Digital Economy Bill [ Lords]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:08 pm on 6th April 2010.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 7:08 pm, 6th April 2010

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.

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