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My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary knows how I feel about the 50p levy. People in my city of Glasgow can get broadband, but the uptake is between
30 and 40 per cent., which is well below the British average of 60 per cent. I do not know how take-up can be encouraged when a 50p levy is being introduced on the poorest people who will not have broadband or any thoughts of getting it, but will be stuck with paying an extra £6 a year. That will drive people on to cheap pay-as-you-go mobiles, which is the way in which most poor people in my constituency communicate. People using those mobiles will be asked to pay nothing, or at least very little, so we must look at the proposal again.
As has been said, I spoke about file sharing at a conference in Washington. If it is any consolation to hon. Members, there might be the same problem there as here, as there was no consensus on whether file sharing should be allowed. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East and others who feel that the Bill should be thrown out that we need to start somewhere-doing nothing is not an option. It is not the Elton Johns and Paul McCartneys of this world but the small people we have never heard of-the Joe Bloggs of the music world-who need some kind of protection as they try to make their living. They cannot have people stealing their endeavours and taking away their hard-earned rights to money that could make a difference to them and their families.
John Robertson: I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but it is a little like my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) who, when asked what he would do, said he did not know. I know that we have to do something. Identifying people and writing to them is a long process, but my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) made a good point. By the time people are at risk of being cut off, they probably deserve to be cut off.
The problem arises when young people are involved. I go back to an intervention that I made on my own Front-Bench team, about whether we should criminalise young people for doing something that all their friends are doing. I may own a computer and have access to the internet, but my child is using it to download material and put it on their iPod, MP3 player or whatever they have, and I get the blame for it because access was granted to me. I hope it would be possible to make that clear in response to letters telling me that I was doing something illegal. Children are not always great at telling their parents everything they do. What are we going to do to safeguard the child who is doing only what their friends at school are doing? They do not believe they are doing anything wrong. We need to educate them.
The other problem is how we educate the parents. Children now know a lot more about the internet and how to use it than their parents. There does not seem to be anything in the Bill to cover a parent who, by accident, falls foul of an ISP because of their child's downloads.
To stretch the metaphor used by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), I feel the force in this one. I sense that my
hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) has doubts about the practical enforcement of the measures in the Bill. Does he believe that we are walking down a road that we might later regret?
John Robertson: I understand what my hon. Friend says. I will not go back to the Star Wars reference, because it might be said that I look more like Chewbacca than Obi-Wan. However, it was a good metaphor for thinking that we are doing the right thing when we are not. I believe that that is what my hon. Friend is doing. His ideals are correct, but by saying that we should do nothing, all he is doing is encouraging illegal downloading.
If, after all the time and effort that has been expended discussing the issue in this place, we come to the conclusion that we should do nothing, we are, in effect, telling the public that that is legal and they can do what they want. That is not right.
Michael Connarty: I compliment my hon. Friend on the part of his speech that I heard earlier. This is a fringe discussion. As boasted in the e-mails that we receive, 17,000 people have written in on the issue over the past week. As my hon. Friend pointed out, 50 per cent. of Glasgow city do not have access to the internet. That is the great problem. People cannot get on to the internet and get access to the new technology. That, surely, must be the priority for the Government and every other Government.
In conclusion, doing nothing is not an option. If we do nothing, we send out a bad message-that I can download anybody's work, anybody's films, anybody's music, I can steal any photograph I like or do anything else I want, and Parliament has told me that is okay. The politicians in the House will have said that today, by not backing the Bill. I do not want to go down that road. There is much work to be done. No matter who wins the next election, they will have to pick up the issue and run with it. I believe that will be us; I hope it is, because we will do it justice, whereas the Opposition parties will act in their own self-interest. The important thing is to make sure that the people are looked after, but that if they take somebody's work or somebody's livelihood, they pay for it.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): In my maiden speech, I spoke about the human right to read, because it seemed to me that access to the printed word ought to be treated as a human right. One of the interesting aspects of the debate about the internet is the growing recognition that in exactly the same way, because it gives access to information, we should treat the right to access to the internet as a human right, and that if we recognise it as such, we will create a better, more equal, more informed, more educated, better connected society.
I represent a town that generates a huge amount of wealth in the creative industries, and I am very concerned to ensure that creative individuals are properly rewarded for their talent and their contribution. The Secretary of State referred to the growth of the creative industries in the UK compared with that in other countries over the past decade. I was proud to act as Parliamentary Private
Secretary to the first ever Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who, I believe, played a critical role in recognising the strength of the creative industries.
We are about to make a mistake, not because of mala fides or bad faith on the part of the Government or the Opposition, but in the way that Parliament often makes its biggest mistakes, which is when all parties agree. In those circumstances, we take short cuts, make mistakes for good reasons-in this case, to protect creative professionals-and end up with bad laws. Many of us can quote examples of bad laws that have been passed. Sometimes they are bad in their execution-the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is frequently cited-and sometimes they are bad because, even though we keep trying to get the legislation right, we do not succeed, even though it is right in theory, such as making fathers pay properly for their children. I do not know why I still have so many such cases turning up at my advice surgery, but I know I am not alone in that regard.
