I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I confess that I had mixed feelings when my name was drawn at the top of the ballot for Private Members' Bills. I was of course delighted to have so favourable an opportunity to introduce legislation, but I was extremely conscious that my choice of subject would deal with an area of policy which arouses wide public concern. I was convinced that action was required to deal with the sale of video recordings depicting unrestrained violence, sexual abuse, mutilation and murder. Everything that I have learnt in the intervening months has confirmed that view.
The necessary action to control the supply of objectionable video recordings will be possible only with the widest possible support in the House and throughout the country. I am therefore deeply conscious of the responsibility that lies on me in laying these proposals before the House. I have no doubt about the rising tide of public anxiety on this issue. It is a concern that is rightly shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The support that I have received for my proposals reflects the common view that new legislation should come into force as soon as possible.
The Bill is longer than is customary for a Private Members' Bill, but its purpose is clear and simple. It ensures that, subject to certain exemptions, a video recording can be supplied commercially only if it has been classified by an authority designated by the Secretary of State. It would be an offence punishable by severe financial penalties to supply, offer to supply or possess for the purpose of supply a video recording containing material which had not been classified by that authority. It will be an offence also to supply, or offer to supply, a video recording in breach of conditions attached to the classification certificate — for example, to sell to a person under the age of 18 a video classified as suitable only for those over that age. I have been spurred on by the need to protect young people.
In explaining the need for the Bill, I make no apology for referring to the exhibition put on by the Metropolitan police in the House last week. I believe that that explained once and for all that we are talking about videos that are in excess of the sort of Hammer horror films about which people originally thought I was talking. The exhibition was a compilation of some of the worst material appearing on what have become known as video nasties, some of which were widely distributed throughout the country—we should not forget that. Many hon. Members who are now in the Chamber were present at that exhibition and, as they know, this compilation drawn from several different titles featured scene after scene of revolting violence, including sickening sexual abuse, mutilation and even cannibalism. I know that several hon. Members had to leave the room before the end of the showing, and I do not blame them for that. Many others, like me, had to turn away from some of the scenes.
The principal case for the Bill is that, without it, new video nasties will be produced and distributed. There will be no guaranteed way of ensuring that material like this — perhaps not always as extreme, but sufficiently extreme to be deeply distressing—is not supplied in the high street in the same way as innocuous goods like cornflakes and toothpaste.
I cannot emphasise too strongly that these video cassettes can have a deeply disturbing and possibly damaging effect on many people who see them — a number of reports have illustrated this point. Some of them should never be allowed on the shelves of the high street shops. I believe that the public are entitled to know the type of films they are being asked to buy. Members of Parliament are, as a breed, not easily shocked nor. for the most part, are they killjoys or puritans. I challenge anyone to come forward with any good reason why scenes such as the brutal gang rape of a girl, which we witnessed last week, should be freely distributed on video recordings made available to the public. There is no conceivable artistic or narrative reason for that. Producers and suppliers of this base and debasing material have only one aim—to supply the worst elements of human nature for profit. Surely no one could defend the right of people to deal in such material when, by its nature, it may fall into the hands of children and, I believe, damage their view of adult life for ever.
The background to this legislation is that video recordings for home viewing do not at present have to be classified before being offered for sale or rental. They are, however, subject to general criminal law, including the Obscene Publications Acts. These make it an offence to supply an obscene article or to have such an article for supply for gain. Obscene video recordings are, accordingly, liable to prosecution under section 2 and to forfeiture under section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. Successful criminal proceedings have been taken against certain suppliers of video recordings, and I believe that further proceedings are pending.
There are a number of problems in relying on the Obscene Publications Act to deal with objectionable video recordings. First, the law can begin to bite when a decision has been taken to bring a prosecution or to order the forfeiture of a video recording containing a particular work. Until that time, video material which subsequently may be found to be obscene may be freely available, even to young people. Sometimes it takes 18 months to two years before the law begins to bite.
Secondly, a retailer may not know whether a particular title is objectionable. It is estimated that there are about 6,000 different video works in circulation, and customers may have no idea whether a particular work contains material that they would not wish to see or, most importantly, whether it is suitable for their children. Most frightening, under the law as it stands, children can get hold of material which is totally unsuitable for them, and some of this material may subsequently be found to be obscene. One shudders at the impact that the type of material I have described could have on a child or on certain adults. What impression would such a film leave on a young mind? I emphasise that I am not talking about the type of violence that one might expect to find in westerns or war films, with which children of many generations have grown up, with no obvious ill effects. I have in mind the material of the most explicit, cruel and bloody nature, which those who were present at the exhibition last week saw.
Thirdly, the 1959 Act does not contain an easy definition of "obscene" and the courts can hold differing views on whether an article is caught by the Act.
Our concern goes further than the type of material which might be caught by the 1959 Act. A large number of video recordings may be on the borderline of obscenity or fall just below it. They may, nevertheless, contain scenes which are so disturbing or distressing that they raise questions about whether they should be supplied commercially. At the very least—this applies also to the whole range of video material—the public are entitled to know precisely what they are being asked to buy or rent and the suitability of that material for viewing by a particular age group.
Some form of censorship exists already for cinemas, but the case for control is at least as great — if not greater—for videos in the home. In recent years, there has been considerable growth in the sale of video equipment and the availability of video recordings. Retail outlets have sprung up in large numbers; many of these rent, rather than sell, video cassettes often as cheaply as £1 or £2 an evening. Therefore, it is easy for children to get hold of and to play video material. I have received hundreds of letters explaining how youngsters have clubbed together with their pocket money and got hold of these recordings. The facilities provided by video recorders allow particular frames to be frozen and enable the viewer endlessly to repeat the worst scenes. The Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship — admittedly in the context of films — referred to the uniquely powerful impact of visual images. Precisely the same could be said of videos in the home.
I have deliberately concentrated on some of the worst material on the market — this is, after all, what has prompted the Bill. That does not mean, however, that this is typical of the material available on video. Many productions give great enjoyment and wholesome pleasure to many people. I know that responsible members of the video industry, who are by far the majority, are as worried as I am about the actions of those who operate on the fringes. Unfortunately, the activities of those on the fringes tarnish the image of the whole industry. Reputable dealers want the industry to be regulated as much as I do; that is why many organisations representing the interests of the video industry support the aims of the Bill. I am pleased that they do.
I was at great pains during the drafting of the Bill to consult all those with an interest. I had detailed discussions with several of the organisations representing the video industry to ensure that the Bill's proposals are sensible, and, above all, workable. If the House decides to give the Bill a Second Reading today, I shall continue to make myself available for discussions with interested parties during the Bill's passage.
I pay particular tribute to the responsible attitude taken by the British Videogram Association Ltd. which drew up proposals for a voluntary system for classification of video works. My scheme has many similarities to its proposed system. The groundwork put in by the association has been of considerable assistance. Inevitably, my proposals differ in one crucial respect — my scheme has teeth; the association's, regrettably, did not. The British Videogram Association's voluntary system would have applied only to association members. The only available sanctions would have been the commercial pressure which could have been exercised on members. That would have represented a considerable step forward from the present arrangements, but it would have been insufficient because it would have lacked the force of sanctions applied by the law.
The voluntary system would not have applied to those at the margins who deal in objectionable material; such people would have continued to be at liberty to sell objectionable material, subject only to the somewhat cumbersome checks imposed by the Obscene Publications Acts. However, it is precisely those people who should be brought within the net of control. I am afraid that, even if by some means they could have been brought within the net of the BVA's proposed scheme, informal controls would not have been sufficient to deal with their transgressions, nor would the wider public have been reassured. It is important to reassure the public.
However, I emphasise that it is very much in its interests for this new and dynamic industry to have a proper statutory basis for the vetting of its output, in which both it and the public can have confidence. I am grateful for the advice and assistance that the industry has provided in preparing the Bill. Although there are one or two points on which there are differences between us, I am confident that it supports the Bill's objectives.
In considering how the legislation should be framed, I gave careful consideration to the introduction of a licensing system for shops dealing in video recordings similar to the system that applies to the exhibition of films and videos in cinemas or to the licensing system for sex establishments introduced by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. I decided that, in view of the large number of shops dealing in videos—there are about 25,000 — any licensing would have imposed great burdens on local authorities, with consequential problems of enforcement. In addition, such a system would have represented an unjustified restriction of trade. Hon. Members will know that I feel strongly about free trade and encouraging entrepreneurs. A further consideration was that a licensing system allowing local authorities to decide which categories of video material could be supplied might have given rise to regional variations that could have been extremely damaging to the industry.
By far the best approach is the one embodied in my Bill. It is the direct approach of requiring, with certain exemptions, all video cassettes and discs to be classified before they can be supplied to the public. Before I explain in detail how the scheme will operate, I should like to say a few words about my backers. I am pleased that they include Opposition as well as Conservative Members. I hope and believe that the Bill will enjoy the support of hon. Members from all parts of the House. I am sure that we are at one in wishing to protect children from the evils of video nasties.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) is supporting the Bill. As the House will recall, he introduced a Bill last Session under the ten minutes rule to deal with the problem that the Bill addresses. I pay tribute to him for his efforts to tackle the problem and thank him for his support to me in introducing the Bill.
It also gives me pleasure to welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). Three years ago when he enjoyed the same good fortune as me in being drawn at the top of the ballot he used the opportunity to steer through Parliament the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, which is a welcome contribution to the law and has had considerable impact since it came into force. I also thank my personal friends in the House, particularly many of the new Members, who have given me tremendous support. That gave me a great deal of encouragement.
Clause 1 defines some of the most important terms used in the Bill. Subsections (2) and (4) define "video work" and "video recording" respectively. Those terms appear throughout the Bill. It may assist the House if I explain that a video recording is a video tape or video disc. It is thus a physical product. On the other hand, a video work is a series of images that a video tape or disc is capable of producing. Subsection (3) is designed to ensure that bona fide video games are excluded from the provisions of the Bill. It is important to stress that at an early stage.
Subsection (5) defines "supply" in wide-ranging terms to stop any loophole that might arise if the definition were to be drawn more narrowly. However, as I shall explain, clause 3 defines supplies that are exempted for the purposes of the Bill. They include supplies that are neither for reward nor in the course or furtherance of a business.
Clauses 2 and 3 deal with exemptions from the Bill. It has always been my intention that certain video material and transactions should be exempted from the main provisions to minimise the burdens on the authority that will classify video works, on the industry and on members of the public. Clause 2 exempts a video work
if, taken as a whole—
In drawing up the legislation, however, one has felt very much like those who draft tax legislation must feel. It is necessary constantly to consider whether one is creating loopholes. In this case there is a danger that without suitable safeguards an unscrupulous producer might produce pornographic videos masquerading as sex education. Clause 2(2) provides therefore that a video work loses the benefit of the exemptions set out in subsection (1) if it is concerned with matters such as human sexual activity or gross violence or if it is designed to encourage or stimulate such activities. Any video works that lose the benefit of the exemption in that way are required to be classified by the designated authority in the ordinary way.
Clause 3 exempts certain types of supply. Subsection (2) exempts supplies that are not for reward nor in the course or furtherance of a business. That would include, for example, the gift or loan of a video recording from one friend to another. Subsection (4) is designed to ensure that the offences created by the Bill apply not only to the retailer but as far back in the chain of production and distribution as necessary. That is very important. I am anxious that the producer as well as the retailer of unclassified material should be liable to prosecution. However, the subsection ensures at the same time that only the final version of a video work needs to be classified. That is because of the structure of the video industry. A video work produced commercially often passes between several producers and suppliers, each of whom may make changes before it is ready for release to the public. It would be unreasonable to require each successive version of the work to be classified. Subsection (4) makes the appropriate provision to prevent that. The subsection also provides for the exemption of videos intended for export and not for supply to the public in this country.
Subsection (5) provides exemption for the supply of a video work providing a record of an occasion or event to participants or those connected with participants in the event or occasion.
We are discussing not just undesirable matter but all productions. Works produced in this country for export will come under the legislation of the country to which it is exported, not that of this country. We are talking not just about nasties but about everything that has to be classified, including cartoons for children. It is important to understand that. We do not want to inhibit export trade in that area.
I was referring to subsection (5). Exemption is subject to the provision that I mentioned, on human sexual activity and gross violence. The subsection is designed primarily to exempt records of domestic occasions such as weddings and christenings.
Subsections (6) and (8) exempt the supply of a video recording when the supply is for the purposes of cinematograph exhibition, a broadcast by the BBC or the IBA or is to be distributed by a cable television operator. The Bill is not intended to deal with the exhibition of video material. That is a matter for other controls such as the licensing arrangements for cinemas and the requirements on matters such as taste and decency to which the broadcasting authorities are subject. For obvious reasons, subsection (9) exempts the supply of a video recording to the designated authority.
Clause 4 confers on the Secretary of State the power to designate any person or persons as the authority responsible for arranging for video works to be classified as suitable for showing. It will, of course, be entirely for the Secretary of State to designate the authority. 'The obvious candidate is the British Board of Film Censors. The board has great experience in this area and is a familiar and well-respected body which, in my view, would be well suited to the task. If, as I expect, the Home Secretary is minded to designate the board as the authority to classify video works, I imagine that he would first wish to satisfy himself on various matters, such as the provision of appropriate arangements for the board to consult and liaise with the video industry about the detailed implementation of the classification system.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the British Board of Film Censors. That body has existed for a long time as a self-regulating system within the industry. Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind or accept the possibility that the Standing Committee will go further towards self-regulation than the Bill now does?
Some hon. Members accept completely and enthusiastically the general objectives of the Bill but are worried about state intervention in censorship and control. We wish to see the objectives pursued in legislation, but with the good British approach which supports self-regulation and does not involve the state unnecessarily in censorship.
When the Bill arrives in Committee, as I hope it will, will my hon. Friend consider seriously the possibility of issuing guidelines on the type of material which should be excluded from classification?
Although the Bill will restrict people below a certain age from buying or renting videos, that offers no protection to young people once those videos have been bought or rented by those above the permitted age limit. Although many hon. Members support entirely my hon. Friend's endeavours and the Bill's proposals, the answer to that question will be the crucial and determining factor on Third Reading.
As my hon. Friend has said, this issue can be explored in more detail in Committee. I have made it quite clear that my mind is not closed on any subject.
Some people may argue that the Bill should provide instead for the establishment of a statutory body to classify video works. I do not think that that would be appropriate. In my view, censorship is not a proper function for a Government body. If a statutory body were established, the Government could scarcely help being drawn into controversies about whether the classification of particular works was correct. I do not believe that that would be healthy. I think that the Secretary of State should be allowed to nominate a body as the authority for classifying video works and to let it get on with the job. If at any time the designated authority lost public confidence, it would be open to the Secretary of State to make a fresh designation. In my view, that represents a proper level of public accountability.
Clause 4(1) and (4) include requirements on the designated authority to keep records of its determinations and to pass them on to a successor authority which may be appointed. Subsections (5) and (6) provide that the tariff of fees to be charged by the designated authority is subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. I felt it important to provide such a safeguard against the imposition by the designated authority of fees for classification which might be regarded as unreasonably high.
Clause 5 deals with classification certificates. It provides, essentially, for the designated authority to make use of the same classification as the British Board of Film Censors currently applies to films intended for the cinema. Most of the classifications will be familiar to hon. Members. Clause 5(2)(c) provides for the issue of certificates corresponding to a less familiar category used by the British Board of Film Censors—Restricted (18). That classification is used by the board for material which, while not portraying extremes of violence or sexual material, generally contains material that is stronger or more explicit than that which would be given an 18 certificate. The classification shows that, in the view of the board, the film is suitable for exhibition only in club conditions to those aged over 18.
I have given careful consideration to the question whether the Bill should prohibit the supply of this material to the public. My conclusion is that the Bill should allow the designated authority to make use of the Restricted (18) category, but that it should be possible to supply video material so classified only in premises to which no persons under the age of 18 are admitted. I have come to this view on two grounds. First, I think it necessary to provide an outlet for people who wish to see this sort of material. Secondly—this is a point which the police have put to me in my discussions with them—there is a danger that a ban would lead to a black market in material far worse than that which would receive a Restricted (18) classification.
In any case, films in the Restricted (18) category would still be subject to the Obscene Publications Act. I wish to underline that fact. As I have explained, under the arrangements envisaged by the Bill, it would be possible to obtain video recordings that are classified R(18) only by making a conscious effort to go to a sex shop or a licensed shop set aside for adults. I believe genuinely and I am most worried that if we do not consider this matter carefully —I appreciate that hon. Members will wish to refer to it in Committee—and plug the gap, a flood of material could come on to the black market which would suck in all the video nasties which the Bill would ban. The police would find it impossible to control the flood of material coming on to the market. The proposals in the Bill mean that the entire scope of videos could be controlled. I believe that we must look at the matter in that light.
On a point of clarification, would my hon. Friend confirm that within the scope of the Bill it is possible to have a complete ban of any video which is so nasty that it does not even qualify for the R(18) category?
