Video Games: Domestic Violence and Child Abuse - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 3:30 pm, 6th December 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to restrict the sale of video games featuring domestic violence and child abuse.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, under the Video Recordings Act, games on physical media are referred to the Video Standards Council for classification if they contain content unsuitable for children. Anyone supplying a game rated 12, 16 or 18 under the Pan-European Game Information age-rating system to someone below the appropriate age risks a fine or jail sentence. The Video Standards Council can refuse to certify a game containing material that is illegal or that it considers would cause harm to players.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure that he would agree with Andy Burrows from the NSPCC, who said:

“Any video game that trivialises or normalises child abuse, neglect or domestic violence for entertainment is unacceptable”.

The Video Standards Council, which took over from the British Board of Film Classification, is more like a trade organisation than a regulatory body and uses a very light-touch approach to classifying video games, which does not meet the concerns of parents. In fact, none has been made unavailable or removed from the shelves. Will he consider strengthening how we deal with young people—children—and video games?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The noble Lord is absolutely correct to say that, at the moment, the council has not effectively banned any video game, but its members are the professionals, set up to do the job under the Act. They were the people who Parliament decided were correct to do this and have access to expert advice, including psychologists and legal advice. The video games industry knows that the council can effectively ban a video game if it is unsuitable. However, I take the point that these things need looking at occasionally, and part of the internet safety strategy deals directly with video games. We are asking questions about that to see whether anything further needs to be done.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Chair, Accommodation Steering Group Committee, Chair, Services Committee

Does the Minister agree that we should never allow anything to give the impression that either domestic violence or the abuse of children is normal or acceptable behaviour? This issue needs to be taken very seriously indeed.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I do agree, as any sensible and rational person would. That is why we are looking at child safety in the round, particularly online, which is the new area, and will consider further things that need to be done.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that because of amendments introduced in your Lordships’ House to the Digital Economy Bill in March, it will now be perfectly possible for adults using the internet to access very realistic animated computer-generated images of child sex abuse and pornographic violence against women? Does he further agree that it was a terrible mistake to introduce this different enforcement standard online from that which applies offline, and will he undertake to introduce urgent legislation to address this error?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I took the Digital Economy Bill through this House so I cannot agree with the first part of the noble Baroness’s question. These things that are beyond the pale in many ways were available on the internet before and have nothing to do with what is now the Digital Economy Act. We are looking at ways to make this country the best place to be safe online and we will continue to do that.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, why is there any equivocation here? Cannot my noble friend accept that the logical consequence of what every noble Lord has said this afternoon—and what he himself has said—is that these things should be banned, full stop?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

That is why we set up an independent body. That is better than giving me or any other Minister the power of censorship over these things.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is really missing the point here. He says there is an independent body set up to do this, but the fact is that it is not doing it. It is all very well having a body to do it, and having rules, regulations and legislation, but if they are not acted upon there is a serious problem. He has said several times that it needs looking at and that something needs to be done. May I press him to take this away and, on the specific issue of violence in video games, to come back to this House with a report of what can be done, and how the Government can take some responsibility for this and not leave it to an independent body that is clearly not doing its job?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I do not agree with the noble Baroness and I see no evidence that this body is not doing its job. It classified the age for 146 out of 498 video games in 2016 as 18, meaning that only adults should be allowed to watch them and that it is a criminal offence to allow other people below that age to do so.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that any depiction of child abuse is likely to normalise that behaviour, not just in the minds of children who are less likely to report it, but also in those of potential perpetrators? Does he not agree that if no video game has ever been banned, something really needs to be done about this so-called independent body that is supposed to be taking action?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree that showing child abuse in a video game is likely to normalise it and I accept there is a difference between, for example, showing it in a play or a film, which does happen. But, set in the context, it might give the right message, depending on what the results are. The difference is that an adult of a particularly perverted nature can access a video game and choose to go down that path, so I do agree. However, I do not agree with the argument—I see no evidence—that because no game has been banned, the Video Standards Council is not doing a proper job. Its members are the experts—they have help from psychologists and they rate these video games according to that advice