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14 Mar 2003 : Column 588—continued

1.36 pm

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): I, too, support the Bill, which, as others have said, updates the 1911 legislation and extends the scope of depositable materials to encompass the new technologies and the online publications and websites that have been referred to. If only 50 per cent. of this kind of material is being deposited on a voluntary basis, we are left with a real difficulty, because it is not always possible to determine now what might be of value to future generations. That is the important distinction between voluntary and compulsory deposit schemes. If we believe in the value of deposit, we have to be prepared to keep the nature of the material to be deposited under constant review. There is no doubting the importance of online publications and websites—they represent a huge part of academic publication—and I am sure that the changing web editions of newspapers will be of value to future generations. They are cultural artefacts—although they may not appear so now—just as the votive tablets found around Greek shrines, or the letters retrieved from Hadrian's wall, were cultural artefacts.

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) reminded us that the history of compulsory deposit went several centuries further back than 1911. In a way, it goes back even further. The founder of the very first library, Ashurbanipal of Assyria, appears to have requisitioned tablets from private collections when establishing his library, and when the Ptolemys came to set up their new library at Alexandria—a new city, with no existing booksellers or books—they sent agents to the docks to requisition by compulsion any copies of books that were found on the ships. The books were copied and returned to the ships, or in some cases kept and copied, with the copies being made available to their owners. So there is nothing new about the history of compulsory deposit.

Several tests should be applied to the Bill. Is its new scope reasonable? Will it be burdensome? How will the material deposited be protected from copying? What are

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the powers of regulation? So far as the scope is concerned, it seems reasonable. The draftsman has done his best to reconcile the style of the statute with the modern world of new technology, although he seems to have copped out slightly on the definition of all this material, which he defines simply as

That is perhaps a clever alternative to defining it himself. I certainly regret his use in clause 6 of the Americanised spelling of the word "programme". I think that we could have avoided such spellings in British legislation, and perhaps the Minister could help us with that in Committee.

Will the legislation be burdensome? A thorough regulatory impact assessment has been deposited in the Library, as the promoter of the Bill has told us. Option 2 seems to detail some quite considerable costs, but goes on to point out that they will be outweighed in the end by the benefits. I am certainly content with that. Will the new material to be deposited be fully protected from abuse? The publishers will want more assurances that original work is to be protected, not least because so many matters are left to regulation, although I am sure that that can be explored further in detail in Committee.

I am glad that the powers of regulation are future-proofed, because we cannot be sure which even newer technologies we may have to encompass in 30, 40 or 50 years. I am reassured, too, that, as the Minister pointed out, most of the powers would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which affords some protection.

There has been criticism this week of the haste with which the proposals have been produced, but it might be fair to say that the Bill has been a long time in the making—it was, as I think the promoter said, first proposed some seven years ago. The House has a rare opportunity to update copyright law, which is not a subject that commands priority time. It is remarkable that the Copyright Act 1911 has stood the test of time for so long, but we owe it to the supporters of that Act to ensure that it is kept up to date. I for one find it refreshing that a society that may be on the eve of war can make time to consider its cultural capital and ensure that the processes of cultural transmission are improved rather than weakened. I support the Bill.

1.41 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I shall be brief. I, too, support the Bill and welcome its introduction by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole). I do not have 30 years' experience as a librarian, which the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) has, but I worked for several years in the national library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which is in my constituency. What is more, I worked not with books, but with non-print materials—the electronic media. I am perhaps the only Member here who has dealt with acquiring, cataloguing and archiving those materials, so on that ground too I welcome the Bill.

It is also right to point out that on 1 April the new National Assembly body for supporting libraries and archives in Wales, CyMAL, will establish itself, again in Aberystwyth, where, of course, we have the college of

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librarianship as was, which is now the school of information studies. We have a real sense of knowledge and expertise, particularly on the technical, information and archiving sides, which I hope and expect to be rolled out to support the Bill and work done with other libraries in the UK, and the British Library in particular.

I want to make two brief points. First, we will be at risk of suffering a cultural loss if we do not pass the Bill. I shall give an example. If Members want to know my party's current political thinking, they will find nothing in print, not because we do not have any political thinking, before anyone butts in, but because our deliberations and publications are all on the web. Our political organ is, and these days it is published only on the web.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Thomas: Time does not allow, I am afraid. I want to conclude, and the hon. Gentleman's Bill is up next.

Wales Watch was the only satirical publication to give an alternative view of Welsh politics—unfortunately, it has just ceased publication—and, again, it was available only on the web, not in the printed media. The Minister, who represents Pontypridd, may not be interested in reading about Plaid Cymru on the web, but I know that he would be interested in the gwlad rugby website, which is the main forum for discussion of Welsh rugby in Wales. Again, it is available only on the web.

I shall give a final example in this regard. No Welsh language daily newspaper is published in Wales in print—there are only weekly and monthly publications—but the BBC prints a daily Welsh language newspaper on the web, which is called Cymru'r Byd. It appears on the BBC website every day, and is updated every few hours or so.

As Members all round the House have said, a range of cultural artefacts is about to disappear, but the national library is printing some of them, which is interesting: a library is printing material that will be collected by other libraries. Peter Lord has produced an excellent publication entitled "The Visual Culture of Wales" under the auspices of the centre for Celtic studies. It is published in print, but the CD format is, of course, much bigger and it carries more pictures and allows more exploration, so it is substantially different from the book. It gives a wider view of the visual and cultural history of Wales. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) mentioned, the national library publishes its own visual items—print collections, map collections and pictures—on the "Gathering the Jewels" website.

Two things arise in connection with the detail, but I will not go into the detail now. We will do so, I hope, in Committee after the Bill receives its Second Reading. The first difficulty we need to explore is technology. The most famous example is the BBC's Domesday book project. Having been collected through schools and colleges—young people throughout the United Kingdom were involved—the material was unable to be read by the new Acorn computers.

It has taken the BBC years and years to reconstruct the book. It is now available, I understand, but as someone who collected that material I know how easy it is for it to become out of date. We collected computer

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programmes and computer games. I am sure that it is not possible to play those games any more. It is easy to see how we played chess with the Lewis chess men. It is not so easy to see how we played computer games in the mid-1980s or 1990s. That is a key question. Technology and squaring that circle will be important.

I would like the Bill to place as much emphasis on the expertise of librarians and archivists as possible. We have a possible way forward in the way in which, not the British Library itself, but the other copyright libraries have gone after certain material. They have had to be aware of what is out there in order to collect it. To a certain extent, that was always going to happen with electronic publication. It is the expertise of the archivists and librarians that will identify the publications that are out there and seek to collect them.

The final point is not a frivolous one; it needs to be said. The most popular publication on the web at the moment is pornography. The most popular searched term is probably Anna Kournikova, babe or something like that. Pornography is collected by the British Library and other libraries. It is a publication. Therefore, collected electronically, it will come within the ambit of the measure.

We must be aware of that as we debate and discuss the issue in Committee. I will not go down that track now, but we need to be aware of it. I will not mention Mr. Desmond or anyone else at this stage. I say simply that that is a real issue which will face anyone who is collecting electronic media. With those few words, I hope the Bill receives its Second Reading.

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