The sort of film which hon. Members witnessed in the House last week would be banned totally. R(18) material applies to the blue movie. Whether we like it or not, many people enjoy watching such films. I had never watched a blue movie, but I must admit that when I was in Sweden I was led astray by some Swedish politicians and I did not enjoy the experience at all. I have no wish to see blue movies. I acknowledge that some of my hon. Friends may wish to do so. Clause 4 allows for such safeguards. [Interruption.] Perhaps I had better get on with my speech.
Clause 6 empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations dealing with the inclusion of a copy of the classification certificate at the beginning of a video work and a label indicating the classification on the recording and its container. I have given a lengthy explanation of the first six clauses because they are the central structure of the Bill. I shall deal more briefly with the remainder of the Bill.
Clauses 7 to 12 create the offences which underpin the classification requirements. Clauses 7 and 8 create offences of supplying, offering to supply or possessing for the purpose of supply a video recording containing an unclassified work. An unclassified work is one which has not been submitted to the designated authority or which the authority has refused to classify. It includes works which differ from the versions classified by the authority after deletion of material. It also covers the inclusion of additional material such as the reinstatement of cuts imposed by the authority. Those are the most serious offences.
These clauses make it an offence to deal in video nasties which by their nature would, I am sure, be refused a classification certificate. It is right that such offences should attract severe penalties, as there are large profits to be made in this area. Clause 13 therefore provides for the offences created by clauses 7 and 8 to attract fines of up to £10,000.
The clauses which create offences, however, also provide defences for suppliers who act with genuinely innocent motives. It is unreasonable to expect retailers to check the contents of every cassette. That would be especially onerous for proprietors of video libraries who would not have the resources to check every cassette on its return to the library to ensure that the borrower had not altered the programme, even in such innocent ways as recording over part of a television programme or splicing a broken tape. Under clause 8(2)(a), therefore, it is a defence to a charge of supplying or offering to supply a recording containing an unclassified work for the accused to prove that he had reasonable grounds to believe that it had been classified or was an exempted work.
Clause 9 creates offences of supplying or offering to supply a recording containing a video work classified as suitable only for people over a certain age in breach of that condition. Thus, it will be an offence to sell a video recording containing a work classified as suitable only for people over the age of 18 to a person under that age. Again, that is a very important provision to protect young people.
Clause 10 creates offences of supplying, offering to supply or possessing for the purpose of supplying a video recording containing a work classified as suitable for supply only on premises on which persons below a specified age are not admitted on premises to which such people are admitted. Thus, it will be an offence to supply or offer to supply a recording containing a work classified as Restricted (18) on premises to which persons below the age of 18 are admitted.
At present the Bill covers only supply in furtherance of a business and/or for reward. That leaves a serious gap in that the most appalling material could be passed around among friends and thus be available to children. Does my hon. Friend agree that those provisions may need to be tightened in Committee?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have discussed this on various occasions in the past. It is difficult to plug every loophole. It is important that the legislation should be workable. Nevertheless, we may discuss that aspect further on Committee.
Clause 13 provides for penalties and the mode of trial. As I have explained, offences under clauses 7 and 8 attract penalties of up to £10,000. The maximum penalty for the other offences in the Bill, however, is a fine at level 5 on the standard scale, which at present stands at £1,000.
Clause 13 also provides that offences under the Bill are triable summarily only. The issues involved are, I believe, capable of resolution by a magistrates court. Moreover, I am anxious that an offender should not have the opportunity to prolong the time before his case is heard—and meanwhile, perhaps, to continue to supply unclassified material—by electing for trial on indictment.
Clauses 14, 15 and 16 contain fairly standard provisions on, respectively, offences by bodies corporate; entry, search and seizure; and arrest by a constable without a warrant.
Clauses 17 and 18 provide for evidence on the classification of a video work to be given by a certificate signed by a person authorised by the Secretary of State. I expect that the Secretary of State would wish to authorise members of the designated authority to sign such certificates. The purpose of the clauses is to prevent the need for members of the designated authority to attend proceedings whenever evidence is required of the classification of a video work.
Clause 19 provides for the forfeiture of video recordings following a conviction under the Bill.
Clause 20 provides for the interpretation of certain miscellaneous expressions appearing in the Bill.
Finally, clause 21 empowers the Secretary of Stale to bring different provisions of the Bill into force by order at different times. This recognises that there will need to be a period for the designated authority to catch up with the titles already in circulation. There are generally reckoned to be about 6,000 of these at present. While, therefore, I envisage that the Bill will be brought into force soon after Royal Assent in respect of new titles, there will have to be a time lag—I hope that it will be no more than a year or 18 months—before the legislation can apply to existing titles.
Clause 21(3) provides for the Bill to extend to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I apologised earlier for the length of the Bill. I apologise now for the length of my explanation of its provisions, but I hope that this has helped to clarify the purposes of the detailed provisions that it contains.
I sincerely thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Prime Minister for sitting through my speech and giving me personal support in ploughing ahead with the Bill.
The Bill provides for what I believe to be an important strengthening of the law.
I referred a few moments ago to the length of time before it will be possible for the Bill to come fully into force. It is longer than one would wish, but it is inevitable that there will be a time lag before the designated authority can classify material presently on video. This delay makes it all the more important that legislation should be passed as soon as possible.
The Government have, I know, had the problem of video recordings under consideration for some time. I thought it sensible, therefore, from the outset to consult my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State about my proposals. They agreed with me on the approach needed to deal with the problem and I am most grateful to them for their support. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been a tower of strength to me. I pay tribute also to the staff at the Home Office who worked with me for endless hours trying to get the Bill right.
I am not sure what my hon. Friend is aiming at there. This is the Bright Bill. I was fortunate enough to come first in the ballot. This is a very important issue and I wanted to get something on to the statute book as rapidly as possible. That is why I resigned my job as PPS at the Home Office to do it. I am confident that the Bill will be welcomed by the Government and I look forward to hearing the views of my hon. Friend the Minister later in the debate.
Some people may argue that the Bill is an unwarranted interference with people's freedom to watch what they like in their own homes. I reject that argument. There are limits to civilised behaviour. The Bill does not restrain unduly the material that adults can obtain to watch at home. Indeed, it increases consumer choice to the extent that it provides that video material and its packaging should make clear what classification it has been given by the designated authority. Therefore, the public will have a much clearer idea about the nature of the material on a video recording.
I make no apology for the elements of restraint which are inherent in the Bill. The really objectionable material which could not possibly obtain a certificate from the designated authority will not be supplied in normal trade and business. That does not constitute an absolute ban on its circulation in all circumstances, but it aims to remove the financial incentive for the people who specialise in this obscene filth to peddle their wares on the open market. More than that, my Bill provides a hefty deterrent against them doing so.
My objective is to increase the protection of the public, particularly our young people, against the effects of witnessing the scenes of savagery, humiliation, mutilation and sadism which many of us saw the other night—scenes the only reason for which seems to be to encourage the belief that it can actually be pleasurable to inflict injury or pain. I can think of no more worthy or important objective than that of protecting the public from this insidious and deeply damaging belief and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
I am grateful for this opportunity to address the House for the first time. The subject of video recordings is of great interest to me and it is one on which I have received nothing but support from my constituents.
Before I consider the Bill I should like to tell the House something about my constituency. I have the honour to represent Edmonton in north London, which, since local government reorganisation in the 1960s, has been part of the London borough of Enfield. However, I have no hesitation in saying that, despite a successful association with two other local authorities—Enfield and Southgate —Edmonton maintains a distinct character, identity and mind of its own. For those hon. Members who do not know Edmonton, it is best located by reference to the north circular and great Cambridge roads which are frequently the subject of traffic reports on the radio. It also has the advantage of open space in the Lee valley to the east. The home of Spurs football club at White Hart lane is just over our boundary to the south.
The majority of local households are owner-occupied. There has been a welcome growth in owner-occupation as a result of the sale of council houses. Such sales are not new to Enfield but started before the right to buy was introduced. Edmonton also has a sizeable community which originally joined us from the new Commonwealth countries such as Cyprus, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent. I shall take an interest in the welfare of those communities and represent them in the House.
Edmonton is not a mere residential suburb of London. It has a sizeable industrial base, which includes such concerns as electrical and electronic engineering, furniture and other manufacturing and a growing service sector. I give notice that I shall also pursue in the House, the interests of local industry and commerce not merely to protect local jobs—although that is important in itself—but to help maintain the important contribution that local industry makes to our export effort.
I am deeply conscious of the honour of being elected to represent Edmonton, as it is more than 50 years since a Conservative Member was returned in 1931. I also have the honour of succeeding an hon. Member who gave unselfish service to his constituents and the House in the nine years that he was here. I refer, of course, to my predecessor who is now the noble Lord Graham of Edmonton. It is ironic that I should be paying tribute to him in a debate on video nasties as he is the very reverse of a nasty. They are not empty words when I tell the House of the well-deserved respect with which he is held in Edmonton. He has been a tireless fighter for local causes and for his party. It is a great honour for him and a reflection on the work that he did in this House that, since going to another place, he has become a Front Bench spokesman. I know from experience how well he was respected in the House because of the number of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have tempered their congratulations of my election victory with regret that he is no longer here.
I shall turn from the demonstrably nice to the clearly nasty. I am no friend of censorship or restrictions on the freedom and liberty of citizens. They may enjoy what they will in their private lives but there comes a point in a democratic society when we can no longer tolerate certain behaviour and individual freedom must be subjugated to the greater public good. The free circulation of horror and violent, pornographic video recordings has a corrupting and evil influence on some members of society. It is a tragedy that young and impressionable minds should be corrupted by the linking of sex with fantasies of violence, mutilation and torture. However, it is not only the young who are at risk. Adults are also exposed to it and, in watching recordings of violent scenes, might find encouragement for the as yet unformed seeds of malevolent forms of fantasy in these widely available recordings. The fact that such recordings are seen on domestic television screens helps to reinforce their respectability. There are good reasons why we need to take additional measures against them.
An illustration of the impact of violent videos was given this week by Lord Chief Justice Lane in Cambridge. He referred to some crimes that come before the courts and said that their commission could be traced back to the availablility of pornographic and horrific literature and recordings. It might be asserted by some people that there are few such cases. I am sure that we would all say, "Thank God for that". However, the existence of just one case is sufficient reason for us to support the Bill.
I shall now deal with public attitudes to video nasties. It is fortunate that we have the benefit of a recent survey that was conducted by Gallup Poll for the British Videogram Association Ltd. No doubt hon. Members are aware that the association broadly supports the principles of the Bill. Hon. Members might have seen selected use of the figures in that survey by the A. E. Trust which has circulated some observations on the Bill this week. Unfortunately, the trust has created a misleading impression as it claims that 92 per cent. of the public were not offended by video recordings that they had seen. That statement is not supported by the survey data, which show clearly that that 92 per cent. included a majority who had never seen a video and clearly could not therefore have been offended by one. However, the survey includes some information that is extremely relevant to the debate. For example, 15 per cent. of video tape hirers were found to have hired a tape by which they had been offended in the past three months. The survey also considered censorship and found that 41 per cent. of the public favoured censorship of all video recordings. An additional 22 per cent. favoured a more restricted censorship of video recordings with a sex and horror content. That adds up to 63 per cent. in favour of the censorship of videos with a sex and horror content.
Those results were repeated when only the owners of video machines were asked. A clear majority of video owners, which is more than 20 per cent of households —one of the highest percentages in the world—is in favour of restrictions on the circulation of video recordings containing sex and horror. It is clear from the latest information available that the public support the measures in the Bill, contrary to the impression that was circulated in some areas.
However, we have heard that in Committee there will be room for debate about the exact measures that we hope will eventually be enacted. I am not convinced that there is a direct relationship between the grading and licensing of films for public cinemas and recordings that are taken into private homes, as has already been said by several hon. Members. Cinemas and private cinema clubs can control access to films and are accountable to the courts if they do not do so. The same cannot be said for video recordings once they have been purchased or hired by members of the public. After that they are freely available to anyone, and it is not enough for us to rely upon the responsible behaviour of adults in preventing circulation to young and impressionable minds. Nor can it be shown that pirating will not occur, because pirating is already a great problem in the video industry, as it is with the printed word. A recent study by Mackintosh International estimated that 46 per cent. of the total business value of video cassettes could be attributed to illegitimate products — those obtained by copying or by pre-release. The survey showed that 50 per cent. of current video users have knowingly watched a pirated tape, and that 66 per cent. of video users are not concerned about seeing a pirated film. There is a free attitude to the availability of pirated cassettes.
I am anxious that the penalty for possession of such tapes to supply them should be a real deterrent. I hope that the Committee will consider the possibility of a prison sentence in addition to the £10,000 maximum fine. The sum of £10,000 may seem a lot to hon. Members, with their salaries, but it is little compared with the massive profits that can be made from this objectionable trade.
I am grateful to hon. Members for listening so patiently to my first speech in the House and I ask them to support the Bill.
It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn). From the intonation of his voice I know that: his education at the University of Aberystwyth has done him good, just as I am sure that hon. Members can hear in my accent the influence of the 12 years that I spent in London. It was a great pleasure to hear the hon. Gentleman describe his constituency and to hear him say that he was interested in the minority groups there. I thank him for his assistance in piloting the Bill through the House. I look forward to hearing him again, and congratulate him on his speech. It is clear that anyone who dares to put out a questionnaire in future will have to beware the hon. Gentleman's close scrutiny of any piece of statistical jiggery-pokery.
I am delighted to support this desperately needed measure, which meets an urgent problem. The hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) deserves the congratulations of hon. Members on both sides of the House on choosing the subject and on the time and energy that he has devoted to the Bill's careful preparation. His endeavours warrant my special thanks, because he knows how much I share his belief in the necessity for legislation.
The problem was first brought to my attention by a local ward Labour party representative from the unlikely setting of the cockle-picking village of Penclawdd on the north coast of the Gower peninsula. It was astonishing that local greengrocers were active in the trade of renting, without any controls, pornographic and horror video cassettes to very young children. With the help of an excellent brief supplied to me by Mrs. Fiddick of the Library, and with the help of the South Wales constabulary, I established that there was a glaring gap in the law and that the majority of parents in Britain were unaware of the material that is available.
Like the hon. Member for Luton, South, I have received hundreds of letters from every corner of the United Kingdom from which it is obvious that in town and country alike children of five years or more have no problem in renting video cassettes portraying scenes of brutality, rape, murder, torture and mutilation—all of those often in combination. It is evident from those letters, including some from professors of child psychiatry, that the effects on children, especially children with emotional problems, of viewing some scenes are nothing other than traumatic.
I shall read a short extract from a letter from a consultant child psychiatrist, which relates how she views the research evidence on the effects of such material on children. She states:
I suspect one's deepest concerns are with the minority who are already not supported or adequately supervised by their family and who are already in emotional difficulties. This group seems more likely to act out their fantasies and and be more ready to be avertly aggressive after watching aggressive films. It is more difficult for children to separate fact from their own fantasies anyway and to be more open to taking in the kind of images presented. To some extent this seems to remain so for adolescents who are having to learn about controlling their own aggressive and sexual impulses and could equally be disturbed by films of this kind. I have seen adolescents in my clinical practice disturbed after seeing sexual films watched with their peer group as it appeared to make them less certain about their own ability to control and separate their sexual fantasies from reality and to make sex itself seem more frightening by its lack of context with a relationship.
The same child psychiatrist states:
The other piece of relevant research information is that frequent exposure to acts of violence appears to raise people's tolerance and allow them to become blunted to increasingly high levels of violence. This clearly has implications for the generation of children now watching a lot of television and video, who are still forming their personality and are more open to being influenced by models around them. Again from my clinical practice it seems to me that it is that group of children who are already vulnerable through personality and problematic family relationships who are most likely to spend large amounts of time watching television and videos without the company of an adult and who have no one available to talk about the things they have seen.
What kind of material is available to our children? A small sample, as described by the hon. Member for Luton, South, was shown to hon. Members in a Committee Room at 4 pm on 1 November. I feel confident that those hon.Members at the viewing who are not now convinced of the dire necessity to protect children must be very unusual beings indeed. The dose of moral sewage that we saw, I am certain, would convince every hon. Member that the time is ripe to do something about such objectionable material. However, if any hon. Member should fall into that category, I am sure that the Home Secretary will arrange for a suitable fricassee to be made available to those who remain to be convinced of our case.
The theme of violence running through these films includes hangings, castrations, disembowelling, the severing of hands, arms and legs and the drilling of chests, backs and foreheads. Sexual aberrations are often combined with violence, including savage acts of rape and buggery. I will not go into the micro-details of these acts, as I feel that it would be offensive to the House and insensitive of me to do so. However, after viewing such material I am convinced that it is not suitable for children's eyes.
In my company, experienced policemen have been physically sick as a result of watching some of this material. The free market in video cassettes is governed by profit and the quality of life is often relegated to insignificance. That market mechanism must be brought under control for the long-term protection of our children.
The operational difficulties that the police face under the Obscene Publications Act have been enormous. Because video cassettes are not classified it is virtually impossible for the police to know from the cover of a video cassette the contents of the film. Even with this Bill, we shall have to look carefully at the way that certain distributors are already involved in the purchase of printing equipment to falsify the covers of such cassettes.
