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Homicide Victims

24. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What support the Government provide for the families of homicide victims. [136926]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Ms Harriet Harman): The Government give funding to organisations that support the families of homicide victims, including Victim Support and Support After Murder and Manslaughter, and victims can apply for compensation through the criminal injuries compensation scheme. The victims’ advocate pilots in five Crown court centres give bereaved relatives the choice to speak in court after conviction and before sentence about the impact of the crime on their family.

Hugh Bayley: I would like the Government to consider broadening the range of help that they give to victims of homicide. I have a constituent whose husband was killed by a neighbour and she and their children have been intimidated by members of the killer’s family since he was sent to prison. She is a council tenant and she has applied to move either within York or back to Scotland where her family live. Does the Minister think that public housing authorities should make housing transfers a priority in such cases and will she tell me what power the Parole Board has to prevent the killer from returning to the neighbourhood when he is released from prison?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is not just for the courts, police and criminal justice system to work to support the victims of crime. All the public authorities should identify what help they can give to people who suffer as the result of a crime, including the housing authorities. The local criminal justice board has the opportunity to work with the local authority in my hon. Friend’s area to see what can be done to help that family. If other victims see that those who have been the victims of crime have not been treated properly by the system, they will give up hope. I will ask the local criminal justice board what help they can give.

As far as the Parole Board is concerned, it can impose restrictions on the licence that apply to where people may live.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): For many families, the most traumatic time—after the murder itself—comes when the killer is put on trial. Usually, support for the families is provided by the Witness Service. Is the Minister satisfied with the service that the Witness Service currently provides?

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Ms Harman: I pay tribute to the Witness Service for the help that it provides to victims in homicide cases, and to the exceptional job done by police family liaison officers. They are very highly trained, and support the families while also helping the criminal justice system. Once again, I point to the pioneering work going on in five Crown courts. Families used to be confined to sitting in the public gallery while everyone else spoke about the person killed and focused on the defendant. The pilot means that for the first time families have a chance, after conviction but before sentence, to say what the loss of the person killed means to them.

Voting Irregularities

25. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What representations she has received on voting irregularities in recent elections. [136927]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I have received two representations on this issue since October 2006.

Mr. Vara: I thank the Minister for that reply. The Council of Europe is now considering monitoring UK elections, just as it does elections in countries such as Ukraine, Albania, Serbia and Russia. Does she therefore share my concern that, under this Administration, Britain’s reputation as a country of free and fair elections is seriously tarnished?

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Bridget Prentice: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s description whatsoever. The Government inserted into the Electoral Administration Act 2006 a provision to allow observers at all our elections. That is something that we have never had before and I believe, if I recall correctly, that the Opposition supported it. I welcome that provision, and believe that it is a good thing for democracy.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that, contrary to the voices of doom from the Opposition, in the recent local elections in my constituency between 40 and 50 per cent. of those who voted chose to do so by post? As far as I am aware, there has not been a single allegation of irregularity. Will she therefore give an assurance that she will oppose any Opposition demand to bring in restrictive criteria about who can vote by post, and who cannot? Any such criteria would amount to an unnecessary restriction on voters’ freedom to choose how they exercise their franchise.

Bridget Prentice: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. During the elections, a variety of different techniques—electronic voting, early voting, and so on—were tried in pilots around the country. He is right to point out that no petitions have been received in respect of the 3 May elections, which says something for the robustness of the implementation of the Electoral Administration Act 2006.

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Points of Order

3.35 pm

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The unfair, flawed and hurtful process by which doctors are selected for training remains in place. In a written statement, the Secretary of State for Health has made an announcement about dropping the computer software, although that may not be what is at fault. Is it possible for the right hon. Lady to make an oral statement, or respond to an urgent question, in the Chamber tomorrow? The stratagem involving written questions means that hon. Members cannot the raise the issue in an urgent manner today.

