The Digital Economy Bill was discussed in Lords Committee on 8th February 2010.
A long list of amendments were discussed and withdrawn. Here is a brief summery of these.
Exemptions: Amendment 246 Moved by Lord De Mauley
This was an unneeded suggestion to add to the list of material that would exempt a video game from the need for classification. In reality the list in the original bill is sufficient, but this issue has become something of a band wagon issue having received press attention. So a fair few lords lined up to add their name to the cause including Baroness Howe of Idlicote, The Lord Bishop of Manchester and Lord Addington.
Government Censorship Power: Amendment 247 Moved by Lord De Mauley
Rightfully questioned the powers being given to the Secretary of State in the name of future proofing games censorship.
BBFC as R18 Experts: Amendment 248 Moved by Lord De Mauley
This amendment relates to the BBFC retaining powers to classify games containing R18 pornography. It also questioned whether both the VSC and the BBFC should duplicate the work of differentiating between 18 and R18 material. The BBFC seem to be held as the ‘experts’ in identifying porn.
At least the debate seemed to assume that R18 is here to stay and no seemed to be taking the opportunity of the bill to re-ban porn.
Hybrids: Amendment 250 Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
Also amendment 251 Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote
These amendments raised the dual censor issue of what to do with hybrid media, ie games containing video or DVDs containing games etc
Duty to promote online safety: amendment 251A Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote
(1) It shall be the duty of internet service providers and mobile phone operators to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements-
(a) to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of online safety;
(b) to provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information on filtering options of public electronic communication services for the purposes of online safety-
(i) at the time of purchase of the service; and
(ii) to make such information available for the duration of the contract.
(2) In this section online safety means safe, responsible use of the internet and other communication devices by children and young people.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote said she was speaking for children’s charity CARE and wanted to make the availability of parental control facilities to be made more prominent. Again there were lords queuing up support this amendment. The government pointed out that in reality it is far too complex a question for a sentence to be attached to this bill and that the issues are being widely discussed for future measures.
Age Verification Schemes: amendment 251A Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote
Additional protection from harmful material through online on-demand programme services using age verification scheme
For section 368E(2) of the Communication Act 2003 (harmful material), substitute-
(2) An online on-demand programme service must not contain any material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen.
(3) If an online on-demand programme service contains the following material, the material must only be made available using a clearly identifiable and robust age verification scheme to determine that the person purchasing or otherwise obtaining access to the material is not under eighteen-
(a) material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen;
(b) material which is contained in a video work for which a classification certificate has been issued containing the statements mentioned in section 7(2)(c) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (recordings to be supplied only in licensed sex shops);
(c) material which falls within subsection (4) unless it is contained in a video work for which a classification certificate other than one containing the statements mentioned in section 7(2)(c) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (recordings to be supplied only in licensed sex shops) has been issued.
(4) Material falls within this subsection if it is pornographic and portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following-
(a) an act of penetration of the vagina or anus of a person with a part of a person’s body or anything else;
(b) the performance by a person of an act of intercourse or oral sex;
(c) the performance by a person or an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal;
(d) an act of masturbation;
(e) an act of ejaculation;
(f) human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions; or
(g) an act of restraint or violence which is associated with sexual activity.
(5) In this section-
classification certificate and video work have the same meaning as in the Video Recordings Act 1984;
pornographic has the same meaning as in section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (possession of extreme pornographic images).
Perhaps the easiest practical attack on the availability of porn and lords drew parallels with the age controls inherent in physical R18s being limited to sex shops.
Lord Davies of Oldham for the Government said: My Lords, I am happy to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester on these points, but I cannot accept the amendment because we have a law in place that achieves its effect. Section 368E(2) of the Communications Act was introduced by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009 and requires that, if an on-demand programme service contains material which might cause serious impairment to children or young people, it should only be shown in a way that would ensure that they do not usually see it or hear it. The regulations are in response to a European Union directive that applies to all on-demand programme services all the time.
I accept entirely the anxieties of the noble Baroness about these issues, which prompted her to table the amendment, but the question is whether we should go further than the present regulations. We are in discussion about this with Ofcom and the Association for Television On-Demand, the leading video-on-demand industry body to make sure that any moves we make are the right ones to ensure that children are adequately protected. If it turns out on reflection that it is necessary for the Government to take action, we can introduce further regulations under the same provision as those in force at present, to strengthen and reinforce the protection. I reassure the noble Baroness that she has raised an important topic but her amendment is not necessary.
Fees: Amendment 254 Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
This amendment questioned whether the government were right to withdraw from powers to control censorship fees.
Content Advice: Amendment 255ZA Moved by Lord Howard of Rising
This amendment discussed exactly how mandatory content advice labelling should be. Very mandatory or just a bit mandatory.