It is vitally important that the Bill should be enforceable, and clause 10 must be closely examined so that possession on the premises of uncertified video cassettes of such material for hire or sale is an offence. If possession on such premises is not an offence, the police will face an insurmountable task when they enter such premises, because the proprietor or the retailer will say that it is not his intention to hire or sell the material, but that it is for his personal use.
I am pleased that a question was posed from one Conservative Member to another regarding the assessment of the Government's position. My position was made clear in a letter that I sent to the Prime Minister on 2 July this year. I am sorry that the right hon. Lady cannot be here for the debate, but I understand that she has pressing duties. In that letter I said:
I am deeply disturbed by the length of time your Government has taken to respond to the glaring gap in the Obscene Publications Act 1959, regarding the access by children to obscene and violent video cassettes.
It has been during your time as Prime Minister that this problem has become both blatantly obvious and blatantly worse. Yet 'inaction' sums up the attitude of yourself and your Government to it.
Let me give an example of the increase in the scale of the problem since the Government came into office in 1979. In a parliamentary reply by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 11 July to a question from me on the value of the number of units of video cassettes imported into this country, I was told that in 1979 there were 184,542 units valued at £64 million. In 1983, there were 2·4 million units valued at £562·7 million. I make no apologies for saying that I hold the Government absolutely responsible for not bringing in legislation long before today and for leaving even today's legislation to a private Member to introduce. Despite the Government's election promises that they would bring in their own legislation, no parliamentary time has been made available.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not spoil an otherwise excellent speech by trying to import into it party political controversy. As he quite properly said, the Bill will be effective only if it is enforceable by the police, and the hon. Gentleman knows my connections with the police. Will the hon. Gentleman ask his colleagues who will serve on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill Committee not to hold up that legislation, because it is equally relevant to this Bill?
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If our positions were reversed I should make the same point as that made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). However, I take on board the hon. Gentleman's second point, as I am sure the House does. I do not want to spoil the debate by making a party political point. I should make that my point irrespective of the side of the House I was sitting on.
I am concerned about the attitude of the then Home Secretary to the Bill that I introduced last December. In a letter to me dated 17 February 1983, Lord Whitelaw —the then Home Secretary—said about the Bill that I introduced:
There are minor technical details which could, no doubt, be rectified in Committee. My major criticism (i.e. the Bill's failure to deal with the question of which body should be given the task of classifying cassettes) however remains and is not, I am afraid, capable of resolution in the same way. In consequence, although your Bill is certainly helpful in pointing a possible framework for the future, I remain of the view that much work still needs to be done before legislation would be feasible and cannot, therefore, offer you any prospects of Government support.
The major criticism of the Home Secretary at that time was that my Bill did not designate which body should be responsible for classifying the cassettes. The Bill now before the House suffers from the same major criticism, as hon. Members will see if they read clause 4. It is, therefore, a little disconcerting that the Government should have objected to my Bill being read a Second time on 18 February on the basis of a major criticism when they now support a Bill that is subject to the same criticism. However, it is a long time since February, and it is perhaps now expedient for the hiccough that the Government see in this matter to be quickly resolved.
The law is painfully inadequate dealing with developments in porno-electronics. The police face an almost impossible task in operating under section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. The Government have lacked —I use these words carefully — intestinal fortitude in their approach to this rapidly growing social problem, and the House is deeply conscious of the heavy responsibility laid at the Government's door for the long delay.
The opportunity to act is with us today. At a minimum, this Bill will classify the material that is available, and I hope that that will give an important lead to parents to support and supervise their children. Without the Bill, many thousands of children will continue to spend part of their formative years confused by the conflict between the apparent normality of video nasties and appropriate and acceptable adult human behaviour. Any delay in the passage of the Bill would be a tragedy. It has my full support.
I declare my interest in the Granada group of companies, which, among its activities, produces programmes and video tapes and distributes video tapes. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) that the industry welcomes his Bill without reserve. It should improve the reputation of the industry's product and bring some prospect of order to the market where at present the retailer frequently does not know whether he is breaking the law or not.
The Bill has three objectives. The first and most important, of course, is the elimination of the nasties. The second is to bring order to the industry. The third is to provide guidance to the users of video tapes. So that we may decide whether the Bill is adequate or too heavy-handed, let us look at the size and nature of its task. If the elimination of nasties were the Bill's only objective, I should consider it too complex and too much of a sledgehammer to crack a nut—even if a very nasty nut — but, to achieve the other two obectives, it is probably necessary to have a general censorship while constantly looking for more classes of tape which could reasonably be exempted, without losing the force of the Bill.
We all want the legislation to come into force as soon as possible, so I shall first deal with one or two of the obstructions that I see in its path. As it stands, it seems to underestimate — rather, it does not mention — the massive task of dealing with the 6,000 tapes now in stock, and the 1,000 or so tapes a year which may come into stock between now and the time the Bill is enacted. If all these titles are to be censored, the successor to the British Board of Film Censors will have a mammoth task on its hands. The present BBFC — admittedly underworked and looking for work—examines about 300 films a year. If it multiplied its productivity tenfold, the legislation could not be fully effective for nearly three years.
Up to 4,000 of the titles now in stock may already carry the BBFC certificate, although it is impossible to discover an accurate figure. If those titles are exempted, the load would be lightened, but still formidable. As a further complication there may be several versions of any given film on video, and the versions may differ from the original film submitted for classification to the BBFC for cinema release, particularly in the explicitness of sex or violence. Sometimes sequences cut out by the BBFC for cinema release have been put back. There will be up to 20,000 copies of many of those tapes, and one would expect them to have a commercial life of at least five years, and much longer in the case of classics. To clear the opening log jam— or tape jam — I feel certain that the tapes of films now in stock carrying the BBFC certificate will have to be deemed exempt from the Bill.
The problem would be further eased if tapes reproducing BBC or ITV programmes were exempted. The BBC and ITV companies are bound by their contracts not to release in video format any material which has not been broadcast. So any video material emanating from the broadcasting organisations would have been subject to the whole paraphernalia of supervision that we have in this country to uphold the standards of taste and decency, and I doubt whether any Bill that we produce in the House of Commons would improve on those standards.
At present, the number of broadcasting programmes available on tape is small—probably no more than 100 — but the future will see a huge expansion of those numbers once the BBC and ITV have reached videogram agreements with the trade unions. It is as well to remember that most of the material shown through a video tape recorder will not have been certificated, even after the Bill is passed.
For people who habitually rent tapes, the average number rented is one a week—presumably lasting about two hours. Having spent so much money on a machine, the viewer will certainly use it for more than two hours a week. In other words, most of his tape viewing will be taken off the normal broadcasting channels, and therefore uncertificated. If he views a programme originating from the BBC or ITV—that is, the same source, but on a rented tape—it must have been recensored by another authority. In real life that means that the viewer car tape the episode of Eddie and Marion's wedding in "Coronation Street" and watch it next day without breaking the law, but if he forgot to tape the programme and later rented a tape of the identical episode that video tape would need to have passed the certification process before it was safe for him to see it. A programme already passed by the IBA, a Government-appointed authority, and viewed without complaint by 15 million viewers, must still be censored by yet another Government-appointed body. That is surely too crazy to be true. Videograms that originate from broadcasting should be exempt.
The specific problem of video nasties is only the tip of the iceberg. Retailers, distributors and the police are being placed in an impossible position due to the present lack of categorisation of video material. It is possible for the retailer to be prosecuted under section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act for stocking a title that has been passed by the British Board of Film Censors for showing in the cinema. The managing director of Thorn EMI plc, Mr. Nicholas Bingham, was recently charged under the Act for distributing videos of "The Burning", a film that had been given a certificate by the BBFC for cinema screening, and a spate of similar cases are pending.
The heavily burdened police do not always act responsibly or reasonably in the eyes of the retailer. They sometimes confiscate tapes and return them months later, by which time the retailer has lost a lot of money, although the confiscated tapes have been certified by the BBFC and do not necessarily lead to prosecution.
I am assured that the Bill has nothing to do with the Obscene Publications Act and that therefore the tapes certified by the authority set up by the Bill can still lead to prosecution. Let me bring comfort to the industry by assuring it that that position will not last for long. As the number of prosecutions of managing directors of distributing companies and retailers of certificated tapes increases, the pressure on Ministers to do something about so ridiculous a situation will become intolerable. My right hon. and learned Friends the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary will at last get together and the impossible will become possible.
Not being a lawyer, I do not understand why video tapes cannot enjoy the same immunity from prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions as broadcasting material and films shown in cinemas. I have a copy of a letter from the director-general designate of the National Television Rental Association, Mr. Whetstone, to the Home Office asking that very question in better words than mine.
Is my hon. Friend, who has long experience in the House, unaware that the Obscene Publications Act is virtually unenforceable in this context and that any police officer will tell him so?
Many hon. Members will have been concerned to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he wanted to bring comfort to the industry involved in the circulation of these videos. Whatever happens about those prosecutions—some hon. Members think that they are rather long overdue, but as they are prima facie before the courts it would be wrong to discuss them—will the hon. Gentleman accept that the directors of even the most important public companies that are distributing such obscenities have a moral obligation, as has any other director in Britain, to ensure that what they are circulating is fit for public consumption?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but shopkeepers are not lawyers and they need guidance which is not available at the moment. We ought to find a way by which people distributing a film that is certified by a publicly appointed authority has a good chance of being clear of prosecution. They require guidance and no more.
A debate will undoubtedly take place in Committee on whether there should be all-embracing standards covering the cinema and video tapes or whether separate standards should be imposed. Single standards would be far easier for the public to understand and they would therefore be of more practical use. Furthermore, the laying down of separate standards seems to elevate the business of certification into something of an exact science. A certificate merely represents the opinion of a highly fallible group of people on a subject for which there is often no obvious right or wrong. To multiply the categories into which that group of people is asked to classify material presumes an accuracy and nicety of judgment of values which simply cannot be justified.
Does my hon. Friend accept that such a decision has to be made by the programme maker every day and that those of us who make children's programmes have to take such decisions? If the programme maker can be required to make such a decision, the company producing such material can as well.
It is a matter of whether the body will have to classify films into four or five classifications or 10. We are talking about an imprecise art, not a science. A judgment has to be made, and therefore it needs simplifying.
The video industry owes a lot to Back Benchers. Last year, Sir John Eden, now Lord Eden, chose to introduce his Private Member's Bill which at last gives the industry the opportunity to rid itself of the disgrace of video piracy. To his great credit my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South is now introducing another Private Member's Bill to give the industry the opportunity to raise the standard of decency of its product and to bring order into the marketing of video tapes. It may take several years before those desirable objectives are achieved, but Back Benchers have given the industry a good start.
The hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) was correct to begin his remarks today by concentrating on video nasties, because it is there that the problem is thrown into the sharpest relief. However, as I am sure he will be among the first to acknowledge, they are not the whole problem, merely one end of the spectrum of the problem within which women are increasingly seen as passive and even compliant victims of violence.
It is not only children or young people who might see and be affected by such material with whom we should be concerned but also the women who might see it or be under pressure to appear in it. Over the past few years, in a company to which the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) has just referred, I had the opportunity to work in the communications industry when I was a member of the union that is well known to some hon. Members—the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians. The extent to which sex hatred — I use those words deliberately—has become an integral part of pornographic films and videos is of increasing concern to men and women members of that union, as are the implications of that development.
Concern has grown so substantially over recent years that, at the 1983 conference, it was decided as a matter of union policy not only to campaign against the production and distribution of such films and videos as a matter of principle, but to be prepared to take practical steps to support members of the union who might be subject to victimisation or perhaps even to dismissal or the threat of dismissal should they refuse to act in the production of such material. I hope that we shall enjoy the support of all hon. Members in that.
I am sure that most of the debate will be about the potential viewer of video tapes, but I ask the House to dwell for a moment on the position in which members of the union might find themselves when faced abruptly, during a routine working day as a film or tape editor, with material that they find deeply distasteful but which they will be expected to view and re-view.
The extent of the support that such union members would need is affected by the overall climate of opinion and our approach to pornographic material. It is because of the way in which that climate has developed in recent years and because of the way in which I should like it to develop in the next few months and years that I welcome the Bill.
However, there are some reservations about the detailed contents of the Bill and I am sure that we shall wish to suggest changes. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Luton, South say that he was open to representations. I know that the ACTT wishes to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss some of the details and I hope that that will be possible in the near future.
One area that is causing anxiety, and which has not been mentioned except in passing, relates to the board that will be responsible for classification. The Bill proposes that the board should be based on the British Board of Film Censors. There are many reservations about that suggestion. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) suggested that that would be too much like state control and censorship. I shall be interested to hear my hon. Friend develop that view if he serves on the Committee that considers the Bill, but my reservation, which is shared by the ACTT, is that the board is not sufficiently broadly based. I do not doubt the reputation and experience of its members, but it is thought that there should be a more broadly based group to deal with such matters.
I have much sympathy with those who are afraid of extending the censorship. I would normally be drawn towards such a position, but I support the Second Reading because many of us are dissatisfied with the application of the present law and I ask those who are worried about censorship how they would regard video tapes if they portrayed not violence towards women, but racist violence — perhaps what is described in the popular press as "Paki-bashing". Would they have the same reservations about censoring that sort of material? I believe that the attitudes of society have been affected by the transmission of pornographic material, with the result that the portrayal of violence against women is more acceptable than it used to be.
I listened carefully, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to your request for brief speeches. My final point is that we should concentrate on the general background and consensus of society. Whatever the detailed provisions of the law, there is a natural censorship — like natural background radiation — regarding what is acceptable. Even the organisations that have written to me and, no doubt, to other hon. Members questioning the extension of censorship have said that the view of what is acceptable must be debated and re-examined from time to time. That re-examination will take place during our consideration of the Bill, and it is not before time.
Unlike erotic art, pornography is not a celebration of human sexuality. It is the exploitation of it, and exploitation for profit. Pornography represents the violent abuse of submissive women as normal sexual behaviour. It is time—indeed, more than time—to question that assumption.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye and to make my maiden speech. This is the first time that I have caught your eye, but I hope that it will not be the last. I remember the feeling that I had when I first spoke in the council chamber in Cambridge in 1967. That feeling is with me again, as I am sure that the House will understand.
My constituency has had a varied pattern of representation for some time. Until 1950, the city of Norwich had two seats in Parliament and the last two representatives under the pattern were Lady Noel-Buxton and Mr. J. Paton, both from the Labour party. In 1950, Norwich was split into north and south and the first hon. Member for Norwich, South in 1950 was the Conservative Mr. H. G. Strauss, who became Lord Conesford in 1955.
Mr. Strauss was succeeded in 1955 by another Conservative who, while representing Norwich, South, served on the Government Front Bench and in the Cabinet. After he was defeated in 1964, he became my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and he is still a distinguished Member.
In 1964, Chris Norwood was elected and he represented Norwich, South for Labour until 1970. Chris Norwood tragically died two years later. My good friend Tom Stuttaford—Dr. Tom, as he was affectionately known to his constituents; Norwich's answer, some might say, to Dr. Kildare—was elected in 1970 to represent Norwich, South, which he did with distinction until he was replaced by my immediate predecessor, Mr. John Garrett, in 1974.
John Garrett served the House and his constituency with great diligence and I am sure that he will be missed by many. He was PPS to the Minister for Social Security, Opposition Front Bench spokesman on Treasury and economic affairs from May 1979 to December 1980 and Opposition Front Bench spokesman on industry from December 1980 until the dissolution of Parliament this year. He will be missed by the Labour party and I thank him for his contribution to the House and to Norwich.
The 18 wards making up the city of Norwich were divided more or less across the middle, with the two constituencies being made up of eight wards each. With the reorganisation of constituencies prior to the election this year, Norwich, South gained three wards from Norwich, North, so it would be appropriate for me to add my tribute to that already paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) to David Ennals, now Lord Ennals of Norwich. His contribution to public life is well known and I thank him, too, for his work for Norwich and the House.
The signs by the roadside approaching Norwich say, "Norwich— a fine city." And so it is. A city of two cathedrals, two television studios and a first division football team, it has been the capital of East Anglia throughout the thousand years that that name has been around. It is mentioned in the Domesday book, which records that the citizens of Norwich sent £20 annually to King Edward the Confessor, along with six jars of honey, one bear and six dogs for baiting. The animal welfare lobby would have had nightmares had it known.
Present-day Norwich has a wide variety of industry, commerce and retailing. It is not dependent on any one industry for its prosperity, which is largely a result of that wide variety. Industries that once prospered in Norwich have been replaced by new ones, reflecting the changing pattern of life. The shoe industry is important to the health of Norwich—and to the health of everybody; I assume that most hon. Members wear shoes — and the shoe factories that still operate there report a bright future. Colmans, Rowntree Mackintosh, Laurence Scott and the Norwich Union all employ reasonable numbers of people but the town is not wholly dependent on any one of them.
