Digital Economy Bill [ Lords]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:25 pm on 6th April 2010.

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Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow 8:25 pm, 6th April 2010

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.

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