Interpretation of this Chapter

Digital Economy Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 28th November 2016.

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Amendments made: 13, page 52, line 24, leave out “(7)” and insert “(6)”

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Amendment 14, page 52, line 34, at end insert—

““Northern Ireland body” means—

(a) a Minister within the meaning of the Northern Ireland Act 1998,

(b) a Northern Ireland department,

(c) a Northern Ireland public authority within the meaning of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, or

(d) a person providing services to a person within paragraph (a), (b) or (c);”

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Amendment 15, page 52, line 40, at end insert—

““Scottish body” means—

(a) a person who is a part of the Scottish Administration,

(b) a Scottish public authority with mixed functions or no reserved functions (within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998), or

(c) a person providing services to a person within paragraph (a) or (b);”

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Amendment 16, page 52, line 41, at end insert—

““Welsh body” means—

(a) a person who wholly or mainly exercises functions which could be conferred on the person by provision which falls within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, or

(b) a person providing services to a person within paragraph (a).”

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Amendment 17, page 52, line 45, leave out subsection (3)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Amendment 18, page 53, line 7, leave out subsection (5)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Amendment 19, page 53, line 15, leave out subsection (7) —(Matt Hancock.)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 12.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs

I will now suspend the House for no more than five minutes to make a decision about certification. The Division bells will be rung two minutes before the House resumes following certification. The Government will table the appropriate consent motion, copies of which will be available shortly in the Vote Office and will be distributed by the Doorkeepers.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs 9:17 pm, 28th November 2016

I can now inform the House of my decision about certification. For the purposes of Standing Order No. 83L(2) and on behalf of Mr Speaker, I have certified clause 85 of the Digital Economy Bill as relating exclusively to England and within devolved legislative competence. Copies of the certificate are available in the Vote Office. Under Standing Order No. 83M, a consent motion is therefore required for the Bill to proceed. Does the Minister intend to move the consent motion?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy)

indicated assent.

The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (Standing Order No. 83M).

[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Committee consents to the following certified clause of the Digital Economy Bill:

Clauses and schedules certified under Standing Order No. 83L(2) as relating exclusively to England and being within devolved legislative competence

Clause 85 of the Bill (Bill 87).—(Matt Hancock.)

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Leader of the House of Commons), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am very grateful to you, Mr Hoyle, and I promise to be brief when it comes to this substantial and significant—[Interruption.]

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Leader of the House of Commons), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

We are discussing substantial and significant clauses that relate exclusively to England. We are here, in what is the de facto English Parliament, to debate important measures. The relationship between tuition fees and qualifications is very important to England, and I am surprised that we are not hearing more contributions from English Members. They have a fantastic opportunity to speak at length about England-only clauses, an opportunity that was demanded at the time of the last general election. So many Members, particularly Conservative Members, said then that the system was required, but none of them are here to participate in tonight’s debate.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street on 19 September 2014 and said that millions of English voices must be heard. This is the procedure that was to allow those millions of English voices to be heard. However, the Constitution Unit produced a report just this afternoon which showed that there had been a maximum of about 40 minutes of debate in all the Legislative Grand Committee procedures. Does that not show that “English votes for English laws” is not meeting the purpose for which it was set up?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Leader of the House of Commons), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I have a copy of the report produced by the Constitution Unit, which goes into great detail and depth about the functioning of EVEL.

Clause 85 is critically important to the Bill. It concerns the payment of tuition fees for qualifications in England. It is important that it be debated fully, and it is important for English Members to have their say. That is what “English votes for English laws” is all about. English Members have an opportunity to express their concern about parts of Bills that relate exclusively to England, and we now invite them to contribute to the debate.

According to the Constitution Unit, a maximum of two minutes has been taken every time the House has resolved itself into an English Legislative Grand Committee. We must ensure that we use this time properly and appropriately, because clause 85 is an important measure. It is the only part of the Bill that relates exclusively to England, and I think it deserves all the debate that can possibly be mustered. I am very surprised that not even the Minister is using his opportunity.

We cannot say that this is a waste of the House’s time, because it obviously is not. It is important that the House breaks up its usual routine examination of legislation and forms a English Legislative Grand Committee to consider significant measures such as clause 85. It is important that the bell rings and the House is suspended for two minutes before the certification can take place, and that Members have an opportunity to examine such measures in detail. I hope that I shall not be the only Member to contribute, given that this was considered to be so important that the Standing Orders had to be changed.