What do I want for Norwich? I want better communications between Norwich and London and Norwich and the Midlands. The rail network to the city from London is being electrified and I welcome Government investment in that, but the road network leaves much to be desired. The A11, though being improved in certain places, is still not good once one leaves the M11 coming from London. The east to west link with the Midlands is poor and needs a substantial capital investment to improve matters.
I want to see a substantial improvement in the percentage of owner-occupation in the city of Norwich. I have previously said publicly:
Norwich would be a much finer city than it is if the percentage of owner-occupation went up from the paltry 35·5 per cent. that it is, with 50·4 per cent. of dwellings council-owned, to the national average of 57·8 per cent. owner occupation and a corresponding reduction in the number of dwellings owned by the local authority.
Norwich city council has always dragged its feet when selling council homes. It now has a Member of Parliament who is prepared to give it a good kick up the backside if it does not improve matters.
In my private capacity I am managing director of a small company—John Powley (Radio and TV) Ltd. — with one shop in Cambridge; not, as described in Private Eye last week,
owning a successful chain of electrical and TV rental emporia.
Hon. Members will be aware of the gross exaggeration in most things that Private Eye does.
In the shop that I have run for over 23 years we have taken part in the video revolution. We now sell or rent video cassette recorders and we sell blank recording tapes. I hasten to add that we do not sell or rent—nor have we ever sold or rented—pre-recorded tape. Being in the business has given me an advantage over many hon. Members which I would hope to use if I were appointed to the Committee that will examine the Bill.
Video cassette recorders — VCRs — were first developed in Britain in 1974 and their growth in the first three or four years was modest; about 20,000 machines were sold or rented between 1974 and early 1979. The year 1979–80 saw the introduction of several reliable systems of recording and playback machines and in that year about 100,000 machines were sold or rented, compared with only 20,000 in the previous four years. Market growth slowed a little in 1980–81, to 80,000 machines, but 1981–82 saw a 12-fold increase in the number of machines sold or rented and the number that year was about 970,000. There was more than a doubling of the numbers in 1982–83, to about 2·1 million machines sold or rented, and so far this year about 1 million machines have gone on to the market.
Added together, about 4·5 million machines are today in use in homes in this country. They are used by anyone and everyone and every level of social grouping uses video cassette recorders. This is not a wealthy person's plaything VCRs can be bought for as little as £289, with a variety of credit terms available, and rented for as little as £12 or £13 a month.
The machines are the hardware. The Bill relates to the software, the tapes, that are played on the machines. Pre-recorded tapes are now available in electrical shops like mine — although we do not sell or rent them — in garages, hardware shops and superstores. The police in Norwich estimate that there are about 50 outlets for pre-recorded tapes in the city. They are available for hire seven days a week and most hours of each day. Pre-recorded tapes vary in price; if one buys them, from £20 to £40 each, but there is a large market in hiring tapes and prices run from as little as £1 a night.
I am a member of the Radio, Electrical and Television Retailers Association. That body, representing a large number of retailers, gives general support to an appropriate form of control being exercised over pre-recorded tapes to overcome the problem of what are called video nasties. Many bona fide dealers whom I know would welcome clear guidance on the subject.
I hope that the figures I have given to the House show that the machines are freely and widely available, and that pre-recorded tapes are easily obtained and that both machines and tapes are available to everyone. I regard it as a healthy sign of a relatively prosperous country that such luxuries should be in the possession of all sections of society. It will not be long before videos are fitted in cars for passengers, not drivers, to view while journeying. They are already available in buses and aeroplanes.
If hon. Members accept that what I have said is an accurate assessment of the availability of both hardware and software—and the tapes are the software—we must logically look at what software, pre-recorded tapes, is available in the light of an unrestricted market available to all and sundry. How many hon. Members really know what is on the market—what lurid titles are available to an unrestricted market? In the course of my business I receive a number of catalogues and advertisements for pre-recorded tapes, and the list is almost endless. I had intended to read some of it out, but in view of your injunction to us to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not do so. Some are good quality, well-acted and suitable for a wide audience. Others leave much to be desired.
A number of problems remain to be tackled. There is the problem of supervision, of censorship and the risk of driving video nasties underground, so creating another problem. Where does pornography, soft and hard, figure in the classification of video films? Those and other questions will have to be considered.
I do not like unnecessary rules and regulations. I believe that within reason people should be allowed to decide for themselves what is best. But in deciding for themselves, people must exercise a degree of responsibility. It is when that freedom that I wart to have is not exercised with a degree of responsibility that I become concerned, and it is clear that some video film makers and some distributors will do anything to make a quick pound or two—
—pandering to some people's base instincts. Parents also have a responsibility, which is sometimes sadly lacking. Hiring a video film for a pound a night may be a cheap way to keep the children quiet while mum and dad go elsewhere. If, as some do, they hire a responsible type of tape, it would not be so bad, but when dad just gives the children the money to hire more or less what they want responsibility is lacking and things start to go wrong.
I am no prude, I like to think that I am as broad-minded as the next person, but when I see the wide variety of pre-recorded tapes that are available I worry about the effect that some of those films could have on those whose minds are open and susceptible to all sorts of influences. We have a responsibility to give guidance and to act in the best interests of our population. It is because of that responsibility that I hope the House will support the Bill.
It is a great pleasure to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley), who made an excellent maiden speech. It was a delight to hear his historical reflections on the great city of Norwich which, in part, he is privileged to represent. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman has a wide-ranging interest in its welfare and that he is conscious of the steps which he is following. His immediate predecessor, Mr. John Garrett, was a distinguished member of the Public Accounts Committee, whose work in enlarging the responsibilities of the House in the control of public finance was appreciated throughout the House. The hon. Member for Norwich, South had a useful contribution to make to the debate through his personal business experience and we look forward to listening to him in future.
The hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) has performed an exceedingly important public service. I am sure that there is no one who is not deeply aware of the threat to the fabric of our life, especially the unacceptable impact upon young people, that is posed by exposure to the revoltingly violent and sexually degrading recordings which it is the purpose of the Bill to control. Everyone who has contributed so far to the debate has given wholehearted assent to its objectives, and for my part — in this instance I speak as an individual and not as a party spokesman — I give my full-hearted assent to the purposes of the Bill.
To some extent I share the view of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) that there has been a remarkable change of attitude in the Home Office and the Government, notably on what sort of authority should be given responsibility for the oversight of video recordings. It is remarkable that, less than a year after the Bill's predecessor, a measure should come forward that does not specify the supervisory body, yet has the backing of the Home Office. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will explain how the minds of Ministers have moved so rapidly.
If that is so, a number of hon. Members feel that they should have thought about the matter rather earlier and that it would have been reasonable to produce a more positive response to the proposals of the hon. Member for Gower.
I support the view that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, but it is right to recognise that the House is legislating in haste. It is doing so in the light of a patent emergency. There are great risks in legislating in haste, especially in an area of rapid technological change which touches upon a number of other important areas including, possibly, cable innovations, which raise germane considerations. We cannot be entirely confident that we are wisely foreseeing all the possible difficulties that may arise in giving effect to the provisions in the Bill.
One of the dangers of legislating in haste in the area to which the Bill is directed—I have made it plain that we must do so—is that the House and the Governmert may take the view that they have done all that they can do and will sit back and let developments take place. That would be exceedingly unwise. It will be necessary to judge the effectiveness of the measures that are proposed.
There are a number of loopholes, some of which it may be possible to plug in Committee. The most obvious problem is to find a way of dealing with the current video nasties which have been manufactured and are in circulation. How are they to be dealt with? Is the British Board of Film Censors, which apparently enjoys the favour of the Home Office as the most likely body to handle the role of overseer, suitably equipped and sufficiently staffed to tackle such an extensive problem? Will the police be able effectively to obtain possession of video recordings even if they are armed with the power, which the Bill proposes, to search without warrant?
There are a number of other issues that we shall have to consider, including the appropriateness, for example, of an offence that could lead to a fine of £10,000 being considered in a magistrates court. Such a high fine would take the matter out of the purview of magistrates. Are jurors the appropriate people to consider the reasonable belief test which is built into the Bill? Another issue is the piercing of the corporate veil, which would allow, as I understand it, double prosecutions to take place against both the officers of a company and the managers, who could be held to be jointly liable. Many technical matters will have to be considered as the Bill passes through the House. It is not an easy Bill and it is certainly not an easy measure for a private Member to handle. I think that it would have been better if the Bill had been introduced by the Home Office.
Against the background of these considerations, and especially when considering the effectiveness of that which is proposed, I am led to suggest tentatively that the sponsors and the Government should decide whether it would be sensible to introduce a provision that the Bill should lapse after three years, for example, during which time it would be possible to ascertain how in practice it has worked out. If such a provision were incorporated in the Bill, the fact of it lapsing would force those concerned to come to terms with any of the difficulties that might be experienced in its operation. I realise that that is a somewhat novel suggestion, but we all know the difficulty in finding legislation time and how quickly the minds of Members move on to new matters. We should not take absolute comfort from the idea that the passage of the Bill will deal with a problem that has reached a fairly massive scale in the uncontrolled distribution of appalling video recordings.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, South on bringing forward a Bill which reflects the sense of Parliament that something urgent must be done to eliminate entirely unjustifiable video recordings from circulation in our society.
I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). We are greatly in the debt of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for introducing a Bill which focuses attention upon a grave and growing social evil. My hon. Friend must be congratulated on tackling a difficult and complex matter with skill and tenacity.
The Bill comes before us not a moment too soon. There is deep anxiety in the country about video material portraying sadistic cruelty, excessive violence, sexual abnormalities and scatological behaviour, all of an indescribably horrible nature, now coming into people's homes, where it can be seen by young children, teenagers and unstable adults.
I shall vote for the Second Reading, but, sadly, I must tell the House that, in my view, the Bill falls short of what is required to deal effectively with this evil. I shall vote for the Second Reading on the basis that it is better to have half a loaf than no loaf at all. The fault does not lie at the door of my hon. Friend. Successive Governments—perhaps this one less than their predecessors — have failed to give a lead. They have seemed oblivious to the casual relationship between the rising tide of violent crime and the daily exploitation of cruelty, greed and criminality in what passes for public entertainment on cinema and television screens and in video material. There has been an obstinate refusal by all Governments to amend the obscenity laws which have given protection to the purveyors of pornography. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) is no longer in the Chamber, because I wish to point out to him that, even when prosecutions have been brought in the most blatantly offensive cases, it has often been difficult to secure convictions because the definition in law of what is legally obscene is that it must tend "to deprave and corrupt".
One may be shocked, sickened, offended, or even angered by an obscene publication, film or video; but, unless the prosecution can produce a witness willing to testify in court that he was corrupted by what he read or saw and that this led him to behave in a grossly anti-social way, the prosecution is likely to fail, and many of them do.
The rot in our society has reached the point where the defence in such cases can trot out some tame psychiatrist who is prepared to say that a grossly offensive publication or film, so far from causing harm, may have a positively therapeutic effect. Such cases are the despair of the police and the public. The law is plainly defective, and the pornographers are laughing all the way to the court.
Let me give an example. Almost 18 months ago, the Metropolitan police brought a prosecution in the Acton Crown court against an exhibitor of an appallingly filthy and perverted film entitled "Bizarre Taste." Its contents were so vile that the proceedings had to be adjourned as both the judge and the jury felt unwell. I am told that that is not uncommon at such hearings. In the end, however, the jury found the exhibitor not guilty after hearing defence counsel argue that the prosecution had not produced evidence that anyone had been depraved or corrupted by the showing of such material.
As the law stands, will the prosecution ever be able to produce such evidence? Who will volunteer to go into the witness box to bare his soul and to say that he felt impelled to emulate what he had seen? When a clip of such video material was shown to hon. Members recently, many were so sickened by what they saw that they walked out. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary: if grown men and women can be made physically sick by the depiction on video of sexual perversion, of appalling cruelty inflicted by men upon defenceless women, of rape and murder in every detail, and of pleasure being exhibited by individuals at such degradation, what is likely to be the effect upon a small child seeing the same thing accidentally or perhaps by the design of someone in the household?
The Daily Telegraph reported last week
that 8- to 12-year-old children were obsessionally producing horror themes from video nasties in their essays. Half of a class of 10-year-olds were watching the videos to keep up with one another".
The report stated that a teacher
had to warn the parents of girls in the class about the behaviour of one particular boy because he had been disturbed as a result of viewing videos containing explicit horror and sex scenes.
Last month, Dr. Alan Gilmour, the much respected director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, told us that his professional advisory committee, which includes doctors, welfare workers and police officers, was unanimous in its belief that obscene and violent videos can do lasting harm to immature minds.
If it is illegal for a 10-year-old to see a restricted film, should it be legal for such material to be shown in the privacy of his home where no age limit can be enforced?
But the Bill in its present form will not stop that material entering private homes. I will list what I consider the Bill's main defects. First, the opportunity should have been taken to deal with the definition of obscenity in video material—it was not. I hope that we shall attempt to remedy that in Standing Committee.
Secondly, the Bill could have been more explicit about home viewing of video material. It is unnecessarily vague. The point could have been made simply by deleting the word "showing" at the end of clause 4(1)(a), substituting the word "viewing" and adding the words "in the home". That would have reached the heart of the matter, since it would have made it crystal clear that, the designated authority responsible for determining the suitability of video material deals with viewing in the home, where no age restriction can be enforced.
Thirdly, the Bill does not specify who and what body shall exercise the power to determine the suitability of videos. If the idea is that this should be vested in the British Board of Film Censors, the House should protest. That body's track record makes it totally unfitted for the task. It has passed some of the most offensive, sadistic and filthy material that one can imagine—for example, it passed the film "The Burning", which is now available in video form, which shows the mutilation of children by an adult sadist. It would be wholly wrong to entrust so important a task to such a body, and the sooner it is phased out altogether the better. We have a right to insist before the Bill becomes law that provision is made for a certifying body that will command the confidence of Parliament and the public from the outset, not at some indeterminate date in the future. I hope that the Minister will give some assurances on that score when he replies.
Fourthly, the Bill makes it an offence to supply or to offer to supply objectionable videos without any restrictions to any person under that age or on any premises not subject to an age limit of entry. That is not sufficient. There should be provision to ensure that restricted age material is not sold or hired out to persons over 18 for private viewing.
The material shown to hon. Members last week should not have been recorded at all and its possession, let alone its showing, should be made illegal. Remove the possibility of profit from this evil trade arid the evil will be diminished. I would have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry that what lies behind the production of video nasties is the making of money out of the most perverted and evil traffic that one can imagine, other than the pushing of hard drugs.
Speeches from both sides of the House have made it clear that we are rightly concerned about the effect on children of obscene and violent videos, but almost all sexual murders, rapes and other crimes of violence are not committed by children; they are committed by adults. Lord Chief Justice Lane performed a great service to the nation when he rightly said in his Darwin lecture on the theme of crime and the immoral society at Cambridge on Tuesday that Members of Parliament had to realise that
it was not only children who needed to be prevented from seeing video nasties but also violent criminals who were mentally children.
The Lord Chief Justice referred to the difficulties in real life. He said that the police, judges and prisons could not help; they only picked up the pieces; it was for the public
to supply the cure if they wished, For "public" read "Parliament". It is to Parliament that the public look in such matters. We ignore those wise words at our peril.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has a great opportunity to strike a blow for moral values, decency and common sense in dealing with a grave social evil. I venture to think that he will succeed only if he shows readiness to accept substantial amendment to the Bill.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for missing the first half of his speech. That was due entirely to transportation difficulties. I hope that the House will accept my apology.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and Norwich, South (Mr. Powley), who made maiden speeches. They said kind and generous things about their predecessors, which we appreciated. I am not sure whether one should say this, but they both showed great knowledge of the subject. We benefited by their personal knowledge. They spoke with an authority that is not always present in maiden speeches. No doubt we shall have many opportunities to hear them speak.
The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Luton, South for introducing the Bill. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said and with his general approach. I have much sympathy with what he said. The main problem about the Bill is whether, in practice, it will meet the desire of Parliament. I also associate myself with the words of the Lord Chief Justice, who has done us a service in this respect.
I have had discussions with the police in Scotland Yard, and last week with the police in the west midlands. The police want from Parliament a clear statement of the parameters of what is permissible in the exhibition of videos. They want to do their job, but first they want to know what sort of job Parliament wants them to do. Many people have old-fashioned ideas about censorship that I once had myself. However, my ideas have rapidly changed. I used to believe that every man should be his own censor. With the advent of the video coming directly into the home, I find that it is no longer a defensible position. It is a matter of principle. Parliament must say —no one else can—what people should be allowed to buy or hire for exploitation and visual showing to children and young people. That is my prime concern. However, there is much evidence that many adults suffer the consequences of all this violence and sadism. There can be little doubt about that. We are concerned mostly about young and innocent people who should be protected from the viewing of those horrors.
