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?