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14 Mar 2003 : Column 591—continued

1.47 pm

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) on and for securing time for the Bill. I am delighted to be present to offer the Government's support and doubly delighted to hear the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) tell us about the vast collection of pornography in Aberystwyth at the national library of Wales.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide a framework for the safe keeping of our national intellectual output for future generations. Over the past three years, publishers and deposit libraries have been working collaboratively using the voluntary code of practice to manage the deposit of non-print material. That has enjoyed some success, as we have heard. Recent research shows that, under the voluntary deposit scheme, the British Library receives around three quarters of non-print monographs and up to half of all electronic UK publications. That improvement is due in substantial measure to the good work of publishers and deposit libraries through the joint committee for voluntary deposit, which has performed such a good job in overseeing the operation of the code and solving emerging issues.

It was always the intention that the voluntary scheme for depositing non-print material would be temporary. The growing non-print publishing industry means that if we do not have powers to provide for deposit of its products in future, we risk losing the opportunity to capture an important part of the national archives. Indeed, there has already been a tangible loss, as we have heard from hon. Members. While the voluntary scheme is a vast improvement on the situation of three

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years ago, it is still not sufficient to safeguard our intellectual heritage. Each day that goes by without a statutory base for the deposit of non-print material sees the loss of published works whose value in the future could be incalculable. The loss of this material to future research should not be allowed to continue.

The Bill provides a solution. It will ensure that the nation's published output—both in print and non-print—will be collected and stored for the benefit of present and future generations. The Bill provides for two systems, one for print and one for non-print. I reassure the hon. Member for Ceredigion that the system for print will carry on as before. It is in the area of non-print material that we are seeking to break new ground.

I fully recognise the expressions of concern from the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), who said that we need to proceed carefully and to take full account of the interests of electronic publishers and rights holders. In any future regulations, we would need to get the correct balance between the legitimate needs of the national archive, which can be expected to vary in accordance with different classes of material, and the implications and costs for the businesses of publishers and other stakeholders. I am glad that he made that point.

The Bill for non-print publications will be generic, and there are good reasons for this. With the possibility of new classes of electronic publications being introduced at any time, the Bill needs to have the flexibility to allow for such changes. Without such flexibility, it is likely that the Bill would be out of date within a very short space of time. However, as I have said, when we make regulations for new classes of publication, we shall do so only after careful and meaningful consultation with publishers and other stakeholders.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): One of the key issues is the ability to read that content, so we need to ensure that access mechanisms are retained along with the material.

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend is right and reiterates a point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion. I am sure that I wrote several brilliant novels on an old Amstrad that I certainly cannot read now. That is a shame; the world has been denied them. My hon. Friend is right and we must take that into account.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to make regulations regarding the type of material deposited, the location of deposit, timing of deposit, the number of deposited items, when items are considered to be duplicates, and the manner in which deposit libraries will provide for the access to, and safeguarding of, legally deposited material. Regulations will be made only after full consultation with the major stakeholders, in particular the publishers and the deposit libraries. That is provided for in clause 8(7).

The Bill has been prepared with a view to minimising any additional burden that may be placed on deposit libraries and the publishers. It is important that we should not introduce legislation that in any way undermines the commercial viability of publishing operations. Again, that was emphasised by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire.

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With electronic works, the questions of illegal use surfaces more readily. That is why the proposed secure network operating between the legal deposit libraries would be so important. It would enable the legal deposit libraries to ensure access to legitimate users while managing that access closely and in co-operation.

When making regulations, the Secretary of State will ensure that the necessary safeguards for accessing legally deposited material are included so that publishers can have full confidence in the security of the system. The issues of intellectual property rights and copyright are the concern of my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as are the business implications for publishers and other stakeholders.

I want to emphasise that the views of the publishing industry, the deposit libraries and any other stakeholders will be sought at every stage. The Bill's provisions also give special regard to the interests of Wales and Scotland. Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Assembly will be consulted on all regulations and will have the right to consent to regulations that seek to restrict their entitlements. The legal deposit system will provide for a comprehensive UK archive to be developed at the British Library, while ensuring that Scotland and Wales are able to add to their own national archives in a manner that will enhance their respective value to researchers for many years to come. The British Library will continue to work closely with the national library of Scotland and the national library of Wales in the spirit of the concordat of devolution.

In our opinion, this Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich on introducing it, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Mole: I want to do no more than welcome the wide-ranging support from Members on both sides of the House for the importance of the process of legal deposit and the institutions that support it; to observe the valid concerns of publishers—I hope that they will be addressed in Committee, and I am happy to meet publishers to ensure that they are taken on board—and to thank those right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today and shared their expertise. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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Government Powers (Limitation) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

1.57 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Solicitor-General and, above all, to Her Majesty, to whom I express profuse thanks for providing consent for the introduction of this Bill. I believe that it warrants a Second Reading, and I hope that the House will give it its dutiful and sympathetic consideration today.

The essential purpose of the Bill is


The background to its introduction can be simply stated. The power of modern British Governments has grown, is growing, and according to current trends will continue to grow. There is a widespread anxiety across the political spectrum that the power of Governments should be diminished or constrained, and that the tendency of Ministers to abuse the powers that they currently enjoy has grown to an unacceptable degree.

I am specifically concerned to refer, in the time available, to a number of important matters in respect of which Government power needs to be circumscribed: first, in respect of the appointment of Ministers; secondly, in respect of the appointment of special advisers; thirdly, in the context of appointments to non-departmental public bodies; fourthly, in relation to appointments to taskforces; and fifthly, in relation to the scrutiny of European Union legislation by the ordinary mechanism of the statutory instrument.

Let me deal first with the size of the Government. The Bill, which I commend to the House, would impose a limit on the number of Ministers of the Crown. Under the terms of my Bill, that limit would be 82 Ministers, with a maximum of 63 Ministers of State or Under-Secretaries of State. To give context and meaning to our deliberations, it is important to emphasise that the current Government comprise 116 Ministers—34 in excess of my generous limit. I invite the House to consider whether it really believes or supposes that the public are persuaded that a larger Government, more decision making and an increased number of Ministers have made, are making, or will make for better government.


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