The evil is compounded by the fact that it is a multi-million pound industry. That fact alone means that we must take action. I counted 130 distributors in the trade publication entitled "Software Checklist". There are 6,000 videos. One company, Vipco, has a £50,000 franchise for just one of those films. I am told by the west midlands police that 50 to 80 new tapes are coming on the market each month and that at the moment 47 titles are being considered for action by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Therefore, it is a matter of principle. Until now no one believed that people in their own homes could be subjected to the horrors of sexual mutilation, multiple rape scenes, sheer blood lust and group lesbianism. Almost all those objectionable films seem to start with some form of multiple rape, which is abhorrent. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is not here because I agree so much with what she says, which is that the worst feature is the degradation of women in those films. That must be dealt with.
The Bill will provide the minimum protection that can be put into legislation—the classification of videos. We shall consider its practical operation in Committee. I shall mention some questions about practicality that the Committee will have to consider. I welcome what the hon. Member for Luton, South said about being open-minded about those matters. He also mentioned exports. Arrangements that are made here should be applied to films that are exported. Any restrictions that we put on films for showing in this country should apply to films exported from this country.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks so far. Will he deal with this practical point? This is a curious fact. The Labour party is willing to give much support for the Bill to be passed, as it must be, because of the public uproar. However, other legislation also deals with things such as instruments of torture, knives and guns. The Labour party has just voted against that legislation. The right hon. Gentleman is rightly asking for support and for powers to be given to the police in the Bill, but he withholds that support when it is required in equally important areas.
I know which Bill the hon. Gentleman is referring to. The Labour party opposes it in principle. In Commitee, we have no intention of holding up the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will approach the Bill constructively, trying to make the necessary changes. I hope that that will remove some of the hon. Gentleman's doubts.
The Home Secretary should be careful about what he says about voting against Bills on Second Reading. We all know the procedures of the House. Sometimes one has to take a difficult decision when some parts of the Bill are acceptable and others are not. Therefore, one should not think that we are being unhelpful about the Bill as a whole. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants co-operation, I ask him to encourage the new Opposition management of home affairs.
The importation of material is one of the major problems with which we must deal. Many films similar to those which hon. Members saw last week are manufactured in the United States, South America and Japan. I hope that the Minister and the sponsor of the Bill will accept that the Opposition wish to include in the Bill a firm proposal that no video of this type should be imported unless it has first received a classification. I note that some hon. Members do not regard that as a practical suggestion. The minimum that we could accept is that there must be a specific period of time in which a classification must be obtained after importation. I am glad to see nodding approval. The importation of such videos seems to be the great problem.
I wish to deal with the existing categories of horror. I take some comfort from clause 4(1)(a) which states:
The Secretary of State may…designate any person…(a) for determining for the purposes of this Act whether or not video works are suitable for showing.
Does that mean that in practice some of the bestial videos that we have discussed will not be allowed to be shown under any circumstances? I note that hon. Gentlemen are nodding in agreement. That goes a long way towards dealing with the problem.
I am grateful to the Minister for his clear statement. I welcome that reassurance.
I shall not refer to videos by name or draw attention to them because the effect of doing so is sometimes counter-productive. One such film which was refused a certificate by the British Board of Film Censors nevertheless found its way on to the video market. We must also ask whether the present voluntary system is working well. Quite honestly, I do not think it is. Dr. William Belson wrote a report in The Lancet in 1979 spelling out in great detail the effect of these videos on young boys and in some cases young girls. He said:
And the results very strongly supported one—that high exposure to television violence increases the degree to which boys engage in serious violence.
the major mental process underlying the changes effected by television violence is …the erosion of inhibitions against violent behaviour
If that is what is happening, Parliament has an overriding duty to take account of what Dr. Belson said and produce legislation.
I shall be glad to hear from the Home Secretary about whom he intends appointing to the job. I feel strongly that we need a statutory body and not the existing body, which has totally failed to protect the youth of the nation. I note that the Home Secretary does not appear as forthcoming as I would have hoped. I draw the Home Secretary's attention to the Williams committee report, which I have reread, as I thought it approached the problem very well. I accept the conclusions of that committee. Paragraph 12.11 of the report states—at the time it was dealing with films because the video market had not rocketed at the time it reported:
films, even those shown to adults only, should continue to be censored.
That was the committee's principal recommendation. Paragraph 12.28 states:
Our view is that the Board in its present form cannot possibly be given the powers needed to ensure the enforcement of the film censorship system.
The committee was there referring to the present board.
Paragraph 12.29 states:
Parliament should institute a new statutory body which will have the necessary powers
The committee's recommendations concluded in paragraph 12.30 which states that the film examining board, which is what the Williams committee wanted to call the body, should lay down policy and act as an appeal
body from the examiners. I am not sure that the committee got its last point right in that such a body should be acting as a film censor.
I am quite sure that the Home Secretary must decide that we should have a statutory body although he will have representatives on it. I think that they must be responsible to the Home Secretary for the execution of their duties. We wish to see such a provision hallowed in the Bill.
We must in practice revert to the Obscene Publications Act, as we cannot escape from it. It has totally failed to do what we wanted. It has been said that it is impossible to produce anyone in court who will admit to being depraved or corrupted. I go further and ask how do most people know that they have been depraved or corrupted by such a film. It is not eminently or reasonably obvious to most people whether they have been corrupted or depraved. Children are protected from visiting film studios and seeing these categories of films. That is a vital protection that does not exist in the home. I was told by the west midlands police that they have some knowledge of youngsters returning from school, getting videos out of the drawer and putting on a show for their mates at 10p a time. If that is correct, we face a very serious problem.
Evidence is beginning to emerge that some adult crimes show a remarkable sense of origin with the bestial practices that none of us would previously have thought about that have emerged from the videos.
If that is the case, it is a serious matter. One of the great problems of controlling behaviour is in dealing with those who copy what they see as the weaknesses and the immoral behaviour of others. These are matters of great importance. I do not agree with people who say that there is no point in trying to deal with the problem. The Indecent Displays Act 1981 is worthy of note. Although it does not deal with that which is exhibited inside magazines, it has undoubtedly had the effect of improving what appears on the front pages of many magazines, and in many cases it has caused shops to black out their windows. We should acknowledge that the Indecent Displays Act has had some success and I hope that that encourages our approach towards the present Bill.
I shall be interested to note what definition the Committee produces—I hope that the hon. Member for Luton, South will be on the Committee—to tell us what is an act of depravity or corruption. We must change the definition in the Obscene Publications Act so that it refers to an exhibition offensive to reasonable people. That is the path that we must take. I am aware that the Home Secretary and the Department have probably spent many hours trying to produce a suitable definition, so it would be a brave man who could suggest that we might find one in the course of this debate. Nevertheless, I hope that we can seriously examine that aspect.
I referred in an intervention to the responsibility of the directors and executives of public companies. They cannot avoid responsibility for the products that they offer for sale or hire. Some very responsible public companies—EMI, Intervision and VTC, to name but three—are involved in cases now being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The best comparison is with a person selling polluted ice cream. Such a person has defences available to him. Laws governing the quality of his product come into play. Nevertheless, he must ultimately accept sole responsibility for the failure of his organisation to protect the public. Exactly the same applies to public companies dealing in video. The directors concerned had better look to their procedures and their management accountability as Parliament expects of them.
Finally, the country demands a firm settlement as to how Parliament intends to protect the moral health of the country in these matters. We must make it clear to the nation as a whole and especially to the trade and to the police that, through the Bill, Parliament has every intention of acting to protect the moral health of the people of this country, especially children, young people and womenfolk, and that if the legislation proves deficient in operation we shall attach the highest priority to rectifying the matter.
My first and genuinely pleasant task is to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) on their maiden speeches. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South is not present to hear my compliments. Both clearly took the view that they wished to soak up the atmosphere of the House for some time before speaking. That is always a good thing, bearing in mind Disraeli's injunction, which some of us sometimes forget, that it is better that people should wonder why one does not speak than that they should wonder why one does.
My hon. Friends both acquitted themselves extremely well in what they said about their constituencies and about the Bill. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to hearing from them again and wish them well. I was particularly glad to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton about his predecessor. Ted Graham was extremely well liked by Conservative Members. We are glad that Parliament has not lost him altogether and that he lives on in another place as Baron Graham.
I am sure that my two hon. Friends will appreciate, however, that my principal congratulations must be reserved for my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright). I heartily congratulate him on his courage and determination in bringing forward the Bill and in making proper use of his good fortune in coming first in the ballot not to introduce a measure tinkering with some obscure corner of the law, but to bring in a Bill of the first importance. He has done so at considerable cost to himself in time and effort and in having to resign as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministers of State at the Home Office—a job that he greatly enjoyed and carried out with distinction. He thought that this issue was worthy of that sacrifice. So do the Government and, I believe, all hon. Members here today.
My hon. Friend has worked determinedly to master the detail and tirelessly to consult interested individuals and organisations and to answer the limitless correspondence to which the Bill has given rise and, last but not least, to persuade colleagues in all parts of the House that the Bill deserves proper support. He has had his reward today in the warm welcome given to the Bill by Members in all parts of the House. I therefore thank him not just for a good speech today but for four months of extremely hard work.
I congratulate my hon. Friend especially on his master stroke. The turning point in making Members of Parliament aware of the importance of the Bill was the showing of film clips upstairs. When many of the events of the past few months have fallen from our memories, the memory of those film clips will remain. They persuaded us all that the shocking and stomach-turning experience that we endured upstairs makes it crucial that the law should be changed in the way that my hon. Friend proposes.
I was also glad to note the involvement of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) as a sponsor of the Bill and I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's pioneering work in proposing a measure on this subject. I wish only that he had confined himself to the 80 per cent. of his speech with which we all wholeheartedly agreed and had eschewed the more partisan matters. When one thinks carefully about it, his charge lacked strength. It would have been extremely difficult for the previous Home Secretary to accept, half-way through a parliamentary Session, a measure to which we all wish to do justice but which is difficult and will require time in Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend the present Home Secretary has shown how much importance he attaches to this debate by being present to hear not just the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also heard, but my own speech, too. I am sure that there are no sinister implications in my right hon. Friend's decision to leave. If there are, they have not been made known to me. When my right hon. and learned Friend took office he did so with the commitment that we had made plain in our manifesto. We made it clear that we intended to deal with this matter and we gave great thought to it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has said, that thought is reflected in the Bill. It would have been wrong, unreasonable and indeed silly of us to spurn my hon. Friend's offer to introduce the Bill when he has done so with such distinction, worked so hard and accepted the advice and assistance that he needed from us so that we can wholeheartedly support the Bill.
I also thank the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) for his good wishes and welcome for the Bill. I welcome him as a Labour Front Bench spokesman on home affairs. If he makes a speech of such robust common sense in every home affairs debate, we shall welcome that as it will be a great change from some of the Opposition spokesmen on home affairs that we have had in the past. Again, the right hon. Gentleman is well liked by Conservative Members and in much of his speech he spoke for all of us. My only worry is whether he can carry all his right hon. and hon. Friends with him in some of his comments.
Every picture tells a story. At this moment I see the right hon. Gentleman looking his usual cheerful self and the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) looking somewhat glum, as he did throughout his right hon. Friend's speech, with completely empty Benches behind them. That is a further reason for suggesting to the hon. Member for Gower that it is not good politics to fish in partisan waters on this matter. If the one or two Opposition Members who threaten to make trouble and try to talk out or vote against the Bill carry out their threat, Conservative rather than Opposition votes will carry the Bill.
I do not wish to be ungracious to the right hon. Member for Small Heath. I enjoyed his speech, but he should not fall into the trap of over-egging the populist pudding on this. His sweeping assertions about the British Board of Film Censors and his call for a state censorship body may go rather further than many of his right and hon. Friends wish. It will be interesting to see just how much support the right hon. Gentleman gets, welcome though most of his speech was.
It is the Minister who is running away from the truth. He knows the position as well as I do. These issues do not attract a party vote but are a matter for individual hon. Members. However, my speech has the full endorsement of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). We discussed the subject and are of one mind as to the importance of assisting the passage of the Bill.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It was candid of him to say that he had a road to Damascus conversion on video recordings. The more that he can take the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on a road to Damascus, the better the Conservative party will be pleased. If I express scepticism before that event, it is just an example of my natural cynicism, for which I apologise.
The Government welcome and fully endorse the Bill. Had my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South not introduced it, we should have legislated in accordance with our commitment in the election manifesto. We see no reason to do other than warmly welcome what he has done, because it accords exactly with our view of the right steps to be taken. I should like to make it clear that the Bill will be supplementary to existing legislation and that it is quite wrong to regard existing legislation as a dead letter. I am bearing in mind the strictures which my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) made about the Obscene Publications Acts. We get on extremely well but occasionally—it seems to be Fridays—my hon. Friend bares his teeth and jumps on me. That last happened nine months ago on a sunday trading Bill.
However, my hon. Friend is always kind enough to give me ample warning so that I can gird up my loins in anticipation. I must tell him, however, with the greatest respect, that I do not believe that the figures that I have taken the trouble to find prove his case against the Obscene Publications Acts. In 1982, for example, well over 500 people were proceeded against for publishing obscene articles, and about half of them were convicted. That compares favourably with the proportion of other prosecutions. I shall give figures for just one police area. In 1982, the Metropolitan police confiscated and destroyed more than 22,000 video cassettes.
All that my hon. Friend has said is that, in half of the cases when the authorities know the difficulties and have decided to prosecute, no conviction has been obtained. He has simply illustrated the size of the problem. I am sure that my hon. Friend has not consulted as much as I would expect him to do. Police officers are utterly frustrated by the way in which the Acts work.
I can only say that the obscene publications squad tells us that it does not regard the Obscene Publications Acts as a dead letter. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South will confirm that. Indeed, the squad welcomes the supplementary powers that this Bill will provide. However hard my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point tries to persuade me otherwise, I cannot agree, on the basis of the evidence, that the Obscene Publications Acts do not have a continuing role to play. They have a vital role in allowing the courts and ordinary citizens on the jury to determine what is unacceptable and what should be considered obscene. That avoids giving the last word to a Governmental or appointed body. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point objects to at the courts are doing. I suspect that he is really saying that, if he was a member of the jury, he would not make the same decision as other jurors. Those who study this sensitive and complex subject must recognise that opinions differ. Acquittals occur because juries are not prepared, on the basis of the evidence before them, to convict. They do not fail to convict because of any impediment in the law.
I am conscious of the fact that many hon. Members wish to intervene. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not give way now. I must get on if I am to explain the Government's view of this important legislation.
The Government recognise that the Obscene Publications Acts come from an era before videos were dreamed of. Therefore, they do not deal effectively with many aspects of the trade. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point will see how much care has been taken to dovetail provisions in the new Bill with those in the 1959 and 1964 Acts. We all know that proceedings under the Obscene Publications Acts can take a long time during which offending videos are still sold openly in other parts of this country. By the time there is a conviction, if there is one, much of the damage will have been done, and a more speedy procedure is needed.
Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South made abundantly clear, as the law stands at present, there is no regulation pre-sale of what can be sold, and there is a total absence of categorisation. For the most part, it is only after display or sale that a video can be challenged and condemned in the courts. It is extremely difficult for the customer or, to be fair to the shopkeeper —the latter has come in for much criticism, in some cases well-deserved — to know what the video might contain. There are several thousand—perhaps as many as 6,000—pre-recorded videos in circulation at present. Some of their titles give the game away. Not even the most gullible customer or trader could believe that "Zombie flesh eaters", "I spit on your grave" or "Driller killer" are good family entertainment, but not all of the nasties yield up their secrets in the title.
It is here that the masterly simplicity at the heart of my hon. Friend's Bill is most apparent. Every video must have a certificate in order to be sold, subject only to the narrow exceptions that he described for educational material and the like. This is the point that the right hon. Member for Small Heath asked me to reinforce. If the video does not have a certificate, any commercial dealings in it attract a criminal sanction and a large financial penalty, on proof of nothing more than the fact that it does not have a certificate from the designated authority. That is why the Bill will provide simple, speedy justice against the complexities, the months of delay and the prolonged agonies of long jury trials under the Obscene Publications Acts. We all know that the nasties that we saw upstairs have never been submitted for certification. If they had been submitted, they would not have received certification from a responsible authority acting under the powers of the Bill.
Does my hon. Friend accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned that this is turning into the "Video Nasties Bill"— [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] No, it is not. With respect to the House, it is the Video Recordings Bill. The video nasties will be taken care of. One category is intended to be restricted to people aged more than 18, but by making available the films on video there is a danger that the certification will lose its purpose. Many hon. Members are anxious that such films on video tape should not he made available to children under any circumstances.
I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's point. Having followed the general debate as carefully as I have, I would not have come to the House without a lengthy passage in my speech dealing with that point. If my hon. Friend has patience, I shall come to it, but I shall approach it after setting out the basis for—I hope that I am not over-egging the pudding — the masterly simplicity of the Bill.
The Government are working on the assumption that the other categories will mirror those familiar to the public from their experience during many years of cinema categorisation. There is every advantage in that approach, because if we must have categories they must be readily understood. Whatever strictures may be applied to cinema categories, they are widely understood, although the public may not agree with them in every case.
