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Labour MP experiences nasty video shock horror

Proposes censoring sport, music, religion. Is nothing sacred?

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UK Government attempts to re-enact legislation designed to police video recordings are bringing out the censorial tendency in parliament.

Last week, the Government introduced the Video Recordings Bill in the House of Lords. The blurb accompanying this legislation states that the Bill "repeals and revives, without amendment, the Video Recordings Act 1984.

"Its purpose is to rectify a procedural error made during the passage of the 1984 Act, thereby making the age-rated classification and supply controls contained in that Act enforceable in UK courts. The Bill would also allow the 1984 Act to be amended by the Digital Economy Bill 2009-10."

Hidden behind this modest description is the embarrassing factlet that the Video Recordings Act 1984 (pdf) - aka the "Video Nasties Act" - was discovered last year to have been in breach of EU law.

In theory, this means that every prosecution carried out under this law is now null and void – though government lawyers have contested this. Individuals seeking to release DVD’s into the wild may do so without concern for legal penalties, at least not under this law. Other legislation on the subject still applies.

In practice, the government have stated that although there can be no enforcement of the 1984 law at this moment, any classifications issued by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be valid and enforced as soon as they get the law re-enacted.

Although there was little time to amend the Bill when it was brought before the Commons last week – Second Reading, Committee Stage and Third Reading all in a single day – this has not stopped Labour MP Andrew Dismore standing up this week and seeking special leave to add to the categories of material that may be subject to control.

As always, according to Mr Dismore: "some small but highly significant amendments are needed to ensure a more robust regime for child protection".

He went on: “As chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I am an ardent supporter of the right to free speech and expression, but I acknowledge the need for a system of regulation that protects children from harmful content in film, videos and DVDs".

In this instance, Mr Dismore is worried that videos and DVDs primarily concerned with sport, religion or music do not – at present - have to carry a classification.

He has been watching the cage-fighting DVD UFC Best of 2007, which, he claims features "martial arts and other fighting techniques", and "is available on the high street to any child". It "contains close-up images of bloody and sustained head blows, which are replayed in slow motion from every conceivable angle." Because it is exempt from BBFC classification under the VRA, it carries no age rating or consumer advice.

He has also been watching Mötley Crüe's Greatest Video Hits, which "features topless lap dancing and a George W. Bush lookalike in a limousine with a prostitute".

A motion for leave to introduce the Video Recordings (Exemption from Classification) Bill under standing order 23 (ten-minute rule) was put and agreed by the House.

Those looking for opposition from the Conservative benches to this Bill may be disappointed, as just last month, Tory Culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt also called for the law to be redrawn to remove these exceptions.

A spokeswoman for the BBFC said: "As the regulator, the BBFC has been concerned for some time about the content of some very popular music and sports DVDs which have claimed exemption under the Video Recordings Act, but which we believe should not be exempt. We do not have any powers to require these DVDs to be submitted for classification.

"We believe that it is important that material which will be attractive to young audiences should be properly labelled to enable parents to know that their children are protected from inappropriate material."

It is touch and go whether this Bill – or the new unrevised VRA – will actually reach the statute books. The VRA is due for a second reading in the Lords next week, leaving perhaps 20 days of parliamentary time in which to secure its passage.

Andrew Dismore’s Bill is due to return to the Commons on 26 February. Despite having some high level support, it seems highly unlikely that it will pass before parliament is dissolved for the general election – unless the government takes on board the risk of losing its main legislation by incorporating this Bill within it. ®

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