Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 4:15 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I am not a lawyer—I feel a bit uncomfortable joining this debate; I am sure there are issues it is much beyond my abilities to deal with. But I say to the Minister before he responds, the point made about the degree of concern in the industry is important. This is a big and complicated Bill with many different aspects. It reaches far into aspects of our digital world. This clause, however, is the one that has generated the largest number of responses and—to judge from the meetings I have had with people—the most anger.

In a sense, so what? If it is the right decision, it should go ahead. However, it is clear that there is a lot of support for the current situation, even though there are arguments against it. The point was made time and again that the existing arrangements seem to work well, so why are we changing them? The industry, as I said, is pretty well united against it. One or two are speaking up for it but they do not represent the majority of voices we have heard.

There is also a real danger that—particularly at a time of uncertainty over technological change and regulatory positioning—having a period when we deliberately create confusion and delay until the new guidelines, or baselines, are established, is probably not the best way of making progress. Uncertainty over a long period will affect investment, which is not what we want. So there are reasons for asking the Government to be very clear that this is the right way forward.

We all share the same wish: we want an efficient and trusted regulator that can deal with this complicated, fast-moving and complex area. But it would be quite improper to have a situation in which there was a very limited right of appeal on any case determined not to have been carried out correctly—not so much about the judicial aspects, but on the merits of the case; in other words, where the evidence does not support the decision that has been taken.

I do not understand quite what the difficulties are. I have looked back over comments made by the noble and learned Lord when he was Advocate-General for Scotland. He is on the record in a number of places and a quick search with an algorithm of some complexity, which I could not possibly describe, reveals him to have said several things about judicial oversight. As it has developed, he says, it has,

“provided us with a flexible standard of oversight, which in many senses is wide-ranging”.

However, judicial oversight is the issue and that is what we have to emphasise. He might like to reflect on that in relation to what has been said. There are other things—I will not quote them as I am sure he is embarrassed enough already, or perhaps not. But the issue needs bottoming out—there is a serious point at its heart. There are issues that will affect the whole nature of the business we are regulating in this manner which need to be resolved.

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