‘Part 9 Communications

Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 14th May 2014.

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Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988

37 The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is amended as follows.

38 Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (Reception and re-transmission of wireless broadcast by cable) is revoked.’.

Section 73 was introduced in the 1980s to encourage cable roll-out as a competing platform to terrestrial (analogue) television. This has clearly now been achieved and cable is a highly-effective and well-resourced competitor to Sky and Freeview.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

This group contains amendments to schedule 18, which makes provision for repealing legislation that is no longer of practical use. Before I outline the amendments, may I say how much I welcome re-encountering the hon. Members for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), whose very helpful and constructive approach in Committee has improved the Bill?

The Mining Industry Act 1920 and section 20 of the Mining Industry Act 1926 will be repealed as they are no longer needed for mining and quarrying. Most of the Mining Industry Act 1920 has already been repealed, and we now seek to repeal the remaining provisions. That will not affect rights to ownership. The remaining sections are outdated administrative arrangements. For example, functions were originally conferred on the Board of Trade, but were long ago transferred to the Secretary of State through a transfer of functions. Sections 18 and 22 concern the powers to make drainage schemes for groups of mines, but they are now dealt with by negotiations between mine owners and other local landowners. Sections 25 and 26 are technical provisions.

Overall, the only matter that needs to be mentioned is section 20 of the 1926 Act, which provides for the establishment of profit-sharing schemes. It of course pre-dates the nationalisation and privatisation of the coal mining industry, as well as modern companies legislation. Such legislation should apply to coal mining companies in the same way as it applies to any others, so there is no need for any special provision. However, the amendment contains a saving provision, because it would clearly not be fair to undermine any existing profit-sharing schemes, and they will be allowed to continue.

Most of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 has already been repealed. Section 37, which relates to the licensing of tidal works by harbour authorities, disapplies the requirements of section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949. That Act has already been repealed, so the saving provision is no longer of any practical effect.

Amendment 59 will extend the repeal of the Milk (Cessation of Production) Act 1985 to Northern Ireland. EU legislation in 1984 set up a system of production—the milk quota system—in which, in essence, each producer was allocated a quota. That will end on 31 March 2015, so the underlying EU legislation will cease to be effective next April. The amendment will allow the Bill to repeal and revoke all relevant UK legislation relating to Northern Ireland, as well as England and Wales.

Amendment 60 will ensure that the saving provision in paragraph 3 of schedule 18 to the Housing Act 1988 will cease to have effect in England, although it will continue to apply in Wales. The saving provision has become redundant in England. Essentially, sections 56 to 58 of the Housing Act 1980, which have been repealed, enabled landlords to grant assured tenancies for newly built or newly repaired dwellings. The vast majority of tenancies were converted in 1989 into new style assured tenancies under the Housing Act 1988. Sections 56 to 58 were repealed subject to a saving provision, which is now being abolished because there are no longer any assured tenancies under the 1980 Act in existence in England, and it is therefore redundant.

To turn to the non-Government amendments, amendment 73 would require the Government to revoke section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Philip Davies for raising that important issue. The effect of section 73 is that public service broadcasters cannot charge cable services for the inclusion of their channels on these services.

Section 73 is part of a much wider framework supporting the availability of television and investment in television programming in the UK. A variety of rules and regulations affect the production, availability and ease of discovery of public service programming and its relationship with the different platforms—cable, satellite, digital TV and terrestrial—that carry it. They include the obligations on public service broadcasters to offer their content to all relevant platforms, the rules governing payments by broadcasters for technical platform services and the powers for regulators to compel these services to carry public service broadcast content.

This is an area with many competing interests. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport produced a policy paper, “Connectivity, Content and Consumers” last year. The Government stated that their policy objective was zero net charges, where fees for access to the main platforms—cable, satellite, digital TV and terrestrial—would be cancelled out by charges made by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, so creating a zero net charge regime. That is close to the current market position, and it recognises the benefits to platforms, public service broadcasters and consumers.

