Restrictions lobby raises stakes: More than 200 MPs are in favour of further curbs on the availability of videos. Jason Bennetto reports

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The Independent Online
PROPOSALS to tighten restrictions on the availability and classification of so-called 'video nasties' is the latest move in a battle for greater censorship of screen violence and horror.

Calls for tougher measures to shield young people from disturbing images intensified after the James Bulger murder trial and a series of court cases in which videos have been blamed for influencing the accused.

With this in mind, David Alton, a Liberal Democrat MP, proposed an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, due to be debated today, which will introduce a new classification of video 'Unsuitable for Home Consumption', making films containing 'gratuitous violence' illegal.

It has gained growing support among backbenchers and has been signed by 220 MPs, including 80 Tories. Mr Alton received further support with the publication of a paper signed by 26 of Britain's leading child psychologists, which linked video nasties to child crime. The validity of the paper, however, was called into question after it emerged that the author had written it to help Mr Alton.

The growing pressure and threat of a defeat for the Government - which fiercely opposes the amendment, considering it unnecessary and unworkable - forced Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to announce earlier this month that he would be meeting the censors to press for ways in which more videos could be banned, reclassified or expurgated to keep more children from viewing violent material at home.

The Government has continued to stress that the censorship laws in Britain are the toughest in the world and existing legislation is adequate.

There are already stricter guidelines surrounding videos than films because they are considered to be more likely to be watched by children.

The categories are: U - suitable for all; UC - particularly suitable for children (video only); PG - parental guidance; 12 - suitable only for 12 years and over (film only at the moment, but expected to be included on videos); 15; 18; and R18 - restricted (to be shown only in licensed cinema clubs (films) or supplied in licensed sex shops (video) to persons of not less than 18).

The original 'video nasties', such as I Spit on Your Grave and Driller Killer, were outlawed in 1984 with fines of up to pounds 20,000 for supplying them.

James Ferman, the director of the British Board of Film Classification, has also come to the defence of the current system. In the past week he has attacked the Alton amendment as 'misconceived', 'unworkable and over-restrictive'.

He also warned on Sunday that if introduced it would outlaw half the titles produced since 1970, including award winners such as Schindler's List, Dances With Wolves and Jewel in the Crown.

At the heart of the argument is the apparently vague description of what would be banned under the Alton amendment. Currently it says anything that provided an 'inappropriate role model' for youngsters or were likely to cause them 'psychological harm' would be illegal. Adults having outlawed videos in areas that children had access would also be breaking the law.

Mr Ferman says there is still no hard evidence linking crime to video or film. He pointed out that police investigating the murder of James Bulger had issued a statement denying there was evidence that the now notorious Child's Play 3 had influenced the killers - a view he shared after watching the film.