[Relevant Documents: Third Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on Channel Four Annual Report, HC 415, and Fourth Report from the Committee, on Future for Local and Regional Media, HC 43; and Fourth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, on Broadband, HC 72.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is important to acknowledge at the outset that the timing of our Second Reading debate is unusual, as I think that we would all accept, and I shall set out more detail about that in a minute. The substance of what we are considering, however, is how we protect and build on the great British success stories that are our digital and creative sectors. The United Kingdom is now No. 1 in the world in those sectors, measured as a proportion of our gross domestic product. The creative industries have grown at twice the rate of the economy as a whole over the past 10 years, and they should do so again over the next 10, thus helping to create many of the jobs of the future. The speed of that growth has been more than matched by the speed of technological change. Many of us will be carrying communications devices that we could not have imagined even five years ago. Hon. Members might even be using them as I speak, given that the rules in this place were sensibly relaxed a few years ago.
Pagers are long obsolete, as the hon. Gentleman will know.
Most of us, and certainly our children, are consuming music, film, books and other creative content in ways that would have baffled previous generations. The digital revolution has brought huge benefits and opportunities for a country such as Britain that is creative, innovative and flexible, but such rapid change also brings challenges. The overriding challenge that the Bill tries to address is that of keeping the legal framework that applies to our digital and creative sectors up to date in such a fast-moving world.
Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to explain why his name did not initially appear next to the statement on compatibility with the European convention on human rights? Is there a mysterious reason, was it an oversight, or did the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr. Timms, who is sitting next to him, just get there slightly ahead of him?
My right hon. Friend is right to mention the success of the creative industries. With reference to our children, the industry must act responsibly-with respect to video games, for example. Such responsibility must accompany the success of the digital revolution.
Indeed, and there are important provisions in the Bill that will help strengthen the protection of children in respect of video games, about which I shall say a little in a moment.
It is not ideal that the Bill is not likely to enjoy full debate through its Committee stages in the House, but at the end of a Parliament there are always Bills to which that applies. This was the case in 2005 with a number of Bills, including the Gambling Act, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, none of which was completely uncontroversial.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I was the shadow Secretary of State during the wash-up last time, when the Gambling Act was considered. That Bill had undergone full scrutiny in Committee of the House of Commons. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an example of a major Government Bill that generates substantial opposition that has a Second Reading one day and goes into wash-up for completion the next day?
I do not want to read out the entire list of Bills. I have a much longer list, but I will let the hon. Gentleman have it and he can refer to it in his speech, if he wishes.
If the Bill gets on to the statute book, it will be with the co-operation of the main Opposition party and, I hope, the Liberal Democrats and others too. One of the Bill's strengths is that most, if not all, of it enjoys a good level of cross-party support. If it did not, its prospects of surviving the wash-up negotiations that will take place between now and Prorogation would be slim indeed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there might be a deal with the Tory Front-Bench and the Lib Dem Front-Bench teams, but that the 20,000 people who have taken the time to e-mail their MPs about the Bill in the past seven days are extremely upset that the Bill will not receive the scrutiny that it deserves and requires?
We are all aware of the e-mails with which we have been inundated in recent days. I am sure my hon. Friend is also aware of the competing newspapers adverts today from the unions and trade organisations representing those who work in the creative sector who, with respect, probably number hundreds of thousands and feel it is important that the work that they create is not devalued by an issue that we will shortly discuss in more detail. They feel just as strongly that they need the legislation now as the people he mentioned think we should not pass it.
No. I shall make some progress. Many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and if I take too many interventions, they will not get the chance to make their speeches.
It is not true to say, as some have claimed, that the provisions of the Bill have not already been the subject of considerable discussion. Many of them have been heralded for some time in the reports of Select Committees of both Houses, including our own Select Committee chaired by Mr. Whittingdale. Many of them were contained in the Government's "Digital Britain" White Paper published last summer after a year's meticulous work by my former ministerial colleague, Lord Carter.
That report was subject to a full public consultation and rigorous scrutiny by the relevant Select Committees of both Houses. More recently, the Bill passed through the other place which, as I am sure hon. Members will recognise, contains a large number of peers who show a great interest in these matters. That is perhaps why the Bill took a month longer than we would have hoped to complete its Lords progress. It was debated for 12 full days-more than 50 hours-on the Floor of the other House, during which some 700 amendments were tabled. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House reminded colleagues in Business questions, it had more debating time in the other place than any other Bill in this parliamentary Session.
Will the Secretary of State look back in history and see what happens to legislation that gets pushed through the House quickly, without consultation? It looks as though we could push some measure through-perhaps there will be a little stitch-up between the three Front-Bench teams-but out there, ordinary people, many of whom have only begun to realise the repercussions of the Bill, will feel totally let down by Parliament, just before a general election.
With respect to my hon. Friend, I suggest that in her constituency many ordinary people, as she refers to them, who work in the film, TV and creative sectors desperately want this Bill, and their voices should be heard, too.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge also the role of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in this Bill and, in particular, the report that is tagged to this debate, the Committee's report on broadband, to which Ofcom has had the decency to reply in time for the debate, but to which sadly the Business Department, despite having a response ready, has not actually responded? It would have been good to have had this debate on the basis of the fullest available information, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on the lack of detail available to Members in scrutinising the Bill.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that what is important in terms of this Bill is putting a framework into place, and that there needs to be a good deal of flexibility thereon? I heard one person this morning criticise the fact that Ofcom will produce guidance in consultation with the other parties, but I thought that that was a potential strength of the Bill.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.
During the Bill's passage through the other place, 700 amendments were tabled. The Government listened to the concerns that were raised, and we either accepted a number of amendments or made some of our own. I hope that those hon. Members who have followed this discussion for some time will agree that, for the most part, the Bill has arrived here in better shape as a result. I can understand the frustration felt by colleagues that the parliamentary timetable means it unlikely that they will have the chance to get their teeth into the detail of the legislation as they would have liked, but I hope that the House will support the Bill's Second Reading and recognise both the importance of passing many of these measures now and the potential damage to our digital economy and our creative industries if we fail to do so and there is further delay.
Let me turn to the contents of the Bill. I have already outlined to the House the importance of the digital economy and our creative industries to Britain's economy. But, hundreds of millions of pounds a year is haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file sharing, and that is not a harmless or victimless activity. It deprives our musicians, writers, film makers, actors and other artists of their livelihood, and if we do not do something about such activity it will pose a serious threat to our creative sectors and Britain's leadership in them. We believe that the provisions in the Bill balance protection for our creative artists with a fair deal for consumers without trampling on the openness that makes the online world the gateway to new experiences and greater democratic freedoms.
The Bill introduces obligations on internet service providers-the ISPs-to send letters to subscribers who are linked to an alleged infringement, and to record the number of notifications with which each subscriber is associated. Copyright owners will be able to apply for a court order to access the names and addresses of alleged serious infringers and take targeted legal action. We expect that those initial measures will be effective and anticipate that, on receipt of such letters, the vast majority of subscribers will seek legal alternatives. There is research and real-world experience to back that up.
The Bill also introduces a power to impose on ISPs a further obligation to apply technical measures against the most serious infringers. To give the initial obligations time to work, those measures cannot be introduced for 12 months from when the code comes into effect. Any decision to introduce them would be based on a careful examination of the evidence, including an assessment and a progress report from Ofcom. That includes looking to see whether copyright owners have played their part in relation to education and developing legal offers.
Although I accept everything that my right hon. Friend says, and accept everything behind those comments, my great fear is that we will turn children into criminals. The Bill is not supposed to do so, but there is nothing in it to protect the child in such cases.
With respect, I must say that my hon. Friend is wrong. The Bill does not contain any provision that turns children into criminals. The safeguards that I have already outlined, and will continue to outline, ensure that that is not the case.
The measures to which I was referring would be introduced only after warnings to subscribers and in conjunction with a clear route of appeal. Although a technical measure might include temporary suspension of accounts, it will not involve permanent disconnection-as has so often been misrepresented.
I shall not. I shall make some progress if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
I have focused on measures to tackle unlawful file sharing, but we have stressed all along the importance of developing legitimate paid-for downloading models. The problem, however, is that those will become widespread and sustainable only if there is a proper legal framework to tackle unlawful downloading.
No, I shall not give way. Many people want to speak in this debate and I want to make progress so that they get the chance to do so.
Unlawful file sharing using peer-to-peer networks is not the only way in which copyright can be infringed online; according to industry estimates, about a third of current infringements are already carried out in other ways. Originally, the Government wished to future-proof the legislation with what used to be clause 17, which would have provided powers to take action against other forms of online infringement. That clause, however, was too much for Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers in the other place, who tabled a new clause 18 to allow site blocking. [Interruption.] Mr. Foster smiles, as well he might; he wrote the clause and has since disowned it. I shall come to that in a moment. The Government had problems with that clause for a number of reasons, as did both Opposition parties subsequently.
The hon. Member for Bath was so monstered at the Liberal Democrat spring conference for having proposed such a draconian measure that he did not even dare turn up-neither did his noble Friend in the House of Lords. They were both so monstered in their absence for having supported such a draconian measure that they now appear to have changed their whole position on the Bill. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will explain himself in due course.
To accommodate the changing positions of the Opposition parties, we have drafted the current clause 18, which is far more proportionate than what was suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It would require full consultation and the approval of both Houses by super-affirmative resolutions. I hope that that will meet the approval of the House.
One of the other big challenges that we face in the digital age is how to protect and guarantee television and radio content that the public want and value. As has been highlighted again today by the Select Committee report, the issue is most acute in the case of regional news on ITV in England and ITV news for the nations in Scotland, Wales and, to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland. The Bill will secure the future of quality news on ITV in the regions and nations of the UK.
Just before Easter, I was delighted to announce the three preferred bidders for pilots for these new independently funded news consortiums in Scotland, Wales, the north-east of England and Scottish borders. I deeply regret the position that the Conservative party has taken on the issue. I do not know anyone in the media world who believes that the market will secure the future of the quality TV news that the public expect. At this late hour, I appeal to the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to think again before he signs what could be the death warrant for plurality in the regions' and nations' news.
Other measures in the Bill are aimed at securing a healthy and diverse future media landscape and include an updated remit for Channel 4, ITV and Five, so that they can respond more flexibly to changes in the market and people's viewing habits.
The Bill not only deals with the creative and broadcasting content that we value; it also helps to modernise our digital infrastructure. The switchover to digital radio has probably aroused more interest than any other issue in the Bill except that of unlawful file sharing. The target date of 2015, set by the Government, is an incentive not an ultimatum. We have made it clear that a decision on digital switchover will not be made until national DAB coverage is comparable to that of FM, until local DAB reaches 90 per cent. of the population and all major roads and until 50 per cent. of listening is through digital means. Once all those criteria have been satisfied, there will be at least two years before switchover takes place, at which point we expect coverage and listening to reach nearly universal levels-that is, about 98.5 per cent. judged by television reach.
The Bill also implements the recommendations of Tanya Byron on the classification of video games, an issue referred to a little earlier. It enhances Ofcom's duties on investment in infrastructure and public service media content. It provides the regulator with additional powers to support the modernisation of the mobile network spectrum. It supports the efficient and effective management and distribution of internet domain names and updates the regulation of copyright licensing and public lending rights for the digital age. The Bill will ensure that Britain's digital economy and creative industries can build on their success, continue to thrive and lead the world. I commend it to the House.
This afternoon, on the very day when time has finally been called on a weak, dithering and incompetent Government, we are faced with a weak, dithering and incompetent attempt to breathe life into Britain's digital economy. One does have to admire the Government's chutzpah, because one of their five key election pledges is apparently to build a high-tech economy. This afternoon the country will be able to judge them by their record, because we have an entire parliamentary Bill setting out their vision-one of the very last that this Parliament will debate.
Instead of a big, ambitious vision for this country, we have a digital disappointment of colossal proportions. As well as the controversial measures it does contain, we should not forget what it does not contain, because it is a catalogue of ducked decisions. The Government have ducked sorting out digital radio switchover, which the Secretary of State has just talked about. They are giving Ministers the power to switch over in 2015, yes, but without taking any of the difficult measures necessary to make it practical or possible. They have ducked reforms to help our struggling local newspaper and radio sector, when local newspapers are closing every week and local radio stations are losing so much money that their very existence is being cast into doubt.
The Government have ducked reforms to give Britain a credible path towards super-fast broadband, leaving us languishing with one of the slowest broadband networks in the developed world. They have ducked public service broadcasting reform, failing both to clarify the limits to commercial activity by the BBC and to ensure that it has strong competition from an independent sector that will still be burdened by outdated regulation.
I am very happy to give that assurance, because we want Channel 4 to provide strong competition for the BBC for the type of programmes that the market will not provide. We are one of the few countries in the world that has such competition in the non-commercially viable parts of the sector. Channel 4 was set up by the last Conservative Government and we are proud to have done that.
One final thing that the Government have ducked, which is incredibly disappointing, is the possibility of giving the public a right to access Government data sets, which was mentioned in the "Digital Britain" White Paper, and which President Obama has successfully introduced in the United States. It would have been a huge leap forward for our digital economy for people to be able to access those data.
I refer the House to my declaration of interests, which refers to my rather minor activity as a music publisher, among other things.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in allowing the copyright that local authorities often require for Freedom of Information Act purposes, the Government have gone one step worse? People can be cut off for looking up freedom of information on the net.
I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns. The presumption should be that the public have a right to see Government data sets unless there is a very good reason why they should not. Allowing members of the public to mine those data has huge potential in all sorts of ways.
On the subject of the Government ducking issues, does my hon. Friend not feel that it is incumbent on them to outline exactly which elements of the Bill will be subject to the super-affirmative procedure that the Leader of the House referred to earlier?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and there is another reason, which I shall come to in a minute, why we need to be clear about what safeguards the Government are going to put in place.
I cannot resist the pun: another of the ducked decisions is on ducts. Is my hon. Friend aware that access to ducts other than BT's-for example, waterways and sewers-is currently outside Ofcom's powers? Its response tells us that
"regulatory intervention in relation to infrastructure beyond the telecommunications sector would be a matter for the Government."
The Bill should be explicit about that, to achieve the investment in broadband that we want.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and indeed the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, which he chairs, wrote an excellent report on that very topic. If we are to stimulate investment in next-generation fibre networks, we need to break open all the infrastructure monopolies, whether on pylons, water mains or sewers, not just those on BT's ducts and pipes. That is the only way that we can stimulate such investment, and it could have been in the Bill, because it requires primary legislation. It is not: another opportunity has been missed.
All too often, where the Government have suggested change they have resorted to the Labour comfort zones of tax, regulation and subsidy as the answer to every problem. On tax, there is a phone tax to pay for next-generation broadband, which means that older people who do not use the internet will be paying for younger people who want faster connections. Even on the Government's own figures, such a tax would put 200,000 people off taking up a broadband connection. On regulation, the Government's reliance on Government levers is so heavy that Ofcom is mentioned 187 times in just 50 clauses of this Bill.
I shall give way in a moment. On subsidy, we find the misguided attempt to prop up ITV regional news by tapping into the BBC licence fee. As a former US President once said, the trouble with government is that it always thinks:
"If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it."
We find the same thing in this Bill: new Labour, new taxes; new Labour, new regulation; and new Labour, new subsidies. New thinking this is not; nor is it a new economy.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to acknowledge the great progress that has been made on data sets. Just last week, Ordnance Survey released its geo-spatial data, which are the jewel in the crown for the Free Our Data campaign; I know that he would wish to give credit for that. Even at this late stage, is he determined to collude with the Government in forcing through the copyright infringement parts of this Bill?
First, I should say that I am prepared to concede that some progress has been made in opening up Government data sets, but the process needs to go much further. The law needs a presumption that the public can access those data, rather than a presumption that they cannot unless there is a very good reason for them to do so; a big psychological shift needs to take place.
There is no question of our party colluding with the Government. We have examined this Bill clause by clause, and we agree with the hon. Gentleman that it could have been massively improved had this House been able to give it proper scrutiny in Committee. The Government have had plenty of opportunities to allow such scrutiny, and it is a matter of huge regret that we have not been able to provide it. This concern is shared by Mr. Watson, by my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff)-the Chairs of the two Select Committees-and by many other Members in this House.
Is there not one other thing that the Secretary of State ducked: an explanation of why this Bill has been started so late in this parliamentary Session, which means that we have to rush it through? The Bill includes the stuff about orphan works, which for some reason the Secretary of State did not mention, and for which he has given no explanation whatsoever?
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes an important point. Orphan works legislation is incredibly important, because there is a potentially huge benefit in being able to unlock for the public archives such as those of the British Library, the BBC and universities, but there is a big problem in establishing the ownership of the rights to those works. This Bill was an excellent opportunity to sort out that problem, but under its provisions as drafted, it would be possible for someone to remove an image and all its identifying marks, and for that image then to end up being pirated all over the world. Again, these provisions could have been sorted out and improved by proper scrutiny in Committee in the House of Commons.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to that matter. I know that the photographic industry is terribly concerned that there is no way in which a photograph on the internet can be protected from having its provenance removed. It seems that there is a culture of, "Use it now and pay later-if you're found out." That will deter photographic agencies from putting their data on the internet in the first place.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we cannot support clause 43. We would like to support the objectives of that clause on orphan works, but unintended consequences occur unless the wording is right, as Kate Hoey pointed out. The question is: why has a debate on such a crucial Bill been left to the very last minute? The Government could have brought this Bill before Parliament ages ago, because these issues have been in the public domain for years. Dr. Tanya Byron, whom the Secretary of State mentioned, told the Government two years ago that a new age-rating system for video games was needed. The Gowers review of intellectual property is so old it is practically out of copyright. Ofcom wanted the Government to establish a new model for public service broadcasting regulation six years ago, but as the Government have progressively run out of steam, we have had a lighter and lighter parliamentary timetable, and instead of getting on with it, we have had endless dithering and prevarication.
In business questions, I raised the point that the wash-up is supposed to be for non-contentious material. I do not for one moment believe that my hon. Friend has colluded with the Government; that is not his nature. A small-indeed, pitiful-amount of this very modest Bill is acceptable to probably everybody in the House. However, it is not satisfactory for a Bill to be effectively rewritten and subjected to a super-affirmative resolution. Would it not be better for him to resist the bad bits of the Bill in their entirety and let a new Conservative Government bring in a decent Bill?
I share my hon. Friend's concerns, and the principles that he has outlined are, broadly speaking, the principles that we have been following. I think that he will understand, however-I have spoken to him about this-that we cannot reject the Bill in its entirety, because it contains some very important measures. However, I shall come on to talk about what we will do with some of the more contentious areas in the Bill.
I think what people outside the House want is an assurance that the good, as well as the bad, will be properly scrutinised. If this miserable Government cannot plan the timetable to give us that time, why can my hon. Friend not offer us that pledge, on the assumption of a Conservative victory in the election?
We are stating categorically that we reserve the right to review anything that becomes law as a result of the wash-up, if we win the next election, and we will indeed review it, if it turns out that the legislation is flawed. However, the country and the digital industries that the Secretary of State talked about are in an invidious position. Legislation is urgently needed to protect jobs, and their competitive position. It has taken this Government 13 years to bring these issues before the House, and the industries are worried that if the whole thing is killed now, they might again have to wait a very long time, and that their competitive position will be eroded.
The Government have left industry in an extremely difficult position. My particular bugbear is their obsession with consultations and reviews. We have had two public service broadcasting reviews, and two consultations on community radio, two on the phone tax, two on product placement, one on video games, one on regional news, one on listed events and one on spectrum. When Stephen Carter took over the broadcasting and communications brief, we hoped that that might change, but when he published his "Digital Britain" final report we had another 12 consultations, and even he, despite having accepted a peerage, was not prepared to stay even 12 months to see his report turned into legislation.
We agree with the Secretary of State about the critical importance of the digital and creative industries-the largest independent television production sector in the world, the second largest music exporter in the world and, depending on how we measure them, the third largest film and video games industries in the world. When we desperately need to rebuild a broken economy in proven areas of British competitive advantage, what way is this to treat those industries, and what way is this to treat Parliament-denying us the chance to debate, scrutinise and amend this vital legislation?
My hon. Friend is a great supporter of the music industry, which at the moment is losing about £200 million a year from illegal downloads, but receiving very little help from the service providers. Will he give an undertaking that when he is the Secretary of State, he will ensure that the cost of informing infringers is shared more fairly-perhaps on a 50:50 basis-to protect artists' rights, and that we do more in that respect?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the issue of costs, because that is very important. There is a need for responsibility on both sides of this debate. Internet service providers have to recognise that they have a critical role in tackling digital piracy, and it is not satisfactory for them just to say that they are a mere conduit and can have no responsibility for what is carried on their networks. On the other hand, however, the legal costs of securing court orders must be borne by the rights holders, whether in the music, film or sports industries, because they are the ones with the commercial interest in ensuring that digital piracy is stamped out. So getting that balance right is one of the areas of which it would have been good to have had much more scrutiny.
In relation to the clauses that deal with infrastructure, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a serious problem with the basic question of digging holes? All over the country, holes are being dug without the necessary degree of coherence to facilitate movement on our roads. Does he agree that if we had the chance, we would introduce measures to bring coherence to the public utilities' street works codes?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I commend to him what the Mayor of London has done to try to bring order to that particular element of chaos.
I want to say plainly to the Government that, while we recognise that some parts of the Bill will have to be let through if we are to avoid serious damage to the economy, other parts of it are totally unacceptable, and we will use every parliamentary means at our disposal to remove them. They include the additional duties for Ofcom, which are at best unnecessary and at worst completely distorting. For example, the duty to promote investment in communications infrastructure is already covered by the Communications Act 2003. Indeed, following a year-long campaign by the Conservatives, with support from the Select Committee, Ofcom did precisely that by announcing a consultation to allow other people access to BT's ducts and poles in order to lay super-fast broadband fibre. However, there are no measures in the Bill to broaden that access to sewers, water mains and electricity pylons. Where are the measures to make it easier to get planning approval for fibre? Where are the proposals to regularise business rates so that they do not discourage investment in fibre? They are not in the Bill. For this Government, the answer is not to do something but to lay yet another regulatory duty on Ofcom. In this case, that duty is unnecessary, bureaucratic and costly, and it will go.
It is not for me to give the hon. Gentleman a history lesson, but he might perhaps remember what happened when the Conservative Government completely tore up the road works legislation so that the Clyde cables could be put into the ground. That played havoc with the streets of Glasgow, and even today we have roads that have never recovered from what his party did to the infrastructure of the area, thanks to all the cable and TV people.
All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that, thanks to the actions of the last Conservative Government, we now have a cable network covering half the country that has not cost the taxpayer a penny, a satellite network covering the whole country without any cost to the taxpayer, and a deregulated telecoms infrastructure that has made our international calls the cheapest in the world. That is all because we understand how proper regulation can work.