Section 73 is an integral part of that picture, but the arrangement is under pressure. Online services rely on section 73 to exploit public service broadcaster content, but no benefit flows back to the Public Service Broadcaster.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

There is litigation about that at present and my hon. Friend, who is right to raise the issue, will know that a case about to be heard in the Court of Appeal has a bearing on the issue. Because the case is sub judice, I cannot say much more about it, but it would be wrong to impose timetables for resolving the issues as regards satellite and cable without taking into account the situation—once it is definitive—as regards online services. I will obviously listen to my hon. Friend’s arguments, but he might want to think about whether the Government are right to wait for the decision from the Court of Appeal before taking action that might not be appropriate.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 2:30 pm, 14th May 2014

The problem is that the litigation has been going on for four years already. Of course there are competing interests, but does my hon. and learned Friend not accept that section 73 was created in the 1980s, when the Government wanted to encourage the roll-out of the cable network? Given that that policy objective has been achieved, the section should surely be repealed.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I agree to a considerable extent with the point that my hon. Friend makes. There is no question that the legislation was introduced to help cable roll-out. However, it is the definition of a cable service that is at issue in the Court of Appeal case. It is correct that it has taken a considerable amount of time to get to this point, where the Court of Appeal will soon be able to list the case and, hopefully, determine it. Having waited for that period for a definite conclusion, it would be wrong to act in haste and perhaps repent at leisure. I will be interested to hear his remarks and I think that there will be time for him to make them—I hope so, anyway.

I am pleased to announce that the Government will support the defamation amendment—amendment 4. It is a sensible amendment. As the House will be aware, the Government have made a commitment to repeal section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996. Their response to the report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 2013 stated that

“repealing Section 13 would be the wisest course of action” and that the Government

“intends to do so when Parliamentary time and a suitable legislative opportunity allows.”

There has long been discussion about the provision. The 1999 and 2013 Joint Committees on Parliamentary Privilege recommended that section 13 be repealed. The Government agree with the conclusion of those Committees that section 13 is at odds with the principle of freedom of speech, which it is the privilege of this House as a whole to enjoy, not just individual Members. Section 13 also creates an imbalance, because one party to a proceeding may choose to use the parliamentary record when the other party does not wish that to happen. The provision has never been used and it creates an anomaly. For those reasons, I urge the House to accept amendment 4.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I echo the pleasure that was expressed by the Solicitor-General at the reunion of the team that had so many lively and, at times, constructive debates in Committee.

The Opposition do not oppose Government amendments 58, 75, 59 and 60. However, I would like to make a small point about process. Will the Solicitor-General clarify for the House why time is being spent on removing obsolete legislation in parallel with the Law Commission’s statute law repeal programme? Given the resources available, the Law Commission’s work has been of a very high quality. We finished the Committee stage of the Bill with but seven minutes to spare, as the Solicitor-General will well remember, and we will not have time to discuss all the amendments we would like to discuss on Report.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I very much agree with the hon. Lady that the Law Commission does a fantastic job. It is preparing the measures that she mentions. That does not mean that if a Department knows that it has a piece of redundant or useless legislation, it cannot ask the House to get rid of it. There is not an either/or choice; we can do both.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Solicitor-General for that clarification. However, I think that the House should focus on that which will make the most difference to our constituents and the cost of living crisis. We should not seek to work in parallel with the Law Commission. However, I take his point. Although I am sad to see the repeal of the Mining Industry Act 1920 and the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, I agree with him that they do not serve a useful purpose at this time. It seems that this Tory Government are tidying up the last bits of mess that were left by the last one in undermining those great industries. I agree that, at this stage, those Acts perform no purpose.

We have some sympathy with amendment 73 on copyright, which was tabled by Philip Davies. We only wish that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport showed as much focus on the long-term future of the communications industry as the hon. Gentleman. As the Solicitor-General said, it is an anomaly that the BBC and other public service broadcasters have to pay cable companies for the transmission of their programmes, which so many of us enjoy. I should declare an interest because I served for six years at Ofcom, which regulates all the companies concerned.

