Inside Parliament: House disturbed by violence on video

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Indy Politics
Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, told the Commons yesterday that he would not 'rush into snap judgements' in the wake of the James Bulger murder trial, as MPs seized on the suspicion of Mr Justice Morland that exposure to violent videos might in part be an explanation.

'The case has caused us all to reach deep into the recesses of our hearts to examine whether there is anything that could have been done to prevent it, or to prevent any recurrence in future,' Mr Howard said at Question Time.

'I do not propose to rush into any snap judgements on this matter. I shall study very carefully what the judge has said. I shall study very carefully what others closely connected with the case have said, including the police superintendent who led the investigation. If there are any lessons to be learnt from this unspeakable crime, we must certainly learn them.'

After the judge's comment on the possible influence of videos on the two young murderers, Detective Superintendent Albert Kirby said he had seen no evidence to suggest the boys had access to videos any worse than might be found in many homes.

David Alton, Liberal Democrat MP for Liverpool, Mossley Hill, said people would be concerned that the video mentioned in the Bulger case, Child's Play 3, had been scheduled for broadcast on Sky TV. 'Doesn't this demonstrate that the levels of violence which are transmitted by video and television have reached unsurpassed levels?'

Mr Alton, who raised the issue with John Major last Tuesday, urged the Home Secretary to use forthcoming criminal justice legislation to deal with the portrayal of gratuitous violence. 'Programmes which revel in violence and in harrowing scenes, that must undoubtedly have an impact on young people that watch them, should be removed from our television screens.'

Mr Howard, echoing the Prime Minister, said he had great sympathy with Mr Alton's view. But before reaching any conclusions he wanted to reflect on the words of the trial judge and the police officer in charge of the case, and also on research being conducted by the British Board of Film Classification.

The Home Secretary endorsed an earlier claim by his junior minister, Charles Wardle, that Britain had the 'toughest laws in the world on video recordings'. The Under- Secretary was replying to Sir Ivan Lawrence, Conservative chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who said it was becoming daily more obvious that one of the reasons for the increase in crime was the 'constant diet of violence and depravity' fed to youngsters through television, videos and computer pornography. Sir Ivan too wanted it banned.

A video of the Chancellor Kenneth Clarke's performance as MPs concluded the six-day debate on the Queen's Speech would not make jolly viewing for his Labour shadow, Gordon Brown. Precluded by the imminence of the Budget from saying anything specific about his own plans, Mr Clarke devoted most of his speech to ridiculing the Opposition.

He accused Mr Brown of speaking 'like one of those till rolls coming out of a supermarket' with list upon list of high spending commitments - ' pounds 12bn by the end of his third sentence'. The Chancellor said that when he returns to the Commons next Tuesday to present the Budget, he would do so 'completely untroubled by the prospect of any official opposition party that has any worthwhile or sensible economic idea in its head'.

Denying any break of manifesto commitments by extending VAT and raising National Insurance Contributions, Mr Clarke said Labour had campaigned on a strong assertion that they had costed the Tory programme and it meant putting up the basic rate of VAT. 'That was spurious and it continues to be spurious.' Mr Brown should move on and stop fighting the last election, because Labour had 'lost it fairly and squarely'. He promised a constructive Budget to nurture recovery. 'There is a recovery. It is fragile and it needs to get stronger.' But those who said it was over were 'talking nonsense'.

Mr Brown urged the Chancellor to drop VAT on domestic fuel and bring in a Budget that was 'pro-industry, pro-jobs and pro-investment'. His best strike at the Government was with an extract from a letter he claimed had been sent by the treasurer of the Conservative Association at Hornchurch - seat of Robin Squire, a junior education minister - in an appeal to party members to buy raffle tickets.

The treasurer wrote: 'You may ask 'Why should I buy anything from the Conservative Party given the way they have managed the country recently?' We believe the message to the Government is that you do not want VAT on fuel, you do not want any more tax increases and you do want services such as the National Health Service improved.'

Mr Brown said the treasurer went on to pledge that money raised by the Christmas raffle would not go to Conservative Central Office but to a campaign against government policies. 'Astonishingly for this government, Essex man has now become the enemy within.'

After being in session for just a week, MPs learnt that they will have a three-week break for Christmas. The announcement by Tony Newton, Leader of the Commons, that the House will rise on Friday 17 December and return on Tuesday 11 January (a day later than the Lords) enraged Dennis Skinner. Ever sharp with the mental arithmetic, the Bolsover left- winger protested: 'This means that this Parliament, in this calendar year, 1993, will have sat for no more than seven months. Five months must be the longest period when Parliament's not been at work in a non-election year for more than 20 years.'

(Photograph omitted)