Another part of the Bill that is totally flawed covers the Government's plans for regional news. The Bill makes provision to subsidise ITV regional news by accessing the licence fee. Our starting point has to be, however, that our local media are in crisis, that newspaper and commercial radio groups are under severe pressure, and that we have never had proper local television in this country. London, Ontario has two local TV stations, despite being one twentieth the size of our London, which has none. Birmingham, Alabama has eight local TV stations, despite being only a quarter the size of our Birmingham, which has none. So will the Bill sort that out? No, it will not. Instead, Government subsidies will solidify the old, failed regional news model, encouraging media groups to put all their energy into lobbying Ministers for more subsidy, rather than finding models that attract viewers and listeners in the marketplace. Instead of measures to stimulate investment, innovation and change, the Bill proposes plans for regulation and subsidy that are so flawed that even ITV now thinks they will make a bad situation worse. ITV is right, and that clause will go.
We have already mentioned another fundamentally flawed proposal-clause 43, which deals with orphan works and extended licensing. These measures have the right intention, and with proper scrutiny could have yielded huge benefits for consumers and authors alike.
Will the shadow Secretary of State reiterate a point? He probably realises that the UK photography industry has got together, is well organised and is keen to work with the Government to secure legislation that is right; what they do not want is something to be pushed through. Will the hon. Gentleman reiterate what I thought I heard him say earlier-that the Conservative Front-Bench team would not allow clause 43 to go through?
I am happy to reiterate my opposition to clause 43, and to say that we are not prepared to let it through as part of the wash-up process. What is needed is a proper reform of copyright law, and my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie has said that under a new Conservative Government he will ensure that such proposals are put before the House. Let me provide an example of where this is already going wrong. An image of none other than the great Lord Mandelson himself is apparently being used to market a Russian vodka, with the caption, "When only the best is good enough". If ever we needed proof that captions to pirated images can be misleading, surely that is it. We cannot support these measures as they stand-but what an opportunity has been wasted.
The hon. Gentleman has been explicit in saying that his party will resist clause 43, and some other parts of the Bill, in the wash-up. He has not been explicit, however, about clauses 10 to 18. If I understood him correctly, he said that if they did not work he would change them when the Conservatives were in government. Can he therefore explain the difference?
I absolutely can explain the difference. The measures to which the hon. Lady refers are so critical for the 2 million jobs of people employed in the digital and creative industries that there would be an economic cost if we were to delete all the relevant clauses there. I would not want to look those people in the eye and say that we had done nothing to help them. These measures are imperfect and I am concerned that they will not be effective, but I am satisfied that on the balance of our responsibilities to the people working in these industries, the sensible thing to do is to let them through but give a clear undertaking that if a Conservative Government are elected, we will amend, change or delete measures as necessary with the utmost speed, to ensure that they do not do the kind of damage about which I know hon. Members throughout the House are concerned.
I am full of admiration as my hon. Friend has striven to make the Bill workable, but I am still concerned about the unintended consequences highlighted by Kate Hoey. Is he saying that he is going to allow these elements of the Bill through, but then, if the Conservatives are in government, create a new parliamentary opportunity to review them, or is he going to take a chance on them not working? I have to say that if it is taking a chance on them not working, I will not vote in favour of the Bill.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I share his concerns about the process, but if he looks at the measures he will see that there are quite long time gaps before it will be possible for a Secretary of State to lay regulations before the House to allow, for example, for the suspension of internet accounts. There is a period of time during which we can come to understand the likely impact of these regulations and how they could be framed in order to avoid unintended consequences.
One thing that particularly concerned me about the drafting of the regulations at an earlier stage was the chilling possibility that a rights holder could contact an internet service provider directly and say, "We're concerned about this website. If you don't block access to it we'll get a court order, and you'll be lumbered with the costs because you haven't behaved reasonably." My hon. Friend Mr. Binley, who was here earlier but is no longer in his place, raised the issue of costs. It is very important to frame costs issues so that only where a court order has been properly obtained-in other words, where there has been due process-could access to a website be blocked. To answer my right hon. Friend's question, yes, we absolutely are making a commitment that if these regulations are flawed and have unintended consequences we will bring measures before the House as a matter of urgency; it is incredibly important to get them right.
I note the hon. Gentleman's point about ensuring that if these measures go ahead the regulations that follow will have to be absolutely right. Does he therefore agree that clause 11 should include a requirement for a super-affirmative resolution, not only stipulating that there must be more consultation but providing an amendable resolution for the new House then to be able to consider and, if necessary, amend?
I would like to know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking for a super-affirmative resolution on the clause that his party proposed in the House of Lords but is now campaigning against, because I am not sure that the original intention behind super-affirmative resolutions was to clear up the mess caused by Liberal Democrat YouTube U-turns. However, we want proper safeguards for all these measures, and particularly measures involving copyright infringement, because we have to ensure that they are used only in extremis.
Is my hon. Friend content with clause 31, on the digital switchover? It is estimated that the costs to the consumer will be £800 million, and there is no sign of manufacturers of DAB radios producing cheap radios, no estimate of the cost of throwing away millions of existing FM sets, no sign that the motor car industry is going to come up with the goods- [Interruption.] A Labour Back Bencher says, "Yes there is," but I have read all the papers and although there are one or two pious hopes, there is nothing more than that. This will be extremely expensive, and the 2015 deadline is unattainable. Is my hon. Friend content, therefore, or will we make some further promises?
I share my hon. Friend's concerns, because I think that clause is so weak that it is virtually meaningless, as it gives the Secretary of State the power to mandate switchover in 2015 but the Government have not taken the difficult steps that would have made that possible, such as ensuring that the car industry installs digital radios as standard, as my hon. Friend suggests, and that there is proper reception on all roads and highways. As a result, a lot of people are very concerned that 110 million analogue radios will have to be junked in 2015. In particular, I would have liked the Government to find out whether we could move from DAB to the DAB plus technology, which most people think will be far more effective. If they had done that, this measure would not threaten smaller local radio stations.
First, let me say that when the hon. Gentleman stepped down as Minister for the creative industries, it was a great shame that he was not replaced. It would have helped in the sensible framing of the Bill if we had had a Minister with that responsibility now, but there is none. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is simply this: when we migrate from one technology to another-whether analogue to DAB, or DAB to DAB plus-we need some kind of help scheme, as we have with TV digital switchover, but there is no mention of a help scheme in this Bill. That serves to highlight why the Government have ducked the important decisions.
I conclude by talking about what this Bill should have contained. It should have asked one simple question: what needs to be done to stimulate investment in Britain's digital and creative industries by both domestic and international companies? Companies that thrive in the digital world tend to be small, nimble and fleet of foot. They thrive on competition and deregulation, not subsidy and regulation. A Conservative Government will end the micro-regulation of the broadcasting sector. We will stimulate investment in a new generation of local television, radio and newspaper companies by removing the cross-media ownership rules at the local level. Because we want these companies to employ more people, we will reverse the tax on jobs-the national insurance increase-that the Government plan, and we will go further, encouraging job creation by ensuring that start-up companies need pay no national insurance at all on their first 10 employees for the first year.
We will reduce corporation tax by simplifying complicated allowances, aiming for Britain to have one of the most competitive tax rates in Europe. That will help all companies, but in the creative and digital space people need something more-a proper digital infrastructure. By considering some of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, we will deregulate access to BT's ducts and pipes, as well as water mains, sewers and pylons, and stimulate investment in next-generation broadband by other players, not simply depend on BT. Where the market will provide, we will let it; where it will not, we have said we will continue the levy on the licence fee that is currently imposed for digital switchover, to ensure that no one is left out of the digital revolution, especially in rural areas.
In short, we could have had a proper Digital Economy Bill. We wanted an iPod, but we got an Amstrad. We wanted digital switchover, but we ended up with analogue switch-off. It is time to reboot Britain, and only the Conservatives can deliver that.
Mr. Hunt ended his speech by referring to the fast-moving and nimble industry, and he is right in that. In my short speech I want to refer specifically to internet-related and people-related issues, and to what is and what is not in this Bill, as good governance of the internet and the part that legislation and regulation should play have been of great interest to me in recent years.
Perhaps I should explain that the word "interest" does not mean that I have any personal interest in these issues, but that some of the costs of travel in putting the British Parliament and the UK in general at the cutting edge of internet governance have been met by Nominet, the not-for-profit company that is the UK's domain name registry, and by EURIM, the not-for-profit company that brings together parliamentarians and industry in large numbers to address the public and industry interests in information and communications technology issues and that works with other all-party groups for that purpose.
I welcome the framework for domain name registration offered in the Bill and I note specifically that an undertaking was given in the other place that the powers that are given to Government would be used only if necessary. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will reinforce that undertaking when he sums up the debate.
My interest arises simply because the internet is now enormously important to every single one of us, whether we are technically minded or not and whether or not we use the internet. I want our children and grandchildren to be safe users of the internet and I want people to feel safe, which is essential if we are to overcome the growing digital divide. If we are to bring that about, we need standards of behaviour on the internet, just as we do in the real world.
Such standards need to be underpinned by legislation, which is why I welcome the Bill, but I also want to warn against the drift into overreliance on legislation which has bedevilled us in how we have dealt with bad behaviour in the real world for decades, if not centuries. That is not a new idea. Gibbon, in "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", told us that laws rarely prevent what they forbid. As a legislator, it seems to me that legislation is precious and should be used sparingly and flexibly. The internet is so fast, so pervasive and so international that firms are often making profits now from products that they had not even started to design only a few months ago. That means that legislation will find it extremely difficult to keep pace. We, as legislators, need to adopt a different approach to deal with those issues.
The Bill meets my criteria, because it includes necessary elements but demonstrates potential for flexibility. That is important because of the wide-ranging nature of activity. Ofcom has been very successful in working with industry, in working in the interests of the public and of business, and in teasing out ways of making changes over time.
The "Digital Britain" final report, last July, was an enormously ambitious project that sought to bring together a huge number of strands-indeed, some nine or 10 Government Departments-on a range of issues which are almost as broad as the whole statute book and not just a single Bill. When I dealt with the Company Law Reform Bill-the biggest Bill in history-I thought that was complex, but the internet and the issues that are dealt with in "Digital Britain" are far more complex. In that regard, I am pleased that not all of that scope is being approached through legislation. We need flexibility and, I suggest to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, not so much consultation, but partnership. We need to bring together those who have a part in industry, users and those who are developing usage, to deal with complex issues in a speedy way that reflects change over time.
There are some enormously important matters of definition behind the Bill's content. There is the question of how its measures will affect small businesses, hotels, community centres and libraries-the sort of organisations that provide internet access. Those places are vital to getting people connected, to bridging the digital divide and to people who travel and move around a great deal. They are sometimes a lifeline for internet users who cannot afford their own dedicated connection and equipment. What does the legislation mean? There are a number of technical measures that public access organisations can take to protect themselves partially, but they are expensive, difficult to manage, restrictive and not difficult to circumvent. Many places may simply withdraw access rather than risk going to court or having to spend a great deal of time, effort and money on restricting or modifying their networks. That is an important point, because the greater the restrictions and the limits on flexibility, the more we build in and continue the dangers of the digital divide. A Minister in the other place sought to reassure people regarding these issues, but they still cause great worries. I ask the Government to address that area, not necessarily through over-meticulous regulation, but by working with industry, users and the sorts of organisations I have mentioned-they could use the internet crime reduction partnership, which I chair-to design solutions. Let us have co-operative solutions. Let us do this together and recognise that too much legislation, and definitions that are too narrow, might produce obstructions.
That different model has been tried and tested. We saw in the blocking of child abuse sites-I do not use the word "pornography", because we are talking about the abuse of children-the great danger of an impetus towards instant legislation. People get angry about that sort of issue and say that there ought to be a law against it. Why has there not been a law? It is partly because the activity itself is illegal and partly because people recognise the complexity of dealing with the internet in that regard. What we have seen in that area is a consensus that was achieved in partnership, going back to the very last days of the previous Conservative Government. It started with industry working with the Government; Parliament providing engagement across parties; children's charities showing enormous leadership; and, particularly-not necessarily immediately, but after time-the full engagement of the industry. The conclusion that has been drawn from reviewing that activity is that we achieved far more together, in a year or so, than we could possibly have achieved in 10 years of simply using a legislative and regulatory approach. That is a good lesson.
It might be comparatively simple to get unity of purpose against child abuse, as it is one of the simplest things to deal with, but agreement on issues of regulation and other aspects of internet use is far more complicated. However, that does not mean that we should not put our energies in that direction and seek to achieve an approach to regulation, legislation and good behaviour that depends on people working together co-operatively-in a consensus or coalition of the willing-against those who would damage industry, society and our infrastructure. We know that those people are out there and are acting in great numbers at the present time.
I support the Bill, but I call on the Government to reform the way that, going forward, its internal governance is undertaken. There is a tendency at the end of a piece of legislation to disband the Bill team and have new people writing the regulations. Instead, I hope that the Government, industry and users-wider civil society, as it might be called-will work together to ensure that we get something that matches the internet's speed of development and international reach.
In the internet's early days, there was a mythology that it would be characterised by absolute freedom, but that idea was as fragile and unrealistic as the talk of freedom of behaviour in the 1960s. An enormous amount of internet-related activity is based on trust and the quality of relationships. We need to interfere as little as possible with the energy, creativity and imagination that has driven the internet since its birth. My plea is for a light touch from the Government, and for careful work in the international dimension to achieve the necessary protections mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he introduced the Bill today, without slowing the speed of growth and development, or the development of imagination and creativity.
I heard one critic complain this morning that all the detail would not be in the primary legislation but would be left for Ofcom in developing guidance. That is true, and legislators are of course fearful when that is the case, but it is also a great reassurance. It offers a new way of doing things if we can avoid the temptation to fall back on Whitehall's traditional approach of definition from the centre, and look instead to securing greater engagement from the creative individuals across industry and business who have such a great part to play.
Ofcom has demonstrated a capacity to work in that way. I hope that the Minister who sums up the debate will indicate that expectation of how Ofcom and Government Departments will use the powers available to them under the Bill. If that is the case, I will be happy to support the Bill going through into legislation.
It is totally inappropriate for a Bill as important as this to be given so little time for debate in this House. I should remind the House that it would have been possible to handle this rather differently. After all, there were lengthy deliberations in another place, but all stages were completed some three weeks ago, on
Notwithstanding my concern about that, I reject the view expressed by some that only a few elements of the Bill have universal support and are not especially contentious. In fact, I believe that large chunks of the Bill are important but not controversial, and that they should go through. An example would be the proposal, to which reference has already been made, to change the power of the Secretary of State in relation to internet domain registries. Another example, which has not been mentioned so far, is the proposal to extend the remit of Channel 4.
Another example that has been touched on but not developed is the proposal to adopt the pan-European games information classification system for video games, and another that has not been mentioned before is the proposal to change the definition of public lending rights to include audio books and e-books. All those important measures, and many others, are in the Bill. There is a great deal of support for them, and I hope that we will find a way to get them through.
I do not want to go into detail about any of those proposals, but the one to extend the remit of Channel 4 is particularly important. Clauses 22 and 23 are designed to update Channel 4's remit to reflect the changing nature of public service broadcasting in a digital age. The House should recall that, when it was launched, Channel 4 was a single, analogue, linear television channel, whereas today it has a suite of channels and services that includes E4, Film4 and channel4.com.
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. As I pointed out earlier, given the enormity of the Bill and the important provisions it contains, it would have been perfectly possible to timetable it much earlier so that we were not in the difficult situation in which many of us now find ourselves. However, that does not prevent us from getting on with some of the important provisions, not least in relation to upgrading the remit of Channel 4.
It is worth reflecting that nothing commissioned by Film Four-from "My Beautiful Launderette" to "The Last King of Scotland"-has ever formally counted towards Channel 4's public service delivery, yet the channel has been a huge catalyst in developing the creative industries in this country and the Bill now makes it a formal requirement that the role be continued. It also makes it a requirement that Channel 4 make a contribution in the crucial area of children's broadcasting. I welcome that element of the Bill.
I will, in so far as to say that as we move into a digital era, updating all those things is crucial, which is why it is important that elements in the Bill covering such issues should be allowed to go ahead.
It is equally important to acknowledge the need to move forward in respect of radio services, and not just concentrate on television.
The hon. Gentleman is a great man. I find it ironic that I so often follow him these days. He says that there is a great deal of consensus on the Bill among the three parties. If so, what is the hurry? Why do we not just deal with it straight after the election? We could do it consensually and have a proper debate.
The hon. Gentleman would be right if I had total confidence that whoever formed the next Government would find time to start the whole process all over again. Where there is consensus-a word used by the Leader of the House earlier-it seems sensible to move forward and get those provisions on to the statute book. We could then have deliberation and debate about the controversial issues and how to progress with them. When there is consensus we should definitely be moving forward.
Notwithstanding the many concerns that have been raised over the past few months about the move from analogue to digital radio, broadly speaking there is now consensus about that measure. The Secretary of State has laid down clear criteria that have to be met on listenership and coverage before the two-year starting pistol can be fired. Of course, there have been concerns. For example, some people thought that FM would be dropped, but we know that it will not be dropped; indeed, FM could become a new vibrant platform for local and micro-local radio stations and given more power. Possibly, Ofcom could start to give them even longer licences. With all the conditions that have been inserted, that is another exciting provision that we should acknowledge and accept so that everyone can have the real benefits of the digital radio era, in terms of greater interactivity and so on.
The Government have done a disservice by failing to promote the real benefits of digital radio as effectively as they could. It is not surprising that the Committee in their lordships' House castigated the Government for their failure. The industry could have done more. It is a pity that it has taken so long for FM to be included in all the DAB radios now on sale. It is only very recently that we have heard of the launch of the mechanism that will ensure people can have a single tuner covering DAB and FM-a single EPG, or electronic programme guide. That is welcome, but the work could have been done sooner.
There is controversy about some aspects of the Bill, some of which relates to the independently funded news consortiums. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we welcome the trials that are taking place to find new and imaginative ways of filling the gap that is being created on the ITV regional news platform.
Those who have bid to become involved in the trials have already made some imaginative proposals. However, the Bill will merely give a power to a future Secretary of State to roll that out more widely if, first, an acceptable source of funding can be found and, secondly, the Secretary of State agrees to do so. I fail to understand why the Conservative party is so adamant about deleting that part of the Bill, because it does not need to do so. It could let the trials roll on, and if it is not satisfied with their outcome, it need not have a wider roll out, so the Liberal Democrats will certainly do everything that we can to help that part of the Bill to pass. I hope that just because the Conservatives are unhappy with the proposal, the Secretary of State will not suddenly roll over and say that he will drop it, because I think that, together, we can get it through.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Conservative party's position had some intellectual coherence when it was predicated on the notion that it would not touch the underspend in the digital switchover element of the licence fee, because that had to be returned to the licence fee payer? The Conservatives have now abandoned that principled position and will use that underspend for super-fast broadband roll out, which makes a complete mockery of their previous principled position.
There is a slight mockery in respect of the Conservative party's position on BBC funding. The House will recall that, not so long ago, the Conservatives proposed that the annual licence fee uplift be frozen, but a few months later they said they did not want to interfere in the long-term setting of the licence fee settlement. They then told us that they were not going to touch the underspend on the targeted assistance scheme, but now they are doing so. Finally, they said that no money would be needed to support the roll-out of broadband, but suddenly, having opposed the Government's use of top-slicing a licence for one project-in this case, independently funded news consortiums-they will use a top-slicing of the BBC licence fee to pay for the broadband roll-out. However, Mr. Vaizey is desperate to speak, so I shall happily give way to him.
I am coming to that, so if the hon. Gentleman can be patient for a second, he will learn all about it.
Let me turn to copyright, which is one of the most controversial bits of the legislation. We have made it clear on numerous occasions that we are very keen to do all that we can to support the creative industries, which are developing faster than any other part of the economy. We genuinely believe that they will be one of the key drivers to get us out of the recession and to help this country's economy move forward. We are therefore deeply concerned about anything that will prevent that from happening.
We are well aware that a report was published only a few weeks ago, on
As a result of lengthy discussions in another place, several changes were made to the Government's original proposals. They mean that no so-called technical measures, such as bandwidth shaping or temporary account suspension, will be possible unless copyright infringers are notified by letter, without there being any risk of their internet connection being affected for at least a year-the Secretary of State rightly mentioned that-unless an evaluation of the effectiveness of soft measures is undertaken; unless an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been completed; unless further consultation has taken place; unless proposed legislation is brought before the new Parliament for decision; and, crucially, unless the principle of innocence until proven guilty is maintained throughout the process, coupled with the right to appeal to an independent arbiter. There has therefore been significant progress, but even more needs to be done if this aspect of the Bill is to be acceptable, so I shall propose three additional measures.
I accept that progress has been made, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is significant, to use his word, that it would still be possible for someone to be disconnected under the Bill without the matter going to a court?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, and that is why I want to outline these three additional things that must be done. The first phase of the process is that Ofcom must draw up the initial obligations code. If the Bill is passed as it stands, it will be required to do that within six months, or in any period of time determined by the Secretary of State, so the time period could be very short or incredibly long. We believe that the six-month proposal is inappropriate, not least because in addition to the initial consultation, the preparation of the draft code, the consultation on the draft and the issuing of the final code, there must be three months' consultation with the European Union. All that cannot be done in just six months, so we propose the longer time period of nine months. However, given that there is urgency that action is taken-we cannot delay for ever-we propose deleting the Secretary of State's power to determine any length of time.
The hon. Gentleman will understand my difficulty in trying to understand Liberal policy, given the number of flip-flops that there have been. Will he be absolutely clear about his position in the light of several reports in the media in the past few days? Will clauses 4 to 17 have Liberal support as the Bill goes through the wash-up?
The Bill will have Liberal Democrat support as it goes through the wash-up, subject to the three conditions that I am outlining, each of which it would be easy for the Government to accede to.
I referred to the second condition in an intervention on Mr. Hunt, as well as in a question to the Leader of the House. We believe that technical measures are a drastic step that should never be taken unless it proves absolutely necessary, so the next Parliament deserves to be given the maximum opportunity to scrutinise any such proposals. We also think that an amendable measure should come before the new House of Commons, which is why we suggest that clause 11 should provide for the super-affirmative procedure, as is proposed for clause 18.
The third point that needs to be dealt with-it was not adequately addressed in another place-relates to universities, libraries and small businesses. The networks set up by such organisations have limited control over their users. Such organisations, especially hotels and internet cafés, provide hundreds and thousands of wi-fi hot spots throughout the country, and they will be very vulnerable to the legislation. There is often only one IP address for many terminals, as is the case in the Houses of Parliament. We believe it is important that an amendment should be tabled to deal with these concerns. The Government said that they can be dealt with in the code, but we would prefer a clearer guarantee written into the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is still a great man, but I have been around the houses a little bit in the past 10 years. What I am witnessing now are some tiny hurdles that the Minister is likely to jump over by 10 pm so that the hon. Gentleman can join the cabal of the Tory and Labour Front-Bench teams to support the Bill. I want to make it clear that he will not get away with it this time.
I am not trying to get away with anything. I hope the hon. Gentleman, who supports our creative industries, agrees that the illegal activity on the internet is costing them dear. To do nothing would be unacceptable. There has been lengthy discussion of the issue for many years, and if we can get over what he describes as small hurdles with the Government, we should proceed. We will support the necessary measures.
