Second Reading

Part of Digital Economy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:19 pm on 2 December 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office 6:19, 2 December 2009

My Lords, I have a great interest in the creative industries. I come from a family of newspaper owners. My early career, before politics took over, was in publishing and bookselling. I should declare an interest in that I am now related by marriage to a successful, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and screenplay writer. I absolutely share the Government's ambition to make the UK one of the world's creative capitals.

Do the provisions of Clauses 4 to 17 actually make the UK a better place in which to innovate? When he opened the debate this afternoon, the Minister spoke of the unique challenge to the creative industries that the digital age has created. Many today have spoken of the particular opportunities that have also been offered. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who spoke so eloquently of the new business models that need to be made the most of. There are great opportunities out there and they need to be encouraged.

The Government could have chosen to go down one of two paths with this Bill. One is to encourage those models. The other is to take a fairly heavy hand to protect the old model. The Government in this Bill have emphasised that protection model. This is not the best method of encouraging new innovation, and it threatens to make the UK a rather unwelcoming place in the digital age.

My noble friend Lord Razzall said at the beginning of the debate that education is the most important issue in discouraging illegal file-sharing. He is absolutely right and other noble Lords have made that point. For most 18 year-olds it is the norm to share. I am sorry for the lack of emphasis on education here-it is not even mentioned in these clauses.

This debate takes me back to my own dissertation, at the end of my college course some 35 years ago, on the problem for the book industry posed by copyright piracy in the developing world. The invention of the photocopier and the lack of copyright law enforcement in the developing world would, it was said, lead to the worldwide collapse of the publishing industry. Centuries earlier, the scribes who transcribed books in longhand had similar feelings about Caxton when he invented the printing press. They worried that it would put them out of business. In fact, a whole renaissance of art and learning blossomed with the wider spread of the book. Throughout the ages, the old style of creativity has fought tooth and nail against change.

That is why the Government are making a mistake in this Bill. While understanding the wish of industry for protection from the tides of change, the Government have, in Clauses 4 to 17, laid the emphasis too much on stemming that tide and not enough in channelling it into the new business models. Can the Minister elucidate the most successful, established and emerging business models for monetising online content? Noble Lords have mentioned Spotify, micro-payments and other forms of payment for content. How will they be made easier and more convenient? What vision do the Government have for this? What studies have they done to see how free, ad-funded models might also succeed? These are some of the questions that need to be answered as we move into Committee.

The other thing I find difficult to understand is that this Bill seeks to make one industry that has seen phenomenal growth, investment and innovation-the internet service providers-pay for the protection of another sector. That does not seem a reasonable principle to pursue. The Minister will say that Clause 15 talks of sharing costs, but we do not know on what basis those costs are to be shared. That is to be in secondary legislation. I am glad to hear my noble friend on the Front Bench say that he will try to amend this and make it clearer in the Bill.

I fully accept that those who create a product should end up with some recompense for their labour if the market wants the product. At the moment, I doubt we have the balance right in the Bill. I share the sentiment expressed so well by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we need to look more closely at the effect on the individual citizen. He said that the Government should have in mind the proper interest of the citizen. The Bill has been brought forward by DCMS and DBIS, so it has laid the emphasis on the creative industries. What representations has the Minister received from the Home Office or the security services?

My other problem with these clauses is the effect that their provisions could have on security and law enforcement. These provisions could drive the more persistent file sharers to use encryption and then there would be an enormous difficulty as regards the crime fighting use of interception. Using encryption is not something that needs would-be file sharers to be highly technically sophisticated. They can buy encryption software which they can download, so the problem for the copyright holders would not be solved. However, the problem for the police, SOCPA, CEOP and so on would be immense. The sheer volume of encrypted material could mean that the ease with which terrorists or child porn criminals will be able to smuggle their material around will be massively enhanced. I am deeply concern by what the Home Office has said about these propositions.

We need to think about what sort of country we want the UK to be in the future. Will it be one where the digital world enhances community life and education and increases access for all both within the community and in the wider world? I believe that is the model we want. Earlier, the right reverend Prelate spoke about inclusion but this Bill will make life very difficult for the future of internet cafes and other shared networks because it will place obligations on the owner of the account for the behaviour of users. That is fine for those who can afford broadband and have absolute knowledge of those who use it. However, just at a time when Swindon is planning to become the first wi-fi town in Britain and offer free internet use for its 186,000-strong population, the Government are liable fatally to undermine that community provision. I understand that Ohio in the States has used a similar model to become a wi-fi town but that it has been put under threat because the Motion Picture Association of America managed to shut down its municipal wi-fi network after a single download. Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether that has been looked into.

The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, was particularly farsighted when he spoke of the right to utility connection being something that we should think about as regards the internet. I think it should become a right and that Finland is moving to make broadband access such a legal right.

Against that background, the provisions in the Bill either to cut people off from broadband or to throttle it-a particularly difficult term which I believe means to reduce the band width-are ones that we need to explore as regards the code. It is particularly sad that we have the Bill before us but not the code, which is such a critical part of the provisions. We need to know that the code is appropriate, fair and proportionate. At the moment, we do not know what will be regarded as serious enough to warrant a disconnection as we do not know how the threshold will be defined. There is no doubt that disconnection would affect families, businesses and, potentially, whole communities.

I am also concerned that under this Bill the accused will have to prove their innocence and probably will have to pay if they want representation. As soon as suspicion falls on them, they will automatically be put on a list from which they will have to appeal to be removed. There are a lot of worries that we will need to scrutinise in Committee. I very much look forward then to exploring the detail.