Mr. Speaker: I must say to the hon. Gentleman that it is up to Ministers as to when they come to the House to make a statement.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker, and further to the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne). Who decides what amount of time should be devoted to departmental questions? Given that the Ministry of Justice covers important matters such as prisons, postal voting, the legal aid system and magistrates courts, I feel that 20 minutes is wholly inadequate. Can you help in extending the period?

Mr. Speaker: I understand that such matters are up to the Government, so I cannot be blamed.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): We would never blame you, sir.

Mr. Speaker: Thank you, I shall remember that. I recall that the Leader of the House made some mention of the matter and that he felt that the allotted time was perhaps inadequate, but I see that he is here.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say to you, and to the hon. Gentleman who has raised the issue, that discussions are taking place through the usual channels to ensure that there is a better allocation of time for the Ministry of Justice?


Scottish Parliament Elections

Jo Swinson, supported by Mr. Alistair Carmichael, Malcolm Bruce, Danny Alexander, John Barrett, Mr. Alan Reid and Mr. Charles Kennedy, presented a Bill to make provision for elections to the Scottish Parliament to be held under the single transferable vote system: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 October, and to be printed [Bill 106].

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Copyright (Miscellaneous Provisions)

3.35 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I beg to move,

As the House knows, British music has long been one of our country’s most successful exports—although sadly, not in the recent Eurovision song contest—and is something of which we should be rightly proud. Last year, United Kingdom acts accounted for 62 per cent. of the top 100 artist album sales. Four of the top five albums of the year were by UK artists: Snow Patrol, Take That, the Kooks and the Arctic Monkeys—I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a fan, but that has not yet affected sales.

The British market has always been receptive to new music from overseas, with Scissor Sisters, the Killers and the White Stripes all providing examples of successful acts that first broke in the UK. Musically, Britain never ceases to evolve. New talent proves increasingly popular with music buyers. Record companies in the UK recognise the huge importance of new talent in maintaining Britain’s formidable reputation for producing the most successful artists.

Britain’s wider music industry employs more than 125,000 people in the UK, and the record industry is responsible for most of the UK’s investment in new artists, which in 2004 amounted to 17 per cent. of their turnover, or £207 million. It is thus of great concern that illegal peer-to-peer file sharing has already had an enormous effect on British music sales; an estimated £1.1 billion of revenue was lost in the last three years as a result of that activity. On top of that, the music industry has to deal with the other face of online copyright theft—commercial piracy.

It is of course not only the music industry that is threatened by that criminal activity. The film, television and games industries also suffer from illegal downloading—something I have never knowingly done.

I am presenting my Bill to protect the work of the artists whose work we, as a nation, enjoy so much. The Bill will be crucial to protecting and nurturing the future talent of the British creative industries. In December 2005, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked Andrew Gowers to conduct an independent review of the UK intellectual property framework. The review was published in December 2006, and my Bill takes heed of a number of its recommendations.

Technological change over the past 30 years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for copyright law. In particular, the digitisation of information and the ability to store it electronically has made it far easier to copy and distribute. The problem posed by online copyright theft is twofold. First, there is peer-to-peer file sharing, which is generally carried out by individuals, many of whom are young, in their own homes. As the Gowers report stated:

The information they download is often stored in a digital format. The technology that allows people to do
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that is readily available; almost every home computer can produce perfect copies of CDs via the internet and file-sharing networks that distribute music to millions of people.

The second aspect of criminal activity is commercial piracy, whereby music is unlawfully downloaded and then copied for sale. Online copyright theft is seen by criminals as a low-risk, high-profit criminal activity. The crime has proven links to other criminal activities such as youth exploitation, drugs, obscene pornography and people smuggling.

As well as that large-scale crime in the digital world, in the physical world counterfeit CDs are bought from personal contacts—friends, neighbours or work colleagues. Market stalls, street vendors and car boot sales are other popular distribution channels, all of which are notoriously hard to police. It is thought that people download music or buy counterfeit CDs because they are cheaper than official releases and are thought of as an effective way to sample music.

