Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:15 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I support these two amendments. As the noble Lord knows, they have been the subject of considerable discussion and debate in the past. We all share the objective of allowing family-friendly filters to remain on internet services and mobile networks in the UK. As the noble Lord set out, the arrangements we currently have in the UK were brought into question by the EU net neutrality rules introduced last year, which appeared to ban individual countries from restricting access in this way. Since then, there have been a number of different interpretations of how the EU rules would affect the UK—perhaps complicated by the fact the Ministers themselves were not able to clarify the situation with their usual adeptness. Indeed, it still appears that the EU open access regulations and our commitment to family friendly filters are in some ways in contradiction.

The Minister will know that many of the internet companies have taken the view that the less said about this issue the better. Their argument is that if attention is not drawn to the contradiction, they can carry on with the previous practice—under the wire, so to speak. Of course, for a lot of reasons this is not a very attractive proposition, and we accept that it would make the status of family friendly filters more vulnerable as time went on.

So, instead we have the amendments tabled by the Minister today. When I asked at a previous meeting with the Minister whether the amendments had been checked out legally, I was assured that this was the case. We have not seen that legal advice and therefore have to take it on trust that what is before us today is legally watertight and does not contravene EU rules.

To some extent we are taking all of this on trust. While it would be easy to demand more evidence, I accept that it would not help the case of those committed to family-friendly filters—I suspect that the more we probe, the more the robustness of the proposals before us could unravel. We support the intent behind these amendments and it is certainly not our intention to bring them into question in any way. I hope that they achieve the outcome to which we are all committed. I hope therefore that noble Lords will support the amendment.