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Notwithstanding my concern about that, I reject the view expressed by some that only a few elements of the Bill have universal support and are not especially contentious. In fact, I believe that large chunks of the Bill are important but not controversial, and that they should go through. An example would be the proposal, to which reference has already been made, to change the power of the Secretary of State in relation to internet domain registries. Another example, which has not been mentioned so far, is the proposal to extend the remit of Channel 4.
Another example that has been touched on but not developed is the proposal to adopt the pan-European games information classification system for video games, and another that has not been mentioned before is the proposal to change the definition of public lending rights to include audio books and e-books. All those important measures, and many others, are in the Bill. There is a great deal of support for them, and I hope that we will find a way to get them through.
I do not want to go into detail about any of those proposals, but the one to extend the remit of Channel 4 is particularly important. Clauses 22 and 23 are designed to update Channel 4's remit to reflect the changing nature of public service broadcasting in a digital age. The House should recall that, when it was launched, Channel 4 was a single, analogue, linear television channel, whereas today it has a suite of channels and services that includes E4, Film4 and channel4.com.
Mr. Redwood: Is it not an unprecedented discourtesy to the House of Commons for a Government to introduce the Second Reading of a substantial Bill after they have announced that we need a general election? What kind of treatment of the House of Commons is that?
Mr. Foster: I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. As I pointed out earlier, given the enormity of the Bill and the important provisions it contains, it would have been perfectly possible to timetable it much earlier so that we were not in the difficult situation in which many of us now find ourselves. However, that does not prevent us from getting on with some of the important provisions, not least in relation to upgrading the remit of Channel 4.
It is worth reflecting that nothing commissioned by Film Four-from "My Beautiful Launderette" to "The Last King of Scotland"-has ever formally counted towards Channel 4's public service delivery, yet the channel has been a huge catalyst in developing the creative industries in this country and the Bill now makes it a formal requirement that the role be continued. It also makes it a requirement that Channel 4 make a contribution in the crucial area of children's broadcasting. I welcome that element of the Bill.
Mr. Simon: Having spoken so eloquently and rightly about Channel 4, will the hon. Gentleman say a few words about the new powers for the Secretary of State to vary the public service licence obligations of Channels 3 and 5?
Mr. Foster: I will, in so far as to say that as we move into a digital era, updating all those things is crucial, which is why it is important that elements in the Bill covering such issues should be allowed to go ahead.
Mr. Watson: The hon. Gentleman is a great man. I find it ironic that I so often follow him these days. He says that there is a great deal of consensus on the Bill among the three parties. If so, what is the hurry? Why do we not just deal with it straight after the election? We could do it consensually and have a proper debate.
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman would be right if I had total confidence that whoever formed the next Government would find time to start the whole process all over again. Where there is consensus-a word used by the Leader of the House earlier-it seems sensible to move forward and get those provisions on to the statute book. We could then have deliberation and debate about the controversial issues and how to progress with them. When there is consensus we should definitely be moving forward.
Notwithstanding the many concerns that have been raised over the past few months about the move from analogue to digital radio, broadly speaking there is now consensus about that measure. The Secretary of State has laid down clear criteria that have to be met on listenership and coverage before the two-year starting pistol can be fired. Of course, there have been concerns. For example, some people thought that FM would be dropped, but we know that it will not be dropped; indeed, FM could become a new vibrant platform for local and micro-local radio stations and given more power. Possibly, Ofcom could start to give them even longer licences. With all the conditions that have been inserted, that is another exciting provision that we should acknowledge and accept so that everyone can have the real benefits of the digital radio era, in terms of greater interactivity and so on.
The Government have done a disservice by failing to promote the real benefits of digital radio as effectively as they could. It is not surprising that the Committee in their lordships' House castigated the Government for their failure. The industry could have done more. It is a pity that it has taken so long for FM to be included in all the DAB radios now on sale. It is only very recently that we have heard of the launch of the mechanism that will ensure people can have a single tuner covering DAB and FM-a single EPG, or electronic programme guide. That is welcome, but the work could have been done sooner.
There is controversy about some aspects of the Bill, some of which relates to the independently funded news consortiums. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we welcome the trials that are taking place to find new and imaginative ways of filling the gap that is being created on the ITV regional news platform.
