I beg to move
That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill dealing with the classification of video games etc and public lending right.
I remind Members of the Video Recordings Bill legislative consent motion, which they have just supported, because the two motions are closely related. I also express gratitude to my Executive colleagues and to the Chairperson and members of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure for the expeditious manner in which they considered the proposals to bring both motions before the Assembly.
Before dealing in detail with the transferred matters, I will provide a brief overview of the Digital Economy Bill [HL]. In June 2006, the ‘Digital Britain’ White Paper was published. It aims to put in place systems to develop the digital world and protect users of digital technology. It is hoped that the proposals will secure the United Kingdom’s position as one of the world’s leading digital knowledge economies.
The ‘Digital Britain’ paper includes a wide range of proposals to achieve that aim. From new Internet services, modernisation of radio broadcasting and new ideas on how we receive TV news and current affairs programming, it is likely that we will all be affected by the proposed changes. I am determined that any changes will be appropriate for Northern Ireland, and I continue to negotiate with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on some of the issues. However, the motion that I ask the House to endorse today concerns legislative elements of ‘Digital Britain’ that I fully endorse. Those elements will be put on to a statutory footing by the Digital Economy Bill [HL].
The Bill is comprehensive. For the most part, it will extend automatically to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, it contains certain provisions that are transferred matters for Northern Ireland. The transferred matters relate to clauses 40, 41 and 44 of and schedule 1 to the Bill. They concern strengthening video games classification to protect users of video games and broadening library lending rights to include digital media.
Earlier today, the Assembly supported the Video Recordings Bill legislative consent motion, which relates to the repeal and revival of the Video Recordings Act 1984. The Digital Economy Bill [HL] seeks to expand and enhance the provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 once it has been revived. Essentially, it will mean that anyone who sells games that are classified as 12-plus to small children can be prosecuted. The Video Recordings Act 1984 already gives 18-plus games a statutory footing.
Clauses 40 and 41 of and schedule 1 to the Digital Economy Bill [HL] set out, among other things, the criteria that must be satisfied for a game to be an exempted work under the 1984 Act. In addition, the Secretary of State would have the power to update the criteria and to add or remove further criteria for exempted video games. That will be done through regulations and will, of course, be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. There will also be a power to designate two different authorities under section 4 of the 1984 Act. That will allow the Video Standards Council to take on the responsibility for classifying video games by using an enhanced Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system.
Video and film classification is a transferred matter because it is not listed in either schedule 2 or schedule 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The second transferred matter for Northern Ireland in the Bill is the public lending right. That relates to the Public Lending Right Act 1979, which provides for compensatory payments to authors and arrangements for the free loan of their books through public libraries. That Act refers only to books and, therefore, excludes other formats, such as audiobooks and e-books. Clause 44 of the Digital Economy Bill [HL] would amend that Act and the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to allow the inclusion of some non-print formats in the public lending rights payment regime.
When passed, the Digital Economy Bill [HL] will come into force as the Digital Economy Act 2010. If the Assembly agrees to the legislative consent motion, all the Bill’s provisions will extend to Northern Ireland, including those that would do so automatically and those that are transferred matters.
Consent for Northern Ireland’s transferred matters to be included in the Bill has been sought from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Executive. Both have given their consent to proceed with the Bill.
We need a united approach across Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom in regard to video and film classification. Digital technology is advancing at an amazing pace. Our legislation must keep up so that we can protect our children and vulnerable adults. I also believe that there needs to be a united approach to the public lending right provision, to assist our libraries in providing the most modern and efficient services demanded by the public. I hope that Members agree with me and that they will support the motion, which has been designed to allow a parallel timetable for delivery and to ensure that the legislation in respect of those matters continues to be consistent across the United Kingdom.
I again speak on behalf of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, which considered the legislative consent motion relating to the Digital Economy Bill [HL] at its meeting on 10 December 2009. The Committee had been briefed by departmental officials on the implications of the Bill on 12 November 2009. The Committee agreed to support the motion, which will see the extension of the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill [HL] to this region.
Two aspects of the Bill relate to transferred matters and are the bases of the need for the legislative consent motion. The first matter concerns the classification of video games. The Bill will ensure that all video games are appropriately age-classified. That is welcomed by the Committee, because it will help to protect children from the risks sometimes associated with viewing video games with inappropriate content for their target age group.
The other aspect of the Bill concerns the public lending right. It will mean that authors will receive proper payment for loans of their books from public libraries, including audio and e-books. The Committee welcomes that move. It believes that it is important that all those working in the arts sector — in this case, authors and writers — should be supported, given their contribution to society.
The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure welcomes the extension of the Digital Economy Bill [HL] to this region, and I commend the motion to the House.
As I stated when supporting the legislative consent motion on the Video Recordings Bill, I strongly believe that an effective system for classification of video games in Northern Ireland is essential. Members will be aware that the Bill, which was introduced in the House of Lords on 19 November 2009, seeks to reform the classification rules in the light of a recent assessment of the risks that children face from the Internet and from playing video games.
Recent studies have shown that parents should be most concerned about two factors: first, the amount of time that children spend playing games and, secondly, the content of video games that they play. The extent of children’s engagement with video games correlates clearly with health risk factors, including obesity, and with poorer academic performance. Perhaps even more importantly, when some video games are analysed for violent content, additional risk factors are observed for aggressive behaviour and desensitisation to violence. Playing violent games leads to increased physiological arousal and aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviour as well as decreased co-operative attitudes.