I want to make progress and deal with the issue of site blocking. When we got rid of clause 17 in another place, we acknowledged that although two thirds of the illegal activity was peer to peer, one third involved people accessing illegal websites. We believe that action should be taken. In another place we proposed, at very short notice, an amendment that we thought would deal with that. [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State laughs. The amendment became the subject of major debate, as he well knows and as he said-I acknowledge it-in my party at our party conference, and among many other people as well.
As a result, attempts were made to improve the amendment, but the Government assured us that they would introduce a new clause that would solve all the problems. I welcome the fact that it includes the super-affirmative resolution. However, if one looks at the details of the new clause 18, it is clear that it still contains many significant faults.
Clause 18 penalises sites that facilitate access or that are used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright. That is far too wide-ranging and puts even sites such as Google at risk. There is no indication that rights holders must take reasonable steps to notify the site owner before seeking an injunction. The proposed injunction would be indefinite, which is inappropriate. Injunctions, it appears, do not cover all service providers, allowing infringing customers to move to different providers.
The key fault is that there has not been enough time, as there was in relation to peer to peer, for consultation on such an important measure. Having made an effort to deal with the problem, we do not believe that it is appropriate, in the short time allowed by the wash-up, to go ahead with that clause-I am glad the hon. Member for Wantage is clear about that.
The last area of controversy is orphan works. The vast majority of the people to whom I, and no doubt other hon. Members, have spoken recognise that it is crazy that so much material with no known copyright owners-so-called orphan works-cannot be digitalised and made available online, with the proviso that if the copyright owner were traced, he or she would be rewarded for the work. Some estimates suggest that there are 50 million orphan works, such as oral histories, personal letters, films and drawings, held by libraries, museums and archives which have no right to make them accessible. We welcomed clause 43 when it first appeared, as it seemed a sensible way forward.
Then, as everyone knows, our attention was drawn to the real problems that affected one group of people-photographers-and the clause became far from uncontroversial. They have given many compelling reasons why clause 43, as it stands, should not proceed. The hon. Member for South-West Surrey went through many of them, so I shall not repeat them, but if the clause is allowed to proceed we will have to find a solution to the problems and concerns of photographers. Simply deleting it would not solve the problem, because that would prevent many good things from going ahead, so in the limited time available we hope-although it might not be possible-to produce a series of amendments that would remove certain types of photography from the Bill.
The amendments would exclude all photographs taken since 1950, allowing for the cultural use of works that are historic or of cultural value, without drawing later commercial or amateur work into the scheme. The measure would not be foolproof, but for the purposes of exclusion it would be easier to identify post-1950 photography than commercial photography. Post-1950 is a clearer definition than contemporary photography, and such an approach would help to prevent the commercial exploitation of amateur photography found online.
We believe that it is possible to develop such an amendment, and we hope to produce it this evening for debate tomorrow, but I make it clear that if that approach, or something similar, cannot be found to address the concerns of photographers we will be forced to join the moves to delete the clause.
One problem with the hon. Gentleman's proposal is that many big libraries photograph original photos out of copyright in order to claim a new copyright. Unfortunately, his suggestion would only increase such practice; it would not represent a solution.
I do not want to take up the House's time, because we can discuss that issue during our debate about the amendment tomorrow. However, I hope that we have found a way of solving the problem.
No, I must finish. It is crucial that we find a solution to the concerns of photographers before we allow clause 43 to proceed.
In this legislation there is a great deal of good stuff to support our creative industries, but regrettably we have a totally inadequate amount of time for deliberation in this House, and in fairness we could not allow the controversial elements that I and others have raised to proceed either today or in the future.
Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker had imposed a time limit of 12 minutes on Back Benchers' contributions. In the past half hour or so, a number of Members have decided to withdraw from the debate. I am therefore using the powers under
I pay great thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend Mr. Timms, who is on the Treasury Bench before me. During the past 13 years, he has been most civil and courteous about all IT matters on which I have gone to see him, and he even had time last week at 9 o'clock to fit me in and go through the Bill, so I thank him.
I thank also Lord Carter, now Lord Carter of Paris-not just in another place but in another country-for having had the vision to write the original White Paper. However, I sense that the Bill has not captured all of its contents, and I agree with everyone working in the digital UK marketplace: the Bill ought to have had a Committee stage and a Third Reading. Indeed, I am mystified as to why it did not start its parliamentary journey in this House, but we are where we are, as we often say.
Let me note four things that concern me most about the overall vision. I cannot see how the Bill takes on India or China; I simply cannot see a single provision that does so. They are not going to settle for 2 megabytes; they are going to settle for 100-and much, much more. If one talks to Tata and Reliance in India, one finds that the major cities in India aim to be far more ambitious. The situation is much easier in China: they can insist on such development, and they will deliver it, as they are doing in Shanghai, Guangdong province, parts of Hong Kong and in Beijing. If our creative industry is so important to us over the next 10 years, we should be far more ambitious. If we were having this debate in 2020 and looking back, we would say that it was pretty poor just to settle for as little as 2 megabytes.
No, not yet.
In January this year, Google had a problem in China, and it forgot to think about where it would take its problem. It decided then that it did not need to talk to the State Department in Washington, but it certainly is now, and the one good thing about Google's demise in China was a brilliant speech by Hillary Clinton about what the internet is and what it stands for. Her vision of what can be delivered through the internet is what is lacking from this Bill.
The issue is more perplexing when we think that the Treasury gave Google a two-year moratorium on paying tax in the United Kingdom. That is staggering, and it is made more staggering when we read what ITV sent us this morning, which said:
"Google will take more advertising revenue this year in the UK than the whole of commercial television."
I wonder where it will pay its tax. I doubt that it is in the United Kingdom.
We should adopt a much tougher approach to the internet, so, given that we have established Ofcom, which is one of the leading communication organisations in the work, naturally my instincts were to say that the Bill ought to provide for it to have the legislative feel for the internet. Then I started to think, "Hang on, how big could Ofcom get?" However, it has started that journey, given that it already has some responsibilities for the internet, so it is quite hard to take those away. However, I feel that the British Library has the most fantastic sense of what the internet is and what it can do. I also feel that the Oxford Internet Institute could also be a stakeholder-I am bound to say that because I founded it. What we are lacking, and what was missing from the Google-State Department debate in January, is the forum in which today's discussion about the internet could be considered. What is more, we are not expert enough to have that discussion, so we need to find a via media of groups and stakeholders, some of whom I have outlined, with whom we could trial such a proposal and ask them to debate those issues with us.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of the UN convention on the rights of the child, but that convention is about offline rights, not online ones. What a good thing it would have been if the Bill had insisted that the convention cover online rights, too. I am certain that if it had, we would have been able to persuade if not Barack Obama, at least Michelle Obama to get the United States finally to sign the convention. In that sense, I do not feel that the Bill has the overarching vision that the White Paper cogently expressed to begin with.
Let me turn to the more controversial aspects of the Bill, especially clause 18. I am a writer and a former publisher who has produced television programmes and is mad on music, so of course it cannot be right to steal other people's intellectual property. I debated my view with the Under-Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, and pointed out that we give Ofcom the right to look after radio, spectrum, mobile and television matters, but not internet service providers. Would things not be much simpler if there was a charter between ISPs and Ofcom, outlining the conditions that enable people to hold a licence in the United Kingdom? If that were to include all that we have discussed today about stealing copyright, the Bill would not be so contentious. However, it is contentious because we do not think that anything will come from it.
I was opposed to legislation on file sharing, but I was in Washington with my hon. Friend John Robertson, who gave a very great speech there, and I am persuaded that we should at least trial some legislation on file sharing and copyright. We have been inundated by creative people in Britain, who are desperate for us to try it. The solution is not prefect, but we should try it.
The hon. Member for Bath mentioned clause 43. Listen, if we want the smartest, most creative industry, we have to tackle intellectual property and copyright together. They cannot just be shunted in as a couple of paragraphs; they are so fundamental to the reason why people write music, sing or create whatever they do. I wish that we did not have to go forward with clause 43. What we need is a brand new intellectual property Act, but we are not going to get that from this debate. I hope that the next Government, whoever they are, will see that we have to build bricks into the wall if we are going to be the best in the world in 2020. I have mentioned one of those bricks.
On photography, people accessing the Getty collection, for example, get a low res, so they cannot steal the intellectual property-well, they can, but it would be no good for reproduction. I am mystified about why photographers do not do that unilaterally. If a cost element is involved, we could say to Ofcom, "Listen, deliver us a piece of software that would do that for them." That is a bit over the top, I know, but there is a way of solving the issue from a software point of view.
I turn to the issue of orphan works. Extraordinarily, the simplest thing is to charge people for the use of anything, even if the copyright owner cannot be found. The money can then be put into an orphan fund, and young musicians from school, older musicians from elsewhere or writers who need help could access that fund. If and when the original copyright holder is found-that is pretty unlikely-the money would still be there and they could still claim for it. I wish that we had done that, too.
I will not rehearse every argument about the future of Channel 4 and public sector broadcasting. We have really missed an opportunity with Channel 4 by not giving its online activities a public sector role. For instance, why was it not given the opportunity to run direct.gov.uk? The channel would have made it spankingly brand new and sexy, attracting hugely greater numbers of people-although the numbers are not bad as they are. We in Government always think that we have to do such things, but if we had given a public sector broadcaster such as Channel 4 a substantial part of the online world, that would have been such a challenge to the BBC; it would have sharpened its reflexes. I am sorry that that chance has been missed.
In 1997-98, we were trying to persuade Chris Smith, the then Secretary of State, to bring forward the digital switchover. Everyone said that it would be a nightmare, and we fudged it over seven years. By the opening year, however, 90 per cent. of the population already had a digital TV set, so we did not need the £600 million that we are arguing about now. We are early adopters in this country-the car industry is evidence of that, as digital radios are installed in cars. Digital radio prices are down. As has been said, we can use FM for something else. I do not think that there would be problem if we went for digital radio in 2015, and I congratulate Andrew Harrison, Lisa Kerr and Darren Henley for making a cause of the issue. Radio used to be a Friday afternoon activity for any bit of policy, and it is nice to see that digital radio is now discussed on a Tuesday.
This will probably be my last speech here, and I wish the House well. Thank you.
I rise with some sadness to speak about the Bill. There is an awful lot in it that I support and that I think is important for the future of the creative industries. However, in almost every case there are still big questions, potential flaws and probably unintended consequences. In each case we might have been able to discover some of those issues and put them right, had we had the opportunity.
I entirely agree with those who have spoken: there is no reason why this Bill suddenly has to have its Second Reading the day the general election is called. The Secretary of State says that there are precedents for that, but I simply do not believe that a controversial major Government Bill, which will have huge implications for so many industries, has ever had its Second Reading the day before wash-up, so that it has no Committee stage whatever.
Part of the problem is that the Bill does not command complete support. There are people out there who are profoundly unhappy and will try to resist some of its provisions. The fact that it will not have had full scrutiny by Parliament will mean that they will argue that it does not command full legitimacy; they will feel that that gives them more cause to oppose it and circumvent its provisions. That is sad and worrying because the measures in the Bill to protect the creative industries are important. Furthermore, for reasons that I shall come to, I have concerns that the provisions can be circumvented.
It is true that the Bill has had lengthy scrutiny in the House of Lords, and some amendments passed there have improved it. However, there are profound constitutional concerns about how we have handled this matter. Lord Puttnam has described the timetable as "almost insane". Our approach should be to ask ourselves what in the Bill is absolutely necessary-what is really urgent that we have to pass now. I am not sure that we should pass any provision that does not meet that test.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Hunt said, the first few clauses of the Bill, which give new powers to Ofcom, are not necessary. They could also be confusing. Ofcom is primarily an economic regulator. If we give it other duties, that will cause confusion about what its priorities should be. My hon. Friend is right to say that we should not proceed with that particular element of the Bill.
The measures on file sharing are in a different category. There is no question but that piracy of creative content is doing huge damage to our music, film, television and games industries. It is already undermining the economic viability of those industries, yet we are still only in the early stages of the broadband revolution. We all share a desire to move to a world in which broadband speeds are much faster. Derek Wyatt suggested that 100 megabits would be involved, but we are some way short of that. Clearly, however, it is going to get faster, so the potential for piracy will increase dramatically.
At the moment, it takes a long time to download an HD movie, but when we move to a world in which such a movie can be downloaded in a matter of minutes, we will see real problems with piracy. It is terribly important that we take measures to deal with that. However, there are real problems with each of the measures proposed. On file sharing, culprits are to be identified by asking internet service providers to identify their customers through their internet protocol, or IP, addresses. Nobody has yet explained to me how we will deal with university halls of residence; one has to suspect that a large proportion of the occupants of those are likely to be involved in illegal file sharing. Nobody has explained how we are to deal with internet cafés and wi-fi zones, all of which are proliferating. It cannot be right for us to cut off the whole of Starbucks just because one person went in for a cup of coffee and illegally shared files.
The second provision, on site blocking, was introduced at a very late stage. Again, there is no question but that piracy is taking place not only through file sharing but through the accessing of illegal websites. The provisions that have now been introduced, which I assume will also pass, still raise serious questions. Is it proposed that a rights holder will have to take out individual injunctions against every single internet service provider? Unless they do, as soon as one ISP blocks access, the people who want to obtain illegal content will simply transfer their business to the next ISP. It is very simple to set up a proxy server. If access to a website is blocked, those in the business of distributing illegal content will set up a proxy server somewhere else; instead of going through the front door, everybody will simply come in through the back door. If that proxy server is cut off, another will follow.
I support the measures because we need to send a signal that we take the issue of piracy seriously and we want to tackle it. However, let us not think that they will put an end to it. Those who are technically literate will very quickly find a way around them. I hope that the Secretary of State is right and the vast majority of people will mend their ways on receipt of a warning that they are doing something illegal, but I am not wholly confident. In the long term, we will have to look for other solutions. There may be technical means-technology such as content ID, which can identify the individual data coming down the network, might be a way forward. However, the real way forward is to educate people that they should not be doing something, and one has to say that we are failing in that challenge at the moment. We have to get the message across that pirating created content is not only illegal but will put businesses in real jeopardy unless people desist. I support the proposals, but I am not at all convinced that they will achieve the objective that the Government have set.
I now turn to DAB radio. Commercial radio and the BBC have invested huge amounts in moving to DAB, and commercial radio in particular is now in real economic difficulties, as the report that my Select Committee-the Culture, Media and Sport Committee-issued this morning explains. There is no doubt that one burden on it is having to broadcast in analogue and digital simultaneously, and it would provide some help if it had a firm pathway to a future in which it need only broadcast in DAB.
I believe that the 2015 date, which I know is not in the Bill, is unrealistic. It is sensible to set a date, but most people believe that that is probably too ambitious, because of the single problem of car radios. Yes, some manufacturers are beginning to fit DAB radios in cars, but there is a huge reservoir of cars that will not have them for a very long time. We must get to a point at which an in-car radio can easily be converted to DAB. The device that is on the market at the moment, which I have in my car, has so many wires, antennae and bits of equipment that I do not believe it will be taken up with great enthusiasm.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey is quite right to hope that one day we will have local television news services. That is the objective, but we are still some way off. The Government brought forward the proposal for independently funded news consortiums, in which my Select Committee saw some attraction, but clearly that is not going to get through this week. There is, perhaps, an alternative way now. The new chairman of ITV has indicated that he might be willing to continue to provide regional news, which is a welcome development, but he will need some help if he is to do that. It is clear that the public service obligations and regulatory burdens of contract rights renewal are imposing real costs on ITV. If we are to help it continue to provide the public service programming that we want to see, such as regional news, one way we can help is to lift those regulatory burdens, including CRR.
I share the enthusiasm for Channel 4 and welcome the fact that its remit is being updated. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee drew attention to the lack of accountability in the current structure of Channel 4, and I welcome the provisions that will require it to give greater detail to Ofcom about how it is meeting its public service remit. I am concerned that it is not subject to the same provisions as the BBC, for instance, on the potential impact of its activities on commercial competitors. Although it does not receive public subsidy, it is nevertheless owned by the state and needs to look carefully before moving into areas in which commercial competitors are already present. I should like there to be at least some recognition of that.
There are provisions in the Bill relating to video games classification. Many Members who are currently in the Chamber will have participated in long debates about whether that should be responsibility of the British Board of Film Classification or whether the pan-European game information system should be used. That has now been resolved, although there are still one or two issues of some concern. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed the Government's intention to recognise the potential loophole that exists in the case of sport and music videos, which are a method by which wholly inappropriate content can sometimes be viewed by people who are under age. The Government have suggested that they are willing to address that. In general, I will be pleased if the important provisions on video game classification pass on to the statute book.
Clause 43, on orphan works, and the subsequent clauses dealing with extended collective licensing, have been mentioned. That is another terribly sad subject, because the wish to use some of the creative content currently locked in libraries, museums and the BBC is absolutely right. The motivation behind clause 43 is entirely admirable, but again, it was not properly thought through and there are genuine concerns about the conditions in which it will operate. There is supposed to be a market rate, but what is the market rate for a photograph that has never been used? Photographs have hugely varying costs depending on who took them, their content and their age, yet it is suggested simply that there should be a market rate. There is also concern about the so-called "diligent search" that the collecting agency is supposed to carry out, and how diligent it will actually be.
Photographers have also expressed concerns to us about how metadata can fall off a photograph accidentally, or perhaps even deliberately through the actions of those who want to exploit it. It is sad, but there is no question but that clause 43 in its current form is not fit for purpose. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves today, without any ability to consider properly how the clause can be amended, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey is right to say that it should not be passed. That is a missed opportunity, because we have not had time to go through the Bill properly.
I welcome the provisions to extend public lending right into the area of e-books, which may become much more popular in the near future. Mr. Foster is quite right to say that they will be universally supported.
The final clause about which I have some concern is clause 46, which has not been mentioned this afternoon. In the House of Lords my party rightly identified what was then clause 17 as giving the Secretary of State sweeping powers to amend legislation by order and, essentially, bring in whole new areas of copyright law without proper debate. Clause 46 appears remarkably similar in that it provides the Secretary of State with general powers to amend legislation by order. I hope that that is not right, and that it is not a Henry VIII clause. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that, because if it is a Henry VIII clause, providing such wide powers, we should not pass it.
Although there is a great deal in the Bill that I support, I still fear that some measures that will go through have considerable flaws, and that we may well have to revisit them in future. There are other clauses, which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey identified, that we should not be prepared to pass.
It is rather sad that we should devote one of the last major debates of this Parliament to such a sprawling rag-bag of a Bill. It is difficult to get a solid core to bite on and a solid argument to put, because it is very much like the curate's television. It is good in parts, but has large areas of dross and boredom and is bad in other parts. It is therefore difficult to come to any conclusion other than the one that a number of Labour Members have argued-that we should delay consideration until a better time when we can give the Bill more serious concern and preoccupation.
I heard all the Secretary of State's answers about how the House of Lords has devoted its usual frenzied, hectic consideration to the Bill, full-time, for months and months, and how the Government have conducted a full consultation with all the outside interests. However, I am suspicious, because if it has had such full consideration, why are so many of my hon. Friends upset at the speed at which it is going through? Why am I getting more e-mails than I can competently deal with now that I am in half-campaigning mode, saying, "This is a bad Bill. Stop it. We don't want it and we are threatened", from people more active and interested in the internet than I am?
The e-mails are mainly from young people, who feel threatened by the Bill. They may be wrong, they may not be threatened by it and the procedures for cutting off their access through the service provider may be fair, just, wholesome and very effective, but they still feel threatened. It will take time to explain things to them, and to examine their worries and discuss them. When I have replied to their e-mails, their answer has always been, "This is a Bill on which the big boys, the big corporations and the big businesses, which are now involved in the internet, have all been well consulted. Their voices have been well heard and they have dominated the consideration of the Bill. It is far too favourable to them and far too unfavourable to the little guy." The little guy-in particular, the people indulging in harmless file sharing out of interest-is how the people writing to me see themselves.
That is a complex argument, but it is true that the big corporations and big business have loud voices and that the House of Lords is a natural forum for the expression of those loud voices and opinions. When discussing the Bill we have talked about peer-to-peer transfers, but peer-to-vested-interest transfers are a major part of the process.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's remarks with great interest. Does he actually believe that there is a problem with illegal file sharing, as has been outlined by the Secretary of State? If we do not take the measures in the Bill, what would the hon. Gentleman do to try to tackle it?
My answer is simple: I do not know. That is why I do not want the Bill to be rushed through; my education is involved here, as well as the education of all the people who are concerned about this throughout the country. The House will often find it difficult to come to a verdict on these issues without hearing further explanation and having further discussion, without the Committee work that is involved and without the hearings involved in pre-legislative scrutiny, which Lord Puttnam has told us that we should have had on this Bill. So I am not going to propose an alternative solution, but I am worried that the one proposed in the Bill frightens a lot of people in the country. I want to allay their concerns and to be able to explain to them that it is not damaging and it is not dangerous-if that is indeed the case. I do not know whether it is.
So another argument for having further consideration of the Bill is that the voice of the young is saying, "This threatens us." These people may be nerds, fanatics or zealots for all I know, but they are concerned and worried, and they will not be bullied into accepting the Bill. We have to weigh their voices, listen to what they are saying and discuss their concerns. I cannot do that and the House cannot do it if we are half in campaigning mode, if most Members' minds are back in their constituencies and if most Members are worrying about what will happen to them or are thinking about the coming joys of retirement-that is a pleasant occupation, which I hope I shall not be enjoying. We cannot give full consideration to the Bill in that state of mind. Logic says to the Government and the precautionary principle says to me, "If it is doubtful, if you are not sure, if you have not consulted and if there are voices that need to be heard, do not rush into doing anything. In particular, do not rush into legislation."
What would a delay of another three months or so in order to discuss the Bill properly and give it full consideration do? There would be no danger in taking such an approach. A delay of three months would not produce the collapse of the creative industries, which has been held up as the threat hanging over us. This needs to be settled and discussed by the Commons through its full procedures; this should not be a rushed Bill, carried on the basis of the half attention of a discredited, dying and distracted Parliament. If the Bill is passed in that form, it will not have legitimacy and consent, and it will not be accepted in the way that it needs to be. There is, thus, a strong argument for delay. The Government say that they are going to provide for all this in regulations, but regulations do not receive the full discussion. Thus, they do not carry the full confidence of the people on whom they are imposed that having a full discussion in this House would.
I can best voice the concerns that have been put to me by quoting from an e-mail from a woman, who cites the words of Charles Stross. The e-mail states:
"This seems to be a draconian and heavy handed bill aimed at appeasing big business and I do not believe its being granted royal assent is in the best interests of British citizens."
Why is that? Well, Mr. Stross has said:
"I'm a self-employed media professional working in the entertainment industry, who earns his living by creating intellectual property and licensing it to publishers. You might think I'd be one of the beneficiaries of this proposed law: but you'd be dead wrong. This is going to cripple the long tail of the creative sector-it plays entirely to the interests of large corporate media organizations and"- messes-
"on the plate of us ordinary working artists."
