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Video Recordings Act 2010

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will launch a consultation on the current exemptions from regulation under Section 2 of the Video Recordings Act 2010.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government will launch a consultation paper by the summer. Publication has unfortunately been delayed because of the absence of evidence and statistics on the issue. Time is needed to secure the relevant evidence and statistics in order to make the base of evidence credible.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply, but this is unfinished business from last year’s Digital Economy Act. As my noble friend will have seen, the recent parents’ online poll on the Mumsnet website demonstrates conclusively the importance that parents attach to proper classification of some of those products which are currently exempt. I noted that the Minister said “by the summer”, but if the evidence is collected earlier than that, will the Government institute the consultation as soon as possible?

My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones is absolutely right. We have read the results of the Mumsnet survey with interest. It presented an interesting snapshot of views on some of the issues. We hope that people will respond as well to our larger, more detailed consultation in due course. We note that the survey did not reveal the possible criminal sanctions that already exist. Many noble Lords across the House are interested in this subject. I acknowledge that my noble friend has been pressing for legislation to remove exemptions for a long time. If we can get the evidence earlier, we will do so.

My Lords, while I am happy to hear that a consultation will be launched by the summer, is it not rather surprising that it has taken quite so long? It was after all in March 2010 that the Government gave an undertaking, as a result of which some of us withdrew an amendment, to launch a consultation on this issue. Although that was under a previous Government, it is largely a non-party issue and surely it should have happened by now.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that it has taken quite a long time, and it has done so because DCMS officials started work on the paper with no proper evidence base. For any videos and DVDs that might be affected by any change in the current set-up, an assessment is vital for proper and proportionate consideration of options. The noble Lord will be pleased to know that we have been working with a number of industry sources and looking into other sources of information and research to try to obtain the evidence as soon as possible.

My Lords, although we are all obviously sorry that there has been a delay, does the Minister welcome the best practice that is already being followed by those companies which are using the BBFC’s online classification services to protect children and empower parents? Those companies include not only organisations such as Paramount, Universal and Tesco, which perhaps we would expect, but also companies that we have heard rather less of such as Harmony and Darker Enterprises.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has been involved with this matter for quite a long time and participated in the Digital Economy Act. It is important to note that any video that benefits from an exemption, whether it is music, sport, religious or a documentary, loses the exemption if it contains material that is sexual, grossly violent or criminal.

My noble friend Lord Renton raises a good point. The internet is not covered in the Video Recordings Act, which applies only to physical copies of video material available to buy or rent. The Video Recordings Act dates from the early 1980s, before the possibility of the internet as we know it now was even considered. I remember it well because I was on the British Board of Video Classification at that time, from the start and for several years.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the 25 years since the Video Recordings Act was first passed, the content of video games and other exempt video material has changed beyond recognition? Is she therefore concerned that this means that inappropriate and potentially harmful content in such works is now legally being supplied to children? If so, does she understand the urgency of the matter?

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. This issue is being researched and there are varied opinions. However, we can all agree that some material is, quite simply, inappropriate for children. The consultation will consider how best to achieve the position where children are not exposed to inappropriate material.

I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s replies but I am a little perplexed as to what further evidence is required. Does she know what that evidence is and how long the wait will be? This concerns not only parents but teachers and society as a whole.

My noble friend is right. It is taking a little time because all these people have to be consulted. The matter was raised in the debate on the Digital Economy Act 2010. All these people need to be consulted in order to get the right answer.

My Lords, for some reason the Digital Economy Act 2010 took out some of the words about a video game and put them back in again in another category. As I understand it, the amendments that were passed then are still not in force. Will the consultation consider how the Digital Economy Act has affected the other Act?

My noble friend Lady Gardner raises a good point. Video games were removed by Pan European Game Information legislation, which brought the standard for video games into the Act. The change to the Video Recordings Act 1984 still remains to be done.