I strongly support the Bill’s proposals to distinguish clearly between exempted games that are suitable for children under 12 or that are designed to inform or educate and other games that will be subject to classification, because that will ensure that vulnerable children are not exposed to violent or other inappropriate material.
No doubt, suitable arrangements for the operation of the proposed new system will be agreed after the Bill has been fully scrutinised at all its stages in Westminster and before it becomes law.
I am confident that the system will not unduly restrict the positive benefits that children undoubtedly gain from playing many games. Due to the interactive nature of some games, children find them highly motivating and become actively engaged with them. As a result, those games often successfully impart the attitudes, skills and behaviours that they are designed to teach. In fact, members of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure may be interested to learn that a study has shown that playing a golf video game improves putting control on the course.
It is important that the public lending right, which is a transferred matter, is included so that Northern Ireland libraries are not at a disadvantage to their counterparts in Great Britain in the range of services and products that they are able to offer. Therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the motion.
The Ulster Unionist Party supports the legislative consent motion. Members who spoke previously, including the Minister, said that the Digital Economy Bill [HL] will deal with a wide range of matters that will bring us back to the mainstream of the expansion of that type of media across Great Britain. However, in the midst of his statement, the Minister said that he would look at something that was appropriate to Northern Ireland. I wonder whether we have missed something, because we thought that we were covering all the UK-wide matters and, I presume, all the matters that the Republic of Ireland has already covered under European legislation. Is something causing the Minister concern? Apart from that issue, the Ulster Unionist Party is happy to support and give its consent to the Bill.
I thank the Minister for tabling the motion, and I thank the Chairman of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure for his summary. I had prepared notes; however, given that the clock is ticking, I will select a few points to make.
It is proper that we welcome the measures in the Bill that meet parents’ needs. We should also welcome the protective measures that ensure that all video games, in whatever format they are sold or supplied, will be clearly age-classified. The in-built protection for all age groups, particularly the strict legislation that protects children under the age of 12, is to be welcomed. On behalf of the SDLP, I join other Members in supporting the motion.
Like other parties, the Alliance Party supports the aspects of the Bill that relate to Northern Ireland. The legislation is important for ensuring that the UK as a whole, and Northern Ireland as part of the UK, has a competitive economy, particularly in the growing aspects of the digital electronic future upon which we are so dependent.
Bearing in mind the specific parts of the Bill that relate to Northern Ireland, like other Members, I see the benefits of video games. The way that young people want to spend their time shows that the world has moved on from when I was growing up. There are dangers with gaming being a solitary activity that consumes a lot of time. Equally, people can interact with one another, either in one location or elsewhere in these islands or around the world. Indeed, such interaction is to be encouraged. Nevertheless, parents demand proper safeguards to ensure that their children play games that are suitable to them. Parents also demand that those safeguards are not abused. That aspect of the Bill is welcome.
Facilitating local libraries with the public lending right is a well accepted point. We will probably have to consider some issues that arise, such as out-of-copyright works that are issued electronically. Members will be aware of the wider debate about whether it would be advantageous for one of the Internet websites — I cannot remember whether it is Amazon or Google — to place out-of-copyright works online and, in effect, own the copyright. Although that may bring the works in question to a greater audience, it may impinge the tradition of open access to non-copyrighted works.
Furthermore, the Internet has developed in an anarchic way, which has been its strength. However, as things such as digital legislation become mainstream, it is important that we do not lose the spontaneity of the Internet through over-onerous rules in respect of people sharing extracts of books or articles that they have come on for purely domestic or one-to-one non-commercial purposes. It is important that we are not overly onerous on the issue.
The local broadcasting element affects Northern Ireland. Although it is a reserved matter and is not devolved, there is a strong groundswell of support to ensure that we retain proper local broadcasting in Northern Ireland. That preservation is more important in this region than in any other region of the UK. It is important that the Department uses all its opportunities to lobby the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Westminster to ensure that our interests in local broadcasting are protected.
I will endeavour to be as brief as possible because it is clear that all parties support the legislative consent motion. I want to provide clarification on Ken Robinson’s point. I was simply saying that important aspects of ‘Digital Britain’ are not covered by the Bill, and we want to ensure that Northern Ireland gets the best arrangement. I am sure that the Member is well aware of the sort of issue that I am speaking about.
A point was raised about video classification. I assure Members that I believe firmly that the move towards the PEGI system is the best method for enforcement and for the protection of young people. Evidence and research conclude that that is the right direction. Age ratings will become compulsory for all boxed games designed for people who are aged 12 and over, and the Bill will protect our children by making it illegal to sell boxed computer games that are suitable for 12-year-olds and older to underage children. It will also ensure that consumers, businesses and our online infrastructure are kept safe by granting reserved powers concerning domain name registries. Therefore, there will be enhanced protection through the Bill.
Dr Farry is right to draw attention to the importance of getting the best arrangements for local broadcasting in Northern Ireland. In some ways, that relates to the issue that Ken Robinson raised earlier. I hope that the House will support the legislative consent motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill [HL] dealing with the classification of video games etc and public lending right.