Digital Economy Bill [ Lords]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 6th April 2010.

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 4:27 pm, 6th April 2010

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.

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