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As the Secretary of State said, protecting intellectual property, such as that in films or music, is vital. Millions of pounds are lost through illegal file sharing, and it must end. New commercial models, such as yesterdays welcome announcement of the deal between Universal and Virgin, will help, but I believe that the proposed statutory measures are needed, too. However, can he explain whether internet service providers will have legal indemnification for taking the action that they will be required to take, and who will bear the costs? Does he at least acknowledge that, now that they have delayed
action in that area, there is very little chance that the Government will meet their 2008 promise to cut illegal file sharing by 70 per cent. within two or three years?
Overall, the proposals for broadband have a far greater reach than many people expected, but I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that those in remote rural areas will be disappointed, as they will have to wait until at least 2017 before they get the benefits of super-fast broadband. Should not far more be done to drive forward initiatives such as smart metering, e-democracy and digital health care, to stimulate end user demand, and hence investment? Given the real fall in the cost of telecommunications, the proposed levy on all fixed lines to pay for near universal super-fast broadband is imaginative and broadly welcome, but even though it is a small sum, it is still a poll tax, so I hope that he will consider possible exemptions, not least for pensioners.
Finally, I strongly welcome the plans to support regional and local news. I have no problem with the BBCs involvement in that, any more than with its role in helping with the roll-out of broadband, but I am deeply concerned about how that is to happen. The Secretary of State has avoided calling it top-slicing of the licence fee, but that is what it is. Whatever the language used, top-slicing sets a precedent that undermines the BBCs independence. What guarantees can we have that in future the Government of the day, especially when they are unhappy with something that the BBC is doing, will not take money from the licence fee to fund their pet projects? Surely the BBC should be involved at all stages, through the establishment of a partnership fund within the BBC, and a clear remit for the BBC to engage in such partnerships. Overall, there has been some good progress, but with 11 or 12 more consultations still to come, there is clearly much still to do.
Mr. Bradshaw: There was a lot in that question. Let me begin with the hon. Gentlemans last point, because it was related to his first, about the governance structure of the BBC. His idea of a partnership fund is interesting, and is related to the point that he made at the beginning about the governance framework for the BBC, which is only two and a half years old; we have had an exchange in the Chamber about that previously. It is certainly a proposal that I invite and encourage him to make as part of his partys response to the consultation.
The reason I do not like the term top-slicing is that I think that most people out there cannot picture in their head what it means. If we talk about sharing something, it is more obvious what is meant; I think that that is a better way of describing the proposal. We will, through legislation if necessary, ensure that the proposal relates to a contained percentage of any future licence fee settlement.
I welcome the hon. Gentlemans welcome for the measures to protect regional and local news. I note that he describes the levy as imaginative, and I also welcome his welcome for that. I can assure him that we are considering exemptions for vulnerable people; again, he and other hon. Members may wish to make that suggestion clear in their response to the consultation.
It is not just people who live in rural areas who are disadvantaged now and will be in future when the roll-out of next generation broadband happens. There
are clusters in some urban areas and in quite a lot of market towns of people who are equally disadvantaged. They will be helped in the meantime by what we have announced today about the mobile phone spectrum, so I hope they will not have to wait until 2017 for the comprehensive improvement in the service that the hon. Gentleman describes. They will certainly be in a much better place, thanks to the announcement that we have made today about using the fund to help support the spread of broadband elsewhere.
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): I, too, welcome what the Secretary of State has said about support for local and regional news. I know that it will be greatly welcomed in my constituency. He mentioned that there would be three pilots, one of which would be in an English region. May I urge him seriously to consider the north-west region, given its record of commitment to and delivery of good quality local news coverage?
Mr. Bradshaw: I expect that competition among the English regions to be part of the pilot will be very stiff indeed, but I note the representations that my hon. Friend has made and I am sure that others will, too.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Although I share some of the reservations expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), I welcome a number of measures proposed in the report, in particular support for regional news programming, for tackling illegal file sharing, for assisting commercial radio and for relaxing the restrictions on newspaper mergers. Does the Secretary of State agree that all these matters are already very urgent? If we move to a world with ever-increasing broadband speeds reaching more and more households, that will increase still further the economic pressure on traditional media and will make the problem of online piracy even greater, so does he acknowledge that the players in the industryall those involvedhave been discussing these issues for months, and that any consultations that are to take place need to happen very quickly indeed? If there is to be legislation, and I believe there should be, we need to get that on to the statute book as fast as possible and before the general election.
