I hope that the Minister will address the questions raised by the previous speakers about the consequences of the loophole, because I share their concern about the status of those who have been convicted over the course of the past 25 years and the possibility of their bringing action for what now appear to have been unlawful convictions. I hope that he will spend a little more time on that subject when he responds.
I wish to make a few observations about the Video Recordings Act 1984. I always approach any such legislation with some suspicion, as I am fundamentally opposed to censorship. I believe that in a free society it is up to adults to choose what they wish to see, but there are two important qualifications to that. The first is that there will always be some material that is so unacceptable in its violent or explicitly sexual content that it is deemed to be damaging to people to view it. I accept that, and some examples have been given in the debate.
I shall return to that matter, but perhaps more important is the fact that while adults are free to choose, we have always accepted that children require protection. I join right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of the BBFC. It is in the area of age classification that some of the most difficult decisions have to be taken. The film that required perhaps more cuts than any other, some time ago now, was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", because the distributor was keen that it should be given a certificate that meant children were able to see it. The BBFC felt that it contained inappropriate material, and there was lengthy negotiation. A lot of the controversy about films such as "The Dark Knight" and "Casino Royale" is about whether they should appropriately be a 12 or a 15.
The virtue of the 1984 Act was that it extended that protection, which already existed in cinemas, to viewing in the home. The Minister gave the statistics on the extent to which viewing in the home has taken off in the past 20 years. When the Act was originally introduced back in 1984, it was accompanied by a degree of what one can only call hysteria about video nasties, and it is worth reflecting on what has happened to some of the most notorious examples of films that were widely cited at that time.
The then Minister, Mr. David Mellor, named three films in the course of the debate. The first was "The Driller Killer", which was banned after the passage of the 1984 Act but then released uncut in 2002, and last night I checked and found that it is available on Amazon for £3.98. The second was "Zombie Flesh Eaters". That, too, was banned under the Act but then released uncut in 2005 and can now be found on Amazon at £5.98. The third was "I Spit On Your Grave", which was also on the list of prosecutable movies until 2001 but was then released, although with substantial cuts made by the BBFC, and is now widely available. Perhaps the most remarkable example is a film that was on the Director of Public Prosecution's list of films that were banned, Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead", which at the time was regarded as wholly unacceptable but, indicating how tastes change, two years ago was given away free with copies of The Sun as a promotional move.
There is no question but that tastes change and that we have become more liberal, which I welcome. However, as I said, there will always be films that go beyond what is generally regarded as acceptable. The Minister mentioned one particular film, "Grotesque". Two films were banned by the BBFC in 2008. The first was "Murder-Set-Pieces", described as having scenes in which
"a psychopathic sexual serial killer...is seen raping, torturing and murdering his victims".
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) made the important point that there are loopholes in the existing legislation, which existed for good reasons at the time. It was not regarded as possible that a video concerning music or sport could be unacceptable. That loophole has undoubtedly been exploited. I hosted a dinner that the BBFC gave in the House just before Christmas, at which it showed us examples of some of the material that is now available in music videos and sports games that does not require certification because of the loophole in the 1984 Act. I understand why the Government did not feel able to address that matter in the Bill, but I share the wish that has been expressed that the loophole should be closed, and I hope that it will be in the Digital Economy Bill.
The second main point that I wish to make is that at the time of the passage of the 1984 Act, the world was completely different. Mr. Graham Bright, the Member who moved Second Reading, said that he defined a video recording as
"a video tape or video disc. It is thus a physical product."-[ Official Report, 11 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 525.]
Of course, it is now not necessarily a physical product. More and more video is being made available through online distribution, which at the time perhaps could not even have been conceived. We are seeking to address that through moves such as those by the BBFC to impose a voluntary system of regulation, but the films that we are concerned about are now very widely available. I return to the two that I mentioned, "Murder-Set-Pieces" and "The Texas Vibrator Massacre". I checked last night and found that both those films are widely available through file sharing sites. An internet search for either with the words "download" or "bit torrent" will bring up any number of sites from which one can obtain them. Equally, they are available through cyberlockers. Both are on Megaupload and RapidShare and can be accessed without any attempt to verify the age of the person downloading them. There is serious concern about how we can continue to protect young people when it is now so easy to obtain such films.
We will debate the matter at greater length when we come to the measures against piracy through illegal file sharing that the Government are proposing to take in the Digital Economy Bill. It is worth remembering that it is not just protection of copyright that is at stake when we consider file sharing. There is equally the concern that it is being used to circumvent the protections that the House has put in place. In the most extreme cases, as I am sure the Minister will be aware, child pornography is being widely distributed through illegal file sharing. That is another reason why I share with other hon. Members the view that it is important that we get the Digital Economy Bill on to the statute book.
Having said that, I agree with the Minister that the majority of distribution of video content will still be through physical product for the foreseeable future, so it is certainly important that the Bill should be passed today and that we should reinstate the protections that we thought were already in place. However, there is a danger that we will be seen to be bolting the front door when the back door is wide open, and we will have to consider that in future.
That leads me to the more general conclusion that I suspect that there is nothing that this House can do to legislate to prevent the distribution of material online from sites that may be located on the other side of the world. When we consider what it is appropriate for people to view, we must remember that that is a matter for adults to decide. The most effective means that we can have to protect children is for parents to exercise responsibility, watch carefully what their children are doing and ensure that they are not obtaining access to content that could be damaging to them. I support the Bill, but I fear that it is beginning to look increasingly old-fashioned and outmoded given the extraordinary pace of development throughout the video sector.