Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 2:34 pm, 13th September 2016

It is a great delight to follow the former Secretary of State, Mrs Miller. She has shown from what she has said this afternoon and from when she was in office the level of expertise, interest and commitment that she has in this area of work. It is always a delight to hear from Mr Whittingdale, who, unusually, was a round peg in a round hole when he was appointed to the job, and he got a little bit rounder as the year went on. Seriously, though, it is a delight to hear from him.

We all know as Members of Parliament that we live in a digital economy, because we have so many emails from constituents and others. This email is not from a constituent, but I thought that I would share it with the House. It says:

“Dear RhonddaYfronts,

Just watched you and that other dull dishcloth of an MP on Daily Politics. You both sum up clearly why Labour will never win an election anytime soon. Uninspiring, pathetic career politicians with no substance or gravitas.

Finally, are you still on Gaydar, Grindr, or Scruff? If so, what’s your profile as I quite fancy you.”

Self-praise is no praise.

As the two former Secretaries of State have already acknowledged, the creative industries are absolutely essential to this country. They were worth £87.4 billion to the UK economy in 2015. Creativity lies at the heart of it all, which is why I welcome all the measures that relate to strengthening the intellectual property law. Some 355 million music tracks and 24 million films were illegally downloaded between March and May of this year. We do need to tackle that if we are to protect those who create that value—those who are at the imaginative heart of this country. My only question about clause 26 is whether the definition is strong enough, but that is a matter for us to deal with in Committee.

We also need a strong and independent BBC. This is one of my biggest disappointments with the Bill and everything that has happened since 2015. The BBC is funded by the licence fee in the main. Last year, that amounted to £3.6 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, but it is worth bearing in mind that Sky in that same year had a revenue of nearly £12 billion, three times as much, and £2 billion of profit. I do have one anxiety. I do not expect the former Secretary of State to respond to this, but I think that in his heart he agrees that it was entirely wrong and wholly inappropriate to put the payment of the over-75s’ licence fees on to the BBC. Even more importantly, a part of the Bill breaches the BBC’s fundamental independence, because it turns the BBC into an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, and that is wholly to be deprecated. In time, I think that the Government will regret that. There is an element of cowardice in that, because if the Government want to get rid of the free television licences, they should do it themselves; it should be a manifesto commitment in a general election, and then they should proceed. To make the BBC carry out the decision-making process on who gets a concessionary licence is wholly wrong. Incidentally, the whole deal happened after a meeting between the former Chancellor and Rupert Murdoch. It just shows that nothing ever changes in this country.

May I just ask the Minister—I hope that he will be able to respond later—when will we get the draft charter? Lord Ashton of Hyde said in the House of Lords that its publication would be in September. I hope that the Government are not intending to publish it when the House is not sitting, but they therefore have only two more days, and then we are meant to have a debate in October. [Interruption.] The former Secretary of State will doubtless tell us. [Interruption.] Perhaps Mr Vaizey will tell us later when he gets the chance.