Regulating in a Digital World (Communications Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:22 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour 8:22 pm, 12th June 2019

My Lords, first, I thank the committee for its very thorough report and its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for introducing it so ably and with such eloquence. However, I am one of the few Members who disagree with some of what the report says.

First, it is impossible to regulate the internet in a small nation state such as the UK. The internet is international. It is broad and goes across the whole world. Therefore, it is impossible to regulate it within one country. It may be that this is my anti-Brexit speech, but so be it. The fact is that you cannot regulate the internet in one country and one country only. You have to be part of a broader international scene to do that.

Secondly, there is a danger in overregulation of the internet, in that it stifles innovation. Innovation is at the core of all that we do in this matter. On balance, we are probably looking to overregulate the internet in this country—in this country only—and some of these big international companies will simply move elsewhere rather than stay here. Certainly, we must be very wary of overregulating the internet if as a result we stifle innovation, which is so important in the modern world.

Thirdly, if anything, the balance on the internet is in favour of the internet. More good comes out of it than harm. I think the report is negative, to some extent, in that it tends to go overboard on what is wrong with the internet, rather than telling us what is right about it. For instance, I do all my banking—or nearly all of it—on the internet. I do not go to the bank. When I went to my own bank branch recently, which has now closed, I looked around and said, “Oh, you’ve done this up”. One of the clerks said, “Yes, five years ago, Mr Maxton”. I have a Bank of Scotland app, with all of my bank accounts. I transfer money from one account to another, pay by BACS and pay on the internet. When I put my card into a machine at a bank, in a shop or wherever it might be, that too is the internet at work.

Most of the apps I use are simply there to provide a service. I read on a Kindle; I do not read books any more. A lot of authors are now bypassing publishers, going straight to Amazon and asking to write for it directly. If they go to Amazon, they get a greater return. The price is lower than a book, but they do not have to pay a publisher, a bookseller or all sorts of people to advertise it. It is advertised by Amazon and their return is higher. I group my websites and I have three golf clubs, a running club and a rugby club on my apps under “sport”.

Lastly, I say to everybody who produced this report that the one thing that has not been mentioned is “school” or “education”. Perhaps it was briefly mentioned in the report, but schooling is important. Surely that is where this ought to begin. We ought to start there by telling children how to deal with the internet. Instead, we tell them how to make computers, and a small proportion of them may be able to do that. The fact is that we do not tell them about the dangers the internet possibly has—I stress “possibly”. I will finish there, because I am very aware that we want to finish quickly.