The parts of the Bill which are designed to protect copyright on the internet, to prevent file sharing and so on are hugely at risk of going down that road. I was rather entertained by the comments of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) who, at one point, drafted an amendment and within a few hours was campaigning against said amendment. That illustrated the point very well, because he was trying to deal with what he saw as a wrong. It turned out that that was not very popular in his party and the amendment did not do what he wanted it to do, so he tried to amend it again. That is what the Committee stage of a Bill is for.
I am deeply concerned that what we are about- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Bath might agree, but he will be part of the Front-Bench conspiracy that makes us end up with an unamended Bill and without the scrutiny that we need. This Parliament has shown itself to be utterly feeble in so many ways, and in our dying days we really should not continue to be utterly feeble.
Mr. Foster: I gave way to Members on numerous occasions, and I am therefore particularly grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. May I make it absolutely clear that if clause 18 remains in the Bill, we will vote against the Bill on Third Reading? I do not think anything could be clearer than that.
Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman has an advantage over me, as does BT, because they have seen a new version of that clause, but I have been to the Vote Office and I am not aware of what the clause says. I speak as a parliamentarian, within hours of the Bill's Committee stage, and I am unable to see that new version, so I do not know what is going to be proposed. He might well know, but I do not. I went to the Vote Office to ask for a copy, as is usual for a Back Bencher, and I spent quite a long time standing there, but there is a simple reason why the Vote Office cannot provide me with one: we have not yet given the Bill a Second Reading, and the Vote Office does not provide amendments to a Bill until it has had its Second Reading.
Right now our debate is closer to that which we would expect in Committee. People are focusing on little bits of the Bill and talking about potential amendments; they are not talking about the principles, because interestingly the pretty much shared view-with some tensions-is that we need to address certain principles. I found myself, scarily for the second time in two weeks, strongly agreeing with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)-not a man with whom I have frequently agreed. However, his point is that sharing can sometimes enhance understanding and knowledge.
I discovered the work of Christopher Brookmyre because Waterstone's published some free chapters of his books. I read them and then bought all his books, and that is not unusual. I was completely unaware of "Ashes to Ashes" and Gene Hunt, so when I saw the advertisement that everyone was going on about I had no idea why it was clever because I had never watched that programme. However, one thing about shared intellectual property is that it can create a market for that property, and I am frightened that the Bill does not address that issue with enough subtlety. We are not creating the opportunities to make the most of the internet and commercial exploitation. As I understand copyright law, it bites not when somebody copies a chapter of a book for their own interest, or borrows a book from a friend, but when someone tries to make a profit out of somebody else's intellectual property. That has traditionally been the area in which copyright law bites.
On the Bill's approach to that issue, there will be mums throughout the country running internet micro-businesses, booking nannies or finding cleaners, for example, and I am anxious that if their sons illegally file share, those mums will end up having their businesses closed down. The parliamentary scrutiny process is designed to eliminate such risky consequences, but I predict that unless we properly scrutinise this legislation such businesses throughout the country will be closed down. The hon. Member for Bath said, "Is it all right if it is a special super-scrutiny system that has to be amended?" and so on. I have not seen one of those systems. We should do more through secondary legislation, but he and I have sat on secondary legislation Committees and they are not places where scrutiny occurs; they are another example of pathetic oversight by Parliament.
I said earlier that this Parliament has let itself down. If we allow this Bill to go through in this way, with a Second Reading after the election has been called, we will demonstrate that the public are right to think that we are pretty pointless, and that we do not have the courage of our convictions. Every single Member will demonstrate it. Every single Member who argued for parliamentary reform-I see some present, including the hon. Member for Bath-will shame themselves if they consent to this process. However important the Bill is, it will be just as easy for a new Government to say, "We will put in place these building blocks" if they are so essential. It is just not acceptable for the Opposition Front Benchers to say, "Whoops! If it doesn't work, we'll come back with something a month later." They are actually saying, "We're not prepared to do our job."
However, I am prepared to do my job. I do not believe that this is the right way to proceed, and unless the Minister says in summing up something utterly compelling about how those issues will be dealt with, I will not be able to find it in me to support the Bill.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I shall try to be brief, because many of the issues that I wanted to discuss have been covered. This is probably the last time I will speak in the House, so I am glad to be discussing an important Bill.
Most of the comments have been about file sharing and internet access, and there have been a few about orphan works. Other important aspects that most of us think worth while have also been mentioned. Only two clauses deal with video games, but absolutely everybody thinks them worth having. Perhaps the clauses dealing with the future of Channel 4 do not go as far as they should, but they are worth while. There are also clauses dealing with public lending rights, and most in the radio industry say that they favour the provisions on local radio, although a minority do not want them. A lot of the Bill might not be perfect and could have gone a lot further-some Members have mentioned wider issues that should have been looked at-but much of it is good and worth having.