I know that other Members wish to speak—[Laughter.] Perhaps they do not, but they have an opportunity to debate this important clause, and I am very surprised that there are to be no more contributions tonight. That demonstrates the absolute and utter absurdity of the EVEL proposals and the Standing Order changes. We are sitting here, and not one Member representing an English constituency is prepared to—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. I may be able to help. I think that there will be a speech to follow that of the hon. Gentleman, so he should not worry. Has he finished his speech?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy)

I shall not detain the House for long. All I can say is that Pete Wishart had an opportunity to talk about clause 85 on Second Reading. Did he do so? No, he did not. There was spare time during the Committee stage. The hon. Gentleman could have joined the Committee, enjoyed our company, and talked about clause 85. Did he do so? No, he did not. On Report, he could have tabled any sort of amendment to clause 85, or, indeed, tried to vote against it, but he chose not to. I think we can see through all his bluster.

Question put and agreed to.

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.

Third Reading

Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 9:25 pm, 28th November 2016

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill will cement the UK’s status as a world-leading digital economy. It will help people to connect to high-speed broadband, expanding their personal opportunities and stimulating economic activity. It will improve public services, thanks to better information management, and it will protect the vulnerable from some of the hazards of the digital world. It is an important measure in building a country that works for everyone.

I am very grateful to the House for the way it has engaged with the Bill. I put on record my thanks to the Minister for Digital and Culture; the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the Minister with responsibility for the constitution; the Culture, Media and Sport Committee; the Public Bill Committee; the Whips; and the Clerks, who have all been particularly helpful. I also want to thank the Front-Bench teams of the Opposition and the SNP for their constructive approach.

We are increasing connectivity by moving forward with a new broadband universal service obligation. There are reforms to the electronic communications code and we have greater protections for intellectual property and consumers. We have strengthened protections for children too, and I extend special thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Claire Perry) and for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse).

As well as helping to bring the country online, the Bill enables Government to share information between public bodies, where there is a public benefit. That will help an additional 700,000 fuel-poor households. It means that the public sector will be more considerate when pursuing debts from the vulnerable. There will be fewer burdensome surveys for businesses to complete. No more unwarranted post will be sent to the families of the deceased. We have ensured the provision of both transparency and robust safeguards. Those measures will benefit the whole country.

The Government added a number of important new measures in Committee. There is now further support for the financial technology sector, enabling payment firms that are not banks to access payment systems currently accessible only to banks. That will improve competition in financial services and benefit consumers. We are offering free digital skills training for adults in England who lack relevant qualifications, and the Bill gives Ofcom more power to keep harmful content from being broadcast both on radio and on television. I hope that the successful way that the Bill has been discussed and improved as it passes through this House will reassure and encourage those in the other place as they consider the Bill.

Digital technology offers tremendous opportunities. Many of them are currently hard to predict and some are unfathomable, yet we know that we must be ready now if we are to enjoy innovations in future. I want the UK to be in a position to lead the world in the development of digital technology. I want us to lead the world in digital connectivity and skills for everyone, not just the professionals and not just a privileged few.

The Bill will make our country wealthier, more efficient, more skilful, more connected and safer. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 9:29 pm, 28th November 2016

I thank my hon. Friends who served on the Public Bill Committee and the many individuals and organisations who submitted evidence to aid the scrutiny of the Bill, as well as the Clerks for their patience and advice. I also thank the Secretary of State and the Ministers for their hard work.

The Minister for Digital and Culture has been most assiduous, as we in the Opposition have tried to be also. On Report earlier, he even tried to speak some Welsh. It reminded me a little bit—as he often does—of Winston Churchill, who when he attempted to speak French said as a warning, “Prenez garde, je vais parler français”, or “Take guard, I am going to speak French.” The Minister did not quite give us that warning when he spoke Welsh. He did say he thought what he said meant that he backed the Welsh language; in fact he said that he backed Channel 4 Wales. I think that is what he said, anyway, in Welsh. I congratulate him on his commendable effort in speaking the language of heaven.

The Opposition will not be opposing this Bill on Third Reading as it contains a number of uncontroversial measures which we welcome and support and have no wish to block. However, that is not the same as saying that we think it is a good Bill. Its weaknesses lie as much in what it omits as what it contains. President Lyndon Johnson once said of a Bill that it was like grandma’s nightshirt; it covers everything. This Bill attempts to cover everything, but I am afraid there are quite a few holes in it, because a digital economy Bill would look much better if it properly recognised the importance of the digital economy to the whole country, if it took account of the pace of change in the development and use of new technology, and if it saw its central role in the way that work itself is changing for millions of people in the UK.

