My Lords, in 2012, we brought into force changes to the Video Recordings Act so that, unless they are entirely suitable for all audiences, video games must carry age ratings. The ratings system used is the pan-European game information, PEGI. It is an offence to sell PEGI 12, 16 or 18-rated games to those younger than the rating. The age ratings empower parents to make informed decisions about the suitability of games for their children.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. I am sure that she is aware that some video games are extremely pornographic and violent and that, even for adults, there should be enforced regulation on them. Is she further aware that some parents and other adults buy these games for children inadvertently because the labelling is unspecific and unclear? Will she explain how the Games Rating Authority is dealing with putting better controls for parents on those games?
The noble Baroness makes some valid points there. The PEGI ratings now have traffic light warnings to try to make it clearer which are the particularly inappropriate games for children. It is also trying to make clear that the age-rating symbols relate to the content of the game, not to the playability, because that has also been a misunderstanding. There are prominent statements on the website, askaboutgames.com, which has had a quarter of a million visitors since it was set up, and which has a great many explanatory aspects. The noble Baroness is right that there are different sorts of unsuitability—but there are symbols on the PEGI guidance as to whether the game involves violence, pornography, fear, and so on, which again should guide both parents and young people.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that parents generally have regard to the classification of films by the British board. That is probably a result of widespread consultation with parents. Will the games industry regulatory body have the same consultation with parents to ensure that they understand how the labelling and marking works?
My noble friend makes a valid point. Of course, we need to get the communication to parents as accurate as we can. The difference between film classification and games classification is that games are interactive, children are playing them with people on screen, and the graphics have become ever more lifelike and realistic since the days when they were little cartoon characters, so it is really important is that both children and parents are aware of what these games mean.
My Lords, is the Minister also concerned about the number of children who become so engrossed in these games that they neglect their friendships, their schoolwork and their sports? Is advice being given to parents about tackling the problem, and are services available to parents when children are so engrossed in games that they neglect the rest of their lives?
The noble Earl is right to highlight the addictive nature of some of these games. There are various parental controls. There can be timings, for instance, put on the games to ensure that children automatically have a break after a certain length of time. However, a lot of this will be up to parents, and the more guidance we can get to them the better because, as the noble Earl knows, these games can be addictive and can cause children to spend an awful lot of time on them.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, while it is very important to ensure that parents take their full responsibility, parents must know the fullest amount of information available about the illegality of some of these games? I note the fact that this is not all the Government’s responsibility, but what is her department doing to ensure that information is communicated to parents? Also, many parents do not speak good enough English, so how would she ensure that broader ranges of parents are aware of these games being illegal?
There are also a great many initiatives from internet service providers, which are collaborating very constructively with the Government. There is the Internet Watch Foundation, for instance; we are also working with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, CEOP, to try to make sure that there are mechanisms within the games, which can be controls. If there are ways in which children can be identified from playing the games, they will be prevented from doing that. It is ongoing work, and we are working very constructively with all those concerned to make sure that the information gets out correctly.
Forgive me, but it is this side and then we will come to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.
I am grateful, my Lords. Very quickly, while welcoming very much the answers that my noble friend has given, I wonder whether she is aware that, whether or not these games are good in intent for children, they are very attractive to them. Placing the onus on the parents is therefore rather a heavy duty, and we should not leave them alone. Will she give consideration to tackling this problem at source, with the producers and purveyors of these products being taxed or their products made less attractive to them financially in some way?
As I made reference to before, we are working very constructively with the internet service providers’ industry, which is as concerned to make sure that inappropriate materials are not accessed by young people online. The providers are very well aware of the damage that it can do to young children to find themselves, perhaps inadvertently, drawn into a game which shows extreme violence or engenders extreme fear. It is a matter for all parties to work together on this one.
My Lords, to finish what I was saying, would the Minister further urge the games regulator, the GRA, to consider following the example of the BBFC by promoting understanding of classification through a programme of specific visits to schools, along with education through its website and apps?
Again, the noble Baroness makes a very helpful point. There is a lot of information going out to schools in the form of posters. Of course, internet safety is one part of the school curriculum that tries to ensure that young people themselves are aware of what the dangers are. We are getting co-operation, and indeed funding, from the providers.
I do not know whether I heard the noble Baroness correctly. I think she said that traffic lights were being introduced on to the packaging for these things. It strikes me that indicating red for danger or red for encouragement might be a difficulty in this area. My main point is that PEGI is an industry-led body and that one increasingly finds that in video games inserts are being used from films and related materials. Is there not a case for trying to get co-ordination across this, and having some sort of accommodation with the BBFC?
The BBFC is indeed involved in this. It has just become the independent reviewer of the content of mobile operators and, as the noble Lord says, there is some overlap between what goes on in the film industry and what goes on in the video games industry. It is a question all the time of trying to keep one step ahead of cunning children, who have a tendency to be one step ahead of their parents.