Committee (7th Day)
Digital Economy Bill [HL]
Lord Davies of Oldham (Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household; Labour)
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contribution to this debate. However, I fear that we have two perspectives which do not agree and therefore I am going to argue the case that the amendment should be withdrawn. The amendments relate to that interesting case-the right reverend Prelate indicated just how interesting the situation can be-when film content is included in games and the extraordinary context in which certain actions can be carried out. We all recognise the problem. We all recognise that where a piece of film is found within a video game there is an issue of potential challenge. The Government's position, as outlined in the Bill, is clear and that is why I will be seeking to defend the Bill as it stands and seeking to identify why it would be a mistake to move away from the Bill in the way in which the amendments suggest.
The video games authority should determine the classification for the game but it has to make appropriate arrangements to seek the determination and views of the video works authority, the BBFC. It has to make arrangements to seek those views but only with respect to the film content, for which the BBFC, as has rightly been identified across the Committee, enjoys a high reputation in terms of the many years it has been involved in this work.
The video games authority must have regard to the views of the BBFC-the video works authority-in determining the final classification of the game. I want to emphasise that if it came to a question of a court of law on the issue and if we came to the point where the issues became serious enough to be taken to court, both the organisations would be able to appear and to give evidence if required. Nothing strikes the BBFC out of the assessment for the classification. It has an important role to play. If for any reason there was a contest in court about a film that it had classified it would be expected that it would submit its evidence on its judgment. We are not taking it out of the decision. However, what we are saying-this is what is really at stake between the position of the Bill and the amendments-is that we are fulfilling the key criteria put forward by Professor Tanya Byron when she presented her recommendations on the concept we should develop: that there must be a clear system which is simple and effective for consumers with regard to games. The video games authority is that system and must be identified as such.
Of course it does not come wreathed in laurels as the BBFC does, with its half a century and more of involvement in this. How can it; it is in a newer position? We are seeking to establish a clear authority for games. That is a prerequisite, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and to a certain extent the noble Lord, emphasised. Everyone, from parents who are concerned about their children to all who are concerned about content-the industry as well as the general public-must know where responsibility lies. The Bill makes it absolutely clear that the video games authority has that authority.
If the BBFC gave a separate classification certificate for filmed content in a video game, as the amendment proposes, it would surely undermine the purpose and effect of having a separate classification system for the games because we would have two classifications in operation or we would hand to the video works authority-to the BBFC-something that it had neither sought nor expected and that neither we, nor I think the mover of the amendment, seek to create. We are trying to establish the video games authority as the single authority that is responsible at the end of the day for classification.
The current wording in the Bill is both certain and rational. It makes sense for the BBFC to continue to classify filmed content-that is its well established role, for which it is held in high repute-and for the video games authority to classify video games where a game contains film content. Of course the video games authority must make sensible arrangements to obtain the BBFC's determinations on that filmed content and to classify the game as a whole while having regard to the BBFC's judgment. This allows the two designated authorities to work effectively together while respecting their individual roles and boundaries and giving to the public one clear authority that is responsible for the classification at the end of the day.
Arrangements that are so made by the video games authority with the BBFC must follow in the wake of consultation with the BBFC and have regard to any guidance that may be issued. As I have indicated, when it operates in that circumstance, it must have regard to the fact that if anything reached an unhappy pass and went to a court of law, the BBFC's evidence would also make a valid contribution to the court's proceedings. We seek a pragmatic and uncomplicated but co-operative approach that vests authority in one place.
We have set down the framework for an effective way of handling video games that takes on board and respects the BBFC's distinct role, which has been attested to in this short debate. This means that publishers have certainty about how games will be handled by the video games authority, and consumers have certainty and clarity about the type of content that they are buying.
That is in the Bill. I understand the anxieties that have given rise to the amendment, but I hope in the light of my explanation that it will be seen that nothing more is required in the Bill and that the amendment is otiose and can be safely withdrawn.