Let us imagine what the Bill would be like if it was much more ambitious about delivering ultrafast fibre broadband and mobile network coverage to everyone who needs it. Imagine a digital economy Bill that recognised the need to provide people with digital skills so that they can benefit from new technologies and the jobs of the future, or paid attention to the need for digital resilience and saw fit to mention cyber-security and preventing online abuse. A digital economy Bill that did any of those things would look very different from the Bill before us.

I want to focus on the areas where there is some agreement. On connectivity, we of course support the universal service obligation, but it is too tiny and too slow a step in the right direction. Labour called for this to be introduced back in 2010, and left fully costed plans for it to be achieved by 2012. The 10 megabits that will be guaranteed to households is less than half of what is needed to achieve superfast broadband. If anyone is wondering whether 10 megabits really is inadequate, they should not just take my word for it: the Minister for Digital and Culture said in a speech to the Broadband World Forum just last month that

“while 10 megabits may be enough for today’s needs, it won’t be enough for tomorrow’s.”

Even the Minister admits that his own legislation will be out of date by the time it is implemented.

On age verification, we all share the objective of protecting children from online pornography, and we support the provisions in the Bill that aim to do that, but we remain unclear about how they will work in practice and we hope that more details emerge as the Bill continues its scrutiny in the other place. There are legitimate concerns about privacy and the security of individuals’ personal data, which the Government must do much more to answer. The Bill still lacks any mention of the need for online sex and relationships education for young people, which is at least as important as age verification in protecting children from the risks of early exposure to inappropriate material.

There are some measures related to public service broadcasting which we support and which will help to give greater stability and certainty to the sector, but one way in which the Government could clear up an element of great uncertainty that hangs over our public service broadcasting system is by clarifying their thinking about the future of Channel 4. It is now 14 months since it became known that the Government were considering options including privatisation of Channel 4, and we are still none the wiser as to their thinking. Bringing this matter to a speedy conclusion—I hope by announcing their continued support for Channel 4’s current remit and model—would help to bring stability and certainty not just to that important public service institution, but to the wider creative industries with which its work is intimately bound up.

As this Bill moves to the other place, I hope that the Government will be able to provide reassurance on many of the concerns that have been raised by our colleagues in this House, and to think harder about more of the questions which have so far gone unanswered. It is not too late for the Bill to address questions around people’s rights over their own personal data, on which it is currently silent. It is not too late for the Government to come forward with measures to secure the rights of more than 1 million workers in the digital economy, many of whom are in precarious roles with uncertain rights, hours, contracts and even legal status. It is not too late for the Bill to recognise the needs of the 12 million people in the UK who do not have basic digital skills, which are increasingly necessary to navigate public services, to do business and to get jobs.

If the additional scrutiny to be provided in the other place can do these things and more, then when the Bill comes back to this House it will enjoy more wholehearted support from the Labour Benches than it has so far.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 9:35 pm, 28th November 2016

We are seeing the internet come of age through this Bill. I very much welcome the change in the tone of Members on both Front Benches. The digital economy in this country is hugely important, but we need rules in this area just as we need them in other aspects of our lives. The acknowledgement that we need clear rules on content is welcomed across the board. I congratulate Ministers on the amendments that have been made to strengthen enforcement, particularly around harmful content, and I hope that when the other place considers the Bill, it will be able to look at some of the other points that right hon. and hon. Members have raised today. I wish the Bill well.

Photo of Calum Kerr Calum Kerr Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Digital) 9:36 pm, 28th November 2016

I should like to add to the positive vibes coming from both Front Benchers and join them in thanking the Clerks. I particularly want to thank those in the Public Bill Office, who have been fantastic in dealing with someone who is still relatively new to all this and sometimes does not get things right first time. Officials in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and in Ofcom have also been particularly constructive and helpful to us as we have found our way.

My hon. Friend Drew Hendry and I entered the Bill Committee with all the optimism of newbies, thinking, “We have such massive logic behind our case that the Government’s going to bite our hands off to get at our new clauses and amendments.” Of course, we learned the hard way that that never happens. Even when they completely agreed with us, there was always a wee excuse for why they had to do things in their own way. I remember that the Minister even spoke to my new clause. The Chair had called him to speak before me, and I sat there thinking, “Oh, this could be one of ours. I fundamentally agree with him.” Then I realised, and thought, “Oh, perhaps we’ll need a consultation on this.”

