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Video Recordings Bill

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 7 January 2010

First Reading and Statement

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

My Lords, the House has just given a First Reading to the Video Recordings Bill, and of course I am delighted with that. This may therefore be a useful point for me to set out the Government’s plans in relation to this Bill. With the agreement of the usual channels, the Government intend to fast-track this Bill through its stages in this House. Many of your Lordships will be aware that this is the first time that we have introduced a Bill with the intention of fast-tracking it since the Constitution Committee published its report on Fast-Track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards.

One of the committee's key recommendations was that, for all Bills that are to be passed with unusual expedition, an explanation of the reasons for using a fast-track procedure should be provided. The Government accepted that recommendation, and in a Written Answer in December last year my noble friend the Leader of the House gave an undertaking that, for any future Bill being fast-tracked, the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill would contain a full explanation of the case for fast-tracking, addressing the key questions set out in the Constitution Committee’s report. I am pleased to say that the Explanatory Notes accompanying this Bill, which will be printed tomorrow morning, address each of those questions.

The committee also recommended that when the Bill is introduced to the House, the Minister responsible be required to make a Statement outlining the case for fast-tracking. With the leave of the House, that is what I propose to do.

The purpose of the Video Recordings Bill is to repeal and revive the existing provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 to make the criminal offences in that Act enforceable. The 1984 Act established a system of age classification for video works administered by the British Board of Film Classification, together with a regime of criminal offences and penalties. The Bill does not introduce any new provisions or offences into the 1984 Act. The Act is simply revived without any substantive changes.

Noble Lords may be asking why it is necessary for us to do this. Unfortunately, the offences under the Act were made unenforceable because of a failure at that time to notify certain provisions of the 1984 Act in draft to the European Commission in accordance with the technical standards directive. This failure to notify was only discovered last August in the course of preparing the draft Digital Economy Bill which is currently before the House. The 1984 Act has now been notified to the Commission in accordance with the directive.

Until the 1984 Act is made enforceable, no new prosecutions can be made under the Act and prosecutors cannot oppose appeals made in time against convictions. This means that publishers of video games and DVDs can distribute their goods free of classification requirements and retailers can sell or supply classified and unclassified material to any person, regardless of age, with limited statutory powers to stop or prosecute them. The Government therefore are seeking to fast-track the Video Recordings Bill to restore the protection afforded to the public under the 1984 Act; the only certain way of providing the important public protections set out in that Act is to ensure that its provisions are made enforceable as soon as possible.

The Bill consists of only two clauses and one schedule. Clause 1 repeals the provisions of the 1984 Act and immediately revives them. Clause 2 relates only to the Short Title, commencement and extent of the Bill. The schedule sets out transitional provisions to ensure that the repeal and revival of the provisions of the 1984 Act do not change their effect or the effect of other enactments, instruments and documents that refer to them, thereby making the classification system under the Act seamless following the passage of the Bill. I am sure that the House will share the Government’s desire that these public prosecutions be reinstated as soon as possible.

Finally, if I may detain the House just a few moments longer in my capacity as Deputy Chief Whip, it may be helpful if I set out the proposed timetable for the Bill agreed with the usual channels. We propose Second Reading as first business on Monday 18 January. That leaves the usual minimum interval of two weekends between First Reading and Second Reading. A list of speakers for the Second Reading debate is now open in the Government Whips’ Office. We then propose to take Committee as last business on the same day, with Report and Third Reading being taken on Wednesday 20 January. This will allow the Bill to gain Royal Assent on Thursday 21 January. To assist the House in considering the Bill, the Public Bill Office will be accepting amendments in advance of Second Reading. I hope that the House will support the Government’s approach and will also support the Bill.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for outlining both the procedure and the policy with regard to the Bill. Earlier, during Question Time, the Leader of the House responded to questions about whether this House can react to changing circumstances to make sure that the Government are more accountable to the wishes of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has today outlined the way in which the Government have responded to the request of this House to be more accountable in matters whereby expedited legislation is proposed by the Government, and responded in an appropriate manner. The House may believe that some matters outlined by the Minister would more normally and properly be outlined at Second Reading, and therefore he needed to take some time today because, in order for the Government to be accountable, some Second Reading comments had to be made. It was most helpful to hear about the policy and the difficulties encountered. I support everything that the Minister said and am sure that all noble Lords on the Benches behind me will wish public prosecutions to be reinstated, and for there to be no uncertainty with regard to matters subject to criminal prosecutions that could proceed as a result of the Bill.

My Lords, the novel experience of hearing the usual channels justifying their decisions is very agreeable and welcome. I entirely support the intentions of the Bill. However, I reflect—this is the first occasion on which one has been able to do this—that we are denying ourselves an opportunity to give mature reflection to the standards that are enforced in the management of the video-games industry, and to the effect of these games on young people and society. That cost should have been taken into account by the usual channels when they agreed this procedure.

My Lords, on behalf of the Constitution Committee, of which I was a member when the procedural recommendations were made, I thank the Minister and Government.