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I certainly agree with that. The time between now and the next parliamentary Session gives us a chance for proper consultation, as hon. Members in all parts of the House would expect when considering legislating on some of these aspects. As I say, the only aspects on which we are proposing consultation, with the exception of the sharing of the licence fee for regional and local news, are those for which we require primary legislation. We want to get on with that as quickly as possible. We hope to publish a consultation document within the next two weeks, and hope that the consultation will be over in the middle of the summer recess, which will give us plenty of time, assuming we get a Bill in the next Session, to make sure that it is on the statute book before the election.
Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I welcome our support for regional and local news, but my question is about mathematics. As I understand it, 95 per cent. of the nation has switched over to digital. Given the £600 million in the initial digital switchover fund, £560 million could be unspent. How much of that does my right hon. Friend intend to use for the measures that he announced today?
Mr. Bradshaw: I am not a mathematicianI got only as far as GCSEbut I do not think my hon. Friends figures are right. Whereas the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) underestimated what was likely to be left over from the digital underspend, my hon. Friends estimate sounds rather high to me. The figures that we intend to spend on both the roll-out of current generation broadband and on the pilots for regional and local news, assuming that they go ahead, are in the report. From memory, they are about £200,000 for the first and the rest for the second.
the idea of contestability, of top-slicing the licence fee . . . would break the clear and well-understood line of accountability between the BBC and the licence-fee payer. . . It would pose a threat to the political independence of the BBC, handing a punitive fiscal sword of Damocles to any unscrupulous government.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC is a truly great British institution and achievement, funded by the licence fee? There is bound to be real apprehension, therefore, at putting in place an arrangement post-2013 whereby an element of the licence feealbeit small, as he saidgoes to other organisations. It could be an arrangement that ultimately weakens the BBC itself.
Mr. Bradshaw: As a former BBC employee, I agree with my right hon. Friend. The BBC is the best broadcasting organisation in the world, and it is one of this countrys institutions, along with the national health service, of which the British people are most proudin all surveys, whenever they are asked. However, I sincerely suggest to my right hon. Friend that the BBC has a far stronger argument for retaining the licence fee in the long run if it is prepared to share it with organisations and to help us address the problem, which many Members from all parts of the House have raised, about the non-viability of any plurality in local and regional news coverage without that level of support.
If my right hon. Friend is worried about a principle being broken, he could have made that argument three years ago, when we decided to use a portion of the
licence fee to help fund digital switchover. The BBC did not fight a battle over that; it was a very sensible thing for us to do, and Members from all parties signed up to it. I do not accept his argument, but I am a great defender of the BBC. It is in the BBCs interests to share some of the licence fee and to see itself as an enabler, rather than to feel that it and only it should have exclusive recourse to the licence fee.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I say a provisional thank you to the Secretary of State for what appears to be a commitmentburied deep in the documentto fund the cost of the programme-making and special events sectors during the spectrum reallocation process. I am grateful for that. However, I am sceptical about imposing a tax on an old technology to fund a new technology, and there are some important questions to be asked about the process that is used to achieve the objective, which we share, on increasing speed and access to broadband. I am sure that he will welcome the decision, taken provisionally this morning and to be confirmed shortly, of the Select Committee that I chair to launch an inquiry into that aspect of Digital Britain.
Mr. Bradshaw: I warmly welcome that, and I warmly invite anyone in the House to come up with a better idea of how we can fund the roll-out. The issue has been given considerable thought over the past few months by some of the best brains in the sector, and this is the solution that we have come up with. If the hon. Gentleman and his Committee or, indeed, any other Member would like to come up with a better solution, we would be very interested to hear it.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends reference to the safety and well-being of children through the proposals on the classification of video games, but will he take the time to meet the Childrens Charities Coalition on Internet Safety, which on Monday launched its digital manifesto, to see how that might tie in with our proposals on a digital Britain, particularly to create a safe and exciting environment on the internet for children and young people? The coalition looks at issues such as child abuse images, dangers to children online, online access to age-restricted goods, advertising and the use of social networking sites. If there is to be an exciting future, we need to take on board all those issues, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity to talk to CHIS about its manifesto and how we can implement that, too.