On Second Reading the former Secretary of State, Mr Whittingdale, compared the Bill to a Christmas tree. That was quite an interesting analogy, considering where we have ended up. I said at that time that the Digital Economy Bill’s title was something of a misnomer, in that it lacked any strategy, ambition or drive to take advantage of digital opportunities. There was certainly no guiding light or star on the top of this tree. It is also fair to say that some of the things that have been hung on it leave a little to be desired. However, we should acknowledge that many of its elements are very welcome, as my hon. Friend Pete Wishart did in his own inimitable style. He has probably now set a precedent by speaking in an EVEL debate, which he will rejoice in.

Some of those welcome elements did not get touched on today. I think we all agree that the reform of the electronic communication code is overdue, for example, and the measures on customer compensation and switching are very welcome, as are some of the powers for Ofcom and the review of spectrum. However, other parts of the Bill leave something to be desired, as I have said. They feel more tokenistic than meaningful. I am referring in particular to the universal service obligation.

Photo of Phil Boswell Phil Boswell Scottish National Party, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Does my hon. Friend agree that constituents in all parts of this country want a fibre future and access to ultrafast, not just fast and superfast, broadband?

Photo of Calum Kerr Calum Kerr Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Digital)

I totally agree. The Government have missed an opportunity and I am disappointed that they did not accept my new clause 27, although it might be the foundation for the sudden emergence of a strategy on vouchers. Government Members will have to explain to their constituents why 10 megabits per second is okay for rural areas while urban areas aim for a gigabit connection—100 times faster.

The Bill has good intentions in some areas but, as I articulated earlier, its execution will be flawed. My hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier talked about faulty goods, and I guess these bits are a bit like the parcel under the Christmas tree that looks quite nice, but is deeply flawed when it is opened and will be returned to sender. I would have liked part 5 of the Bill to be returned to sender, but I welcome the Minister’s commitment to continue to iterate and evolve the measures—I thought the amendment paper was going to get bigger than the Bill at one point such was the desire to amend it. I read a tweet from Big Brother Watch that said:

“Good to hear support for GDPR from the minister… can govt now write part 5 so it clearly adheres to it”.

I look forward to continual efforts to ensure that that happens.

In conclusion, among all the sparring and comments—they were light-hearted at times and serious at others—there has been genuine movement on this Bill. We have tried to be constructive in discussions and by setting forward our ideas, and I look forward to continuing in that vein.

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Conservative, Selby and Ainsty 9:41 pm, 28th November 2016

I shall speak only briefly on Third Reading. I enjoyed being a member of the Public Bill Committee, which was only the second such Committee that I have served on—[Interruption.] I notice the Whips looking at me, but this is by no means an application to be involved in more any time soon.

The team in the Bill Committee was very constructive, and we have just had an encouraging debate on Report, but I want to touch on one issue that is worth pressing home: ticketing, bots and touts. People have said to me that this is free-market issue—rightly so—but a principle of any truly free market is that there is a willing buyer and a willing seller. We cannot forget the second part of that equation. While some fans might be willing to spend, perhaps through gritted teeth, many thousands of pounds on tickets—dozens of times over the face value—to see a favourite artist, not many artists are willing to sell their tickets to parasitical touts. Touts rob artists of their right to set prices that might be more accessible to their fans. If Adele, for example, wanted to charge £10,000 or £20,000 for a ticket to one of her shows, she would, but she does not. As a seller, that is absolutely her right. We should support a free market in which a seller’s right to make such choices to develop their fan bases is respected.

I was pleased that the Minister committed on Report to act against bots if necessary, following his meeting with the Secretary of State and the industry. I have no doubt that all involved would like to work together as the Bill progresses, and I stand ready to play a small part if possible. The fundamental point is that we have now achieved broad cross-party consensus. Other countries have brought in similar laws to outlaw bots, and now is the time for this House to take action. This is a technical area that is not simple to resolve. While this is not the only measure that will tackle ticketing problems, it has cross-party support, as well as support outside the House, including from ticketing companies, which want action and bots to be outlawed. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the Waterson report and hope that any action that the Government take in the other place will give consumers the confidence that this Government are on everyone’s side, not just the side of a privileged few.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport) 9:44 pm, 28th November 2016

I will be brief. Overall, the work of the Bill Committee was positive, and there were several things that we can take forward and look to see the benefits of in the future. I would add that in the future there needs to be much more of a focus on the consumer, and the rights of the consumer and of the end user. There will be further opportunities to make sure that the right solutions are delivered in the right places, particularly for rural areas. When we consider speeds, we should think about going “outside in” and think of those people who normally get the technology latest having the opportunity to get it first. Consumers should also be protected when they buy things—if they make a contract, that contract should protect them as much as it does the company, so there is a balance to be achieved. I welcome a lot of the measures in the Bill and I look forward to seeing progress in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.