Those who have bid to become involved in the trials have already made some imaginative proposals. However, the Bill will merely give a power to a future Secretary of State to roll that out more widely if, first, an acceptable source of funding can be found and, secondly, the Secretary of State agrees to do so. I fail to understand why the Conservative party is so adamant about deleting that part of the Bill, because it does not need to do so. It could let the trials roll on, and if it is not satisfied with their outcome, it need not have a wider roll out, so the Liberal Democrats will certainly do everything that we can to help that part of the Bill to pass. I hope that just because the Conservatives are unhappy with the proposal, the Secretary of State will not suddenly roll over and say that he will drop it, because I think that, together, we can get it through.
David Cairns: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Conservative party's position had some intellectual coherence when it was predicated on the notion that it would not touch the underspend in the digital switchover element of the licence fee, because that had to be returned to the licence fee payer? The Conservatives have now abandoned that principled position and will use that underspend for super-fast broadband roll out, which makes a complete mockery of their previous principled position.
Mr. Foster: There is a slight mockery in respect of the Conservative party's position on BBC funding. The House will recall that, not so long ago, the Conservatives proposed that the annual licence fee uplift be frozen, but a few months later they said they did not want to interfere in the long-term setting of the licence fee settlement. They then told us that they were not going to touch the underspend on the targeted assistance scheme, but now they are doing so. Finally, they said that no money would be needed to support the roll-out of broadband, but suddenly, having opposed the Government's use of top-slicing a licence for one project-in this case, independently funded news consortiums-they will use a top-slicing of the BBC licence fee to pay for the broadband roll-out. However, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) is desperate to speak, so I shall happily give way to him.
Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I do not want to interfere in a discussion of Conservative policy that does not involve a Conservative, but at least we are not proposing an amendment in the other place and then opposing it in the House of Commons.
Let me turn to copyright, which is one of the most controversial bits of the legislation. We have made it clear on numerous occasions that we are very keen to do all that we can to support the creative industries, which are developing faster than any other part of the economy. We genuinely believe that they will be one of the key drivers to get us out of the recession and to help this country's economy move forward. We are therefore deeply concerned about anything that will prevent that from happening.
We are well aware that a report was published only a few weeks ago, on 17 March, that predicted 250,000 jobs in the UK's creative industries could be lost by 2015 if current trends in online piracy continue. The
Secretary of State has already referred to the hundreds of millions of pounds that are being lost to our music, video games and film industries because of illegal activity on the internet. We do not share the view of those who believe that no action should be taken to address the problems caused by copyright infringements on the internet, but the problem is that the Government's solution is predominantly encompassed in clause 17-an all-embracing clause that gives huge new unfettered powers to a future Secretary of State to address such issues. We felt that that Henry VIII clause was a step too far. The Secretary of State rightly acknowledged that the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in another place ensured that that clause was dropped, but that does not mean to say that something should not be done. The early clauses-those up to clause 17-contain measures to address the problem created by illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, which is responsible for about two thirds of the illegal activity currently taking place.
As a result of lengthy discussions in another place, several changes were made to the Government's original proposals. They mean that no so-called technical measures, such as bandwidth shaping or temporary account suspension, will be possible unless copyright infringers are notified by letter, without there being any risk of their internet connection being affected for at least a year-the Secretary of State rightly mentioned that-unless an evaluation of the effectiveness of soft measures is undertaken; unless an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been completed; unless further consultation has taken place; unless proposed legislation is brought before the new Parliament for decision; and, crucially, unless the principle of innocence until proven guilty is maintained throughout the process, coupled with the right to appeal to an independent arbiter. There has therefore been significant progress, but even more needs to be done if this aspect of the Bill is to be acceptable, so I shall propose three additional measures.
Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I accept that progress has been made, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is significant, to use his word, that it would still be possible for someone to be disconnected under the Bill without the matter going to a court?
Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, and that is why I want to outline these three additional things that must be done. The first phase of the process is that Ofcom must draw up the initial obligations code. If the Bill is passed as it stands, it will be required to do that within six months, or in any period of time determined by the Secretary of State, so the time period could be very short or incredibly long. We believe that the six-month proposal is inappropriate, not least because in addition to the initial consultation, the preparation of the draft code, the consultation on the draft and the issuing of the final code, there must be three months' consultation with the European Union. All that cannot be done in just six months, so we propose the longer time period of nine months. However, given that there is urgency that action is taken-we cannot delay for ever-we propose deleting the Secretary of State's power to determine any length of time.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
The hon. Gentleman will understand my difficulty in trying to understand Liberal policy, given the number
of flip-flops that there have been. Will he be absolutely clear about his position in the light of several reports in the media in the past few days? Will clauses 4 to 17 have Liberal support as the Bill goes through the wash-up?
Mr. Foster: The Bill will have Liberal Democrat support as it goes through the wash-up, subject to the three conditions that I am outlining, each of which it would be easy for the Government to accede to.
I referred to the second condition in an intervention on the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), as well as in a question to the Leader of the House. We believe that technical measures are a drastic step that should never be taken unless it proves absolutely necessary, so the next Parliament deserves to be given the maximum opportunity to scrutinise any such proposals. We also think that an amendable measure should come before the new House of Commons, which is why we suggest that clause 11 should provide for the super-affirmative procedure, as is proposed for clause 18.
The third point that needs to be dealt with-it was not adequately addressed in another place-relates to universities, libraries and small businesses. The networks set up by such organisations have limited control over their users. Such organisations, especially hotels and internet cafés, provide hundreds and thousands of wi-fi hot spots throughout the country, and they will be very vulnerable to the legislation. There is often only one IP address for many terminals, as is the case in the Houses of Parliament. We believe it is important that an amendment should be tabled to deal with these concerns. The Government said that they can be dealt with in the code, but we would prefer a clearer guarantee written into the Bill.
Mr. Watson: The hon. Gentleman is still a great man, but I have been around the houses a little bit in the past 10 years. What I am witnessing now are some tiny hurdles that the Minister is likely to jump over by 10 pm so that the hon. Gentleman can join the cabal of the Tory and Labour Front-Bench teams to support the Bill. I want to make it clear that he will not get away with it this time.
Mr. Foster: I am not trying to get away with anything. I hope the hon. Gentleman, who supports our creative industries, agrees that the illegal activity on the internet is costing them dear. To do nothing would be unacceptable. There has been lengthy discussion of the issue for many years, and if we can get over what he describes as small hurdles with the Government, we should proceed. We will support the necessary measures.
Mr. Simon: The hon. Gentleman will have seen my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) and his comrades shaking their heads when he asked whether they agreed that there was significant loss, which was damaging our economy.
Mr. Foster: I want to make progress and deal with the issue of site blocking. When we got rid of clause 17 in another place, we acknowledged that although two thirds of the illegal activity was peer to peer, one third involved people accessing illegal websites. We believe that action should be taken. In another place we proposed, at very short notice, an amendment that we thought would deal with that. [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State laughs. The amendment became the subject of major debate, as he well knows and as he said-I acknowledge it-in my party at our party conference, and among many other people as well.
As a result, attempts were made to improve the amendment, but the Government assured us that they would introduce a new clause that would solve all the problems. I welcome the fact that it includes the super-affirmative resolution. However, if one looks at the details of the new clause 18, it is clear that it still contains many significant faults.
Clause 18 penalises sites that facilitate access or that are used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright. That is far too wide-ranging and puts even sites such as Google at risk. There is no indication that rights holders must take reasonable steps to notify the site owner before seeking an injunction. The proposed injunction would be indefinite, which is inappropriate. Injunctions, it appears, do not cover all service providers, allowing infringing customers to move to different providers.
The key fault is that there has not been enough time, as there was in relation to peer to peer, for consultation on such an important measure. Having made an effort to deal with the problem, we do not believe that it is appropriate, in the short time allowed by the wash-up, to go ahead with that clause-I am glad the hon. Member for Wantage is clear about that.
The last area of controversy is orphan works. The vast majority of the people to whom I, and no doubt other hon. Members, have spoken recognise that it is crazy that so much material with no known copyright owners-so-called orphan works-cannot be digitalised and made available online, with the proviso that if the copyright owner were traced, he or she would be rewarded for the work. Some estimates suggest that there are 50 million orphan works, such as oral histories, personal letters, films and drawings, held by libraries, museums and archives which have no right to make them accessible. We welcomed clause 43 when it first appeared, as it seemed a sensible way forward.
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