Legislative Consent Motion

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:45 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP 1:45 pm, 11th January 2010

I beg to move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 11th January 2010

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Tá mé ag caint ar son an Choiste Cultúir, Ealaíon agus Fóillíochta, agus tá muidinne, mar Choiste, ag tabhairt tacaíochta don rún seo.

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Wallace Browne Lord Wallace Browne DUP

I support the motion that the application of the provisions of the Video Recordings Bill be extended to Northern Ireland. The subject matter of the Bill is not controversial as it is substantially a re-enactment of existing legislation, and there are no cost implications for Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, the system of classification for video films and video games is of the utmost importance. Therefore, the changes proposed in the Digital Economy Bill [HL] need very careful consideration. I will comment on that in more detail when that motion is discussed.

I support the legislative consent motion.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

I thank the Minister for moving the legislative consent motion today. It deals with a rather peculiar piece of legislation that is currently being fast-tracked through another place. The Bill is a simple piece of legislation consisting of two clauses and one schedule. Clause 1 repeals the provisions of the Video Recordings Act and immediately revives them. Clause 2 refers simply to the short title of the Bill, its commencement and extent.

The 1984 Act introduced a system for classifying video films and some video games according to their content, as well as a series of offences for supplying classified videos and video games to people under an age restriction. The Act was an innovative and welcome piece of legislation, as it stopped certain videos with extreme content from receiving a classification and made it an offence to supply unclassified material.

The 1984 Act was introduced by a private Member, and it appears that, in consideration of the Digital Economy Bill [HL], which we will address later, the Government discovered that the Act was no longer enforceable under UK law. My understanding is that the situation arose because of a procedural failure in 1984 to notify the European Commission of the Act’s provision in draft under the technical standards directive. That means that no new prosecutions can be made under that Act and prosecutors cannot oppose appeals made in time against conviction. As the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport outlined recently, it means that:

“publishers of videos, DVDs and 18-rated and R18-rated video games can distribute their goods free of any classification restrictions. Retailers can sell classified and unclassified adult material to any person, regardless of age, with limited statutory powers to stop or prosecute them.”

The Video Recordings Bill is designed to make the 1984 Video Recordings Act enforceable again as soon as possible. Therefore, my party fully supports the legislative consent motion. However, I ask the Minister to clarify the situation as regards the distribution of previously illegal material in Northern Ireland during the period of the legal loophole. What assurances has the Minister received from his London counterpart that past convictions will not be challengeable due to the scenario that the Bill attempts to address?

Photo of P J Bradley P J Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

When I was growing up in a rural homestead and switching on a wireless powered by the dry battery and the wet battery, I never thought that, one day, I would be talking about digital radios and digital this and that. I apologise that I arrived late for the Minister’s statement —

Photo of David McClarty David McClarty UUP

Order. I remind the Member that the legislative consent motion does not concern digital radio. It is about the Video Recordings Bill.

Photo of P J Bradley P J Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I apologise if I confused you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Given that the endorsement sought is quite straightforward and that the Bill is relatively short, there is little that I can add to the comments that were made by the Chairperson of the Committee and the three or four other Members who spoke. I support the Bill, and I thank other Members for saying what I might have said had I been here earlier.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I support the motion on behalf of the Alliance Party. I concur fully with the comments that were made by the Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Barry McElduff. The memorandum outlines why the Video Recordings Bill should be extended to Northern Ireland. The fact that offences committed under the 1984 Act were unenforceable because of a failure of certain provisions of the Act and the regulations under the technical standards directive is a very good reason for the House to support the motion.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

I thank the Members for their contributions and support for the proposal. The Video Recordings Act dates back to 1984, but it was only in August 2009 that it became known and recognised that there was a technical difficulty surrounding its enforcement. All that we are doing today is pursuing regularisation of the situation.

A question was asked about people who have been prosecuted under the Act already. I am informed that a small number of cases have been appealed, but Members will appreciate that no one can comment on cases that are ongoing. I am also informed that it is not likely that people prosecuted previously will be able to overturn their convictions or receive any financial recompense. Similarly, it is unlikely that any loss-of-trade claims will succeed. I am further informed that a relatively small number of people were prosecuted under the Act as a result of its deterrent powers. Many prosecutions under the Act have also been made in conjunction with prosecutions for other offences. Therefore, I hope that the House will give its consent to us proceeding on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

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