From my point of view, the real problem with the Bill is what my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has just been discussing-the process that we are using to deal with it. Obviously, the clauses that deal with copyright infringement are the really controversial ones. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State mentioned the length of time taken in the Lords to consider the provisions on that issue, and the fact that the Bill arrived back in the Commons, from the Lords, a month later than expected. He seemed to use that as a justification for not spending much time on it in the Commons. I would come to exactly the opposite conclusion: if a Bill has spent so long in the Lords that it has ended up coming back here a month later than expected, that tells me that it involves complex and controversial issues and needs some real scrutiny in this place. It is not going to get that, and that is the problem.
I probably agree with a lot more of the Bill than some of my colleagues who spoke earlier and some who have yet to speak. I have not pleased some of the people who have sent me e-mails about the subject and seem to argue that we should not do anything about illegal file sharing. That is not because I am particularly concerned about the profits of the big players in the music and film industries. Like some others who have spoken, however, I am concerned about the effects on the livelihoods of individual performers and artists. They are not necessarily high earners and they do not necessarily get huge royalties. Furthermore, it is not anachronistic to support the trade unions that represent those people and say that they think something needs to be done about illegal file sharing.
Some of the arguments put by those who sent e-mails and lobbied about the Bill seem completely spurious. For instance, to suggest that a little research somewhere that says that people who illegally download also spend more, and that that somehow justifies the illegal downloading, seems total nonsense. If I went into a book shop or record shop and stole a CD or book, it would hardly be acceptable for me to say in my defence, "Well, actually I spend more than average in this shop." I would be laughed out of court. It is theft to do that, and it is theft knowingly to download something illegally.
Of course, if an artist wants to make their work freely available on the internet in the hope that it will encourage someone who listens to it or reads it to go and buy more
of their stuff, that is fine, but it should be under the artist's control. They should make the decision and have control of their own work. The problem is how we can ensure that and whether the detail in the Bill does so in the right way.
The "Digital Britain" White Paper rightly contained a lot of discussion about educating people. I suspect that often, people who download illegally do not really attribute any value to what they are downloading. That is not surprising considering the price that DVDs are often sold for in the shops now. Pretty well every Sunday of the year, one can pick up a newspaper that has a free DVD with it. To some degree, people thus get a false idea of the value of what they download. There should be education, and perhaps the warnings suggested in the Bill will work, but I am not convinced-they may work on some individuals, but not on those who create the websites that generate illegal downloads and offer the software that allows people to overcome DVD encryption and the like.
The problem is quite clear. As has already been said, we will not have the time to deal with the Bill properly, work through the detail and get it right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough rightly said, when Bills are rushed through with agreements between the Front Benchers, that is often a bad sign. It often means that the detail has not been examined, which proves to be a problem later. We have not seen what the new clause 18 will mean, or at least those of us on the Back Benches have not. It seems from what was said earlier that there will be a deal between the Front-Bench teams.
Mr. Gerrard: I notice the Liberal Democrats are still denying that there might be one. I am interested in their position on clause 18-having proposed it, they later decided that it was a dreadful thing and had to be opposed.
Mr. Gerrard: The hon. Gentleman may say that, but I suspect that it had rather more to do with a campaign that came rumbling along, with a lot of e-mails being sent, and in typical Liberal Democrat fashion they jumped on the campaign, no doubt thinking that it would get them one or two votes. The serious point is that we will not have enough time tomorrow. We should not be rushing through a Bill that could have serious effects on individuals.
We have heard in earlier comments that the provisions on orphan works might not end up in the Bill. They started as a discussion about opening up the use of archives at the British Library, photograph libraries and so on, where there is a lot of interesting stuff whose copyright holder nobody knows. The Bill now seems to have moved a long way from that. One or two professional photographers who have approached me about it are worried what the effect on their work may be. Although the Bill states that people are supposed to search for the copyright holder, will they actually do so or will it provide an opportunity to exploit the work of someone who will then have the problem of tracking down their work and getting it taken off the register? Again, the problem is the detail of the provisions and the process that we are going through. I do not know, because I have not seen the timetable motion, but I suspect that we will have no more than two hours to deal with the
Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. That is not how we should be going about legislation such as this, although I must say that I have a lot of support for the principles of the Bill.
Mr. Foster: My understanding of what the Leader of the House said is that there will be two hours in total for the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. Given that we have a timetable motion before us tonight that says that an hour will be given to Third Reading, we will therefore have one hour in total for the Committee and Report stages.
Mr. Gerrard: If that is the case-I have not seen the motion-it illustrates exactly the point that I am making and that other hon. Members have made, which is that that is a totally inadequate amount of time in which to debate this. We will end up with something going through on the basis of a deal done by the two Front-Bench teams. It will be a deal whereby nobody else will have had any input, we will not be able to debate it properly and we will not be able to get to the detail. Irrespective of however much I agree with the principles behind the Bill, that is way to go about our business and it will not inspire the confidence of people outside this place that we have produced legislation that should be respected.
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