I must make it clear, as the right hon. Member for Small Heath understood, and as is widely appreciated, that the obvious candidate to undertake the work of categorising videos into acceptable and widely understood categories, and of ensuring maximum correspondence between the categories familiar to cinema goers and those applicable to videos, is the British Board of Film Censors. The board has more than 70 years of experience in a complex and difficult area, and although inevitably it has not escaped criticism—even Ministers do not escape criticism—it has the necessary credibility and public confidence, as well as the experience and expertise, to take on the role of classifying video works in accordance with the Bill.
However, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recognises that he needs to satisfy himself, and we need to satisfy the House, on a number of matters before formally designating the board, such as its capacity to deal with the additional work load that would result from taking on responsibility for this classification. My right hon. and learned Friend will also wish to ensure that there were appropriate arrangements for discussing with representatives of the video industry the practical details of the task and a number of other matters of importance about which the House will have to be assured before we proceed.
I have no reason to believe that these conditions could not be met. We have already discussed the proposals for legislation with the BBFC and it has said that it would be glad to be designated as the authority to classify video works under the arrangements proposed in the Bill.
Does my hon. Friend accept that, even if people generally approve of what the BBFC does in its classification of what is seen in the cinema, hon Members are concerned that the criteria that are capable of being satisfactory in the cinema are not capable of being satisfactory for viewing in the home. If I understood him correctly, that was the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) was making. It is not satisfactory to use the same criteria for stuff to be shown in our homes as for that to be shown in the cinema.
I take my hon. Friend's point, to which I am coming. We should be aware how narrow is the category of such material.
The object of the categorisation is to permit every customer to know where he stands. The parents who want videos for their young children can see from the classification when a video is UC, specially recommended for children, U, suitable for children, or PG, suitable for children with parental guidance. None of the films about which my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) has spoken will fall into any of those categories, which are well and widely understood by the public. There is no reason why they should not translate effectively into videos.
The same is true, I suspect, of the 15 category, which makes it clear that the film is not suitable for children under that age and it will be an offence for a dealer to sell or rent a video with this categorisation to anyone under 15. The most that can be legally saleable in the high street shops will be the videos in the category of 18, and this is where we may have the difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred. The 18 category is the old X certificate. I am talking about the straight 18 category, not the restricted 18 category, which I shall deal with later. It will be an offence to sell or rent 18 classified videos to anyone under that age, and that will be the first safeguard.
I shall stress a few points about the 18 category. First, unlike today, the video must be in exactly the form passed by the designated authority. Today, a video of a well-known cinema film may contain material taken out of the version approved for public exhibition. It will be an offence to put any scenes back, even if they were to be only of a second or two's duration. That has been the problem in one or two of the more notable cases that have affected classified material.
Secondly, the material remains liable to prosecution under the Obscene Publications Acts and to criminal penalty if, in the view of the courts, it is obscene within the meaning of that Act. This is the essential safeguard for any hon. Member who is troubled, as people are entitled to be, that the designated authority will make decisions that are too permissive. The courts will be there, as they should be in a free society, as the ultimate and best place to determine the crucial and difficult issue of what is, in the end, acceptable or not in our shops and homes.
Under the Act, if this Bill is passed, we shall have the opportunity to consider whether there is any difference between a film being shown in the carefully controlled circumstances of cinemas and a film that, once the cassette leaves the shop, is not controlled, and no one can guarantee who will see it in the home. I stress to the House that that will only affect a limited number of films in the 18 category. No one could seriously suggest that it would affect the thousands of titles for decent family entertainment, whether one sees them at the cinema or at home.
My hon. Friend has referred for the second time to the test being what is acceptable in terms of the Obscene Publications Act. Surely he is aware that acceptability is not the test; it is whether what is being viewed will tend to deprave and corrupt. The difficulty there is to produce evidence that it has, if fact, depraved or corrupted anyone.
With respect to my hon. Friend, I say again—perhaps we could pursue this later, if he remains in doubt—that there is no requirement for someone to stand up in a court in a trial and say, "I was depraved and corrupted by this." The members of the jury have to ask themselves, "As sensible members of the public, do we think that this material, in the context in which it was shown"—I stress the words "in the context in which it was shown", because a cassette in the home may be different, as I said, from a film in the cinema—"have a tendency to deprave and corrupt people who might see it?" This is not necessarily someone who has given evidence, but the members of the jury, doing their best for society as a whole. In the end, whatever we may say about state censorship and so on, in a free society is not the best test still, in the ultimate degree of what is acceptable, 12 good men and true off the street in the jury? I wonder whether we would be wise to take any other view in this respect.
I appreciate that some people call this double jeopardy, but it is not, because anyone who deals in 18-rated videos knows that among them will be some that are towards the outer edges of acceptability. If people take the risk of dealing in such titles for commercial gain, they must understand that the mere possession of a certificate, under the Bill, does not guarantee that a court, under the Obscene Publications Act, will not legitimately take a different view. After all, dealers are liable under the Obscene Publications Act now. So, for that matter, are cinema proprietors, who always have been, and who have said through their trade association that they are more than content to be so.
Perhaps I might finish the passage before giving way to my hon. Friend.
Dealers are better off under this Bill, in the sense that the hard core nasty is revealed for what it is by the absence of a certificate. So any legitimate dealer will steer well clear of it. Similarly, all certificated films will make clear what they are by the different certificates applied, and anyone who is hesitant about the obscenity laws is under no obligation to sell certain category material.
Obviously, we hope—this may be of importance to my hon. Friend—that the number of instances in which a certified video is found to be obscene will be very limited. We expect it to be very limited. However, I want to make it very clear that it is not for the Government to guarantee that. It is no more for us to usurp the courts than for the designated authority to be put above the law. That is absolutely crucial in this debate.
However, I hope that I can offer some useful information on the vexed question of the differences of interpretation between the designated authorities and the courts about the sort of material that might be obscene. That lay at the heart of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan), and I understand the concern that led to them. Perhaps I could help him and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) in what I am about to say.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I have been in close touch with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General over this problem during the past few weeks. As a result of those discussions, I am glad to say that the Director of Public Prosecutions has made available to the BBFC the guidelines under which the DPP works in deciding on video nasties — where most difficulty is likely to arise. In addition, the DPP is making available to the BBFC particulars of the results of all proceedings under sections 2 and 3 of the Obscene Publictions Act 1959 relating to videos which are notified to him. That information is of great value in determining the standards at present being applied by the courts., and I hope that the effect will be that differences of interpretation will be avoided in future. It is in no one's interest that there should be differences of interpretation.
My hon. Friend seems to be coming near a rather dangerous proposition—that the law of the land should be made, not by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but by the DPP. We are concerned today to make the new law. Should it not be defined in the law that we make, rather than in guidelines for the DPP to the British Board of Film Censors?
We shall make arrangements that are as sensitive as possible to deal with a particular problem and to give powers to the designated authority. Parliament has already given powers under the Obscene Publications Act to the courts and the DPP merely plays a part in deciding when prosecutions should be brought. It is for the courts in the exercise of the powers given to them by Parliament to determine whether an offence has been committed. It would be a great mistake if there were to be no communications between the DPP and BBFC. In fairness, each discharges a difficult function. The DPP cannot be bound on individual titles but it is right that there should be communication so that each knows what is in the other's mind on the generality of this difficult problem of determining in a free and pluralistic society what is acceptable and what is not. Parliament is throwing nothing away. We are taking on our full and proper responsibility in the proposals.
At the risk of outstaying my welcome, I want to deal with the special problems posed by material categorised by the BBFC as R(18) — material not suitable to be shown in normal cinemas but licensed for showing in cinema clubs. That categorisation covers material which, while not portraying the extremes of horror or sexual perversion that some hon. Members witnessed in the Committee Room showing, is likely to be more explicit than films previously given an X certificate or currently given a straight 18 certificate.
The vexed question that troubles me as much as it troubles other hon. Members is what is to become of such films in video cassette form. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has considered this with great care and has explained why he has decided that the Bill should allow the designated authority to make use of the Restricted (18) category. He says that it should be possible to supply videos classified in that way, not to the high street video shop or the local grocer or newsagent, but strictly confined to people over the age of 18, for example, in licensed sex shop premises to which no one under the age of 18 has any right to go.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I fully understand the concern that has been put to us by Mrs. Whitehouse and many others that the material may get into the hands of children. I must make that clear to the House in answer to a question that has been put to me.
Therefore, we see the arguments for the designated authority stopping R(18) material altogether in video form. That is quintessentially a matter for the House to determine, not for me. I can give the House the absolute assurance that if it were the will of the House after considering the matter in Committee that it was in the public interest to enforce a complete ban on the sale of Restricted (18) material in video form the Government would not seek to prevent that view being adopted. I hope that satisfies all those hon. Members who have shown concern.
That is one of the most helpful statements that we have heard in the debate today. Is the House to understand from that that in Committee the Government will not seek to argue the case one way or the other? As my hon. Friend knows, although it is for the Committee to decide, the Government will be asked to give a view as to whether R(18) should be retained or not. Will the Government express a view on that in Committee?
The role of a Minister in a private Member's Bill Committee is to help the Committee as much as possible by putting any relevant facts or arguments before it, and that I shall do. If the Committee were against R(18) material and wanted an assurance that the designated authority as part of its remit from the Home Secretary would not be permitted to license that material in video form, I should accept that gladly and not make a 15-minute speech on why it was foolish. I shall present such arguments and facts as are necessary on both sides of the case so that hon. Members will have the opportunity to make up their minds on the available evidence that it is within the resources of my Department to give them.
No. My hon. Friend has had one bite of the cherry and I must push on. Other hon. Members wish to speak.
I know that some people sincerely believe that the Bill goes too far and others think that it does not go far enough. I say to those who think that it goes too far that I believe that it carefully seeks to put in place for videos arrangements that mirror those that, over the years, have proved broadly acceptable to the community in relation to cinema films. Those who criticise the BBFC should note that the arrangements have worked so well that local authorities that have the power to overrule the BBFC' on the showing of films in their areas rarely if ever feel the need to do so.
The Bill scrupulously seeks to keep the sensitive task of categorising video cassettes out of the direct hands of the Government or a Government agency. It recognises that state censorship raises difficult issues and it retains the courts, not the state, as the ultimate arbiter of the acceptability of material for public sale or hire.
As to whether the Bill goes far enough, I know that some would prefer us to adopt forms of legislation that, it is claimed, have worked well overseas—for example, in Sweden and some states of the United States. In deference to those arguments, we have looked at that legislation.
The Swedish legislation provides an exemption from prosecution for any video approved by the National Swedish Board of Film Censorship. So it gives to a governmental body an exemption which we are not prepared to give to any such body in the United Kingdom. I do not believe that it can be suggested that our law is the weaker because of that.
The Swedish law also set out largely subjective tests to decide whether other, non-classified material should nevertheless be sold. Under the Bill, it will be an offence to sell any material that has not been categorised by the authority, without proof of anything more. That is why I find it hard to accept the argument that censorship is more effective under Swedish law than the control of unpleasant videos will be in Britain under the Bill.
It is not easy to obtain all the laws of the individual states of the United States, but, on the evidence that we have obtained, we have no reason to believe that those states have found the golden key of insight which is denied to us. Indeed, it would be extraordinary if we came to regard United States' law as effective, because we know that nearly all the videos that we find so offensive are filmed, made, and distributed in the United States and exported from there. One of the few good things about the growth of this market in the last few years is that so few videos emanate from the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is hard to think of any of the notorious films that were filmed in the United Kingdom.
Other hon. Members must agree with me that it is a bitter pill to swallow that we live in a society where we have to pass a law to prevent thousands of our fellow citizens from watching appalling videos. How much more confident we would be of the quality of our civilisation if the evidence were that people had, of their own notion, rejected such stuff. But the evidence is that many of these videos are best sellers. They are sold not only in specialist video shops, but in corner newsagents and grocers' shops in many of our large towns.
Those of us who were disgusted at the clips of a few minutes' duration from some of these films must wonder how anyone could sit through 90 minutes of the same stuff, and then go back for more. But that is what is happening and it is clear beyond peradventure that only legislation will curb this dangerous nuisance.
However, I stress that no legislation can remove from parents and other adults their primary duty to protect children from corruption. In a free society, the burden cannot be cast on the Government, Parliament and the law alone. Lord Lane has recently reminded us in timely fashion that perhaps a society gets the criminals that it deserves.
No hon. Member would have a right to be upset at a brutal sex crime, a sadistic attack on a child or mindless thuggery against a pensioner if he were not prepared to drive sadistic videos out of our high streets. Who can doubt that they serve to inflame brutish and sadistic passions, and, for the most part, are cynically intended to do so?
A society that regards sadistic degradation on film as entertainment cannot complain if reality comes to mirror those shocking scenes. If it is pleasurable to watch a video of somebody being slowly hacked to pieces or even eaten, there must always be the fear that some might be tempted to do it for real.
We take pride in being a civilised and tolerant society. It is right that we should consider carefully any measure that restricts liberty in a sensitive area like the media. But it is fundamentally misleading to suggest that we show our civilised responses to good advantage by defending the right of people freely to make, import, distribute or peddle videos like those that hon. Members were shown recently.
A society that is not prepared to defend itself and its young people from such filth is not civilised but decadent and corrupt. For all those reasons, I warmly welcome the Bill and urge the House to unite in its support.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to put on record my support—indeed, the support of all my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party—for the Bill. Although the people of Northern Ireland suffer from what is an awfully depraved type of terrorist violence, there is among the vast majority of the population a great revulsion towards and genuine concern about attempts to peddle more and more pornography in our part of the United Kingdom.
That concern transcends the political and religious divisions, so there will be great satisfaction in the knowledge that the Bill will apply in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, video filth has been slow to spread in Northern Ireland. However, we are reaching a critical point in its development in our community and the Bill will help to stifle the growth in such obscene trade and halt the further debasing of our entire community.
We who are British have a great sensitivity about legislation that may infringe the rights of the individual or act as a restriction on freedom. I believe that in the sphere of erotica we are unnecessarily self-conscious and speculate too much on those issues. Let us be assured that the community as a whole wants much greater restriction in the entire sphere of pornography.
It is not good enough to argue that we have no right to legislate to restrict the private behaviour of those who dissent from the views and standards of the majority in matters which affect the morals of the nation. A country is and always will be judged by the norm — by the average standards of its people—and when we allow the lowest levels of morality to become yet further debased we lower the norm for the whole community. We risk more of our young people being sucked into the quicksand of what is called soft porn, and then swallowed up in the depravity of the type of filth about which we have heard today. If we fail to deal effectively with the degradation that is available to our young people—and to certain disturbed individuals—we fail as a nation.
As an ex-schoolmaster I urge not just hon. Members but the whole nation to refrain from moral and spiritual suicide and to protect the innocent among us from the unscrupulous who would exploit the weaknesses in the law. I support the Bill because I see it, despite its undisputed merit, not as an end in itself but as an appropriate beginning of a moral regeneration of a great nation led by those who have the courage to make decisions to protect our weakest and most vulnerable citizens.
First, I declare my interest in the British Videogram Association Ltd. and the public relations firm of Communications Strategy Ltd. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his great courage and enterprise in taking up this subject, which will undoubtedly generate a great deal of heat as the weeks pass and the Bill is considered in more detail in Committee.
I share my hon. Friend's main objective and so does the British Videogram Association. I know of no one except the purveyors of the filth with which we are concerned —I do not actually know them—who could support no action being taken against what we call the video nasties, the really horrid and the hard pornographic recordings.
We are all excited and zealous about hitting the target that the Bill brings before us, but I wish to concentrate the mind of the House on what appears to be a great adventure. If we assume that the Bill is enacted, we shall for the first time be pre-censoring goods that a private individual can voluntarily purchase and use in the privacy of his own home.
Some hon. Members may be thinking that television programmes go into an individual's home. However, the programmes, in a sense, are pre-censored by the governors of the BBC and the members of the IBA. The programmes are sent to the home through the air and so the receiving of television programmes is not the same as the voluntary act of buying a film. We must think carefully and move stealthily if we are to ensure that we enact the right legislation.
I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for his remarks. He caused me to rise in my place on one or two occasions and I shall direct myself later to the comments that made me do so. I am worried about the way in which we legislate to move into an area of private activity. I am concerned about that which the Bill does not set out. A great deal of power is to be given to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and as this is a sensitive area I believe that the powers should be set out in the Bill when it becomes an Act. We should not leave it to the Home Secretary to designate an authority.
The House will be aware that 20 per cent. of the British people own video cassette recorders and concerned people will want to know in a much more specific form what the law states. What authority will be designated? We are told that it is likely to be the British Board of Film Censors in an expanded form. How many people will serve on the authority and where will they come from? Should the average man in the street be represented as well as everyone else?
It is possible that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will say that my proposals would make life far too complicated for him. But I contend that the details that I have mentioned should be written into the Bill in a more tangible form. I take that view because I believe that we are invading personal privacy.