I was selectively quoting there. Mr. Stross continues:
"Want to write a casual game for the iPhone and sell it for 99 pence? Good luck with that-first you'll have to cough up £50,000 to get it certified as child-friendly...Want to publish a piece of shareware over BitTorrent? You're"- up against it there, mate-
"all it takes is a malicious accusation and your ISP (who are required to snitch on p2p users on pain of heavy fines) will be ordered to cut off the internet connection to you and everyone else in your household. (A really draconian punishment in an age where it's increasingly normal to conduct business correspondence via email and to manage bank accounts and gas or electricity bills or tax returns via the web.) Oh, you don't get the right to confront your accuser in court, either".
Nobody can be happy with legislation passed on that basis.
I wish to comment on other aspects of the Bill that concern me and I would like these to be discussed at some length. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt in his analysis of the digital radio switchover. Clearly the industry, in the main, supports digital switchover, but of course a switchover to DAB radio by 2015 is wholly impractical and out of the question because that is too soon. It will be much more difficult to switch over to digital radio than it was to switch over to digital TV, because that process was helped by the mass subscription to Sky and by the development of Freeserve. Such provision does not exist in respect of radio, because there are 120 million radios in this country and sales of digital radio have not taken off. Digital radio is quite expensive and if we make it compulsory, that will be a heavy tax on the consumer. One of the lower prices for a digital radio is about £85, and that price has increased with devaluation. So this would be a heavy burden to impose on the consumer, and if we require switchover, it would leave about 120 stations still on FM and locked out in the cold. We do not have to switch over at this speed and we do not have to switch over to DAB because we could move to DAB plus, which would allow both services to be run concurrently.
I am worried about the digital switchover for radio, because the crucial factor here is car radios, for which the technology is never sold effectively. Like Mr. Whittingdale, my experience with DAB in the car has been totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it messy, but it is difficult to pick up a station, and the signal cuts in and out and fades away, so one is constantly having to switch back to FM. Digital car radio sales are crucial, but such sales have been low and there is no sign of their taking off. Only 1 per cent. of cars are fitted with a digital radio, and until there is a mass fitting of digital car radios we shall not be able to have an effective switch-off. I am worried about that provision.
The photo provisions have been well dealt with. Mr. Foster mentioned the access to orphan works, which we all welcome, but let us not forget that that can be a threat to existing photographers, for whom their photography is a living and who thus need the royalties to be paid. As Tom Stoddart, a well respected and well known photographer, has said in submissions to us, the metadata that are attached to the photograph can be simply cut off, junked and lost, so there is no attribution to an author. There is no definition of the search that the photograph user has to make. It could be totally perfunctory, and used in undesirable situations and without payment to the author of the photography. That problem with so-called orphan works is not satisfactorily dealt with in the Bill.
My last point concerns regional television. I grew up in regional television and I am a strong supporter of it, and the way that ITV has been treating its regional commitment is outrageous. It should have been held more firmly to the contract pledges that it submitted when it got the contracts in the first place. Ofcom has given it an easy option, and so has failed in that respect. The experiment with three new providers is a brave and effective one, and I am glad to see it going ahead in Tyne Tees, Scotland and Wales-I hope it is successful-but it does not have a firm financial base. The original hope was to cream something off the licence fee, but that has not happened. There will be a substantial cost to the operation, and an even bigger one if it is extended to other companies, as it should be if ITV is going to wriggle out of its regional commitments.
The Conservative party's hope that the market will provide is laughable. The market certainly will not provide regional television; it is a regulatory requirement. It is ridiculous to argue that the ITV companies are so overregulated that they cannot provide regional television, because it is regulation that is keeping regional television there-and we want to keep it. I wish the experiment success. It is a brave idea on the part of Ministers, but it needs a firm financial base if it is to be extended to other companies and organisations, as it should be. ITV's roots have to be in the regions, because that is how it builds up its audience in the early part of the evening. Only an ITV that provides effective regional television can compete with the BBC. Regional television has increased and improved enormously over the past few years, and is now leading the field. ITV needs to fight back, and if we can help it with these sorts of provider experiments and by providing a new financial basis, we should do so.
I do not want to continue at length sorting through this rag-bag-one never knows what kind of smelly garments one will find when sorting through such a rag-bag-but it is unsatisfactory that we are putting this rag-bag into the wash-up. I know that hands that do dishes can be as soft as your brain, with bright, green Fairy liquid, but a wash-up is not a satisfactory way of dealing with measures as important as this to the future of radio, television, the internet, and the music and film industries. We should not be considering this at this hectic, break-neck pace; we should be postponing it for three months and giving it full and proper consideration in the next Parliament, when Labour can reintroduce the Bill and we can get back to it.
It is a great pleasure to speak after Mr. Mitchell. His optimism will ultimately prove to be misplaced, I hope, but I found myself in total agreement with the broad thrust of his remarks. Derek Wyatt talked in his interesting remarks about the lack of vision in the Bill. Legislation is not always the best place to find vision, as a general rule; the nearest we get to it in this legislation is the title-the Digital Economy Bill. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, it is a rag-bag of measures that do not live up to that relatively grand-sounding title.
I cannot overestimate the importance of the Bill-or, at least, of the things that it deals with-to the future of the British economy, society and culture. The internet has already transformed our lives-even now, as I speak, I see hon. Members tweeting and taking text messages. I welcome that, but the transformation has only just begun, and getting this right is hugely important. I have some sympathy with the Government. I was a special adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry when the then Government produced the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and even then we were discussing, at official level, how to cope with legislation that can keep pace with environments as fast changing as those we are dealing with in this Bill. That was before the digital revolution, and the rate of change has been transformed.
Nevertheless, this is the most profoundly unsatisfactory constitutional process I have engaged with in my 18 years in the House. In his opening remarks the Secretary of State promised my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale that he would write up a list of precedents, but I do not believe-I could be proved wrong-that there is a single precedent for giving a major and controversial Bill a Second Reading once a general election has been announced. It is a scandal that the House is being asked to agree that tonight.
I have given the matter careful consideration and I make this commitment: if there is a Division, I will support the Bill because, under a true constitutional process, it deserves a Second Reading; it does not, though, deserve what will happen to it thereafter. However, I broadly support the aims and objectives of the Bill and will vote for its Second Reading should there be a Division-but I shall do so under duress and protest, because I hate and loathe the process in which I am forced to participate.
I was disappointed even by the length of the Secretary of State's opening speech. He rattled through whole sections of the Bill in sentences and phrases, when the normal process is to explain what each clause or group of clauses will do. He gave us an 18-minute tour d'horizon rather than a serious analysis of the Bill, which denied many hon. Members the opportunity to cross-examine him on details. That cross-examination matters. It matters also that my hon. Friend Mr. Hunt, the shadow Secretary of State, was so responsive to interventions, because I hope that he will be responsible for implementing the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act. Things he says from the Dispatch Box are important for the assurance they provide to the outside world. I would have liked many more opportunities to get such assurances from the Secretary of State, but because of the nature of his speech they were not forthcoming.
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I have a particular concern that I believe I can drop-given the limited time of my speech, I will do so-about the requirement on Ofcom to have a health check on the nation's communications infrastructure and services. The directory inquiries service providers were worried that the current wording fails to consider barriers faced by consumers accessing third-party services. I understand that a Minister-I do not know which one-has corresponded with the directory inquiries providers and given them reassurances. I hope that that letter will be put on the public record, although it would have been much better to have won those reassurances before the Committee, so that the internet and business communities could have known what was being said, rather than their being provided in back letters between Ministers and special interest groups.
Having said all that-I have said already that I will support the Bill-I believe that the Government are right, at the end of the day, to choose creativity over internet freedom. I believe that that fundamental choice, which is made in the Bill, is the right one to make. I will not labour the points made by the Creative Coalition Campaign, which I agree with strongly, about the importance of the creative arts and industries to the UK; I say simply that every industry operating in the UK is creative, and I do not particularly like the phrase "creative industries". In the modern world, Rolls-Royce has to be as creative as video games providers. The creativity that the Bill seeks to protect lies at the heart of Britain's future economic success, so the Government's basic choice is right.
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may agree with me. Does he not think that the choice between creativity and internet freedom is a false one? The freedom to take other people's content is not real freedom.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman, whom I wish had had the tenacity to see this Bill through to the end of the Parliament, rather than giving up halfway through. However, he is right, and I shall come back to that in a moment. Some of the fears of the internet community are misplaced. He is also right that in a responsible society, we respect other people's rights.
I would have liked to speak on many areas, but in my brief time I shall concentrate on just four: Ofcom, file sharing, spectrum and orphan works. On Ofcom, I am personally disappointed that there is no provision in the Bill for the transfer of Postcomm's services to Ofcom. That could, and should, have been part of the Bill. The transfer is logical given the convergence of technology and the fact that postal services compete with internet and broadcast technologies. That has no relationship to the privatisation or part-privatisation of Royal Mail Group. Those changes could have been made in the Bill, giving Postcomm and Ofcom the regulatory certainty that they need to plan their futures.
The Bill is weak on investment in broadband. My Committee produced a lengthy report, which is tagged to this debate. As I said, the Minister indicated that the Government's response was ready, but sadly he has not been able to publish it as a Command Paper yet; I wish he had. My report deals with a range of controversial issues, one of which is not covered by the Bill at all-it is in the Finance Bill-and that is the 50p monthly levy on telephones. I shall let out a small secret from my Committee's deliberations: it was the Labour members of the Committee who were particularly exercised by what they saw as a regressive and poorly targeted tax. We are to have no opportunity to debate that provision on the Floor of the House, because the Finance Bill is also going into the wash-up, which is quite extraordinary.
I would like to see in the Bill a definition of what constitutes 2 megabits per second. I know that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey was rather dismissive of 2 megabits per second, but for many small businesses and rural dwellers, getting reliable access to a minimum of 2 megabits per second would transform their lives. It is enough for BBC iPlayer, after all, and most commercial transactions can easily be done using that speed, but it is often not available. Putting an emphasis on the universal service obligation could really unleash the creative energies and commercial opportunities that many people are currently denied. So my message to the Government is this: let us not deride the Mini, even though we all aspire to the Rolls-Royce.
I am worried about the provisions relating to Ofcom in clauses 1 to 3. I am not convinced that they will not dilute its focus on consumers and competition. Sky has told us in its briefing on this debate that
"the new duties represent an unwarranted, ill defined and unnecessary intervention that is likely to distort the balance of Ofcom's priorities to the detriment of competition and consumers and result in unforeseen consequences."
There is that phrase again: unforeseen consequences. The Bill will have so many of them, and that is why it needed a Committee stage.
I am pleased to have had Ofcom's response to many of these proposals. It appears to welcome the investment role that it will be given under the new powers, but it has also expressed a clear concern about the lack of broader powers to achieve the greater duct access necessary for the more commercial role in next-generation access that could be achieved by the market, given the right regulatory framework.
I turn next to file sharing. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, made a fine speech, and I have little to add to that, except to say that the provisions of the Bill have been misunderstood by many campaigners. They really are far less draconian than people think. A year of warning letters will precede any technical action, and such action will begin with throttling access rather than cutting it off. The cut-off will come later. There are also to be rights of appeal. I ask the campaigners to balance their interests against those of the creative industries, as Mr. Simon rightly suggested.
I am always struck by what Sky has to say, and I was certainly struck by its evidence to the Committee. It has a foot in both camps, as an internet service provider and a creative content provider. I know that it had a big internal debate about where the balance of its interests lay, and it concluded that it was with the Bill, with creativity and with protecting content. Frankly, if Sky, as a big ISP, can manage that, I am sure that everyone can. However, I note its concern that
"measures need to be widely applied which is why the notification obligations must apply to all ISPs and that in the apportionment of costs Ofcom should have regard to the principle of 'beneficiary pays', which in this case is content owners-Sky as a content owner will expect to pay the full cost of participating."
There is still a debate to be had about the details of those provisions.
I accept the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford expressed about student halls of residence, although I have no idea why he should pick on students as illegal file sharers. Concerns have also been expressed by the Federation of Small Businesses, which points out that many of the problems occur
"on communal computers, such as those in internet cafés, and various other small business outlets that could include pubs, shops, hotels and even home offices-in short a significant proportion of our members."
It is no exaggeration to say that, unless those concerns about illegal file sharing in public places are properly addressed, this could be the end of public wi-fi, which would be very serious indeed. There could be technical solutions to those concerns, but we need to have them spelled out. Unfortunately, we do not have time to do that in this debate; nor will we have time in the Bill's short Committee stage tomorrow. A full Committee stage would have enabled that issue to have the attention that it deserves.
I am largely unsympathetic to the concerns of the big ISPs, but BT has made some important points in its representations, particularly that
"the rights holder must show the court that he has taken all reasonable steps to enforce his rights".
That, too, is something that we should have had an opportunity to look at in detail, but that opportunity has been denied.
I shall turn briefly to spectrum- [ Interruption. ] I hear cheers from my Front Bench. I am gaining a certain reputation for speaking up for radio microphones, so it will not surprise the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Minister with responsibility for Digital Britain to learn that I want to talk about that today. A massive windfall is coming the Treasury's way, and I am told that it is not included in the Red Book figures, so it is extra money to help to pay down the debt in a year as yet unspecified. There are still, however, big questions about the future of radio microphones.
As the digital dividend rolls out, some people are losing out. They did not ask to move, and they get no benefit from moving. They include those in the programme making and special events sector, which brings huge social, economic and cultural benefits to citizens and consumers in the UK through a wide range of activities including film production, musical theatre, news gathering, television, sports events, live music and even church ceremonies. Indeed, I have the whole of the Church of England on my side in relation to early-day motion 323. It is still not too late to sign that motion, and I thank the 164 hon. Members who have already done so.
I am confused by the Bill. The Government say that decisions must be made about spectrum allocation under the powers laid out for Ofcom by Parliament, but Ofcom has said that
"the final decision on the level and basis of this funding is entirely a matter for Government".
There is confusion, and I wonder whether the Minister will maintain that the decision must be made under Ofcom's powers, rather than by the Government-and, if so, why.
The Government claim that they do not need to provide funding because good notice has been given, but even now they do not know what the spectrum is going to be. In Ofcom's recent annual plan, it suggested that the details for the alternative spectrum will be provided only in the third quarter of this year, some five years after the eviction of the programme making and special events sector was announced.
I have spoken to the Minister about the Government's pledge that no one would be better or worse off, and I will not weary him by going over the details again today. I repeat, however, that if residual value compensation does not cover the cost of replacing existing equipment with alternatives that do the same job, recipients will be left worse off. The Government have indicated that they want to take that issue seriously, and I hope that they will.
Turning to the time scales involved, why has all this taken so long? Here we are, right at the end of the process, and we still do not have answers to the really important questions. Small businesses and freelancers need to make significant investments running into many millions of pounds, but they are being left in considerable uncertainty. There is a real risk that there could be a big hiccup in the provision of radio microphone services. When they go, we will realise how much we miss them.
My fourth area of concern is orphan works. The rest of the Bill seems to get it right on property rights, and it is therefore surprising that clause 43 seems to get it so badly wrong. I am an amateur photographer, although I have never made a penny from any photograph that I have taken. I am Mr. May in the House magazine calendar with a photograph of the grounds of Caerhays castle. I might be the election month pin-up, but I am getting no money for that photograph. I declare my interest, however.
Many photographers rely on the exploitation of the intellectual property rights that flow from their work. As the campaign group to stop clause 43 points out, the clause says that
"if someone finds your photograph, wants to use it and decides that they can't trace you, they can do whatever they like with it after paying an arbitrary fee to a UK Government-appointed 'licensing body'. You'll never know unless you happen to find it being used in this way".
We have seen graphic examples in our post and e-mail of images being used in ways never before seen. Those practices have resulted in the people who took the photographs losing money.
Ironically, there has been a spectacular demonstration of that only in the last few days. I am indebted to Jeremy Nicholl, whose blog I shall quote from-or, perhaps, paraphrase; I do not want to be accused of plagiarism on this of all occasions. About last weekend's now famous "Ashes to Ashes" Gene Hunt poster featuring the actor Philip Glenister, the blog states:
"But for those in the UK creative industry there is a far more interesting question: how did the Labour party get permission to use the Glenister image? The answer is: they didn't. In the clause 43 spirit of log on, go everywhere, steal everything, the image was apparently downloaded by a Labour party activist, adapted by advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi, then approved by government ministers David and Ed Miliband. Alarm bells, anyone?
The poster manages to break just about every rule in the intellectual property handbook, and with entirely predictable results. Glenister has apparently said he is unhappy about the use of his image for political purposes. Doubtless lawyers for German car maker Audi will be interested in how one of their products came to be used to promote a British political party. And BBC chiefs are reportedly 'furious' at the misuse: 'We would never have given permission for any political use of one of our programmes', one senior executive is reported as saying. Quick, define irony".
I admire the hon. Gentleman's point. That message was mixed by Labour spin doctors, then remixed by Conservative spin doctors. He is proving the point that mixing culture and the power of sharing are new in the internet age. That is precisely why the Bill is so incompetent. We are not going to stop people sharing content with each other and using it creatively to create new things. He should be proud that young people are mixing up these images to engage in political debate.
Ah, that is a very interesting point. I was with the hon. Gentleman for quite a lot of that intervention, although, as a Select Committee Chairman, I try to be neutral and impartial on these matters. I thought that the reference to the Audi was a reference to my party, rather than to his. His last comment really worried me, however. I am not proud that our two great political parties are exploiting intellectual property inappropriately and without permission. I am ashamed of that, and he should be ashamed of it, too. He should not give any succour to those who abuse intellectual property. We should not forget that the BBC, as this blog says, is one of the main proponents of a Bill to allow use of other people's images in ways they did not envisage without permission or payment, yet it is furious that without permission or payment someone has taken a BBC image and used it in a way that the BBC did not envisage.
What is interesting is that this guy has done some research. He says that-
"a quick search of the internet reveals the original photograph hosted here"- he has the hyperlink on his blog-
"complete with all the BBC copyright information: it even very helpfully has a contact number for those who wish to use the picture legally."
"For any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising and commercial prior written approval from the copyright holder will be required."
It ends with reference to "Caption writer: Greg King" and provides the telephone number 0208 225 8543. Anyone up for this, gentlemen or ladies, can get retrospective permission and pay a fee to the provider of the photograph.
No, I have already given way twice and I have no more time.
I have considerable sympathy with those who believe in the need for a new intellectual property Act, but we do not have time for that. This Bill is the best of a bad job; it can be improved in the wash-up, but not enough. It is a shame, but we have to support it.
In common with my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt, this will be the last time I speak in the House. It would be fair to describe my feelings as bitter-sweet.
When I was a Minister, I had some input into some aspects of the Bill, but I largely inherited it from Stephen Carter. The "Digital Britain" White Paper was published in the week I became a Minister. I would like to spend a few minutes paying tribute to Stephen Carter and the work he did on that White Paper. It is unusual in government for any measure, particularly one so wide ranging and cross cutting, to be so clearly and singularly the work of one man. This one cuts across super-fast broadband, mobile telecoms, anti-piracy, radio, public service broadcasting and Ofcom. In the months I have spent on the Bill since last summer, it has became apparent to me what an extremely impressive piece of work it was.
Good government consists in surveying the scene, analysing the information, making a policy, taking decisions and implementing them clearly. I agree that the Bill, as amended, partly by me, is not so visionary a work. Given its more practical nature, that is perhaps inevitable. The White Paper, however, in the way it built coalitions, found consensus and struck balances from sector to sector, was a really outstanding and visionary piece of work. Great credit accrues to Stephen Carter for what he did.
The most obviously fractured coalition in the Carter consensus revolves around the contentious and controversial issue of illegal downloading. The advocates of illegal downloading-for that is what it is-have succeeded in painting a picture that is very seductive, but very misleading. The best way to illustrate this is by means of an old-tech linear-medium metaphor. In this metaphorical world that they have constructed, my hon. Friend Mr. Watson, who is in his place but not paying attention, is Luke Skywalker. He is the little guy, the plucky loner fighting the machine. Clay Shirky is Obi Wan Kenobi, the wise, broad, almost mystical guru figure. Peter Mandelson is obviously Darth Vader. Rather more counter-intuitively, however-this is where the metaphor begins to fracture-the evil Sith Chancellor Palpatine, the most evil universally bad figure of all, turns out to be Steven Spielberg. That is who Luke Skywalker is fighting-the ultimate rights holder, the acme of creative content ownership. When Spielberg turns out to be the ultimate evil, we know that the metaphor-otherwise quite cleverly constructed by the freedom fighters-is not just flawed, but misleading, damaging and dangerous. When Spielberg is the ultimate evil, it turns out that creativity is the enemy. It is creativity that Luke and his pals are after.
It is not those people who couch the metaphor in these terms; I am articulating the metaphor, but the underlying truth is exactly how they seek to characterise the debate. It is very misleading, although it serves them very well. It is Spielberg and George Lucas who are the enemy, along with Andrea Arnold, Shane Meadows and talented, not rich, low-budget British film makers. Yes, the Beatles and the Stones are also the enemy, as are young unsigned bands. I am not talking about super-rich rock stars and film producers, but about struggling young musicians, ordinary jobbing and grafting musicians and film makers- [Interruption.] When I mentioned ordinary, jobbing and grafting musicians, Pete Wishart was bouncing around in his seat in what I take to be agreement.
The 6.4 per cent. of GVA-gross value added-that we derive from these industries is not all about big corporate fat cats, as we are talking about measures to deal with illegal downloading, which are supported vehemently by all the creative unions, indeed all the major unions. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of highly skilled, high-value and high-quality jobs. It is not as simple as "Luke against the evil Sith Lord Spielberg".
Having constructed a fantasy metaphor for themselves to inhabit, the young Skywalker and his wrong-headed pals set up a completely false association of two completely separate issues. In respect of the first, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property will not agree with everything I am going to say, although I suspect he knows that I am right.
Copyright and licensing in this country and in the world need fundamental reform. We are in a new age, and we need completely new paradigms; the likes of creative licensing need to be extended and institutionalised; and we need a much wider, broader and more flexible system of collective licensing across the board in this country. The content industries also need to find completely new distribution models and need to work much harder at new business models. Fundamentally, they need to accept that in the future they will have to work on lower margins; they will make less money and will have to work harder and do more for less. They need to get that into their heads and re-evaluate the business models. They can still survive; they can still exist; we still need them; we still need to lead the world in what we do, but they have to change radically and do it differently. I agree with all that and I believe that Luke and his pals agree with it, too. All those things are true, but it does not follow from this that it is no longer appropriate to enforce the law as it stands.
I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friend and I am a great follower of Star Wars. I realise now, however, that my hon. Friend has identified himself as Yoda.
It would be un-humble for me to comment on that, but I shall take it as the compliment I assume to have been intended.
It does not follow from the great need we have for reform that it is wrong to enforce the current law. Unlawful downloading is already illegal and has been for a long time. Copyright is not dead just because of the internet. Ownership is not old hat. Regulating the internet is not Luddite or immoral or stupid. It is technically possible, morally right and economically necessary. The fundamental issue here is the correct response to widespread lawbreaking. The answer is not to abrogate the law; the answer is to enforce the law, and that is what these measures do.