It is impossible to explain to anyone outside the industry why it is not the pay TV companies that pay the BBC and ITV to carry their great content, but the BBC and ITV who pay the cable companies to do so. That cannot be right. We are glad that the discussions that the Solicitor-General mentioned have resulted in reductions in transmission fees to net zero. However, we do not feel that net zero is good enough. Public service broadcasters create fantastic, valuable and creative content that is the envy of the world, and they should be paid for it.

The Solicitor-General said that the legislation is complex and we recognise that. However, we question what work the Government are doing in this area. They dropped their communications Green Paper two years ago. Since then, we have had no meaningful communications strategy, even though the industry is critical to our economic and cultural future. There does not appear to be any work going on in the area now. The policy paper that the Solicitor-General mentioned so enthusiastically,

“Connectivity, Content and Consumers”, does not look into the future in any meaningful way. I remind the House that Labour’s Communications Act 2003 looked 10 years into the future.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

As my hon. Friend says, it was forward thinking. However, those 10 years have elapsed and we are left bereft of a long-term strategy. With no communications Green Paper and no communications strategy, is it any wonder that it is left to Members such as the hon. Member for Shipley to raise such key issues? Having said that, we are not confident, given the lack of strategy and long-term vision, that the Government would have a handle on the impact of repealing this measure. We therefore find it difficult to support amendment 73.

I will turn briefly to amendment 4 on defamation. As the Solicitor-General said, it has cross-party support and it appears to be sensible, so we will support it.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

It is a pleasure to follow Chi Onwurah, and I am grateful for her kind words. From what she said I understood that there is overall, general support—if perhaps not specific support—for my point. This is the second day running on which my amendments seem to have had more support from the Labour Front Bench than from the Government Front Bench—a rather uncomfortable position in which to find myself, but I am grateful nevertheless.

I will speak briefly because time is limited and I know that my hon. Friend Mr Cash wishes to contribute. Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 was created in the 1980s, when the Government—understandably—wanted to encourage the roll-out of the cable network to stimulate competition with terrestrial TV. That was a noble aim, but it has been achieved. The cable network now reaches half the population, and there is fierce inter-platform competition between pay-TV platforms and free-to-air TV platforms. It is therefore clear that section 73 is completely outdated and not achieving the purpose for which it was intended. That purpose has already been achieved, so the measure needs to be repealed.

Since cable TV derives even greater value from public service content, and delivers less and less in return as more adverts are skipped on pay TV, section 73 is preventing the normal commercial response, which would be to commercially negotiate the supply of content, putting at risk investment in the programmes that people want to see. Why should public service broadcasters, which are investing heavily in the UK’s creative economy, subsidise the business models of large global companies such as Liberty Global? That is clearly not fair. The litigation that the Solicitor-General mentioned has already taken four years and could still take a while longer, and I am not sure that we can afford to sit back and wait more years, while the issue is kicked into the long grass in such a way. Under the Communications Act 2003, public service broadcasters must, under their current licences, offer their public service broadcast channels to cable and satellite platforms so that consumers will not lose out if that is repealed.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

As my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah said, the Opposition have a lot of sympathy for the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but we were not clear whether it means that things would be opened up for negotiation—whether or not to pay; how much to pay—or whether no payments and no broadcasting would be possible. That is our uncertainty.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

It would enable a normal commercial arrangement to be reached, but it would not do anything to stop the terms of the Communications Act 2003, under which broadcasters must offer their public service broadcasting channels to cable and satellite platforms. That would still be the case, but the amendment would enable a commercial negotiation to take place, which would be fair to both parties. Otherwise, the situation works for neither party; it is to everybody’s advantage that an agreement is reached. Terrestrial broadcasters want their content on cable, and cable wants that content out there, so there is reason for reaching an agreement.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I am carefully following my hon. Friend’s logic and he is looking at two aspects: pay TV and satellite. The fastest-growing area, however, is online, which is what the court case is about. Does he recognise that it would be a mistake to leave matters on the basis he suggests, without taking account of the online position? That needs to be tackled once we know the court decision.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