It should be made clear in the Bill whether Parliament has agreed that the criteria will be the same as those for the classification of films for the cinema. If there are to be differences, let us state what they will be. We must not leave these matters to a quango or a new body, even a body which appears, from my amateur eye, to be almost statutory in form, although my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South said that it would not take that form. The relevant body will be created by the will of Parliament and to that extent Parliament should decide what it will do. Will that body, some quango, or the courts, hear appeals? I do not know. I believe that appeal provisions should be written into the Bill. Those are not minor matters. They are of great importance.
I was heartened to hear from the Under-Secretary of State the action that the Attorney-General has taken with the British Board of Film Censors. Total confusion arises when film producers or cassette producers have their work classified and find that the certification is taken away because a chief constable in some part of the country has decided that the films or cassettes may be obscene and should, therefore, be examined by the Director of Public Prosecutions. This also affects the British film producers, who invest a large amount of money in an honest endeavour to make a good film. Ultimately, as the Williams committee on obscenity and film censorship suggested, the British Board of Film Censors must become some type of statutory body and serve as a greater form of insurance. This may not occur immediately. The British Board of Film Censors is a voluntary body set up by the film industry.
After the passage of the Bill, will not the Under-Secretary arrive at a curious marriage when he unites a voluntary body with a statutory body? Parliament may pass legislation saying that videograms or cassettes must be classified by this body. I should have thought that, because this body sits by virtue of an Act of Parliament, it is almost a contempt to say that it should be challenged by the DPP. That is my difficulty.
My hon. Friend does not agree. A difficulty will arise if a voluntary body sits with a compulsory body. We shall discuss these matters further in Committee.
What do the people want? My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn), in an excellent maiden speech, referred to a poll. I accept what my hon. Friend said, but he will remember that other figures in the poll showed that large numbers of people who were interviewed thought that newspapers, books and such goods were censored. How accurately can we judge from polling?
I refer to a poll taken last year on sexual attitudes, when more than 60 per cent. said that if they wanted to do something in private they should be allowed to do so. If that is true, perhaps the speeches that we have heard about the viewing of video nasties did not reflect public opinion. I believe that they did. We must examine carefully the standards that we are setting and not be cut off from the people.
Many of our constituents have written to us about the Bill. I believe that most have been encouraged by their membership of that crusading organisation run by Mrs. Whitehouse who organises her members professionally. I have not heard from other groups. I hope that, during the next few weeks, we hear from video users. I do not believe that my secretary would agree with me, because of the number of responses that we would have to make. If we proceed along this delicate path of legislation for the private citizen in his or her home, we should know what the citizen wants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South referred to sport being exempted from the Bill and suggested that there should be control over sport. There is a difficulty with education. Will clause 2(2) be enough? There is another problem. Clause 2(2) refers to showing the intimate parts of the body. Universities and medical schools, which hold a large amount of important material on tape featuring just those things for serious medical research, might not be exempt. We should consider that matter carefully.
No mention is made of my old subject—news and current affairs. That is probably because, with one awful exception that I do not propose to discuss, there has been no attempt at dealing with current affairs in the hiring or sale of videograms in the shops. As this device becomes more popular, an enterprising gentleman or lady might start supplying a Spectator, New Statesman, Time or Newsweek videogram to the video shops once a week. It could be done. The news is probably the most violent thing on television. Will we exempt news and current affairs for the video shops or include them? The Bill does not say.
I should have thought that a slightly easier ride would be given to the genuine children's programmes. The producers of the successors to "Blue Peter" and other such programmes could be trusted on the condition that if they overstepped the mark they would be brought quickly into line.
Horrific material and hard porn must be banned. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has great success and that there is much discussion on many amendments in Committee. When considering the fact that I agree with intrusion in the individual's home, I shall never forget that the party that my hon. Friend and I support, which forms the Government of this country, is the party that boasts of the freedom of the individual under the law. We must get that balance right or we are in peril. Let my hon. Friend aim to the centre of the target and not scatter his grapeshot so wide that, possibly, the target is missed altogether.
I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for enabling me to sponsor it. It must be rewarding for those who monitor and watch parliamentary debates to see such a rare occasion when all the parties are united with one aim.
However, there are two aims that the Bill does not have. First, it does not impose morality. That should be made absolutely clear. It is not the duty of the House to lay down morality. It is not the duty of certain organisations to do so. Secondly, it is not the Bill's aim completely to review the obscenity laws. I was considerably interested in what right hon. and hon. Members said about the redefinition of "obscenity" and what should be done in Committee. However, not one of them even guessed how it should be done. My hon. Friend the Minister was right to say that it should be up to 12 good men and true to represent the public opinion and morality of the time.
Let us not for get the mischief that the Bill is designed to prevent. It is designed to protect young, impressionable and corruptible minds. The enemies of the Bill will not be the wreckers of society—the Left-wing rabble rousers— but, to use the phrase employed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), the anti-censorship purists. They are the people who will cause the trouble. It is they who have sent us their interminable surveys showing how wicked the Bill is. It is they who insist that it is an invasion of the rights of the individual. I bitterly regret that those middle-class people who sit on bean bags wearing Gucci accessories in their Hampstead flats which are bedecked with Laura Ashley decorations and talk about world affairs should allow their children to see the type of video films with which we are dealing.
I have received information from an organisation that I have no hesitation in naming —NACROPA, or the National Campaign for the Reform of the Obscene Publications Acts. Many eminent people's names appear on the letter heading. It says quite clearly that it thinks that the Bill is wrong and that many members of its executive allow their 16-year-old daughters to watch video nasties. Heaven knows what damage has been and is being done to those young people.
As the right hon. Member for Small Heath said, there is evidence which connects behavioural disturbances in young people with watching some films. Hon. Members have only to examine evidence which has already been presented, such as that of the Williams committee. Furthermore, I refer hon. Members to evidence provided by Dr. David Nias of the Institute of Psychiatry. He emphasised the fact that people become desensitised. That is deeply worrying. He also says that some people will commit certain acts because their feelings of guilt gradually wither away. Such people do things that they would not normally contemplate. Hon. Members must find that most disturbing.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that the Obscene Publications Acts are good for certain things. They are good for publications and films, but they are not good for video material because they are a cumbersome, slow and extremely unreliable tool. One of the many problems is the wide availability of video cassettes. In an excellent maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) made clear the sheer quantity of video material that is available. It takes about 18 months to achieve a prosecution under the 1959 Act. During the 18 months, people, especially children, are subjected to such material. That is why it is essential that we support the Bill.
I should now like to deal with the clause relating to supply. We must hit the people who are making money—the manufacturers. We must seriously consider in Committee whether a £10,000 fine is enough and whether imposition of a prison sentence should be available to the courts. If any hon. Member has any reservations about the Bill I strongly recommend that he deal with them in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) rightly said that it is better to have a half loaf than none.
I wish to try to clear up one or two misconceptions which have been mentioned when referring to the Obscene Publications Act 1959. My hon. Friend the Minister briefly referred to the problem. In no circumstances does a prosecution witness ever appear, nor could he possibly appear, in court to say that he has been depraved or corrupted. That is not how the law works. It is for the jury to decide, in all the circumstances, whether people might be depraved and corrupted.
Taking everything into account, we are not proposing draconian legislation. An appeal system has been specifically laid down for the Secretary of State to put before the House. That can only be good.
Another failure of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 with which the Bill specifically deals is made clear in the relevant clauses.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has made it clear in many articles that it is most concerned that the available material is corrupting young children. I accept the organisation's comments, as I am sure do all hon. Members. I appreciate that an aspect of R(18) worries many hon. Members, but I warn hon. Members that if we do not have some safety valve and allow some showing of such films we shall be responsible for the largest single wave of criminality since before the Street Offences Act 1959, and the corruption and racketeering that went with it. I conclude by referring to the words of the NSPCC:
This Bill is the least that we can do to protect young minds from lasting change".
The House ignores those words at its peril.
We are trying to find a consensus on a most difficult and important issue. The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) rightly reminded us of the attitude that we should be taking to the Bill. I am a sponsor of the Bill because I believe that it provides an important opportunity to get correct legislation to deal with what is a practical problem for many families.
We ignore at our peril, however, the fundamental issues of rights and liberties that lie behind legislation of this type. Various personal liberties are involved, such as the right of privacy. We do not want a Bill of this type to come on to the statute book in 1984 in a big brother way, which would betoken police raiding parties on the homes of our citizens interrupting what people choose to do in their homes. Nor should we ignore people's freedom of information and expression. We must always remember, however, that these things are different as between adults and children. Our prime concern should be to leave to adults the responsibility that they wish to exercise and that society seeks to give them while assisting parents who cannot always take responsibility on a practical, hour-by-hour basis for bringing up their children to respect the standards that they wish them to have.
I have had 14 years' experience of youth work and I have tested this issue on young people in recent weeks. I have talked to people not in the sylvan suburbs of Hampstead, which so far as I am aware I have never visited, but in the ordinary streets of Southwark and Bermondsey where Laura Ashley patterns and bean bags are fairly rare commodities. People in those areas find video control a difficult issue. Youngsters know that if something is made illegal it becomes more appealing. As soon as something is put behind dark curtains or locked doors attempts will be made to get it our to be enjoyed by friends and their peer group. That is true of alcohol and drugs and it is certainly true of video.
When I was at school a blue film was shown three times in two days. The first showing was attended by six people, the second by 50 and the third by almost the entire school. It may amuse the House to know that I and one of the present Officers of the House, who was the same school, had to go on a raiding party. We found ourselves very much in the minority when we discovered hundreds of people watching that blue film in the physics laboratory. It was appealing because it was illegal and difficult to obtain.
We must be extremely careful not to force on to the black market films which, as the police told those of us who saw the film clips upstairs last week, are not yet the subject of the same syndicates of commercial control and exploitation as, for example, pornography. So far, the money is made and is to be made by people who produce films purely for their own commercial interest without trying to hold people to ransom or run protection rackets. We do not wish to create a situation in which the black market in a large number of films is so lucrative that vast profits can be made and a huge number of people exploited.
I cite an example of the practical problems. Two weeks ago I went to a home in my constituency where three youngsters and their parents were watching a film that I certainly regarded as a video nasty. The sight of nails being hammered into people's necks with the consequent throwing up of blood and so on did not make me physically sick, but I found it shocking. Youngsters of 13 or 14, however, seemed not to mind in the slightest. They regarded it in the same context as those parts of war films in which the enemy fighter planes are shot down at close quarters.
Another practical problem arises when people go to their local video shop. There is no distinction or discrimination in the catalogue of stock. "The Sound of Music" may be listed beside something described as "Swedish" or something entitled "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". I have not checked, but I am reliably informed that Walt Disney films are not obtainable on video, so titles of that kind are certainly not what they may seem. People going into premises where videos are distributed need to know what they are getting. They should know that the spool is as described on the packet and that the packet represents what it says it does. They also need to know the categories available. The Bill seeks to fill that important gap. People also need to know exactly what is involved when acquiring a video in terms of content and availability for distribution.
We must beware of underestimating the ability of young people, most of whom are responsible, not mentally deficient, and are growing up as normal young people in society, to put into their proper context the activities of degradation, corruption, bestiality and the like which videos sometimes portray.
Last weekend I talked to four local youngsters ranging in age from 16 to 18, and I was amazed to find that they had seen all the films that we saw upstairs last week. It may be said that those youngsters are immune and that their sensibilities and sensitivities have been reduced., but they assured me that the films had not frightened or influenced them. The four were not violent, and have never been violent in all the years that I have known them. We must beware of saying that there will always be a high risk of corruption of 16 to 18-year-olds who see the sort of material about which we are talking.
I hope that we shall return in Committee to the two principles that the Bill challenges us to reconsider. We must consider the suitability of a board, such as the British Board of Film Censors, to make decisions about video recordings. In the case of films for display in cinemas it makes recommendations to local authorities which can then make a decision on behalf of their electors. It is dangerous to contemplate that non-accountable bodies should make rather than recommend decisions on behalf of the public. We must ensure that the decisions are consistent and reflect the views of the public. It is clear that many people—I have talked to my newsagent and others — believe that banning, censoring or restricting the circulation of many videos will not solve the problem. The best way is to leave it to the jury, the representatives of our community, to judge whether something is acceptable for public distribution.
We must not take videos out of context and separate them from books, magazines, films or all other material that is available for dissemination. We must apply the same criteria across the board. The Bill is a fireman's exercise—it deals with a series of fires that has grown in recent years, such as the mass purchase of video recorders and the speedy adaptation of the public to using videos at home. We must be careful that that exercise does not replace a proper reconsideration of the way in which we deal with obscenity. Today we have not worked out the right way of defining obscenity, which we know will pose many problems—as the Williams report highlighted—but I hope that we will do so as the Bill progresses through the House. When seeking to impose judgments on society, it would be helpful to know that each time a case goes to court — the test is a group of people saying that something is acceptable or not — that standard is immediately applicable.
I welcome theMinister's assurance that the Director of Public Prosecutions will make available information about the materials that have been judged to be in breach of the law — many people on obscene publications charges have found it difficult to ascertain the standards—to guide the body that will be responsible for setting standards. We can reflect the views of society only by examining the judgments made in courts of law by representatives of society. As the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) said, it is not for us to legislate on morality. Rather we must try to show people how to deal with the problems that degrade the morality of family life, and how to raise standards. We have to raise standards, not by saying, "You will not do this" but by saying, "This is a much better way for you to be able to share the experiences of life with your family, friends and children."
I hope that as we go through the processes of the Bill, we shall give it to the proper, careful, and meticulous consideration that it deserves so that it is consistent with the defence of the constitutional principles of privacy and freedom that we are here to stand for and by. We must be conscious also of our duty to our young people, while bearing in mind their ability to be more discriminating and more discerning than we often give them credit for.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) on two good maiden speeches. I hope that we shall hear my hon. Friends often in the future. I also offer my warmest congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) both on his good fortune in the ballot, and on bringing the Bill before the House today. As has already been said, he has done all of us and the nation a great service.
The purpose of the Bill is to deal with a social evil that has grown up in Britain since the video tape recorder came into use in many thousands of homes. That evil is the sale or hire of video tapes depicting scenes of such horror that their showing in the home is likely to deprave and corrupt those who watch them. The evil that the so-called video nasties represent is such that they are a threat to society in general. Not only do they pander to the basest human instincts, but they constitute a particular danger to children who see them. We know from the speeches that we have heard that many children are seeing these films. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) made the point that some children get hold of these films and then exhibit them to their mates at 10p a session. That is the evil about which I am concerned.
I am also concerned that such video nasties will bring into disrepute the legitimate video industry, which is one of the most wonderful, exciting and stimulating developments that has taken place in our society this century. We should acknowledge that video tapes and discs have a place in our society. They are a means of bringing enjoyment, entertainment and education to many people who would not otherwise have the opportunity to see that material.
Like the other hon. Members who attended the screening upstairs in the House a week or so ago, arranged by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South, I was deeply shocked by what I saw. I am not a prude and I have seen on television, on films and in my life many scenes that were tough and difficult to take. However, the scenes that I saw on that afternoon were so utterly revolting that I had the greatest possible difficulty in watching more than a few seconds of each sequence.
The tapes concerned are, as we heard, all of American origin. They have been brought to Britain and are being sold for about £40 a time, or are being hired through many thousands of video tape libraries — often, probably, without the proprietors knowing what it is they are hiring to their clients. As a result, people who wish for some extraordinary reason to witness scenes of appalling cruelty both to human beings and to animals can easily obtain these tapes and show them at home.
What sort of adult wants to witness scenes involving cannabalism, mutilation or terrible cruelty to animals? What sort of adult, or even child, wants to watch a live monkey having its skull crushed and then see diners in a restaurant feast on its brains while they are still warm? We are talking about scenes like that. That is the type of disgusting and revolting material that we are dealing with, rather than the blue films to which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred.
I was shocked and distressed, as I imagine all hon. Members were, by the television reports during the past week or two about the trial of a person who killed and cut up 16 young men and disposed of their remains in various ways. I cannot help wondering whether what I saw in the House last week might encourage people who are perhaps children today to believe that behaviour of that nature is something in which they would indulge in the future. That worries me greatly.
What is the effect of such scenes of cruelty and depravity on the minds of young people? My hon. Friend the Minister made it clear today that he shares the view of hon. Members that we have a duty to protect young people from seeing material of this type.
I want to say a brief word about the effects of the Bill on the British film industry. A number of matters are causing concern, particularly to the cinematograph exhibitors, which I hope my hon. Friend will be willing to consider and take fully into account in Committee. What concerns the film industry most is not the subject matter of the Bill, but the consequences to the industry if a common form of classification is applied to films, video cassettes and discs. In practice, the film industry is concerned that the current criteria and standards applicable to the showing of films in the controlled environment of the cinema—I emphasise those words—which over a long period have proved effective and acceptable to local licensing authorities, the Home Office and the trade, will be severely modified as a result of the same material being made available on video tapes and shown in the home under totally different conditions and controls. That is an important aspect and one that needs to be considered closely in Committee.
