Censorship of 'video nasties' to be tightened by Howard: Ministers in U-turn to head off Commons defeat by Tory rebels

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The Independent Online
TOUGHER film censorship will be announced today by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, in a desperate attempt to avert a government defeat in the Commons.

Faced with a threatened revolt over the Criminal Justice Bill by 80 Tory MPs, Mr Howard is preparing to tell the Commons action will be taken by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to answer growing public concern about 'video nasties' and their influence on children.

He will say that the censors will be expected to refuse to give a classification to more cinema films showing horrific violence - such as Reservoir Dogs, The Exorcist and Death Wish, which have been denied a certificate - to prevent their release as videos for home viewing.

On top of that, more films will have their category raised from 15 to 18 and the Home Secretary will emphasise that it will be for a parent to ensure such films are not seen by their children if under 18.

The tougher attitude on censorship, which will not require legislation, is likely to be coupled with greater penalties for breaches of the law on the supply of videos to rent.

Mr Howard is determined to try to stop parents allowing children to view 'video nasties' - films with excessive sex and violence - in the home. Officials hinted last night that the Home Secretary was planning further action to win over potentially rebellious Tory backbenchers.

The Government hopes the measures will be enough to head off defeat over an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, tabled by David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP, which has the support of 195 MPs including the

80 Conservative rebels.

The amendment would make it a criminal offence to allow children to rent or view a video which could cause psychological harm or which 'presents an inappropriate model for children'.

James Ferman, the BBFC director, who met Mr Howard for just under an hour, warned that the amendment was so widely drafted that it would ban films such as Schindler's List and television classics such as The Jewel in

the Crown.

The Home Secretary told Mr Ferman there had to be a response to the growing public concern about 'video nasties' and the Alton amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill could be passed unless his board moved quickly.

Sir Ivan Lawrence, chairman of the Tory home affairs committee, who led the Tory rebels, said last night that he would be ready to vote against the Government unless Mr Howard announced tougher action.

Sir Ivan said: 'I want to see a response of a positive kind. It is no use just tightening up the law on kids having to prove their age. This has got to be stopped. It is no use tinkering.'

The measures the Government is expected to announce today will include instructions to video rental outlets to insist on proof of age before lending tapes to youngsters.

The Home Secretary will not propose a national identification scheme, instead it will be a tightening of existing laws in a similar way to age re

striction on the sale of alcohol and

cigarettes.

At present, if retailers rent a video to an under-age person they can be prosecuted by trading standards officers, fined up to pounds 20,000, and have cassettes confiscated.

A new category of videos for the over 12s - similar to the current 12 film classification - may be introduced. The Home Office may also give its backing to a large study into the viewing habits of all juvenile offenders to try to establish once and for all if there is a link between video violence and crime.

Mr Ferman said yesterday: 'Clearly there are too many people seeing videos which are 15 or 18 rated when they are under age. Something has to be done. We want parents to take responsibility. It is up to parents, regulators and legislators to work together.' Some parents were 'careless' with what they allowed their children to watch, others were 'negligent'.

He added that the censors were aware of a distribution network in Britain of illegal hard core pornographic videos from Germany. 'They are about torturing women - they are some of the most horrific things I have seen,' he said.

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