All these matters need to be tackled, and my amendment seeks to say just that to the Government. The problem is that they are not being tackled and are causing an unfair disadvantage to public service broadcasters. That is my point. Pay TV companies are charging monthly subscriptions for access to pay TV, when most of the viewing is on public service broadcasting channels, which are an essential part of the offer being made. For example, ITV invests around £1 billion a year on programming, the majority of which is original UK content, driving UK economic growth and provided free to viewers at no cost to the taxpayer. Continuing to do that depends on its being able to make a commercial return on its investment, which at the moment it does not.

Section 73 currently allows platforms and online operators to extract increasing amounts of value from free-to-air content, with no return to investors, rightsholders and talent, or the UK creative economy. Those platforms are perfectly happy to pay for other channels on ITV, such as ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4, through normal commercial negotiations, so it is hard to understand why they would not also be prepared to do that for the main channel. Section 73 of the 1988 Act is completely outdated and does a great disservice to public service broadcasters. It has created unfair terms and conditions for public service broadcasters, and even if the Government do not accept my amendment, I hope that they will consider the issue and come back soon with proposals to deal with this serious anomaly concerning cable TV and online content.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2:45 pm, 14th May 2014

I will not speak for long as I am aware that one of my former colleagues, a fellow survivor of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, Mr Cash, also wishes to contribute.

On behalf of Members across the House, I thank the Clerks for their assistance on the Committee, particularly Liam Laurence Smyth, the Clerk of the Journals, who so skilfully kept most members of the Committee in order. I felt quite intimidated as a member of that Committee because we had such august parliamentarians as the hon. Members for Stone and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), Sir Menzies Campbell, my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt—now promoted to shadow Education Secretary—and of course yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, the most able member of the Joint Committee, who ensured that we kept things right.

Amendment 4 stands in my name and those of the hon. Member for Stone and others, and—as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, having served on the Committee—it is the second attempt by a Joint Committee to get this piece of legislation removed from the statute book.

Briefly, back in the mid-1990s, Mr Neil Hamilton, then a Member of Parliament, was seeking to sue The Guardian for defamation over what turned out to be true allegations about his cash links with Mohamed Al-Fayed. As I am sure the whole House knows, under parliamentary privilege Members are not allowed to use parliamentary proceedings in a civil or criminal case. Mr Hamilton persuaded the then Conservative Government to introduce a clause that allowed a Member of Parliament to waive their privilege, so that they could use parliamentary proceedings as evidence in a defamation case when suing a newspaper. However, it was done in such a way that a newspaper could not also seek to have parliamentary privilege waived. That created an unfair playing field and, frankly, was done to help Mr Hamilton, who it then turned out was a liar and a crook—that is probably why he is a member of UKIP these days. The Joint Committee in 1999 and again last year recommended that the measure be taken out of statute because it was unfair on newspapers and an abuse of privilege.

Obviously, the amendment is supported by the Opposition, and my hon. Friend Ms Eagle made clear our support last Thursday during the debate on parliamentary privilege. I welcome the fact that the names of the Solicitor-General and the Deputy Leader of the House now appear next to the amendment. I assume that they speak for both parts of the coalition and that the Government will be addressing the issue. To conclude, this is about a silly piece of legislation that should never have been introduced, and I welcome the fact that the Government are taking the Joint Committee’s recommendation on board.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your service on the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege along with me and Thomas Docherty, not to mention the litany of others—the hon. Gentleman has already mentioned them, so I do not need to. Amendment 4 is necessary, and I will refer to articles 163 to 170 of the Committee’s report, which include our recommendations for the repeal of section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996, just to get that on the record and make it easier for people to follow what is being said—we do not have much time to go into all the ins and outs.

