility that the games will fall into the hands of children.
When we started this campaign, many years ago, the size of the warning on the packet was very small—it was non-existent. It was then increased to about the size of a 1p piece and, eventually, to the size of a 10p piece. The first responsibility is that when the packaging is produced it should make it very clear that the video game is violent so that everybody knows that it is for someone over the age of 18.