Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage 2:43 pm, 13th September 2016

Benefits will accrue to mobile phone users through improved coverage. Chris Bryant mocked the mobile infrastructure roll-out plan. He got his facts wrong, but that brought home the huge cost and complexity of building those networks. Anything we can do to reduce the cost of roll-out will help the consumer in terms of coverage and, hopefully, cost.

I fully support the measures on age verification and the upgrading of the offence of copyright infringement. It is interesting that hon. Members on both sides of the House have called for a general debate on internet regulation, which is what that is. It will come more and more to the fore. I echo the comments of my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller and others. It is almost impossible to deal with social media companies. They are like giant children. Suddenly they have 300 million users or 1.2 billion users, and they have to make up some of the regulation as they go along. There was the recent controversy when Facebook banned the iconic photograph of the child in Vietnam. The Government need to work, and work quickly, with those organisations, but even bringing them to the table causes some difficulty.

I fully support the measures on data sharing. That is a huge prize, but we must recognise the concern of consumers about having their private data used. This is about using anonymous data and breaking down the barriers between Departments, which can only benefit citizens.

Let me briefly echo one or two concerns. I had a huge amount of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Rhondda said about free TV licences being imposed on the BBC. It had nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch, by the way, and everything to do with saving money on the welfare bill. It is wrong that we are leaving the decision on free television licences to the BBC. It should be a decision for the Government. There are plenty of ways of updating and refining the way in which the free TV licence currently works, without getting rid of it. The Government should take back not the cost of the free TV licence, but responsibility for the policy.

As Ofcom takes on BBC regulation, I have some concerns that if it takes on the regulation of BBC websites, we will see press regulation by the back door. The press has been assiduous in not allowing its websites to become quasi-broadcasting sites, which would therefore be regulated by Ofcom. With Ofcom regulating the BBC, we must be cautious that we do not inadvertently bring in statutory regulation of the press, which I would oppose.