I remind the House that the public cinema is subject to the Obscene Publications Act. I also remind all hon. Members that the public cinema is also subject to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts 1911 and 1934 and to the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937. So the film industry has been subject to the constraints imposed by those statutes for many years. The Obscene Publications Act 1959, in applying the test of obscenity, said:
the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
Clause 4 of the Bill refers to "adequate arrangements" being made for appeals procedure. Where a certificate is refused by the British Board of Film Censors to a film to be shown in licensed cinemas, the distributor is free to apply to individual licensing authorities for permission to show the film in cinemas in that licensing area. If the classification of video cassettes or discs is handed over to the BBFC as was explained to us today by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, that body, which is set up by the film industry and is non-statutory and has complete independence, will become the designated authority under clause 4. Therefore, it will apply a form of state censorship to cassettes and discs, albeit that that censorship is being exercised at arm's length.
Generally speaking, the film industry is neutral about that concept, but if the criteria and the certification are to be the same, the same form of censorship will, ipso facto, apply to the British film industry. That is a factor which would need serious consideration by all sections of the industry. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State understands and appreciates that point.
It is my opinion that the only effective way of resolving that problem in practice is for there to be two separate and distinct forms of censorship—one for video tapes and discs and one for films shown in cinemas under licensed conditions, thus reflecting the significant differences between the two media. On Saturday 5 November, The Times leader said:
the British Board of Film Censors exercises over public film showings an effective influence based most curiously on informal consent.
Should we interfere with the working of the BBFC and a system of self-policing which works so well for the film industry? Might it perhaps be better to have a separate authority for video tapes operating classification standards which take account of the fact that, unlike the licensed cinema, the video-tapes are shown in the home to audiences of widely differing ages?
This matter is of crucial importance to the Bill's success. It might even be possible for the work of the designated body to be undertaken by the BBFC in the same premises but keeping the two media separate and distinct. If we did not, we might get ourselves into considerable difficulties, and the many cinema exhibitors throughout Britain who operate responsibly would be anxious about the future.
I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South every possible success for the Bill. It will have my full support and I hope that it will soon become law.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his good fortune in securing time to promote the Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) on their excellent maiden speeches.
I support the Bill. It goes as far as the law should go and no further. It remedies an abuse and in doing so it strikes a proper balance between the evils of pornography, about which we have heard a great deal, and the evils of state censorship, about which we have heard rather less.
I realise that it might be possible to devise a more restrictive form of censorship, but that would not he right. If I dwell on the evils of state censorship, I hope that the House will understand that that is not due to any lack of appreciation that pornography is harmful. Of course, pornography is harmful.
Never has a system of state censorship been advocated on any basis other than that what is to be censored is harmful. Because we believe that, because we are so sure, because the danger seems to be so palpable, we may fall too readily into the embrace of a greater but more insidious heresy—the belief that the state often knows best what people should see and often has the right or duty to stop them from seeing anything else. That is a slippery slope towards which some hon. Members will try to move the Bill and it is as important that we should resist that as that we should assert the Bill's merits.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition and I was a junior clerk in her office and not a Member of the House I remember opening a letter addressed to her from the Cambridge Freedom Association requesting a message from the leader. Such a request was always dealt with by my right hon. Friend personally but I attached to it my own draft message in case she should want some ideas to work on. It included this passage:
Each of us wants to be free to do those things that he considers harmless, enjoyable or useful. Each of us is happy to allow similar freedoms to others. Even a Stalinist would agree to this. But the acid test of our belief in individual liberty is our willingness to allow other people to do things that we consider harmful, unpleasant, or useless.
Naturally, the draft was intercepted before it reached my right hon. Friend and I have no idea what her reaction
would have been. Nor do I know whether it was what the Freedom Association had in mind. I hope so, but I am not confident.
Later, I was asked to join forces on an issue with the National Council for Civil Liberties. I asked what record it could show me of support for individuals who had lost their livelihoods because they would not join a trade union. There was no reply.
Both those incidents depressed me and made me wonder whether the call for individual liberty amounts in many people's minds to no more than special pleading for a cause or activity that already meets with approval. That should not be the test.
J. S. Mill came up with a formula that many people thought helpful. He said that each man should be free to do whatever does not harm others. Mill's formula, though hallowed by Wolfenden, is useless. Almost every human action—including those that we are discussing—whether public or private, sooner or later affects others, whether directly or indirectly.
It will not do to tell Mrs. Whitehouse that nobody is forced to watch an unpleasant video recording. She has her answer and we should not dismiss it too lightly. She says that unpleasantness, like carbon monoxide, has a way of seeping into everything and ultimately touching all of us, whether we like it or not. It will not do to tell Mr. Arthur Scargill that whether a man opts to join a trade union is his own affair and he can make up his mind without forcing anyone else to make a similar decision. Mr. Scargill has his answer and we should not dismiss that too lightly. He says that in a labour movement, just as in a moral climate, solidarity is everything and once people start opting out, however privately they may mean to do so, the confidence and morale of those who remain are damaged.
Mrs. Whitehouse and Mr. Scargill have a point. It is just that Mr. Scargill's argument could be applied equally to those who did not wish to remain Catholic during the Spanish inquisition and Mrs. Whitehouse's argument could be used with the same force against mixed-race marriages in South Africa where they are thought to be obscene and sinful.
Practical observation teaches me that if people feel strongly enough that something is wrong, immoral or unpleasant, they will always be able to find an argument for claiming that it is harmful to society that the activity exists at all, even in private. Therefore, Mill's principle that the state has no business interfering except where behaviour affects others gives the state a fairly free rein.
On what grounds should we, and do we, allow liberty of expression? I admit that it is sometimes a dishonest way of defending something that we do not believe to be very wrong. I have sometimes caught myself calling for toleration of unpopular behaviour simply as a way of avoiding the argument about whether it was right or wrong, and of appealing to that old English phrase, "Mind your own business." That has an instant appeal to the English mind, but it is not the right test.
There is a wide range of opinion in the House about how harmful, and how often harmful, pornography is. The view exists that it is a minor problem, if a problem at all, but few will dare venture such an opinion. You, Mr. Speaker, will hear that opinion disguised behind the argument for liberty. It is sad, but true, that we shall not hear the argument for liberty so reverentially expressed by those who are most deeply offended by pornography. Yet, if the debate were in another context—say, a discussion about the Race Relations Act—a different group would be expressing its attachment to freedom of expression and a different group would have temporarily forgotten that attachment.
No, Sir, the argument that pornography may not be very harmful is a practical argument, to be conducted on the basis of factual evidence. It is not my argument; I think that pornography is harmful. My argument that the Bill be not taken too far—by which I mean that it should not be amended too radically in Committee — rests on a conviction that there should remain, even in the most civilised of societies, a limited right to hurt and to be hurt.
I take note of what many kind and learned ministers of religion have written to me, begging leave only to wonder where they find the authority for the view, which is everywhere assumed, that having found for ourselves the moral law, Christ wished the police to enforce it. Many of the ten commandments have yet to be incorporated into the criminal law, and it would be useful to know where we are supposed to stop.
My view, with respect to the prevailing attitudes of the churches in England—it is as compatible with Christian teaching as theirs — is that the state has no moral obligation to remove from its citizens the opportunity for sin. A society in which the individual is prevented by law from all wrongdoing and protected by law from the consequences of all wrongdoing is a society in which the individual will grow weaker and less able to fend for himself. A society in which people are unable to fall will become a society in which people are unable to stand.
Yet we obviously cannot have people murdering, robbing or raping each other without hindrance from the criminal law; we must have a criminal law. There must be limits to an individual's right to hurt another. I am simply concerned—that is the purpose of my speech—to point out that the arguments for legal interference trip more easily from the tongue and have a more immediate tug upon the heart strings than the arguments for standing back and occasionally letting people lead themselves and others astray. Much of what is finest and most admirable in the human spirit is learned from going wrong or seeing others going wrong.
Our proper function as legislators is to provide the rules, the referee, the ropes, the ring and the gloves. It is not altogether and always to stop the fight. As drafted, the Bill successfully provides the rules and the referee and it defines the ring. It is aimed especially at the protection of children, and it is the danger to children that worries me and my constituents most. It provides a quick and effective method of banning the most offensive films completely from the start, and it restricts the more offensive films to specially defined outlets, classifying the remainder into categories so that the customer knows what he is buying and the dealer knows what he is selling. It prohibits dealers from selling the wrong films to children, it upholds the adult's right to see all but the most offensive material and it acknowledges the vulnerability of the child by protecting him in circumstances where the parents cannot be expected to do so. But it also acknowledges the primacy of parental responsibility by declining to extend its writ into the family home, and that is right.
All in all, the Bill strikes the right balance and I commend it with a final thought. Defending liberty does not always feel a fine or noble thing when what must be defended is itself shabby, mean or nasty. But even in the repellent and shadowy world in which the Bill deals, there remains a principle to be guarded, a principle which, once breached, is weakened against the next attack. Nor do we ever know from what direction the next attack may come. This Bill is admirable both for its ambitions and its modesties. I wish it a safe and inviolate passage on to the statute book.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) that, contrary to the impression that my be given by the dreadful violence that daily occurs in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of the citizens there are utterly opposed to the growth of the vile and debased business commonly known as video nasties. We in Northern Ireland are not as seriously affected as people in the rest of the United Kingdom, but I am delighted that the Bill will apply to Northern Ireland because that will help to halt this disgusting business in its tracks.
We in the Ulster Unionist party fully support the aims of the Bill, but I feel that it should be even stronger. These filthy, depraved films should not be allowed to be made. If they could not he made, there would be no chance of young people being subjected to or influenced by their distribution. The least we should expect is that details of the content of films that can be seen in private, especially by children—whether by accident or design—should be indicated on the corner of the containers carrying the films.
To argue that if we try to keep the standards of decency and behaviour at an acceptable level is taking away the right of free speech is ludicrous, particularly when one thinks of the big money that is involved in this sad business. Perhaps we should try to find a Damascus road for those who would make financial gain from selling obscene recordings.
I confirm my full support for the Bill—I hope that it will be enacted as soon as possible—which will control in some small way the obnoxious business that concerns us all.
The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for giving it the chance of discussing this important Bill. My hon. Friend has made considerable sacrifices. Not everyone would give up the post of PPS to a Home Office Minister, which is the beginning of a ladder in parliamentary terms, to enable him to pilot a Bill through the House. However, my hon. Friend has done so for a matter of principle, and that fact needs to be known. He has worked immensely hard to try to get into the Bill provisions that are broadly acceptable.
The debate has ranged widely as has, I think, most of the correspondence that Members on both sides of the House will have received. Some feel that the Bill does not go far enough. Others are against it because they feel that it may in some way infringe freedom.
I shall read one or two extracts from one of the most monstrous letters that I have ever received in 13 years' membership of the House. The letter was sent to me by a body called the National Campaign for he Reform of the Obscene Publications Acts. Any body that has a long title
makes me automatically suspicious. It used the following words when describing my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South:
He claims that his Bill deals with a subject which is rightly a cause of great public concern. NCROPA disputes this. Great public concern over the issue is a myth. Any such concern is chiefly confined to a minority of self-appointed busy-bodies, albeit a highly organised and vocal minority, who wish to dictate to others and force their own tastes and standards on them. 'They are dangerous—we use that word advisedly —because their cause is often aided and abetted by irresponsible elements in the media who make highly inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims about the damaging effect of uncensored films and publications. Some oppressive religious groups and often seemingly fanatical motivated police chiefs and members of the judiciary contribute further to these lies.
That sort of approach will make most hon. Members realise the nature of those who are behind that type of organisation. The sooner they learn that they should not try to influence the minds of hon. Members by such hypocritical rubbish the better served they may be if they have any justification for what they are saying, and I do not believe that they have.
The Bill has to steer a middle course because it is a Private Member's Bill. It is not possible for a private Member to deal with such a major matter as obscene publications legislation. Any Bill that deals with that will have to be a Government measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who is an old friend, acknowledges that the content of the Bill had to be as it appears because it is a private Member's Bill. That does not vitiate his arguments that the Obscene Publications Acts need radical alteration. If we try to introduce those alterations in the Bill, we shall run a grave risk when it goes into Committee, as I hope it will.
The Bill is rather like the bus that shows "Nottingham" on the destination board and is asked to proceed to Sheffield. It may be pushed beyond its capacity and break down. In such a case, there would be no Bill. That is the way to examine the Bill. It is providing the half loaf; but those who want some advance should recognise that the other half of the loaf must he provided at some stage by a Government Bill in Government time with all the expertise that the Government can bring to that type of intricate legislation.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) on their superb maiden speeches. When I read the Eastern Daily Press, I shall be glad to see the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South rather than those of two other hon. Members who used to represent Norwich. While I shall be more in sympathy with my hon. Friend's views I shall miss the former hon. Members. We hope that they have a pleasant time.
Two points during the debate caused concern to the House. One was double jeopardy. The Under-Secretary gave a clear answer which I believe should have satisfied most of the doubters. It is a pity that two publicly paid officials could not have exchanged the guidelines that were talked about many years ago without having to be forced to do so by the Government. I hope that those officials will recognise that they are public servants, not kings in little empires. If nothing else has been valuable in this debate, the fact that that point has come out will make it clear beyond any doubt that Parliament does not expect civil servants to defy common sense and cause obstructions.
The other issue that was worrying hon. Members was R(18). In this, as in many other matters, one must return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South said at the beginning of his speech—that he is flexible on the points that have been raised and that they can be considered in Committee. I hope that the Bill proceeds to that stage.
Some people are worried that the size of the penalty may be insufficient, and they may be justified in that. The Bill provides for a penalty of £1,000 for false classification. I regard that as a more serious crime than many others. Perhaps it should fall into the £10,000 fine category. We can examine that matter in Committee also.
My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) referred to problems caused by backlogs of tapes. He made a point also about the reproduction of programmes from the BBC and the IBA. He said that it would be sensible to leave those programmes alone because they had been shown on the BBC and the IBA. Why should they have fresh classifications? Many of us have seen the productions that appear at 11 pm or midnight. I am not sure that they can claim the right not to be classified when video cassettes are freely available in the home.
There has been much argument and a fair number of harsh words about the British Board of Film Censors. I know little about that body, except that, two elections ago, my personal assistant was one of the illustrious censors. I am sure that he contributed to the 70 years of wisdom built up by that body. That must give it a head start for being the body that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary designates as the classifying body. However, it is precisely because there is a danger in starting to discuss the detail of what authority should be the classifying authority that in the Bill my hon. Friend has rightly left that to my right hon. and learned Friend to designate. Perhaps it will be the BBFC. It may be a completely different body. However, it is dangerous to run the risk of having a statutory body to do the job. We shall have to consider the matter in Committee, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said. It would be wiser to have a body such as the BBFC. I shall not enter the argument that they are not the ideal people because they are not altogether perfect, as some of us are prepared to say.
I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) who referred to the middle-class, Gucci, Laura Ashley citizens of Hampstead. I am not sure whether I have met any of those strange people, nor have I met the Misses Dutt Paukers who are frequently noticed in the columns of the Daily Telegraph. However, I see strange objects called "chairs" in that part of the world. That is the modern, sexless expression. Judging by some of their decisions, they are certainly made of wood. My hon. Friend was right that in the end the judgment on many of those matters should be that of a jury, if the case is taken to a court.
The right hon. Member for Small Heath was particularly worried about imported videos. I am assured that they would be caught and wholly subject to the Bill's provisions. Therefore, if an imported video was not classified, it would be in dead lumber. That should satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.
The Bill tries to meet a clearly expressed public anxiety. If one had discussed video nasties five years ago, some people would have said that it was a minority interest and that Parliament could not legislate for the problem which had not then arisen. Precious few people would say that today. Most people recognise that there is not much entertainment in seeing some of the items on those videos, which are unbelievably dreary, apart from all the muck and filth that they contain.
However, some people enjoy watching video nasties. I did a radio phone-in last weekend. Two people phoned, referring to two video nasties that hon. Members had seen. They said that they and their friends saw nothing wrong with them. All I can say is that one has to have a strange mentality to enjoy such things.
Equally, we must acknowledge that some people, for the best of reasons, believe that there is a danger in the censorship that could result from the Bill. From what has been said today, I believe that that view is not shared. Most hon. Members recognise that the controls that are being sought in the legislation are overdue and will be recognised by the people to whom the right hon. Member for Small Heath referred. In the end, the man on the Clapham omnibus is the arbiter of what we believe to be right. Although the Clapham omnibus does not go as far as Birmingham, Small Heath, the right hon. Gentleman will know what I mean.
I believe that the Bill should go forward. I recognise from what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South and other hon. Members who will serve on the Committee may be under pressure to amend the Bill. That time is yet to come.
To those outside the House who consider that the Bill goes too far in what it proposes—few hon. Members have expressed such a view in the debate—I say that they are completely out of touch with Britain in the 1980s. The Lord Chief Justice expressed the view of the silent majority who are, happily, now speaking up. Liberty in the past 25 years has in far too many cases become licence. That must stop. The Bill marks the beginning of a campaign which should try to stop that licence degenerating still further, leading to the total corruption of people's minds—young and old alike. I hope that the Bill gets the Second Reading that it so richly deserves.