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, but does he not think there is a danger that the Bill will criminalise large numbers of imaginative young people and education establishments who frequently share material on the internet and use the medium as a form of creative expression? Are we going to kill all that off and cut people off as a result of this Bill?
No, it does not criminalise anybody; all it does is simply seek to enforce the existing law. We should, however, be very careful that the Bill does not have the unintended consequence of bringing about the end of public wi-fi. I was assured by the experts in the various Departments involved in this legislation that there were clearly existing technical measures that made it perfectly possible to run public wi-fi with these measures.
Obviously, I do not claim to know what the technical measures are, but when I am told that they exist, I take it in good faith that they do exist, and unless my hon. Friend can prove to me that they do not exist-
On the point about the only answer being to enforce the law, may I repeat what I said earlier, which is that finding more co-operative ways of doing things that create an environment in which people are less likely to break the law is how to bring all parties together, and that that is how we need to address the governance of the internet? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the approach we should adopt, rather than an old-fashioned enforcement approach, with legislation and enforcement being seen as the only ways to deal with any problem?
I agree, but my point is that it is not an either/or choice. We need fundamental reform and a whole new system of licensing. We need to legislate for sharing, and in future we need to do things in a different way that allows people to reshape, reuse and remix content.
Yes, and we need to share in the way that we legislate, but that does not mean that we abrogate the existing law as if copyright and ownership all of a sudden mean nothing in this country.
Is it really right to contemplate cutting people off from access to the internet at the same time as the Government are spending oodles of money persuading people to get on to the internet and to be accessible?
This Bill is not about cutting people off from the internet. There is a very long process for that, which takes at least a year-probably more, in fact. People get letter after letter, then there are two appeals, the second of which is to a judicial tribunal. It is very unlikely that anybody will be cut off as a result of this legislation. If they are cut off, they will be the most recidivistic and unreasonable people who, frankly, deserve to be cut off. Millions of ordinary people who are currently doing something that is unlawful will stop because a new mechanism will educate and inform them about this thing they are doing that they should not be doing.
This is a big Bill and I do not want to talk only about that issue, which has become very controversial. It is also very important to touch on the provisions to do with public service broadcasting. Mr. Foster is no longer in his place, but he mentioned the changes to the Channel 4 remit. I agree with everything he said. Currently, only core channel linear content counts towards Channel 4's public service remit, but this Bill changes that. Under the current remit, Film4 commissioning "Slumdog Millionaire" did not count, and neither did E4 commissioning "Skins". The new remit gives Channel 4 an obligation to commission and acquire original British film. That is incredibly important for the British film industry. It gives Channel 4 an obligation to operate in the digital sphere, which is obviously important, and it gives it obligations with respect to commissioning content for older children-something in which we have a great history but where we are lagging sadly behind at present.
The radio provisions are one of the best examples of the Carter success. From a starting point of great knowledge and expertise, he took a position and plotted a course to drive it forward. I think that digital switchover for radio will happen by 2015, and I think it will happen as successfully and relatively painlessly as-touch wood-the transition to digital television is happening and has already happened.
As for video, in respect of the Bill's embracing of the pan-European game information-PEGI-standards, it is important that we in this House and the Government recognise more than ever that the video games industry is already very important to our national economy. Given the right support and value, it can be a fundamental driver of economic growth in this country over the next couple of decades. We have already done a lot through measures such as the tax incentives in the Budget, and a lot of work and investment has gone into skills and the research and development of video games. This measure in the Bill is widely welcomed as well, but we need to do more and keep driving things forward because other countries are driving harder and harder every month.
As I am not summing up for the Opposition Front-Bench team, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will indulge me if I simply say how much I have enjoyed his speech, what great affection and respect I have for him, and that I wish him well in his retirement.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind; I do not deserve such kindness, but he is a very old friend of mine, and I can only imagine that that is the explanation for it.
In conclusion, let me just say to Stephen Carter, "Respec'"-Members will note that I did not pronounce the "t", as I believe one is not supposed to do so-on an outstanding piece of work. Obviously, this is not the perfect Bill, but it is a good Bill.
As my hon. Friend mentioned me, I just want to associate myself with his remarks on copyright and also refer him to the copyright strategy, because he suggested there might be some distance between us, and I wanted to say that there is not. The Government accept that copyright is here to stay but is subject to further reform, and I wish my hon. Friend well in Birmingham.
On all counts, I am very grateful and stand roundly corrected.
Let me just say in conclusion that this is a big and important Bill that addresses a massive part of our economy-it is a bigger part of our economy than of any other major economy in the world. Some of the Bill's provisions are about people's moral rights, but others are about people's jobs and livelihoods, our national prosperity and the ability of our citizens to live in a country where they can do the kind of things world citizens should in future be able to do. This is a good and important Bill, which I am proud to support by speaking in this Chamber now, for the last time.
I congratulate Mr. Simon on making such a fine final speech, and I am sure the force will be with him as he goes off to fight the mayoralty in Birmingham. He will probably go down in the record books as the last Labour creative industries Minister, given that he was not subsequently replaced in that post. I also refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.
I want to take you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a perfect Saturday afternoon shopping trip. You have had a fantastic fix of retail therapy and you cannot wait to try out all the new goods you have legitimately bought. Then you come across your local record store and you cannot believe what you see, because hanging in the window is a sign saying, "Everything inside absolutely free." Being the music fan that I know you are, Mr, Deputy Speaker, you are in there like a shot, helping yourself to the top 10 albums. You also take the opportunity to fill some of the gaps in your back-catalogue of favourite artists. You might even think about acquiring the fantastic new album by MP4, the world's only, and best, Parliamentary rock band. In another aisle in the shop there are all the blockbuster releases from the cinema, and you help yourself to them, too, and on the way out there is a shelf with items by the cream of the UK's games industry, and you take a couple of them as well. As you leave, the very nice young man behind the counter says, "Come back any time, sir, you know we're open all hours." That would be patently absurd and ridiculous, but that is what happens online every second of every day. Goods, digital services, films, computer games and music are simply given away for nothing-fantastic works of art, reduced to commodities and products of no value at all.
Nobody refers to such activity as giving things away, or, heaven forbid, as stealing-let us not even go there! It is simply sharing, or peer-to-peer file sharing, to give it its proper name. You might be thinking, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a fantastic idea, and asking why hon. Members are not rushing down to their manufacturing sector or retail outlets to demand that their goods should be shared, too. If it is good enough for the online world, surely it is good enough for these more tangible products-for the electronic goods and furniture that these small businesses make. No, that would be even more ridiculous, because it would ruin any notion of a functional, rational economy.
It seems that it is all right for that to happen online and what we are doing has ruined any notion of a functioning, rational digital economy. If we are serious about trying to grow our digital economy and about ensuring that we have the best creative economy in the world, we must ensure that artists, writers and creators are rewarded for the work that they do. If we do not, we will go nowhere.
One group of people is totally overlooked in this debate. It is not the powerful and influential internet service providers, nor the rights holders, nor, bless them, the consumers, but the artist-the creator, the designer, the inventor. They seem to be totally ignored and forgotten about in this debate. There is no digital economy without the content and no creative industry without the creator-they should be at the heart of all our consideration about the digital economy and the creative industries. It is their imagination that fires it. They must be rewarded for the works that they produce.
So, how does this Bill intend to address that problem? I have seen the hyperbole given by the ISPs and their digital rights friends. I have seen the lightsabers brought out by Mr. Watson and his merry bunch of friends. It is almost impossible to reconcile what they are saying with what has been proposed. If people were to listen to them, they would think that the Government were going to a big switch and turning the internet off-Armageddon online. I have read clauses 5 to 17, and all they say is that people will get a letter-a notification-that will ask them, ever so politely, to stop what they have been doing. It will just say, "Stop. What you are doing is illegal. Please don't do it anymore."
If they ignore that letter, a second letter will come through. It will perhaps be a little sterner. It will probably outline some of the damage that their illegal activity is doing, tell them that there are alternative sites that they might use and say that they are taking products for nothing.
Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the people who argue that these measures are far too draconian are the ones who, when we say that we are just going to send letters, say, "Oh, that won't work-just sending them letters. They won't take any notice"?
That is the thing. All the e-mails that I have received keep on telling me that the Government's proposals will never work, so, if it is never going to work, why are they getting so upset about it? It is ludicrous and I do not understand it. I know that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will get to his feet soon and perhaps he will explain that one to me-I have no idea. If this is not going to work and does not concern them, what are they all getting upset about?
Of course, if there is going to be online infringement and serious abuse of other people's property, it is right, proper and appropriate that some sanction should be applied. Even the serial abusers of other people's work would expect that. Of course they should expect it. It is illegal. If someone takes something for nothing-if they steal the works of other people-they should expect a sanction at the end of it. However, the process is lengthy. People will receive letter after letter saying, "Please stop now." Then, possibly, they will be given some sort of sanction. An appeals process will be available if they feel that they have been wrongly identified, but surely it is right that some sanction should be applied.
There is a solution. If people are carrying out this activity, they should not do it anymore. They should just stop. That is the way to solve this. It works both ways. They know that they are doing something wrong; these serial abusers who take so much music and so many films and games for nothing know that. Those who wilfully continue to abuse the property of others must face some sort of sanction.
I am grateful to another vice-chairman of the Performers Alliance group in this House for giving way. Is it not a myth that co-operation, as we have heard, could somehow solve this? People are not talking about co-operating and sharing their own thoughts and content, but are stealing someone else's content and sharing that. There is an Armageddon, which has partially arrived in Sweden, where the Pirate party, whose leader is in jail, won seats in the European Parliament on the basis that everybody's work-including MP4's-should be free.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I pay tribute to the work that he does as chair of the all-party jazz appreciation group-I know that that is something that he particularly enjoys. He is absolutely right-it is not sharing, but taking. Nothing is shared by the people who take this for absolutely nothing. They are not giving anything back in return.
Who opposes these measures? Of course, the powerful internet service providers and their digital rights friends do not like them. The ISPs are the pipes that allow such activity to take place, but they have to accept their responsibility for what is provided by their hugely lucrative infrastructure. To try to solve this problem, they have been encouraged, persuaded and asked to come to the table to try to deal with it. However, apart from Sky and Virgin-who are content rights holders themselves-they have wilfully refused to co-operate or participate, so they must now be obliged to do so by legislation. They have had their chance to come to the table.
Mr. TalkTalk and Mr. BT have been sending me all these briefings about freedom and human rights, but the only people in the disconnection business are TalkTalk, BT and the other ISPs, when they do not get their share. It is all right for the rights holders to give their stuff away for nothing. Mr. TalkTalk and Mr. BT should lead by example and let access be allowed for nothing. Somehow, I do not think that they will be taking up that particular offer. This is where we are in the debate. It is all right for somebody else to give something away for nothing, but if they are asked to give something away, they will not be interested at all. We should be careful in the lessons that we take from TalkTalk, BT and the rest of the ISPs.
As I understand it, if someone does not pay their bill to BT or TalkTalk for their internet service provision, they get cut off. That is what happens. This is the key point-it is all right for everybody else to give their works away for nothing, but they are not prepared to do that themselves.
Of course, we are preached to about human rights and proportionality. What about the human rights of the artists? What about their interests? What about the proportionality of getting a crust for what they produce? Surely that is important, too. These powerful vested interests have objected to any and every measure to tackle illegal file sharing. Every proposal has its faults, every suggestion is a suggestion too far. Fault must be and will be found in every method of trying to tackle this. Those with vested interests simply do not want a solution to illegal file sharing and they will never agree to any proposal to address these problems.
I accept that there are issues with the Bill. There are certain things that we have to reconsider and that have to be addressed. It is not the most elegant solution for the internet account holder to be targeted, but there is no other way to do it. I have not heard any other way of trying to find out how to bring these infringers to task. There is no good way. Being an internet account holder should come with the responsibility to ensure that no illegal activity is conducted in their name or under their contract. There are issues to do with wi-fi hot spots and with universities and colleges, but it takes good faith to fix this. I take for granted everything that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said when he argued that there are solutions. Some people do not want to know about the solutions-they only want to highlight the problems and the difficulties. Of course there are solutions. If people of good faith are prepared to work together, we can, of course, ensure that they are solved, but some are not interested in working together to solve this because they do not want to solve it at all.
The Musicians' Union reminds us that the average musician earns less than £14,000. Losing royalties makes the day-to-day struggle even harder. We have heard from the rich, powerful musicians-those who have already made their fortunes from selling their records. If they want to give their music away for nothing and use it as a loss leader to sell other products, that is fine. No one is stopping them from doing that. If they want to give their work away for nothing, they can, but they should not make the rest of the music community and musicians who are finding it tough to make some sort of living subscribe to that. I spent 17 years in the music industry and I made a reasonable living out of being a musician and plying my trade, but I saw people who did not. The vast majority of musicians who I know do not earn that kind of money. When they get a hit single-when they get that lucky break from producing a fantastic song-they are entitled to absolutely every penny that comes from the work that they have produced.
The Musicians Union is hand in hand with all the other unions that are involved in this debate and want to see the aims of the Bill realised. I was grateful to see the letter today in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, I think, from the head of the TUC. The unions and the creative industries have united to ensure that this legislation will happen. Millions of jobs are involved. If we do not deal with this issue, it will have an impact on jobs and prosperity in every constituency. That is why it must be addressed. We have to recognise that our international competitors are moving to protect their digital economies and their creators to ensure that their creative economies keep growing. If we do not act now, there is a strong chance that we will be left behind. If we are to realise our ambition to be a worldwide hub for the creative industries, we have to protect our artists, designers, inventors and creators.
I want to speak briefly about some of the other issues in the Bill. I welcome the DAB radio switchover, which is a good measure, but I ask the Minister to have some sort of respect for all the analogue equipment, such as microphones, that was previously used. We have to find something to do with all that.
I, too, have great reservations about clause 43. As I have already said, everyone should be rewarded and valued for the work they produce, so I am totally with the photographers. We should ensure that they are similarly rewarded. The orphan works idea is a fantastic one, and it is right that those pieces should be brought back into public use, but we have to be very careful about the impact that will have on photographers. I support the measures in relation to Channels 4 and 3 and Five, and I think that what is proposed for Ofcom is a reasonable, workable and sensible solution for the future.
I must say that I feel thoroughly let down by the Government's Business, Innovation and Skills team on this Bill. The way that the Bill has worked its way through Parliament has been an utter disgrace. The Bill should have started in this House; it should have been the business of democratically elected Members of Parliament, not of unelected appointees, cronies and donors. It should have been debated in this place. There is absolutely no reason whatever why the Bill could not have been initiated in this House. I am a Scottish National party Member, and my party does not have any peers in the House of Lords. This is the first time that my party and Plaid Cymru have had a chance to look at the Bill. Surely, it is not right that political parties in this House cannot get proper scrutiny of Bills when unelected peers, appointees, cronies and donors can. Surely, it is our business, and the opportunity for us to have a say on such important measures, especially those that have so exercised our constituents, must be ensured. It is an absolute disgrace that we have not been able to consider the legislation properly. I hope that the Minister will make sure that all of us are included in any wash-up discussions and procedures. It will not be good enough simply to allow us one Second Reading: we have to be centrally, critically and crucially involved in all wash-up discussions. It is not on for the Minister to think that he can casually exclude this House's parties from exercising democratic scrutiny.
The process has been a mess and a disgrace, but we need the measures in the Bill. We do not have any more time; we are bleeding money, jobs and industry from creative endeavours; we need this legislation now, and that is why I will support the Bill this evening. Our creators, artists, inventors and designers-the cream of the UK's creative industries-want this Bill, so that we can continue to have the best creative industry and digital economy. I urge all hon. Members to support the Bill, but I ask that we should, please, never do things this way again.
It is of great personal amusement to me that I happen to be following the previous two speakers. My very good friend Pete Wishart made an impassioned plea for his trade, and I understand his arguments even though they were slightly angry and vexatious at times. You might not know this Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am something of a rock hero myself, having been a guest lead singer with the hon. Gentleman's band. I sang "Teenage Kicks" at another Member's 50th birthday, and I know that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire would have cleared the copyright and intellectual property licence and all that, because he would not have let me perform live unless he had.
May I also spend some time thanking my very good friend, my hon. Friend Mr. Simon, for his contribution and for his friendship over the years that he has been in this House? He has made a huge difference and has cheered us all up. I have had a few drinks with him in bars similar to those in "Star Wars", and I forgive him, because I think he has just referred to me as the estranged child of Peter Mandelson. If that is the case, he has used his uncanny political antennae to be, once again, ahead of the game. We shall miss you, Siôn.
This week marks the tercentenary of the Statute of Anne, 1710, which was the world's first copyright law. It opens with the words:
"Whereas Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing, Reprinting, and Publishing...without the Consent of the Authors or Proprietors of such Books and Writings, to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their families: for Preventing therefore such Practices for the future, and for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books".
So the whole copyright settlement-I cannot be the only one to see the irony of this-came about because the British publishing industry was exploiting our creators and not giving them adequate remuneration for their work. Some 300 years on, a central question for any Government to ask themselves is how they can encourage more people to express themselves by using their creative talents to strengthen our society. Another central question for modern Governments to ask is how they will contend with the disruptive force of the internet. That is a question that we should be answering when we are framing legislation in this House.
I do not believe that this discussion will end today. It will dominate debates in this House for years to come. The next generation of MPs will have to contend with the direct implications that our regulatory moves in the internet sphere will have for the kind of society that we want to live in, and how they will impact on the rights that we all expect to have. How do we promote freedom of speech and balance it against rights to privacy? How do we contend with issues of centralised data gathering and storage by Governments versus rights of control over our own personal information? How do we balance the right to protect intellectual property that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has talked about against rights of fair use? How do we balance people's right to express their views freely against the need to protect individuals from obscene forms of cyberbullying, for example?
There is an emerging recognition that we need to break down the digital divide in this country, so that there is a right to access the world wide web through universal broadband access. Politicians on both sides of the House have talked about access to the internet as an emerging right. That is why, at the higher end of the debate, people are extremely concerned that on one level we are talking about access to the internet being a right and that, on another, we are talking about practical measures such as removing people's access to knowledge-albeit after sending a letter-and removing the ability to share knowledge using the internet.
It is a very great pity that the Bill cannot be tested in Committee in the light of some of those questions. As a twice ex-Whip, I am rather embarrassed by the fact that the Bill is being railroaded through in the wash-up. Frankly, there has been a squalid deal between the three Front Benches, and they should be ashamed of themselves. The people who care about this Bill-and there are many out there-will see that for what it is.
Before I concentrate on the parts of the Bill that particularly concern me, I want to list the commendable elements that deserve very great praise. First, the proposal on video games classification is long overdue and will give clarity to many families around the country about what content of video games is appropriate for their children to consume. The video games industry in this country has a very big future. It currently employs something like 28,000 people, but with the right Government intervention, there is no reason why we could not have quadruple or quintuple that number of people working in the industry in years to come.
Britain dominates the world when it comes to creativity, and any measure that will help consumers to accept that is to be welcomed. If the PEGI-pan-European game information-classification system is adopted, I know that the industry will engage in a public education campaign, and we should commend it for that.
The proposed new remit for Channel 4 to produce high-quality digital content is also a good idea, although, like my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt, I would have liked it to go further. Channel 4 is this country's digital pioneer: it does amazing things on very small budgets, and I had hoped that the regulatory regime offered in the Bill could have harnessed its creative endeavours a little more. We have talked already about the new powers for Ofcom to regulate the electromagnetic spectrum, and I am especially pleased that the Bill will extend public lending right to e-books and spoken-word books.
There are some very good measures in the Bill and, unlike some other contributors, I believe that the Government have much to be proud of in the digital space. Just last week, in an inspired move, we made 1:10,000 geo-spatial mapping date free for reuse through the Ordnance Survey. Ordnance Survey geo-spatial data is the jewel in the crown for data mashers up and down the country, and the move will foster a great sense of innovation and an explosion of creativity in the digital space. Freeing up data, liberating talent and catalysing creativity: these are the elements that we should be exploring in the Bill.
Earlier, I said that this debate was not new. We have been contending with ways to manage our collective intellectual capital since the Sumerian merchants of 5,000 BC made small marks on clay tablets to show their daily trades. The difference today, of course, is the sheer scale of the task.
How do we contend with what Richard Saul Wurman describes as a "tsunami" of data? Human beings produce five exabytes of recorded information in a year; that is 40,000 times the number of words stored in the British Library.
Kryder's law is the almost mystical formula that says that digital capacity will double every 13 months. It means that we can now super-process acres of data that could not be digested even 10 years ago. If the law remains accurate, we will be able to store all the content ever created in history on a single iPod by 2025. Given the level of technological advance and the pace of change, is it any wonder that many people believe that the current measures for policing file sharing are simply pointless?
Cheaper computing has created an industry and new thinking on information technology. In his book "We-think", Charles Leadbeater makes the point that
"thanks to rising educational attainment, spreading communications and cheaper technology, innovation and creativity are becoming increasingly distributed".
I think that the measures in this Bill will make it harder, not easier, for people to share knowledge and ideas through the internet and I am, frankly, baffled as to why any political party, on left or right, would want to go down that route.
I know that the worthy intention of those on all three Front Benches is to defend our creative industries. Everyone in this Chamber wants to do that, even though my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington has comically parodied my position, to the amusement of all. However, more enlightened members of both main parties privately tell me that they know that the copyright measures in this Bill are nonsensical. They say that they will give the big publishing interests that dominate the debate in this country a period of respite, during which they can compose themselves while they consider their next moves in the internet age.
I admire the Bill's motives in respect of copyright, but there is an opportunity cost associated with defending old publishing interests. Innovations will not stop in our competitor countries while we give the UK record industry time to think.
There is a less charitable, more sinister view of this Bill. I readily admit that it might play into the conspiracy theories so ably portrayed by the previous two speakers, but the attempts to create artificial scarcity with information goods represent a second enclosure movement in this country. The intangible assets of our society are being packaged up in a contemporary expansion of intellectual property.
As the Bill's supporters and critics make claim and counterclaim about the economic benefits of the measures contained in it, one thing has been abundantly clear to me throughout the debate. It is that there has been a huge and unprecedented lobbying operation by the old publishing interests. They are the beneficiaries of enclosure, and they have dominated the argument for months.
I respect my hon. Friend's forward thinking, but he obviously has not studied his history. The enclosure movement took away the enclosures around small fields to make larger fields so that larger technologies could be used. When all enclosures were taken away in America, the ultimate result was that the wind blew the topsoil off the land and the people starved. I think that he has got his analogy entirely wrong.
My hon. Friend and I could debate the historical complexities of the enclosure movement, but I have only four minutes left. Perhaps we could have that discussion afterwards.
The big publishing industries tell us that an expansion of property rights and enforcement are essential to fuelling progress and continuing innovation in this sector. They believe that we need more copyright laws, a scaling up of enforcement, more policing of the internet, and a greater intolerance of that most human of traits-sharing.