In 2003, as part of the implementation of the information society directive, certain types of online copyright infringement were criminalised. The maximum sentence for committing the offence is two years’ imprisonment, which contrasts with infringements in the context of physical copyright theft, where the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment. Most people agree that it is a crime to help oneself to the property of another without payment or permission, and accessing illegal content online must be viewed in the same way.

The legislation that we have at the moment accurately denotes the seriousness of the offence, but it makes no provision for the monitoring of the crime or for enforcement—something that they do somewhat better in Italy and Germany. There are currently no structures through which the Government monitor or enforce the law on online copyright theft, despite its being an offence that costs the industry vast amounts of money. In the absence of any publicly funded enforcement, the music industry has taken the lead role in attempting to quantify and tackle the issue. The Bill makes provision for the establishment of a national organisation that will monitor and enforce copyright law as related industries are currently doing for themselves.

I have been in touch with a number of institutions that have been working hard independently of the Government to protect the artists they represent. The Bill makes provision for the Government to take responsibility for the monitoring and enforcing of copyright laws, and to carry on the good work that those groups have done up until now. The groups include the film industry’s Federation Against Copyright Theft and the games industry’s Entertainment and Leisure Software
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Publishers Association, which spearheads investigations of criminal activity on behalf of member companies. As for raising public awareness, the British Phonographic Industry has sent hundreds of thousands of instant messages to people who are illegally uploading files in the UK to make it clear that they are breaking the law. Some 70 per cent. of consumers know that unauthorised file sharing is illegal, but the extent to which this awareness translates into a deterrent is unclear.

Having considered the good example that those organisations set, I am calling for a national online piracy investigation and enforcement unit, specifically to monitor and enforce online copyright theft. The unit would be sufficiently resourced to allow a truly national remit. It would regularly research and monitor the scale, nature and impact of online piracy. It would be equipped to carry out investigations into piracy and would have full investigative powers. It would be empowered to bring prosecutions against online piracy. The unit would work seamlessly with existing Government agencies that work in related areas, such as local authority trading standards officers, and with the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It would work seamlessly with industry anti-piracy units to complement and bolster their efforts. Lastly, I understand that internet service providers are privy to much information that could be used to tackle the crime. I suggest that one of the key priorities of the new organisation should be to build links with internet service providers to ensure that, where necessary, information that they have access to can be used in building investigations.

In conclusion, the Bill will establish a national online piracy investigation and enforcement unit to back up legislation currently under development by the Home Office to tackle online internet piracy. I welcome the Government’s recognition of the problem posed by online copyright theft and the timely publication of the Gowers report. Moreover, I look forward to reading the findings of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on copyright theft when its report on the subject is published tomorrow. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Janet Anderson, Michael Connarty, Derek Conway, James Duddridge, Mr. Nigel Evans, Sandra Gidley, Mr. John Greenway, Rosemary McKenna, John Robertson, Mr. John Whittingdale and Pete Wishart.

Copyright (Miscellaneous Provisions)

Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for the protection of copyright; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 October, and to be printed [Bill 104].

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Opposition Day

[11th Allotted Day]

Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.46 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I beg to move,

Opposition days often—and necessarily—highlight important differences between the parties represented in the House. However, we have chosen for today’s debate a subject on which there is gathering consensus in British politics: the need for accepted procedures for giving parliamentary approval for our country’s participation in armed conflict.

For years, many hon. Members have given voice to their concerns about the existing arrangements and the need for change. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who is in the Chamber, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) both introduced private Members’ Bills on exactly this theme that enjoyed a good deal of cross-party support. Indeed, the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood was sponsored by Labour and Liberal Democrat Members, as well as by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and me, before I rejoined the Opposition Front-Bench team. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) also has a Bill on the subject before the House; I know that the Leader of the House will be pleased that the right hon. Gentleman now has quite a lot of time to pursue that Bill.

In many ways, the fact that we have called this debate has already achieved its objective. It is clear from the Government’s amendment that their position is now markedly different from that of only two weeks ago. In a debate in the House of Lords on 1 May—two weeks ago today—the Lord Chancellor said:

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