The hon. Gentleman has explained the background to this issue, but I will add one or two further points. As my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General stated, the proposal was endorsed by the 1999 Joint Committee, and most recently by the 2013 Joint Committee, in your presence, Madam Deputy Speaker. The 1999 Joint Committee stated that,

“the enactment of section 13, seeking to remedy a perceived injustice, had created indefensible anomalies of its own which should not be allowed to continue”.

That is why it recommended that section 13 be repealed. The fundamental flaw identified by the 1999 Joint Committee was that,

“the section undermined the basis of privilege: freedom of speech was the privilege of the House as a whole and not of the individual Member in his or her own right, although an individual Member could assert and rely on it.”

The 1999 Committee noted that,

“the anomaly that section 13 was available only in defamation proceedings and not in any other form of civil action” or criminal action. The Committee pointed out that,

“since the exercise of section 13 is a matter of individual choice, where two people are involved in the same action, one may choose to waive privilege and another may not.”

The 1999 Committee recommend that,

“the mischief sought to be remedied by section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996 should be cured by a different means: the replacement of section 13 with a short statutory provision empowering each House to waive Article 9 for the purpose of any court proceedings, whether relating to defamation or to any other matter, where the words spoken or the acts done in proceedings in Parliament would not expose the speaker of the words or the doer of the acts to any legal liability.”

That approach was supported by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and by Dr Adam Tucker and Geoffrey Lock, a former head of the research division in the House of Commons Library.

The Newspaper Society opposed any discretionary power to waive privilege, the use of which would be unpredictable and retrospective. It argued that,

“the power of waiver could create a chilling effect, by the mere threat or possibility of its use, which would be detrimental to openness of debate and press reporting of proceedings in Parliament.”

In its response to the Government consultation, the legislative council of Western Australia argued that,

“it was preferable for privilege not to be waived for any reason, in order to avoid the potential for the waiver being used for purely political purposes.”

Our Clerk of the House of Commons, the distinguished Sir Robert Rogers, who is sadly retiring, told us that his preference would be for the repeal of section 13, “without replacement”. The Media Lawyers Association took the same view.

In evidence, the Government told the 2013 Committee:

“There are clearly problems with Section 13 of the Defamation Act. It is at odds with the principle that freedom of speech is a privilege of the House, not just individual members and it can create an imbalance where one party to proceedings can choose to use the parliamentary record but the other cannot.”

At that time, the Government told us that,

“the Government is not aware of any instances in which anyone has used the power of waiver and as such it would not appear to be a pressing priority to repeal Section 13.”

On reflection, the Government have decided that repealing section 13 is a good idea. We are grateful to them for following our recommendation.

I ought to say that, initially, there was an attempt to include the proposal in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill but, as a result of consultation, members of the Committee agreed that it was better to include it in the Deregulation Bill, which is why we are debating it. The Committee recommends the repeal of section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996. That is all I have to say for the time being.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I commend the wise words of my hon. Friend Mr Cash. He summarised the position extremely well and I am glad that the proposal is going ahead.

I should tell my hon. Friend Philip Davies that the Government will bring forward proposals for consultation when the court case, which is set down for later this year, has concluded. I ask him not to press his amendment to a Division on the basis that the Government are taking the issue seriously.

In response to Chi Onwurah, the coherent strategy set out in the connectivity paper covers all the main issues: electronic programme guides, PSB prominence, bundling, switching off content, zero net fees, investment policy, child protection on the internet, internet access and comprehensive programme issues. It is a proper document, and she unfairly belittled it.

The only other point I wanted to make before commending the amendments is on the Law Commission, which does a marvellous job. I should like to put on the record the Government’s gratitude to Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, who heads it, and all the people who work for it. It is a marvellous institution.

Amendment 58 agreed to.