Report (2nd Day)

Part of Digital Economy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 3rd March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 4:30 pm, 3rd March 2010

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is important and I shall deal with my view on it in a moment. I have some sympathy with the case put by the Minister. I was told that the industry supports the amendment to get rid of Clause 17. I am not sure what part of industry that is. It may well be that Google supports it, but I do not think that the creative industry is speaking in one voice on that. As far as I am concerned, the British creative industry-film, television and musicians-is made up of important people who want to see effective action taken against piracy. I come from a position of having a certain amount of sympathy with what the Government are saying.

As the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, mentioned, we are told that we should have primary legislation and that nothing would be easier. In my experience of government, that has not always been the case. It takes a certain amount of time to get primary legislation through and it has always been hard fought for by a series of Ministers. My favourite example is camcorder crime, which involves recording the showing of a new film in a cinema and selling it as a DVD. I give the department credit for wanting legislation on that, but I suspect that it was unable to do so. It said that it was waiting for the result of the test case under the Fraud Act, which was a very odd argument, given that the department did not even realise that the test case had taken place. In any event, it was held in the magistrates' court on the Isle of Wight. I do not think it had much resonance on the Isle of Wight, let alone in the nation. I need a bit of convincing on that issue.

The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and I are on the same side for once. It is Clause 17 that we need to address. Whatever the Government say about consultation, the measure will end up as an order which the House can accept or reject, but which it cannot amend. That is a fundamental defect in something that we are doing here. The Minister talks about consultation. Although he was not the Minister responsible at the time, I have to say that we have been down the consultation path before with Ministers from his department. We had what was described as the biggest consultation in history on the BBC charter. It was a major consultation and all kinds of people were asked about their views. The only trouble was that the department took not the slightest notice of the result of the most important part of that consultation. That is why we have the BBC Trust. Virtually everyone told Ministers at the time that the BBC Trust was a bad idea that would not work and would create a divided structure at the top of the BBC. What did the department do? It said, "We are not consulting on that bit. We are consulting on other parts".

I am not content, frankly, to receive only vague assurances on consultation. In far too many parts of the media area we make decisions not on the basis of fundamental debate in this House but on an order, such as on the licence fee, which noble Lords can accept or reject-you cannot amend it in any way-or through the BBC charter which does not even come to this House. I regret that I share many of the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on that, but I fear that I could not support the idea that we should go ahead and put another accept-or-reject order into legislation. Rather like the noble Earl, I could not conceivably support Clause 17 as it stands.