Howard retreats on 'video nasties': Film censorship will be toughened to stave off defeat in Commons

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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.

In the face of a threatened revolt over the Criminal Justice Bill by

80 Tory MPs, Mr Howard is preparing to tell the Commons today that 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 already been denied a certificate - to prevent their release as videos for home viewing

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 they are 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 crack down on parents to try to stop them allowing children to view 'video nasties' - films with excessive sex and violence - in the home and his officials hinted last night that Mr Howard was holding back further action to win over potentially rebellious Tory backbenchers.

The Government is calculating that is likely to be enough to avoid defeat on a new clause to the Criminal Justice Bill, tabled by David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP, which has the support of 195 MPs including the 80 Tory rebels.

The new clause 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 the clause was so widely drafted that it would ban films such as Schindler's List, which has just scooped the Oscar awards, and The Jewel in the Crown. The Home Secretary told Mr Ferman there had to be a response to the growing public concern and the Alton amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill could be passed unless his board acted.

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

Sir Ivan, who will be seeking assurances from the Home Secretary at a private meeting before the vote, 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. I think the time has come when this has got to be stopped. It is no use tinkering around with it.'

Sources close to Mr Howard said: 'He is looking for clarification of the rules for certification and, where necessary, a toughening of the rules.

'He is concerned that the Alton amendment could be unworkable but it is very important that there is some clarification and that strengthening takes place

because the Home Secretary must go some way to meet the fears of

the people who have signed the amendment.'

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

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 also be introduced. The Home Office may give its backing to a large study into the viewing habits of all juvenile offenders to try to establish whether there was 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 collectively.' 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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