Mr. Bradshaw: Either I or the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and a delegation if she would like to bring one. She will find that its members will welcome the measures that we have announced today. They implement the recommendations of Professor Tanya Byrons report last year, and they have been widely supported by the sort of interest groups that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I should be happy to meet the coalition to discuss the issues further.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD):
On the copyright tribunal, there are some very interesting recommendationshidden away in the reporton orphaned works and collecting organisations ability to
re-license them. Will the Secretary of State tell the House, first, where that re-licensing money will go and, secondly, why he has gone for a self-regulating ombudsman rather than a statutory body?
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment, may I point out to him that in an era when all commercial broadcasting is fragmenting into niche broadcasting and will continue to do so, top-slicing the BBC licence fee will neither ensure the long-term viability of commercial services nor solve the important problem of regional news provision on ITV? Indeed, it will impair and undermine the stability of the BBC, which in that area is even more important than ever. That being so, many Government Members will oppose top-slicing.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that his statement leaves a question mark over the funding of Channel 4 in view of its contribution to the diversity of television and public service broadcasting in particular? Does he also agree that ensuring that Channel 4 has a reliable, independent income is an important aim? If the talks between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide break down, or do not come to a satisfactory and early conclusion, will he intervene to make sure that Channel 4 is protected?
Mr. Bradshaw: As we make clear in the report, we are keen to see a solution. We think it important that Channel 4 should survive as an alternative public service broadcaster. We also believe that the joint venture with BBC Worldwide represents the best model of a partnership that could help preserve Channel 4, but not the only one. We think that Channel 4s remit will have to change; we have made that clear, and it has accepted that. However, if the joint venture with BBC Worldwide does not come off, we will be supportive and active in trying to secure an alternative solution for Channel 4. That will guarantee what the hon. Gentleman is looking for.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to put on record my personal thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, for the generosity of spirit that you have shown while you have occupied that Chair.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in view of the internets importance to everything that we will do in the future, and given its international ramifications, traditional legislation and bureaucratic institutions cannot meet the challenge of its governance? Does he agree that an agile partnership that involves Parliament as well as the Government and the industry is necessary if we are to succeed in making the UK the safest place in which to do business online?
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): We can all support the intention to improve the UKs digital infrastructure, but surely we should be doing more to protect and support creators, artists and the creative industriesparticularly those on the front line of digital innovation. On piracy, does the Secretary of State really think it sufficient to ask reluctant ISPs to write to serial offenders and then perhaps threaten them with slower internet rates? Surely we should be looking for bolder, innovative solutions. When will we do something to challenge the culture in this something for nothing digital Britain?
Mr. Bradshaw: That is not a fair reflection of what is in the report, and when the hon. Gentleman has time to read the piracy section in detail, he will accept that it is not. One always has to strike a balance between over-regulationusing a sledgehammer to crack a nutand introducing effective measures. We believe that the measures in the report are proportionate and will be effective. The evidence from other countries is that notification and identification have a dramatic impact on the amount of illegal file sharing.
However, as I said in my statement, we are not ending things there. We are introducing legislation; we intend to introduce legislation that will enable internet service providers to suspend or narrow bandwidth for serial offenders. We are not going down the route that France has taken. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, that has not worked; it is being challenged in the courts and the French are having to look at the issue again. Furthermore, we address such issues through the civil law, not the criminal law. The hon. Gentleman would not want us unnecessarily to criminalise a large number of young people.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Ofcom, the regulator, has estimated that the residual value of the ITV licence will be £45 million after the digital switchover, because of the use of the spectrum and ITVs position at No. 3 on the electronic programme guide. Furthermore, the value of advertising in the regional news slot is estimated at about £25 million. Why cannot that £70 million be used to fund regional and local news, and partnerships with local newspapers, after the digital switchover? If the money is not to be used for that purpose, for what purpose will it be used?
Mr. Bradshaw: We are certainly looking at the role that advertising could play to help supplement the support that the model will give to alternative local and regional news provision, as part of a plurality including the BBC provision. However, if my hon. Friend is suggesting that in the currentor even futureclimate of digital Britain, ITV will be able to afford to sustain the level and quality of news provision that it has hitherto, I should tell him that not many people share that view. Nevertheless, if he can show, through evidence, a viable alternative or an addition to the measures that I have outlined today, we will of course be happy to consider it as part of the consultation.
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