Digital Economy Bill [ Lords]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:14 pm on 6th April 2010.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough 8:14 pm, 6th April 2010

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.

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