This Bill, outrageously in my view, is going to be forced through in the wash-up. When it is passed, however, there will remain some unpalatable truths that the next Government, and advocates for the position of big publishing in Government, must deal with. The internet exists, and it is not going away. Whatever technical measures are taken to enforce scarcity will fail. Even in China, where there are 30,000 internet police, people are sharing ideas, information, news, music and art at an ever increasing rate.
It is hard to describe to colleagues how our digital natives-the people who entered the world of work without thinking of the internet as a "new" technology-think about the anachronistic ideas that underpin the thinking behind this Bill. They understand the power and the beauty of the serendipitous hypertext link, and believe that it is part of human nature to take an idea and use it-to play with it and remix it into something new, as Peter Luff described.
If hon. Members are beginning to think that I have taken leave of my senses with that comment, they should think about the Gene Hunt poster. What are the barriers to entry for young people who want to make a political statement? To take control of two images, they would have to sign a cumbersome licensing deal so that they could remix them and thus spark a debate, but in fact the remix event that took place caused thousands of young people to talk about the future. If we do not accept that that represents a cultural change in Britain, we will be forever doomed to holding debates that will appear merely futile to those young people.
Mr. Whittingdale-the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee-and I often look in different directions on policy, but we agree solidly that making legislation on the hoof, as we are doing now, lets the law of unintended consequences kick in. The hon. Gentleman talked about legitimacy. I shall quote from one of the great copyright debates of 1841. Talking about reform of the then law, the great Lord Macaulay said:
"At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side."
That might be true.
"Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouth of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men of a character very different from that of the present race of piratical book-sellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as Robinson Crusoe"-[ Hansard, 5 February 1841; Vol. 56, c. 356-7.]
I end there, because I am nearly out of time. There is no legitimacy in these measures, and the Bill will be honoured in the breach.
It is a disgrace that the House is not treated with courtesy by the Government. It is quite wrong that a Bill of such importance and magnitude was not tabled earlier. It is quite wrong that there is an attempt to rush through all parts of the Bill without proper scrutiny and debate.
Not so long ago there was general agreement on both sides of the House that the House had not done a serious enough job of scrutinising legislation and providing the kind of commentary and critique of draft legislation that it should. The House was right to understand that there is a concern out in the country that this Parliament, of all Parliaments that I have had anything to do with, has let down the public by not getting sufficiently involved, and not finding a way of making the Government give it enough time to do the job properly.
We have heard from Members on both sides of the House why we need time to discuss the Bill. There may be quite a lot of agreement about some of the important things in the Bill. I am sure that no one in the House begrudges a great artist or creator of music or words fair return for their labour, but many complicated issues are involved in determining how we secure that return without impeding too much on everyone else's freedoms. It is difficult to do it in the rather clumsy way that the Government have come up with so far in the relevant early clauses of the Bill.
We need scrutiny not just of the things that cause disagreement across the Chamber-there are several of those, as we heard from Front-Bench speakers on both sides of the House at the opening of the debate. We also need scrutiny of the things that the Chamber largely agrees about, because it is in those areas that it is more likely that mistakes will be made-that the language will be wrong and that the Bill will not carry into effect what the House wishes, because the Bill will have got through without the challenge that we need.
It was for good reason that our predecessors in this place said that there should be a Second Reading of Bills to discuss the principles-"Is it a good idea to have a Bill on this at all?" "Broadly, how do we go about doing it?"-then a little pause to reflect on the Bill, and then a Committee stage, on the Floor of the House for important Bills or upstairs for others. Members of the House most interested in the legislation could go through the Bill line by line, mainly asking the question, "Will this particular phrase, clause or line help us achieve the aim of the Government?"-or the common aim where there is general agreement.
This Government have had 13 years to introduce important legislation on the digital revolution. I cannot believe that any previous Government dared to hold a Second Reading of an extremely important Bill after they had announced the intent to dissolve the House as quickly as possible. It beggars belief that this Government could insult the Commons, and the public we represent, in that way so shortly after it was a matter of common agreement that we needed to do a better job of scrutinising, debating and discussing legislation for the sake of enacting legislation that works.
The legislation has 11 principal areas and themes. The debate in this shortened time available for Second Reading may discuss only three or four of them in detail; most will go unremarked, or will be mentioned en passant by speakers mainly interested in something else, because there is not even proper time for a full Second Reading debate, because there were questions, statements and so on before we got to Second Reading and we are all under time pressures to limit our speeches as a result. Naturally, Members are concentrating on the things that are most difficult or that matter most to them, so those of us concerned enough to be in the Chamber will only be able to discuss some elements. It is quite understandable that, now that an election has been called, some Members feel they have duties elsewhere. If they feel that they are not immediately required for a vote, they may be tidying up their affairs or communicating with their constituents. This is not a good time to be discussing something so technical, difficult and important.
One of the big issues that we have heard about so far relates to the powers that the Secretary of State should take under the legislation and the powers that should be delegated to Ofcom to tackle copyright infringement. The House will know that I am the author of johnredwood.com. Members may know that I do not seek to charge anyone for using that wonderful resource about modern British politics, and they may also know that I have received several offers from people wishing to advertise on my site for a reasonable fee and I have always turned them down because I do not want it to be a commercial site.
Like me, many people see the web as a wonderful means for creating a community of people interested in a subject that matters to them. It can create argument, discussion and debate, and provoke ideas, viewpoints and discussion, which is entirely helpful to the democratic process or whatever interest has led people to set up a site. As has been said, even under this rather crude legislation, there is nothing to stop people such as me continuing to offer a free service without worrying about infringement of copyright. I should be happy for anyone to reproduce anything I have written on the site as long as they do not libel me or lampoon it too much. It is perfectly good for people to use the site; it shows that the site is of interest and of use.
However, there are people who are trying to make a living from their creative work and they naturally want a sensible legal framework that enables them to protect their legitimate intellectual property and to continue to make a living. We know that the internet has brought great good. It has involved many more people in many more activities. It informs people much better and enables them to research much more quickly and easily topics of interest to them. It allows communities to communicate one with another and allows events to be publicised. It brings all sorts of goods to local society. I hope Members share the perception that there is much good in the internet and would not want the legislation to damage in any way the good that the internet can do.
Let us think about the comparison with protecting the copyright of an author who chooses to publish their written words not on the web but in the form of a newspaper or magazine article, or a book. In the past, many of us in the House have written articles or books for which we may have been paid small sums. We have some protection in the copyright under existing copyright laws. The House should remember, however, that there is no comprehensive protection in copyright law for the written word published in those ways. If I publish an article or a book, I am sure that people may lend the book or article to others for free, and I have no right to say, "You must not do this. I demand a royalty every time that book or article is lent to somebody." We do not go that far. We feel that it is part of a free society to allow people to lend books or articles to their friends, family, neighbours or whoever.
It is also probably the case that, quite often in the furtherance of education, the better articles-one hopes-and the better chapters or sections of books are reproduced on copying machines and used as teaching materials that are provided to pupils and students in schools and universities. I am sure that very often the school or university does not bother to contact the author to seek permission and does not bother to ask the author whether they would like a token payment to allow them to reproduce such material. It would be a pretty odd author who got really hot under the collar about that and started to sue the schools, although they could, because they would understand that such activities are quite helpful to them in building their reputation and name in some ways-again, assuming that their work is not lampooned or completely shredded-and one has to live in a free society and we want people to be educated. We should approach any suggestion that we need tighter regulation of the internet with that in mind. We are not looking for something completely comprehensive. We need to live and let live.
Quite a large number of people outside the House are worried about our rushing through, for example, clauses 10 to 18 tonight-if that is a serious proposition between the two Front-Bench teams-because although if many of those people were challenged they would probably say, "Yes, of course, someone who has sung or written a great song should get some money for its reproduction," they are very worried that we will criminalise people who are doing very minor things that are quite normal to do with, for example, copies of magazines and newspapers, that we will get the wrong people, or that the person who has a series of internet facilities in an organisation will be picked on when they cannot control the use of such material or cannot even establish who used it or whether it was a persistent offence.
A lot of this could be sorted out if we had time to go into the detail and if we had time to examine the language that the Government propose, to discover whether they have got the balance right. All hon. Members would agree, from whichever direction they approach this argument, that we need a balance. No one says that there should be no copyright at all for anything. No one would take the opposite extreme and say that, every time that anyone says, does, sings or whatever anything, that creates an important copyright that they should be able to defend against everyone. That would be ludicrous, and it would greatly extend our traditional copyright law on newspapers and books. We need a workable compromise.
I will not have time to consider these clauses in any detail, I am afraid, because my time will be artificially restricted by the guillotine and the proposals for today, although they are wide-ranging enabling clauses. If people are worried, such clauses lead to greater suspicion. We are invited to believe that, under the orders that will implement these wide-ranging clauses, provisions will be made that will produce such a judicious balance. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke, or to sign a rushed cheque against an invoice that we have not been sent. That is not good practice. We need more from Ministers to persuade us that they have thought through these complicated issues about balance and that they have in mind practical orders that would not make unreasonable intrusions into the freedom of those who provide such web and internet services and would not restrict the rather minor examples of freesharing that are common in a free society and that one needs to be able to enjoy.
That would be most unusual. I have served on a good many order-making Committees in my time, and one of the most unsatisfactory things is that it is a take-it-or-leave-it process and the Government always say to vote to take it. So we can argue an extremely fine case and say that sentence 3 should be rephrased in the Government's interest, and they will still do absolutely nothing about it because the junior Minister does not have the power or the interest and intends to ram the order through in its current form. That naturally leads to suspicion, most obviously among hon. Members, but also outside the House. If we leave all the big judgment calls on the censorship of the web-this is really about censorship-to a set of orders that we cannot see and do not know about, it is asking too much, this close to a general election. This is extremely sloppy work, which we all find very worrying.
I am glad that my hon. Friends who sit on the Front Bench find some things in the Bill with which they profoundly disagree. I am tempted to say that the Government should take the whole thing back and do their homework properly, and it would be for the new Government to sort all this out when they are chosen by the British people on
My hon. Friend Mr. Hunt, who initiated the debate for the Opposition, very wisely said that the Government are showing their true socialist colours and that all they ever believe in is more taxes, and there is more tax in this legislation, more regulation, and there is tons more regulation for Ofcom of a kind to be specified later in orders, and more subsidy, when all else fails or when they are trying to do something that the market and the general public are not sufficiently interested in for it to be a commercial proposition. The Bill has all three elements. That is surely another reason why my hon. Friends who sit on the Front Bench should be extremely sceptical about allowing great chunks of the legislation through, when there is concern outside and a lack of precision in the legislation, when these unwelcome features will intrude into an area of business and social life that is a great success in this country under the current regime, which is perhaps a little chaotic, and when we should be proud of so much achievement in the world of the web and in the creative industries that we see outside.
Unfortunately, my time is up. I wanted to speak about half a dozen other important elements of the Bill, but I am not allowed to do so, only because the Government, once again, so hate the House of Commons that they will not give us time to consider these measures properly.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Redwood, because that means that he has finished. He adds to the point scoring of the hon. Members for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) against the Government and the Bill, but they then turned around and said that they will support it. It would appear that, as my hon. Friend Mr. Watson would say, they have capitulated to Ministers. I am quite happy for them to do so; I know that my hon. Friend will not be, but there we go. Regrettably, I agree with much of what was said by Pete Wishart, but I am sure that I can find something that I do not agree with in what he said. He will also support the Government tonight, which obviously makes a pleasant change-not something that he does very often.
Sadly, now that the election has been called, my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt will be leaving us. He and I have been joint chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on communications. He is a great man who has great ideas, and I certainly listen to him. I hope that he will go on to greater things in the years to come. I will miss him in the group, and I am sure that the House will be a poorer place for his having passed on to other things.
I agree with a lot of Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends in that I regret the fact that the Bill did not start in this House. I have always felt that we, as Members elected by the people, should have the first say on any Bill and that the other place should scrutinise what we do. That is particularly the case for a Bill such as this, which will have a great impact on many of my constituents. The number of e-mails that I have received over the past month or so shows that more people are interested in the Bill than I had thought, so we should have proceeded in that way. However, as we heard earlier, we are where we are and we have to move on; I just wanted to put that on record.
I want to touch on some aspects of the Bill relating to broadband that have perhaps not been discussed. I should declare an interest: I worked for BT for 31 years and my wife still works for the company, which explains why I might be nicer to BT than the loyal Opposition. The Opposition still have hang-ups about British Telecom and the BBC. It is a bit like the attitude of Mr. Cash towards Europe-unfortunately he is no longer in the Chamber. He cannot get his head around normal things when talking about anything to do with Europe and, sadly, the same applies to the Conservative party when it talks about BT and the BBC.
The hon. Gentleman has declared his interest in BT, but he also came out with some interesting remarks about the Conservatives' position. I shall put a straightforward question to him: is it right or wrong that BT should be able to keep control of its ducts? Why cannot we open up those ducts so that other competitors can use them? Surely that is a much cheaper way to allow broadband to be shared than that which the Government propose.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments; funnily enough, that is where my speech is going.
Part of my job in the industry related to the people who maintained the ducts and put cables down them. When the law was changed around the time of privatisation, cable companies were allowed to dig up our streets. They destroyed our pipes, ducts, pavements and roads, especially in my constituency-Old Drumchapel and Blairdardie were a nightmare afterwards-but did not reinstate everything as it was. I have a great fear that the Conservative party wants to give free access to the ducts, as well as to water, the sewers and electricity pylons, but I do not believe that that access can be free. Not just anyone can be allowed to interfere with the infrastructure of our water and electricity-or any form of our utility and communications networks-without someone overseeing the process.
I would not have a problem with Ofcom, Ofgem or Ofwat carrying out such oversight but, in this instance, the company that has carried out the role is BT. It must be more open by allowing other companies to use its facilities and equipment, and I think that it is going down that road, but I do not believe in a free and open market in the way that the hon. Gentleman does that would allow companies to come along with cowboys who would destroy our infrastructure. I can tell him from first-hand experience that that was exactly what happened, and I had to pick up the mess and talk to the customers who blamed BT for it, although it was not the company's fault.
The points that Mr. Hunt made about BT showed that he had no idea about how to maintain an infrastructure of such size. Whether one is dealing with ducts, pylons, or water and sewerage, there must be someone who knows exactly how they are maintained. If companies are then allowed to carry out work, they must do so according to that person's rules.
We hope to roll out 2 megabits per second broadband to everyone, which is quite ambitious, as other countries' provision does not go as high as that. However, that means absolutely nothing if it is not possible to achieve that speed. The Bill does not address in any way, shape or form the great problem of bit rates for uploading and downloading. Broadband equipment is sold that will allow someone to get 8 megabits per second, but that is a maximum figure. If Ministers were to guarantee the people of this country a minimum of 2 megabits per second, I would say, "Wow! That would be some feat." However, saying that everyone will get 2 megabits per second means absolutely nothing if the majority of people end up with only 1 megabit or even 0.5 megabits per second.
The companies that sell on broadband need to be brought into line. There is talk of speeds of 100 megabits per second, and then we will talk about 200, but that will mean nothing if it is impossible to achieve that speed. The Bill should set out a "minimum of" figure, rather than a maximum. The maximum figure means nothing if everyone in an area is using broadband at the same time, because they all suffer and are no better off than when they used the modems in their computers. I fully support Ministers in what they are trying to achieve, but we should be a bit more on top of the companies in question.
My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary knows how I feel about the 50p levy. People in my city of Glasgow can get broadband, but the uptake is between 30 and 40 per cent., which is well below the British average of 60 per cent. I do not know how take-up can be encouraged when a 50p levy is being introduced on the poorest people who will not have broadband or any thoughts of getting it, but will be stuck with paying an extra £6 a year. That will drive people on to cheap pay-as-you-go mobiles, which is the way in which most poor people in my constituency communicate. People using those mobiles will be asked to pay nothing, or at least very little, so we must look at the proposal again.
As has been said, I spoke about file sharing at a conference in Washington. If it is any consolation to hon. Members, there might be the same problem there as here, as there was no consensus on whether file sharing should be allowed. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East and others who feel that the Bill should be thrown out that we need to start somewhere-doing nothing is not an option. It is not the Elton Johns and Paul McCartneys of this world but the small people we have never heard of-the Joe Bloggs of the music world-who need some kind of protection as they try to make their living. They cannot have people stealing their endeavours and taking away their hard-earned rights to money that could make a difference to them and their families.
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but it is a little like my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell who, when asked what he would do, said he did not know. I know that we have to do something. Identifying people and writing to them is a long process, but my hon. Friend Mr. Simon made a good point. By the time people are at risk of being cut off, they probably deserve to be cut off.
The problem arises when young people are involved. I go back to an intervention that I made on my own Front-Bench team, about whether we should criminalise young people for doing something that all their friends are doing. I may own a computer and have access to the internet, but my child is using it to download material and put it on their iPod, MP3 player or whatever they have, and I get the blame for it because access was granted to me. I hope it would be possible to make that clear in response to letters telling me that I was doing something illegal. Children are not always great at telling their parents everything they do. What are we going to do to safeguard the child who is doing only what their friends at school are doing? They do not believe they are doing anything wrong. We need to educate them.
The other problem is how we educate the parents. Children now know a lot more about the internet and how to use it than their parents. There does not seem to be anything in the Bill to cover a parent who, by accident, falls foul of an ISP because of their child's downloads.
I understand what my hon. Friend says. I will not go back to the Star Wars reference, because it might be said that I look more like Chewbacca than Obi-Wan. However, it was a good metaphor for thinking that we are doing the right thing when we are not. I believe that that is what my hon. Friend is doing. His ideals are correct, but by saying that we should do nothing, all he is doing is encouraging illegal downloading.
If, after all the time and effort that has been expended discussing the issue in this place, we come to the conclusion that we should do nothing, we are, in effect, telling the public that that is legal and they can do what they want. That is not right.
I compliment my hon. Friend on the part of his speech that I heard earlier. This is a fringe discussion. As boasted in the e-mails that we receive, 17,000 people have written in on the issue over the past week. As my hon. Friend pointed out, 50 per cent. of Glasgow city do not have access to the internet. That is the great problem. People cannot get on to the internet and get access to the new technology. That, surely, must be the priority for the Government and every other Government.
That needs no answer from me. My hon. Friend is spot on.
In conclusion, doing nothing is not an option. If we do nothing, we send out a bad message-that I can download anybody's work, anybody's films, anybody's music, I can steal any photograph I like or do anything else I want, and Parliament has told me that is okay. The politicians in the House will have said that today, by not backing the Bill. I do not want to go down that road. There is much work to be done. No matter who wins the next election, they will have to pick up the issue and run with it. I believe that will be us; I hope it is, because we will do it justice, whereas the Opposition parties will act in their own self-interest. The important thing is to make sure that the people are looked after, but that if they take somebody's work or somebody's livelihood, they pay for it.
In my maiden speech, I spoke about the human right to read, because it seemed to me that access to the printed word ought to be treated as a human right. One of the interesting aspects of the debate about the internet is the growing recognition that in exactly the same way, because it gives access to information, we should treat the right to access to the internet as a human right, and that if we recognise it as such, we will create a better, more equal, more informed, more educated, better connected society.
I represent a town that generates a huge amount of wealth in the creative industries, and I am very concerned to ensure that creative individuals are properly rewarded for their talent and their contribution. The Secretary of State referred to the growth of the creative industries in the UK compared with that in other countries over the past decade. I was proud to act as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the first ever Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who, I believe, played a critical role in recognising the strength of the creative industries.
We are about to make a mistake, not because of mala fides or bad faith on the part of the Government or the Opposition, but in the way that Parliament often makes its biggest mistakes, which is when all parties agree. In those circumstances, we take short cuts, make mistakes for good reasons-in this case, to protect creative professionals-and end up with bad laws. Many of us can quote examples of bad laws that have been passed. Sometimes they are bad in their execution-the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is frequently cited-and sometimes they are bad because, even though we keep trying to get the legislation right, we do not succeed, even though it is right in theory, such as making fathers pay properly for their children. I do not know why I still have so many such cases turning up at my advice surgery, but I know I am not alone in that regard.
The parts of the Bill which are designed to protect copyright on the internet, to prevent file sharing and so on are hugely at risk of going down that road. I was rather entertained by the comments of Mr. Foster who, at one point, drafted an amendment and within a few hours was campaigning against said amendment. That illustrated the point very well, because he was trying to deal with what he saw as a wrong. It turned out that that was not very popular in his party and the amendment did not do what he wanted it to do, so he tried to amend it again. That is what the Committee stage of a Bill is for.
I am deeply concerned that what we are about- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Bath might agree, but he will be part of the Front-Bench conspiracy that makes us end up with an unamended Bill and without the scrutiny that we need. This Parliament has shown itself to be utterly feeble in so many ways, and in our dying days we really should not continue to be utterly feeble.
The hon. Gentleman has an advantage over me, as does BT, because they have seen a new version of that clause, but I have been to the Vote Office and I am not aware of what the clause says. I speak as a parliamentarian, within hours of the Bill's Committee stage, and I am unable to see that new version, so I do not know what is going to be proposed. He might well know, but I do not. I went to the Vote Office to ask for a copy, as is usual for a Back Bencher, and I spent quite a long time standing there, but there is a simple reason why the Vote Office cannot provide me with one: we have not yet given the Bill a Second Reading, and the Vote Office does not provide amendments to a Bill until it has had its Second Reading.
Right now our debate is closer to that which we would expect in Committee. People are focusing on little bits of the Bill and talking about potential amendments; they are not talking about the principles, because interestingly the pretty much shared view-with some tensions-is that we need to address certain principles. I found myself, scarily for the second time in two weeks, strongly agreeing with Mr. Redwood-not a man with whom I have frequently agreed. However, his point is that sharing can sometimes enhance understanding and knowledge.
I discovered the work of Christopher Brookmyre because Waterstone's published some free chapters of his books. I read them and then bought all his books, and that is not unusual. I was completely unaware of "Ashes to Ashes" and Gene Hunt, so when I saw the advertisement that everyone was going on about I had no idea why it was clever because I had never watched that programme. However, one thing about shared intellectual property is that it can create a market for that property, and I am frightened that the Bill does not address that issue with enough subtlety. We are not creating the opportunities to make the most of the internet and commercial exploitation. As I understand copyright law, it bites not when somebody copies a chapter of a book for their own interest, or borrows a book from a friend, but when someone tries to make a profit out of somebody else's intellectual property. That has traditionally been the area in which copyright law bites.
On the Bill's approach to that issue, there will be mums throughout the country running internet micro-businesses, booking nannies or finding cleaners, for example, and I am anxious that if their sons illegally file share, those mums will end up having their businesses closed down. The parliamentary scrutiny process is designed to eliminate such risky consequences, but I predict that unless we properly scrutinise this legislation such businesses throughout the country will be closed down. The hon. Member for Bath said, "Is it all right if it is a special super-scrutiny system that has to be amended?" and so on. I have not seen one of those systems. We should do more through secondary legislation, but he and I have sat on secondary legislation Committees and they are not places where scrutiny occurs; they are another example of pathetic oversight by Parliament.
