|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Yes, the Bill deals with important issues to do with the future of our digital economy. We have heard some impassioned speeches tonight from many hon. Members. Some Members missed the extremely powerful speech made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham
(Mr. Redwood), who acknowledged the rights of rights holders and the need for copyright. He also said that this was a question of balance, and pointed out the benefits of sharing ideas and the creative impact that it can have. There are some bands whose whole profile has been generated by sharing, and they are now making an awful lot of money from live gigs and so on. Such ideas can challenge some people's business models, but because they are complicated it is even more important that the Bill should not be rushed through in a massive hurry.
Pete Wishart: We have heard about the views of all the lobbyists who have been making an impact, but what is the hon. Gentleman's view? Should file sharing be addressed? If these measures are not sufficient, what would he do?
Mr. Grogan: We have to address the issue of illegal file sharing. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) mentioned Lord Carter, and I would go back to Lord Carter's original ideas, which involved strong letters, education, the possibility of further action and the encouragement of new economic models. Those ideas have now been chilled. People like Virgin Media were doing deals with creative companies, but now some of the old-style companies are saying, "Perhaps we don't need to do these deals with the ISPs, because we'll have more administrative measures and the cutting-off will happen much earlier than Lord Carter envisaged." We all know what happened: I do not want to be accused of being a conspiracy theorist, but we all know that Lord Mandelson had one of his meetings in Corfu with some people were very prominent in the Hollywood industry and-
Mr. Grogan: There is a whole list. Lord Mandelson is a very important figure and he shifted the Government's policy on this issue. It is not a question of doing nothing. There was the Lord Carter White Paper, which this House could have united behind. That has been massively changed, largely through the influence of Lord Mandelson and those who ably advise him. If we proceed in this way, we in this House will be abrogating our responsibilities. As we were reminded earlier, when we were elected to this House we were elected to scrutinise, to debate and to challenge the assumptions of those outside who lobby us. We cannot possibly do that properly with this Bill.
At least we have heard a concrete Liberal Democrat position: the Liberal Democrats are saying that they will not vote for Third Reading unless clause 18, which is so complicated and mired in controversy, and involves the blocking of websites and so on, is dropped-
Mr. Grogan: I know that they put it in, but there is joy in heaven when a sinner repenteth. At the very least, I hope that the House will back the minimalist position-whatever the electoral reasons that inspired it may be.
I can tell those on the Front Bench that when that moment is reached-at 10 or 11 o'clock tomorrow night-there might not be that many people around. I hope that all those who are listening to the debate on BBC Parliament or following it on the internet will urge their MPs who are around to remember that if the Bill gets a Second Reading today, there is still Third Reading, and the question of clause 18. This fight is not over yet.
Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I am very pleased to be able to follow a number of high-quality speeches. It seems to me that everyone said more or less the same thing, which is that this is much-needed legislation and that it is flawed. Some people think it should go through anyway and that if it is flawed, we will fix it later, whereas other people think that it should not. I belong to the latter group. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) encapsulated much of what I think. I could almost splice what he said with what my hon. Friends the Members for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) said and sit down. However, I will not, as everybody will be pleased to hear.
I want to reflect on a couple of points made by those on the Front Benches. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State started out by saying, "We have not had much time. What a pity; I wish we could have had more." That strikes me as being a bit like the referee at a Celtic-Rangers football match watching Celtic score a goal in the first minute and then promptly blowing the whistle for full time and saying, "Sorry guys, I wish we had a bit longer, but there it is. It's getting a bit dark. Maybe we should have started the match a little earlier." Much as every Celtic supporter at the moment would probably like that to be the case, I do not think that would work.
The Conservative Front-Bench spokesman made a perfectly logical and correct point about the problem that photographers have with clause 43. That problem is widely known about; indeed, I think that the Government have probably already accepted it. They are then going to railroad the whole thing through.
The Liberal Democrats' Front-Bench position is a little more opaque. I am not exactly sure what they are saying because their excellent hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised what seemed to be countervailing points of his own. They seem to have left things at saying that it is still possible for clause 43 to be amended in some way, although nobody else agrees with that now that it has gone, but the Lib Dems seem to want to keep it alive. I say the Lib Dems as a plural, but only one person from the Lib Dems has spoken tonight-their Front-Bench spokesman. The massed ranks of the Lib Dems on Twitter have not bothered to come along to support him. Instead, they are saying the opposite all over the internet.