I said earlier that this Parliament has let itself down. If we allow this Bill to go through in this way, with a Second Reading after the election has been called, we will demonstrate that the public are right to think that we are pretty pointless, and that we do not have the courage of our convictions. Every single Member will demonstrate it. Every single Member who argued for parliamentary reform-I see some present, including the hon. Member for Bath-will shame themselves if they consent to this process. However important the Bill is, it will be just as easy for a new Government to say, "We will put in place these building blocks" if they are so essential. It is just not acceptable for the Opposition Front Benchers to say, "Whoops! If it doesn't work, we'll come back with something a month later." They are actually saying, "We're not prepared to do our job."
However, I am prepared to do my job. I do not believe that this is the right way to proceed, and unless the Minister says in summing up something utterly compelling about how those issues will be dealt with, I will not be able to find it in me to support the Bill.
I shall try to be brief, because many of the issues that I wanted to discuss have been covered. This is probably the last time I will speak in the House, so I am glad to be discussing an important Bill.
Most of the comments have been about file sharing and internet access, and there have been a few about orphan works. Other important aspects that most of us think worth while have also been mentioned. Only two clauses deal with video games, but absolutely everybody thinks them worth having. Perhaps the clauses dealing with the future of Channel 4 do not go as far as they should, but they are worth while. There are also clauses dealing with public lending rights, and most in the radio industry say that they favour the provisions on local radio, although a minority do not want them. A lot of the Bill might not be perfect and could have gone a lot further-some Members have mentioned wider issues that should have been looked at-but much of it is good and worth having.
From my point of view, the real problem with the Bill is what my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart has just been discussing-the process that we are using to deal with it. Obviously, the clauses that deal with copyright infringement are the really controversial ones. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State mentioned the length of time taken in the Lords to consider the provisions on that issue, and the fact that the Bill arrived back in the Commons, from the Lords, a month later than expected. He seemed to use that as a justification for not spending much time on it in the Commons. I would come to exactly the opposite conclusion: if a Bill has spent so long in the Lords that it has ended up coming back here a month later than expected, that tells me that it involves complex and controversial issues and needs some real scrutiny in this place. It is not going to get that, and that is the problem.
I probably agree with a lot more of the Bill than some of my colleagues who spoke earlier and some who have yet to speak. I have not pleased some of the people who have sent me e-mails about the subject and seem to argue that we should not do anything about illegal file sharing. That is not because I am particularly concerned about the profits of the big players in the music and film industries. Like some others who have spoken, however, I am concerned about the effects on the livelihoods of individual performers and artists. They are not necessarily high earners and they do not necessarily get huge royalties. Furthermore, it is not anachronistic to support the trade unions that represent those people and say that they think something needs to be done about illegal file sharing.
Some of the arguments put by those who sent e-mails and lobbied about the Bill seem completely spurious. For instance, to suggest that a little research somewhere that says that people who illegally download also spend more, and that that somehow justifies the illegal downloading, seems total nonsense. If I went into a book shop or record shop and stole a CD or book, it would hardly be acceptable for me to say in my defence, "Well, actually I spend more than average in this shop." I would be laughed out of court. It is theft to do that, and it is theft knowingly to download something illegally.
Of course, if an artist wants to make their work freely available on the internet in the hope that it will encourage someone who listens to it or reads it to go and buy more of their stuff, that is fine, but it should be under the artist's control. They should make the decision and have control of their own work. The problem is how we can ensure that and whether the detail in the Bill does so in the right way.
The "Digital Britain" White Paper rightly contained a lot of discussion about educating people. I suspect that often, people who download illegally do not really attribute any value to what they are downloading. That is not surprising considering the price that DVDs are often sold for in the shops now. Pretty well every Sunday of the year, one can pick up a newspaper that has a free DVD with it. To some degree, people thus get a false idea of the value of what they download. There should be education, and perhaps the warnings suggested in the Bill will work, but I am not convinced-they may work on some individuals, but not on those who create the websites that generate illegal downloads and offer the software that allows people to overcome DVD encryption and the like.
The problem is quite clear. As has already been said, we will not have the time to deal with the Bill properly, work through the detail and get it right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough rightly said, when Bills are rushed through with agreements between the Front Benchers, that is often a bad sign. It often means that the detail has not been examined, which proves to be a problem later. We have not seen what the new clause 18 will mean, or at least those of us on the Back Benches have not. It seems from what was said earlier that there will be a deal between the Front-Bench teams.
The hon. Gentleman may say that, but I suspect that it had rather more to do with a campaign that came rumbling along, with a lot of e-mails being sent, and in typical Liberal Democrat fashion they jumped on the campaign, no doubt thinking that it would get them one or two votes. The serious point is that we will not have enough time tomorrow. We should not be rushing through a Bill that could have serious effects on individuals.
We have heard in earlier comments that the provisions on orphan works might not end up in the Bill. They started as a discussion about opening up the use of archives at the British Library, photograph libraries and so on, where there is a lot of interesting stuff whose copyright holder nobody knows. The Bill now seems to have moved a long way from that. One or two professional photographers who have approached me about it are worried what the effect on their work may be. Although the Bill states that people are supposed to search for the copyright holder, will they actually do so or will it provide an opportunity to exploit the work of someone who will then have the problem of tracking down their work and getting it taken off the register? Again, the problem is the detail of the provisions and the process that we are going through. I do not know, because I have not seen the timetable motion, but I suspect that we will have no more than two hours to deal with the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. That is not how we should be going about legislation such as this, although I must say that I have a lot of support for the principles of the Bill.
My understanding of what the Leader of the House said is that there will be two hours in total for the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. Given that we have a timetable motion before us tonight that says that an hour will be given to Third Reading, we will therefore have one hour in total for the Committee and Report stages.
If that is the case-I have not seen the motion-it illustrates exactly the point that I am making and that other hon. Members have made, which is that that is a totally inadequate amount of time in which to debate this. We will end up with something going through on the basis of a deal done by the two Front-Bench teams. It will be a deal whereby nobody else will have had any input, we will not be able to debate it properly and we will not be able to get to the detail. Irrespective of however much I agree with the principles behind the Bill, that is way to go about our business and it will not inspire the confidence of people outside this place that we have produced legislation that should be respected.
So many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard, began their speeches by saying that it was likely to be their last speech in the Chamber. I fervently hope that this is not my last speech in the Chamber, as I sincerely hope to be returned on
The casual observer of today's debate and of the whole process of this debate could be forgiven for thinking that the Bill contained one big measure and lots of piddling little things that do not really matter. That has been reflected in the content of many of the speeches, and I hope to buck that trend by devoting the bulk of my comments to things other than illegal file sharing or downloading. I have become a bit frustrated at some of the extreme language being used by those on both sides of this debate. It seems that the Bill either protects vital creative industries people, living from hand to mouth in garrets, from rapacious internet service providers who will not get off their backsides to do anything about theft or is a draconian attack on the very fabric of the internet itself by fat-cat record company bosses hellbent on protecting their interests and so on.
My hon. Friend Mr. Watson, who is not in his place, rejected the analogy or metaphor suggested by my hon. Friend Mr. Simon relating to the Sith and Darth Vader. He is back in his place now-I was just referring to him as he appeared-so I can tell him that he is right to take issue with a metaphor with which he does not agree. He may intervene if he wishes, but I wonder what he would say to a constituent of mine from whom I received a e-mail today saying that he was not going to vote for me or anyone else in my constituency in the general election because he thought that what the Government were doing was the same as what the ayatollahs in Iran and the geriatric dictatorship in China do to curtail internet freedom. That is clearly bonkers-I could be insulting my constituent here, but he has already said that he is not going to vote for me-and profoundly unhelpful. Those of us who may have doubts or reservations about the efficacy of the particular method that the Government are adopting to deal with the issue are not enticed to support those efforts by being told that if we support the Government, we are akin to the ayatollahs or the despots of Beijing. Such language is particularly unhelpful.
I happen to think that the Government are on the right track here, although I do not know whether the proposed measures will work. I tend toward the view that they will probably be less efficacious than draconian or dictatorial, but I am happy to be persuaded of all the necessary safeguards that have been suggested. I join the consensus in expressing regret at the lack of a Committee stage when we could have tested some of the proposals with probing amendments and so on. Having said all that, I do not wish to say more about illegal file sharing or downloading because I wish to discuss other parts of the Bill that have not been adequately addressed so far in this debate.
I want to focus my remarks on the parts of the Bill dealing with broadcasting policy and issues, especially the role of Channel 4 and the future of regional news on channel 3. I shall declare a couple of non-pecuniary interests: First, I am the chair of the all-party group on Scottish broadcasting and, secondly, I am most of the way through an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with the broadcasters. I have been hosted by STV, Channel 4 and now the BBC.
The Bill contains very important measures for Channel 4, but the one thing it does not contain is a proposal to privatise the channel, which I warmly welcome. I also genuinely warmly welcome the clear, unequivocal commitment from the shadow Secretary of State, in response to an intervention from me, that a future Conservative Government will rule out privatising Channel 4. That is an important and clear commitment, and it means that we can now afford Channel 4 the comfort and security of knowing that its unique structure-essentially, it is the first public-private partnership-will be guaranteed. That will afford Channel 4 a degree of comfort as it makes its plans for the future. However, I must say to the Opposition Front-Bench team that when the shadow Secretary of State gave that firm commitment not to privatise Channel 4, the looks on the faces of some Conservative Back-Back Members did not betray uniform happiness and delight, although personally I welcome the commitment.
I am also a political realist, however, and I know that after the election, whoever wins, the beady eyes of the Treasury will be scanning the entirety of the public sector, looking for savings, cuts, efficiencies-or whatever language we use-and I absolutely guarantee that, during that process, some bright spark in the Treasury will come up with a plan to privatise Channel 4. It is inevitable. In parenthesis, I add that I am pleased that Channel 4 has recruited its own set of beady eyes from the Treasury in the form of its new chairman, who hopefully will see off this encroaching threat. However, that proposal will be made, so I am pleased that we have a clear political steer from all the parties that it will not see the light of day in this place.
The Bill gives us a very good opportunity to restate the importance and significance of Channel 4 to the UK's broadcasting environment. It has made an outstanding contribution over nearly 30 years through its original, vibrant, creative, groundbreaking, sometimes irritating and often controversial content. However, it has also made an incredibly important contribution to the industry. It has fostered and helped to develop a thriving and vibrant independent television production sector in this country, but it does not always get the credit for that.
As I said, Channel 4's structure is unique. It is a publicly owned company and does not have shareholders, but has to make its living in the marketplace. That dynamic is very important and explains why, along with the BBC and purely commercial channels, there is room for Channel 4. I am happy, in a rare moment of cross-party consensus-not some underhand conspiracy-to say to the Conservative Front-Bench team that that success is testimony to the work of the previous Conservative Government who set it up as public-private partnership. Long may it continue.
We have heard that the Bill proposes to update Channel 4's remit, and as Mr. Foster pointed out-presumably because he read the same Channel 4 briefing as I did-in 1982, when it was founded, Channel 4 was a single linear television channel delivering all of its public service broadcasting content through one outlet. It was a single television station. That situation is unrecognisable today, with E4, More4, 4Music, Film4 and all the online content, none of which counts towards Channel 4's remit. We need to refresh the remit for the 21st century. More and more of Channel 4's PSB content will be delivered away from the core channel, and much of it will be online and will never actually be broadcast on the core channel. That is why it is important that we refresh the remit.
Brief mention has been made in passing to the importance of the remit embracing Film4. That is extremely important. Until I did my Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship placement with Channel 4, I imagined that Film4 was a huge entity, with lots of people working for it and a budget of tens of millions of pounds, but it is not. It consists of a handful of people-incredibly dedicated and inspired individuals-with a budget somewhere south of £10 million. They have made an astonishing contribution to the UK film industry, with the success of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Last King of Scotland", among others. The Film4 people have told me that they wanted film to be included in the remit because they have seen their budgets shrinking and they know that what they have done so far does not count in regard to the current remit. They feel that film's inclusion in the remit would protect them from further cuts, and I think that that is right.
One important thing that the Government have not included in Channel 4's new remit certainly merits an airing here tonight. There is no mention of the channel's obligations to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. That is a source of extreme annoyance and controversy in the independent production sector throughout the UK. I know from my dealings with those in the independent production sector in Scotland, for example, that they do not feel that they get a fair crack of the whip from Channel 4.
Channel 4's response would probably be that it had never been told that part of its remit was to foster independent TV production sectors on a quota basis throughout the nations and regions of the UK. Channel 4's nations and regions supremo-the redoubtable Stuart Cosgrove, who is based in Glasgow-would probably also point out that the channel commissions 35 per cent. of its original production outside London, involving some £120 million in a good year.
Channel 4 is not the BBC, however. It does not employ lots of programme makers that it can move around the country, so it cannot meet those targets easily unless there is a vibrant, thriving creative industry sector coming forward with commissions in the nations and regions. We therefore have a bit of a chicken and egg situation. I am passionately committed to increasing TV production outside London, and I believe that Channel 4 has a role to play in that regard. I hoped that the Bill would have a Committee stage because we could have kicked around some of these ideas at that point. We are not going to have an opportunity to do that, however.
Having said that, it is incredibly important that the BBC has made a commitment to out-of-London broadcasting. It has made commitments in Cardiff, and through Media City in Salford. It has also made a commitment through the £188 million of investment in Pacific Quay in Glasgow. That is an incredibly important commitment that will do a great deal to foster an independent TV production sector in Scotland, and perhaps we will see more commissions from Channel 4 as a result.
I want to turn to the proposals for the independently funded news consortiums-the IFNC project-on channel 3. This is a thorny issue, and the Conservatives have indicated their staunch opposition to the policy again this afternoon. It is important to remember how we reached this point. We reached it because ITV stated categorically to the Government that it was not prepared to continue to make regional news at a loss. Ofcom has allowed ITV in England and Wales to reduce its regional news output and massively to extend the geographical scope of the regions. In my view-and in the view of many others-this has led to a dilution of the quality of regional news on ITV.
The Government believe passionately that there is a democratic imperative to ensure that people throughout the country are not solely reliant on the BBC for the provision of regional news, and they are right. When Michael Grade was chief executive and chair of ITV, he set his face against any public subsidy for ITV in this area. He said, "We want out of this. We'll give you a half-hour slot in our schedule, and you can put in it whatever you want." That is where the whole IFNC project had its genesis. However, we now hear from ITV's new chairman that ITV is not entirely convinced that that was the right thing to do. It does not want to give up a valuable half-hour slot in its schedules with no guarantees about the quality or the revenue involved, and it now wants to come back into the business.
If IFNCs are to be ditched as part of what is going on behind closed doors between those on the Front Benches as part of the wash-up, it is imperative that all the parties say how they intend to fund regional news on channel 3. There could be a market solution to this question. Perhaps if the contract rights renewal regime were to be scrapped-as I think it should be; its regulation has long since served its purpose-that revenue could be used to help channel 3. Perhaps product placement could also help. The Government are going somewhat in that direction, although I think that they are being too timid. None the less, product placement on ITV would be an innovation, and perhaps caution would be wise. It may be that if we address the issue of advertising minutage, all these things together will bring increased revenue to ITV. That is well and good, but ITV must then fulfil its side of the bargain and say that it will use that money to invest in original content in the UK and to support and sustain regional news on ITV. If that is the deal, fine. I can live with it, but what we cannot live with is independently funded news consortiums being ditched with absolutely no understanding of how channel 3-ITV, and I include STV and UTV-are to be funded.
As I have said, the Bill deals with incredibly important broadcasting issues. Everyone has a view on the telly, and 99 per cent. of our constituents have at least one telly. The Bill will have an important effect on ITV news and Channel 4, which is why I hope that, whatever deal is done on illegal file sharing, the whole Bill does not get derailed. It is vital to refresh and update Channel 4's remit and it is vital to have some clarity on how ITV is to proceed in the crucial continuation of regional programming and news in the devolved nations as well.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend David Cairns, who made a powerful speech. I think he may have instituted a parliamentary first by referring to one of his constituents as "bonkers". Certainly none of my constituents in Selby are bonkers-well, perhaps just a few. My hon. Friend did the House a service in clarifying the position on Channel 4, which can now plan for the future with certainty, given the assurances from both Front-Bench teams this evening. I shall not repeat his litany of the great achievements of Channel 4. An important feature of the Bill is to widen its remit and recognise its multifarious activities. My hon. Friend missed out "Channel 4 News", "Dispatches" and also Channel 4 racing, which I would like to mention as another of its great contributions to the life of the nation.
My hon. Friend was perhaps the first in the debate to talk seriously at length about regional news. A year ago everyone was doing that; there is now a hiatus and it looks as if the clauses on regional news are going to be lost. He is quite right that if that is going to happen, there must be something to replace them.
I always thought that under the previous chairman of ITV, Michael Grade, the case that ITV regional news must necessarily collapse was overstated. There is a residual value in the licence-not least the third place on the EPG, or electronic programme guide. If deregulatory measures can be introduced, an economic model can stack up to fund the future of ITV regional news. That question is particularly relevant in Scotland, as Scottish Television has to be considered separately. If independently funded news consortiums are not going to appear, all parties have to think about how to keep regional news on the air. Part of the contribution should come from the residual value of the licence that ITV already has, and perhaps ITV can gain some assistance from other measures.
There have been some magnificent speeches in this debate. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out that it is completely unprecedented for a controversial Bill to appear in this House after the Prime Minister has gone to the palace to ask for a Dissolution, and to be dealt with in the wash-up the next day. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport did his best at the beginning of the debate to try to find some precedents, but all those he mentioned, including the Gambling Act 2005, had already had a Committee stage.
I looked at all the Bills that received a Second Reading after a Prime Minister had gone to the palace-I went back as far as 1987-so I challenge the Financial Secretary to consider what he regards as the most controversial non-Finance Bill to go through the House in this way. I managed to find the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Bill in 1987, the Architects Bill in 1997, the Lieutenancies Bill in 1997 and the International Organisations Bill in 2005. What they all shared in common was that there was no dispute between hon. Members in respect of them. It really is shameful that we are proceeding in this way. Some hon. Members have said that it is a price worth paying, or that it has to be done now and we are where we are. Well, it does not have to be done now. This House is alive and kicking for another 48 hours.
"Liberal Democrats say Digital Economy bill should wait for next government."
The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip was reported to have
"hoped that the arguments being put forward-that the issues needed more debate than has been possible-might sway one of the other parties into delaying its passage."
He was reported to have said that he hoped
"that the government and the Conservatives will agree that it shouldn't proceed at this stage".
I had great hopes of Mr. Foster, therefore, but that did not quite seem to be his message today, so there has been a slight shift in position-and not the first one. I have great admiration for the hon. Gentleman, however, and I know he has to accommodate different members of his own party, as we all do. The position that he has now come to is an interesting one, and I shall return to it.
Two great debates on this Bill, with commercial interests on both sides, have been referred to tonight. I will not rehearse all the arguments, but one of the debates is on digital radio. The Opposition Front-Bench team seems to be saying that it opposes the current model the Government are suggesting. The Opposition spokesman suggested that he was now in favour of DAB plus. It is interesting that hundreds of radio stations listened to by our constituents throughout the land, such as Minster FM, are being offered no digital future whatever in this Bill. What they are being offered, at best, is a place on a joint FM and digital electronic programme guide that is still being developed, and even if they get on that device, they will still not have all the advantages of being a digital station in terms of extra advertising potential and so forth, and they will be very much second-class stations. Under the Bill as currently drafted, that is the future.
Helpful amendments were tabled by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords suggesting that before any switchover there should be full consideration of all local and community stations. I will retable those amendments today; I hope that the hon. Member for Bath will support them, and that they might tempt the Conservative Front Bench, too, in the negotiations for the wash-up. There is another side to the debate, to do with the BBC and some other digital radio interests. This reinforces the point that we should still have a full Committee stage-and if we cannot have that, we should pass the Bill on to our successors.
Many Members have mentioned activities by those in another place, saying that they have sat up through the night and considered these measures in great detail, so we need not trouble our little democratic heads with them too much, because they have done the business for us-but an awful lot has been happening down there in the other place. The hon. Member for Bath has been accused of writing new clause 18. He is not its author, however. I was at a reception where five separate lobbyists all claimed to be its author. Indeed, a gentleman who goes under the name of Richard Mollet is one of the lobbyists on one side of the debate, and a memo of his was exposed to the world. He wrote:
"Some of the amendments I distributed yesterday were ruled out of order by the Public Bill Office, on the grounds that they were introducing too dramatic a change."
Apparently, amendments were being handed out by both sides.
We are greatly enjoying the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I should gently point out to him that Richard Mollet is none other than the Labour party candidate for South-West Surrey.
Exactly, and if I go any further I will be accused of being a conspiracy theorist, because Mr. Mollet will, no doubt, have many happy hours talking to Mr. Hunt. Mr. Mollet also wrote:
"As for the House of Commons-which will be sent the Bill next week-there is a strange sense of detachment. MPs with whom we spoke back in Autumn are already resigned to the fact that they will have minimum input into the provisions from this point on, given the lack of detailed scrutiny."
We should not take our orders from such a lobbyist, even if he is a Labour parliamentary candidate.
The influence of lobbyists-I acknowledge that they have come from both sides, and they should be doing their job and putting forward their ideas to Front Benchers and Back Benchers in the Lords-makes it even more important, given all that has happened in the past few weeks and in the past year, that this House should say, "No, we're not going to pass this Bill by means of a thinly attended debate tonight, and the wash-up tomorrow."
Yes, the Bill deals with important issues to do with the future of our digital economy. We have heard some impassioned speeches tonight from many hon. Members. Some Members missed the extremely powerful speech made by Mr. Redwood, who acknowledged the rights of rights holders and the need for copyright. He also said that this was a question of balance, and pointed out the benefits of sharing ideas and the creative impact that it can have. There are some bands whose whole profile has been generated by sharing, and they are now making an awful lot of money from live gigs and so on. Such ideas can challenge some people's business models, but because they are complicated it is even more important that the Bill should not be rushed through in a massive hurry.
We have heard about the views of all the lobbyists who have been making an impact, but what is the hon. Gentleman's view? Should file sharing be addressed? If these measures are not sufficient, what would he do?
We have to address the issue of illegal file sharing. My hon. Friend Mr. Simon mentioned Lord Carter, and I would go back to Lord Carter's original ideas, which involved strong letters, education, the possibility of further action and the encouragement of new economic models. Those ideas have now been chilled. People like Virgin Media were doing deals with creative companies, but now some of the old-style companies are saying, "Perhaps we don't need to do these deals with the ISPs, because we'll have more administrative measures and the cutting-off will happen much earlier than Lord Carter envisaged." We all know what happened: I do not want to be accused of being a conspiracy theorist, but we all know that Lord Mandelson had one of his meetings in Corfu with some people were very prominent in the Hollywood industry and-
There is a whole list. Lord Mandelson is a very important figure and he shifted the Government's policy on this issue. It is not a question of doing nothing. There was the Lord Carter White Paper, which this House could have united behind. That has been massively changed, largely through the influence of Lord Mandelson and those who ably advise him. If we proceed in this way, we in this House will be abrogating our responsibilities. As we were reminded earlier, when we were elected to this House we were elected to scrutinise, to debate and to challenge the assumptions of those outside who lobby us. We cannot possibly do that properly with this Bill.
At least we have heard a concrete Liberal Democrat position: the Liberal Democrats are saying that they will not vote for Third Reading unless clause 18, which is so complicated and mired in controversy, and involves the blocking of websites and so on, is dropped-
I know that they put it in, but there is joy in heaven when a sinner repenteth. At the very least, I hope that the House will back the minimalist position-whatever the electoral reasons that inspired it may be.
I can tell those on the Front Bench that when that moment is reached-at 10 or 11 o'clock tomorrow night-there might not be that many people around. I hope that all those who are listening to the debate on BBC Parliament or following it on the internet will urge their MPs who are around to remember that if the Bill gets a Second Reading today, there is still Third Reading, and the question of clause 18. This fight is not over yet.
I am very pleased to be able to follow a number of high-quality speeches. It seems to me that everyone said more or less the same thing, which is that this is much-needed legislation and that it is flawed. Some people think it should go through anyway and that if it is flawed, we will fix it later, whereas other people think that it should not. I belong to the latter group. Mr. Redwood encapsulated much of what I think. I could almost splice what he said with what my hon. Friends the Members for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) said and sit down. However, I will not, as everybody will be pleased to hear.
I want to reflect on a couple of points made by those on the Front Benches. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State started out by saying, "We have not had much time. What a pity; I wish we could have had more." That strikes me as being a bit like the referee at a Celtic-Rangers football match watching Celtic score a goal in the first minute and then promptly blowing the whistle for full time and saying, "Sorry guys, I wish we had a bit longer, but there it is. It's getting a bit dark. Maybe we should have started the match a little earlier." Much as every Celtic supporter at the moment would probably like that to be the case, I do not think that would work.
The Conservative Front-Bench spokesman made a perfectly logical and correct point about the problem that photographers have with clause 43. That problem is widely known about; indeed, I think that the Government have probably already accepted it. They are then going to railroad the whole thing through.
The Liberal Democrats' Front-Bench position is a little more opaque. I am not exactly sure what they are saying because their excellent hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised what seemed to be countervailing points of his own. They seem to have left things at saying that it is still possible for clause 43 to be amended in some way, although nobody else agrees with that now that it has gone, but the Lib Dems seem to want to keep it alive. I say the Lib Dems as a plural, but only one person from the Lib Dems has spoken tonight-their Front-Bench spokesman. The massed ranks of the Lib Dems on Twitter have not bothered to come along to support him. Instead, they are saying the opposite all over the internet.
The Liberal Democrats also seem to have left open the possibility of people being disconnected from the internet without their having access to any kind of court proceedings. I know that I have been the beneficiary of some crowdsourcing about this on the internet. The HADOPI case in France, of
But is it not the case that after a year, and lots of letters, people will get a first right of appeal to the Ofcom appeal body and then a second right of appeal to a first-tier tribunal, which is a judicial body? That is a court. Why do people keep saying that there will be no court appeal? There are two appeals, the second of which is judicial.
My hon. Friend is correct, but I do not regard a tribunal as the same thing at all.
Things are being put through in the Lords, and we have been told many times, both before tonight and, indeed, tonight, that there has been bags of scrutiny by the unelected Lords next door. Hon. Members have said that the experts have got one or two things tied up, and have talked about not having a complete grasp of some issues. I understand that there are technicalities about how people are disconnected, constrained, blocked and so on, but we have put great trust in experts and in the House of Lords. Of course, it would save a great deal of time with our future proceedings if we simply said, "They've scrutinised it next door, so we can just knock it down to an hour in this place."
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have likened copyright infringement to shoplifting and stealing. If that is the case, why should not such people have their day in court like any other thief?
I profoundly agree with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what most people out there would say; indeed, people are saying that. We have rather blithely ignored the fact that thousands of people-not just an élite group of people on the internet with special interests-are making these very points on various things like the #hashtags on Twitter #DEBill and #DEB and we are casually pushing them aside and saying that we will put through this flawed legislation regardless of the views of those digital natives who know what they are talking about.
I apologise for arguing with my hon. Friend Mr. Watson through my hon. Friend, but going back to his assertion about people not getting their day in court, I repeat that the second appeal is to a first-tier tribunal, which is a judicial body. Why do people keep saying, "We want our day in court"? They will get their day in court if they insist on breaking the law.
Indeed-they go to court. They get their day in court. Would we pass legislation saying, "Let's not bother with shoplifters going to court. We'll just have a tribunal that is heard by one quasi-judge, or judge, and he or she will make a decision"? Of course we would not accept that. We are talking about law-breaking, and such cases deserve to be tested in court. That is a pretty basic proposition.
My objection is no different from the one made by many other hon. Members. Pete Wishart made some very good points about people's need to earn a living, and I do not dispute for a second that powerful vested interests have argued against the Bill. However, he would not dispute that powerful interests have argued for it.
I have seen members of the Musicians' Union arguing against his position, on Twitter and elsewhere. There are not many-I think that the hon. Gentleman probably represents a majority of Musicians' Union members-but it is a fact that there are disparate views out there that we are simply not paying heed to. When we say that it is a pity that we have not had long enough to debate this Bill, people outside the Chamber will wonder why that is. Usually, a Bill like this would get 40 or 50 hours in Committee and another three or four on Third Reading. We are cutting all that back to one hour of scrutiny tomorrow, but that will not really be serious scrutiny at all.
I shall end with a political point about the Liberal Democrats. @Ironjolt joked on Twitter recently that the party was desperate to be in a three-horse race. However, given that there have been no speakers at all from the Liberal Democrat Back Benches, it is clear that it is not even able to supply the back end for a panto horse. That is a great pity for its members, but does not greatly surprise me.
I shall conclude my brief remarks by saying that the Conservatives are willing to let this flawed Bill go through so that they can correct it after the general election. That is not what I want. I want this flawed Bill to be put off until after the general election, so that the inevitable Labour Government will be able to amend it properly.
It has been a very interesting debate, with a single theme unifying the contributions from Back and Front Benches across the House-that the Government appear to be rushing through an important piece of legislation without due scrutiny in the House of Commons. After 13 years of digital dithering, this Bill is all they have to show on the digital front. It is a missed opportunity of massive proportions. Not only is it discourteous to rush such a significant measure through Parliament in the dying days of a failed Government, but it is also incompetent.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman so early in his remarks, but we all know that the Government can get the Bill through only if the official Opposition support it wholeheartedly, especially in the House of Lords. Surely that is a bit like trying to have his cake and eat it at the same time.
That was a great attempt at distortion and distraction, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not allow measures that we disagree with to go through. Therefore, I can say categorically that we will not allow clauses 1, 21 and 43 to go through. We have a very clear position on this Bill, whereas the Government seem to be all over the place and unable to focus on what they hope to achieve.
We have made it very clear where the red lines are. We are very keen that this Bill does get to Committee, if only for a short time. It is already reprehensible that the Government, who have been in office for 13 years and who began work on this Bill five years ago, should bring it forward only at this last minute. We want to examine what is available for examination in whatever time we have, but we will not cross our red lines.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising that I misspoke. I meant to refer to clause 29, as opposed to clause 23. We will not allow clauses 1, 29 and 43-
I should like to make a little more headway and then I will give way several times, as we shall not have much opportunity beyond today to examine the legislation.
At the height of the dotcom boom, new Labour talked about modernising Government IT. They talked about the digital economy, but they were not digital natives, so they created an e-unit, an e-envoy and even an e-Minister. In fact, they slapped an "e" in front of anything that moved. While the pace of technological change was breathtaking, the response from the Government certainly was not. They have had ample opportunity to face up to the realities of the digital economy and the digital age, but they have failed to do so. They promised competition and innovation in the media industry, but they have chosen to subsidise and entrench old business models. They promised a modern communications infrastructure but they have delivered some of the slowest broadband speeds in the world. We are ranked 40th in the world. Labour has left Britain in the broadband slow lane, behind countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. That was a fantastic achievement-and that was irony.
The Government promised a copyright system fit for the digital age. In the meantime, the music and film industries have lost millions, if not hundreds of millions, through illegal downloads. What is Labour's answer to the new digital economy? Old-style taxes, old-style subsidies and old-style regulation. The Bill is nothing like the measure we wished to see. It is nothing like a Bill that will kick-start the digital economy. It is a Betamax Bill from a bewildered Government who seem startled and dazzled by the lights of modernity and the open data challenges.
There have been some fantastic contributions to the debate. There were good speeches from both sides, and it is frustrating that there has not been time to examine the issues more carefully. My right hon. Friend Mr. Davis said clearly that he was completely opposed to the Bill unless there was time to scrutinise and review particular aspects relating to civil liberties. I salute his integrity on those issues.
My hon. Friend Peter Luff, who is Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, pointed out that a large part of the Bill relates to the business aspects of the digital economy and that there has not been time to examine them in detail. I shall come to some of his other remarks in a moment.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff and Penrith-
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that correction. He gave a considered and balanced view. He was pleased with the reserve powers for Nominet, and concerned about internet safety issues. He was remarkably open to market mechanisms, or other ways of enabling internet access that did not require cumbersome legislation. I very much welcomed those comments and the fact that he wanted to avoid intervention on a large scale.
Mr. Foster, the Lib Dem Front-Bench spokesman, observed that there were some good parts to the Bill, but that the failure to have proper scrutiny was making life difficult. I thoroughly enjoyed the acrobatics he described when reconciling presenting an amendment in the Lords and campaigning against it the following morning. I am surprised he did not bump his head on the bath.
Derek Wyatt paid tribute to Lord Carter-I think he referred to him as Lord Carter of Paris-and was particularly concerned about whether the Bill recognised the importance of next generation high-speed internet access, akin to ambitions in China and India. The hon. Gentleman said clearly that he felt the Bill lacked vision and that it was a missed opportunity on Channel 4. Like several other Members, the hon. Gentleman observed that it was his last speech in the House of Commons. We wish them well in their life beyond this place. What was most significant about his contribution was that he considered the practical measures that would have made the Bill better legislation.
My hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale, who is Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that the lack of scrutiny might well lead to a lack of legitimacy-that is an important point to hold on to-and that proving identity would be difficult in relation to university students in halls of residence and internet cafés.
Mr. Mitchell used an interesting term about the Bill. He said that the process and the ragbag of measures were akin to dross and that he had serious concerns about the digital switchover.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, who is the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said that the legislation would have a great impact on the economy, society and culture of Britain and that this was the least constitutionally satisfactory process in his entire time in Parliament. That says a lot, as he has been a Member for a long time, and that sentiment was echoed by many other hon. Members. He recognised the balance between freedom of expression and creativity and the absence of a definition of what 2 megabits per second actually means. That is an important observation, because if such speeds are only sporadically available, even though the headline rate is 2 megabits per second, many of the activities that we wish to undertake on broadband simply will not come about.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I should warn him not to praise me too much; the Twittersphere hates me tonight, so he should be careful about doing so.
I thank my hon. Friend for the warning, but his observations were balanced and fair, and he recognised both sides of the issues. In many ways, Twitter and many of the modern forms of communication are at the heart of what we are talking about today, and perhaps parliamentarians should be a little more relaxed about the public expression of differences, because that adds to our understanding of these issues.
I have been even more disgraced on Twitter this evening. I do not mind what was said about my contributions, but having a go at my shirt was far too much.
The shirts and blouses that Members of Parliament may wear are important international issues, and I am glad that those who are wired in are discussing our sense of dress, as well as the points that we make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire also mentioned in particular clause 43 about orphan works and photo issues. I am glad that he did so; that is one of our red lines. We will not support any regulation that includes clause 43.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's reference to red lines. It seems that he is able, without there having been a vote, to declare some red lines-an opportunity that is not available to Back Benchers during the wash-up process. Does he feel that it is satisfactory that he and his Front-Bench colleagues can keep red lines, when issues that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about will not be dealt with in that way?
I am quite surprised that the hon. Lady asks an Opposition Front Bencher that question when her Government have hastily rushed through the Bill, which has not had sufficient time for scrutiny. We will work and make decisions in the best interests of the country and the creative industries and for the future of digital Britain, even if we are delivered a dog's dinner by the Government.
I thought that Mr. Simon, a former Culture, Media and Sport Minister, made a carefully considered contribution-I should not sound surprised, should I? He pointed out that it needs to be acknowledged that illegal downloading is property theft, no matter how one looks at it. He also said that new business models for content delivery and economic value added are already available and that they are technically possible, morally right and economically necessary. If only his concerns had been echoed by his Front-Bench colleagues, the Government might have taken the issues more seriously and brought the Bill before the House two or three weeks ago, so that we could have had time to contemplate them more closely. However, the hon. Gentleman's contribution was well informed, lucid and, in some aspects, other-worldly.
I am a little concerned because the crux of much of the debate has been the way in which the Bill is being pushed through without genuine scrutiny. I would not want to support such a ludicrous timetabling motion, but I do not think that we would be able to carry a vote. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how it can be sensible to have a short Committee stage tomorrow? It will not be possible to do anything, so let us turn this out tonight.
I share those concerns. We are keen that we use whatever time is available at this fag end of a Parliament to scrutinise the Bill, if only for an hour. Clearly, any Member of the House may object to the programme motion, and we shall see what happens.
The hon. Member for Penrith-
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman- [ Interruption. ] Yes, I am obsessed with Penrith. I made my notes in the absence of an opportunity to use technology in the Chamber and it is difficult to read my poor handwriting.
Pete Wishart made a passionate speech in support of the sanctions in the Bill against those who steal not only his intellectual property and collective works, but those of many people in a similar position. His plea will be recognised throughout the country and a balanced debate is required.
It is delightful to learn that Mr. Watson is the estranged son of the dark lord, whichever dark lord that might be. I welcomed many of his balanced comments. His speech was impassioned yet thoughtful. He balanced freedom of speech with the privacy of the individual, and when he talked about intellectual property versus fair use, he tipped the balance towards what he saw as the future for the United Kingdom, rather than our approach of the past. He referred quite often to squalid deals, but I reassure him that we are here at the last moment before Parliament shuts down-at five minutes to midnight-because his Government failed to bring the Bill forward earlier.
But for perhaps the first time in the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary career, he can stop this if he chooses. Destiny is in your hands; seize the moment!
My blood is pumping, but it was pumping before the hon. Gentleman's words of encouragement. I assure him again that Conservative Members will do our utmost to ensure that those aspects of the Bill that have not been correctly considered do not go through. We will not move from that position because this is not about party politics or electioneering; it is about ensuring that this country has the legislation that it requires. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State gave the further commitment that we completely reserve the right to revisit any measures that might go through the House this side of the election. From my and my party's perspective, it is quite clear that we need an update of intellectual property law and copyright law, so we are committed to carrying that out. We will do our utmost to allow through the bits of legislation regarding which we think that there is time to make corrections, if they are needed. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said that there are unpalatable truths to deal with. I can assure him that an incoming Conservative Government would take the bull by the horns.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood gave an experienced and considered exposition of the dangers of the hasty treatment of legislation, and of the lack of scrutiny. He pointed out that even on Second Reading, there were about 11 themes in the Bill that needed to be discussed. Contributions from around the Chamber have touched on many of those themes, but we have not dealt with them in as much detail as we should have done.
John Robertson actually agrees with the Conservative policy that we should consider opening up and enabling access to the ducts. We go further and say that that should apply also to the sewers and any other medium through which cable can be run and digital transmission can take place. We do not see that the only tool available to a Government is draconian legislation forcing measures through by the centre. We recognise that we have had a thriving and booming mobile phone sector and cable sector in the absence of the type of measures that the Government seem to wish to take.
Far be it from me to correct the hon. Gentleman, but I said that although I do not have a problem with opening up the ducts or sewers, or with pylons, somebody must be in control to make sure that things are run properly. Cowboys cannot be allowed to come in, as happened in the past, and ride roughshod over the infrastructure.
The main issue that I was raising in my speech, as my hon. Friend may recollect, related to clauses 10 to 18, which are a blank cheque saying that orders will be laid in due course. We have no idea whether they would work or how they would be constructed. Is my hon. Friend sure that it is possible to construct sensible orders out of the chaotic haste of that part of the Bill?
It would be an enormous challenge, which is why we have left open the opportunity to revisit the Bill, if it goes through and if there is a Conservative Government. It is not just the Bill that requires further work. There is a lot more work to be done to ensure that Britain is at the forefront of the digital revolution, rather than a laggard, as we are at present.
Fiona Mactaggart made a clear and robust speech, commenting that it was utterly feeble that in their dying days, a Government should try to introduce such legislation. She also rebuked those on the Opposition Front Bench for perhaps being in cahoots. I reiterate that we are clear that in our approach to the Bill, we will defend the interests of the country and we will not budge on the clauses that I mentioned.
That is a curious comment, given that it is the hon. Lady's Government who have introduced the Bill in massive haste. I thought that she was being altruistic and impartial in her comments, but striking out any contribution from her own Government to the chaos that we see this evening seems a little one-sided.
Mr. Gerrard pointed out that there were some good clauses in the Bill. He was critical of the process that the Government have adopted, and observed that the fact that the Lords had taken such a long time to consider the Bill might be a bad sign. He suggested that it might be a more complicated and difficult piece of legislation than it seemed, and that therefore the House needed to concentrate on it. He pointed out that clause 43 on orphan works was not adequately thought through and he did not support it.
David Cairns made a constructive contribution. He praised the public-private partnership-admittedly introduced by the previous Conservative Government-and the way in which it worked, and he raised many issues about the provision of local and regional news.
Mr. Grogan, apart from having a few constituents who may be bonkers, observed that there was a challenge because of the shameful abuse of the process, and he was challenged to find a precedent of such importance in any wash-up prior to the Dissolution of Parliament. Eric Joyce said, "Don't let this through," and there was some debate about the redress to legal process for those who are accused.
On the economy, there are some useful aspects of the Bill. There is some merit in establishing reserve powers on the domain name system, and the proposals to tackle online copyright infringement are long overdue. Anti-piracy measures should recognise new technologies, and thankfully the Government have backed down on their draconian plans under the old clause 17. However, it is an insult to democracy and to this House not to make sufficient time to scrutinise the proposals in more detail.
We strongly oppose Labour's old-style subsidies that embed old-style business models, and we oppose unnecessary regulatory burdens. The Government have failed to explain why Ofcom requires additional duties, hence the opposition to clause 1. Ofcom already considers the state of infrastructure, and there is now a serious risk that the new duties could distort its objective of sustaining competition. That measure is nothing more than a shabby political dividing line of the Prime Minister's making.
I have also said many times before that we need a workable system for dealing with orphan works. If the Government had provided the time, rather than a cobbled-together mismatch, Britain could have led the world with a state-of-the-art copyright system. The Gowers review was published in December 2006, so they have had four years to find a solution, but this incompetent Government now want to force through substantial changes with insufficient scrutiny.
Many hon. Members have highlighted the serious questions about clause 43, and with the Government's consultation on copyright exceptions in its second phase it is clear that the copyright debate is not over yet. We are committed to updating our copyright system for the digital age. In the interests of the country and the economy, a Conservative Government would retain the right and maintain the intention to revisit orphan works, in addition to extended collective licensing, as part of a broader copyright update.
Old-style taxes, old-style subsidies, old-style regulation: that is Labour's plan for the digital economy. After three Parliaments of digital dithering, they have left us at the last minute with some botched legislation. This is a washed-up Bill from a washed-up Government. There is a clear choice at the election: five more years of old-style, old-fashioned Labour dithering, or a new Government with the energy, ideas and leadership to deliver for Britain's digital future.
We have had a good debate about the Bill. My hon. Friend Mr. Simon made an excellent speech, and I join him in paying tribute to Stephen Carter, who through his work on the visionary "Digital Britain" White Paper, which was published in June last year, started us on this road and did a great service to the House and the country through his work.
We have had a good debate today, and there has been a long debate in the other place about the measures before us in the Bill. It is now for the House to determine whether the Bill be given a Second Reading. Some have argued that it should not, given the extent of concern about the Bill's measures to tackle copyright infringements. I shall be completely straightforward about my views; I shall not, like the Opposition Front Benchers, try to face both ways. My view is that it should be given a Second Reading, because it is right that we support the creative industries and make progress on the other measures that the Bill addresses.
I should point out that although it is opposed by some from whom we have heard, the view that we need to press on and make progress is strongly supported by the Creative Coalition Campaign, which includes trade unions that have rightly said that we must not let this opportunity pass. If we did not allow the Bill its Second Reading, we would be taking no action on copyright infringement at all-for several months at least, and possibly for much longer.
Some, of course, would welcome that. Some want the current ability to download unlawfully not to be fettered. But according to the Bill's impact assessment, the annual cost of online copyright infringement for UK industry is estimated at £400 million for music, film and TV. Meanwhile, the International Chamber of Commerce estimates the total annual cost at more than £1 billion a year. Given the importance of the creative industries, with their high growth rates, as we come out of the downturn we cannot afford a long delay in addressing the problem.
Legislation alone, of course, is not the answer; I agree with Mr. Whittingdale, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Chairman, on that. Lots of other things will need to be done as well. We certainly need the creative industries to help educate consumers about the damage caused by piracy-and the straightforward fact that it is wrong-and to try out new approaches and develop online business models that offer consumers what they want at a price that they are willing to pay.
Those business models are starting to be developed. We are certainly seeing some encouraging moves on education and I hope that we will hear more about that in the next few weeks. It is fair, however, to make some criticism of the creative industries for being rather slow in coming forward with online business models that can work. In the end, however, people cannot develop a business model if they are having to compete with others who offer their products for free. There need to be back-stop safeguards to assure legitimate businesses that they will not simply be competing with those who have taken unlawfully what they have paid to provide.
I turn to unlawful file sharing using peer-to-peer networks. I expect that the initial measures, which require internet service providers to write to customers who download copyright material without paying for it, to lead to a substantial reduction in the scale of the problem, and I think those measures are pretty widely supported. I hope that that will be enough to achieve a 70 per cent. reduction, as is our aim. If it is, the technical measures set out in the Bill will not be needed. However, we cannot guarantee that the provision will lead to that scale of reduction, so we need to be able to back up those initial measures with technical measures, including the possibility of temporary account suspension.
Accounts would not be suspended lightly. The Bill provides robust safeguards. Multiple letters will have been sent before technical measures are considered. If a technical measure is imposed, the subscriber affected can appeal and the measure will not be imposed until the appeal has been determined.
I understand the concern, expressed by my right hon. Friend Alun Michael, for example, about the danger of technical measures being taken against broadband in public libraries or universities, or against public wi-fi services. I do not think that it would be right to provide a blanket exemption for those services. However, the Bill requires Ofcom to draw up a code to govern how technical measures would be applied. The code will need to recognise and address the particular position of public services and institutions of that kind. We would not regard any assessment by Ofcom, under clause 10, as satisfactory unless it took account of the impact on public libraries, universities and public wi-fi services.
Yes, it will be important for Ofcom to have exactly that kind of discussion, to ensure that it draws up the code that is needed.