The Liberal Democrats also seem to have left open the possibility of people being disconnected from the internet without their having access to any kind of court proceedings. I know that I have been the beneficiary of some crowdsourcing about this on the internet. The HADOPI case in France, of 10 June 2009, has been raised by the Law Society of Scotland in this regard. That case led the French to amend their legislation to ensure that if people were going to be disconnected, they would have a chance to test that decision in court.
Mr. Simon: But is it not the case that after a year, and lots of letters, people will get a first right of appeal to the Ofcom appeal body and then a second right of appeal to a first-tier tribunal, which is a judicial body? That is a court. Why do people keep saying that there will be no court appeal? There are two appeals, the second of which is judicial.
Things are being put through in the Lords, and we have been told many times, both before tonight and, indeed, tonight, that there has been bags of scrutiny by the unelected Lords next door. Hon. Members have said that the experts have got one or two things tied up, and have talked about not having a complete grasp of some issues. I understand that there are technicalities about how people are disconnected, constrained, blocked and so on, but we have put great trust in experts and in the House of Lords. Of course, it would save a great deal of time with our future proceedings if we simply said, "They've scrutinised it next door, so we can just knock it down to an hour in this place."
Mr. Watson: A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have likened copyright infringement to shoplifting and stealing. If that is the case, why should not such people have their day in court like any other thief?
Eric Joyce: I profoundly agree with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what most people out there would say; indeed, people are saying that. We have rather blithely ignored the fact that thousands of people-not just an élite group of people on the internet with special interests-are making these very points on various things like the #hashtags on Twitter #DEBill and #DEB and we are casually pushing them aside and saying that we will put through this flawed legislation regardless of the views of those digital natives who know what they are talking about.
Mr. Simon: I apologise for arguing with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) through my hon. Friend, but going back to his assertion about people not getting their day in court, I repeat that the second appeal is to a first-tier tribunal, which is a judicial body. Why do people keep saying, "We want our day in court"? They will get their day in court if they insist on breaking the law.
Eric Joyce: Indeed-they go to court. They get their day in court. Would we pass legislation saying, "Let's not bother with shoplifters going to court. We'll just have a tribunal that is heard by one quasi-judge, or judge, and he or she will make a decision"? Of course we would not accept that. We are talking about law-breaking, and such cases deserve to be tested in court. That is a pretty basic proposition.
My objection is no different from the one made by many other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) made some very good points about people's need to earn a living, and I do not dispute for a second that powerful vested interests have argued against the Bill. However, he would not dispute that powerful interests have argued for it.
I have seen members of the Musicians' Union arguing against his position, on Twitter and elsewhere. There are not many-I think that the hon. Gentleman probably represents a majority of Musicians' Union members-but it is a fact that there are disparate views out there that we are simply not paying heed to. When we say that it is a pity that we have not had long enough to debate this Bill, people outside the Chamber will wonder why that
is. Usually, a Bill like this would get 40 or 50 hours in Committee and another three or four on Third Reading. We are cutting all that back to one hour of scrutiny tomorrow, but that will not really be serious scrutiny at all.
I shall end with a political point about the Liberal Democrats. @Ironjolt joked on Twitter recently that the party was desperate to be in a three-horse race. However, given that there have been no speakers at all from the Liberal Democrat Back Benches, it is clear that it is not even able to supply the back end for a panto horse. That is a great pity for its members, but does not greatly surprise me.
I shall conclude my brief remarks by saying that the Conservatives are willing to let this flawed Bill go through so that they can correct it after the general election. That is not what I want. I want this flawed Bill to be put off until after the general election, so that the inevitable Labour Government will be able to amend it properly.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): It has been a very interesting debate, with a single theme unifying the contributions from Back and Front Benches across the House-that the Government appear to be rushing through an important piece of legislation without due scrutiny in the House of Commons. After 13 years of digital dithering, this Bill is all they have to show on the digital front. It is a missed opportunity of massive proportions. Not only is it discourteous to rush such a significant measure through Parliament in the dying days of a failed Government, but it is also incompetent.
Mr. Simon: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman so early in his remarks, but we all know that the Government can get the Bill through only if the official Opposition support it wholeheartedly, especially in the House of Lords. Surely that is a bit like trying to have his cake and eat it at the same time.
Adam Afriyie: That was a great attempt at distortion and distraction, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not allow measures that we disagree with to go through. Therefore, I can say categorically that we will not allow clauses 1, 21 and 43 to go through. We have a very clear position on this Bill, whereas the Government seem to be all over the place and unable to focus on what they hope to achieve.
Mr. Grogan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but a further point of clarity would be useful. I noticed him nodding when various hon. Members spoke about the lack of time for debate: will the Opposition Front Bench vote for the programme motion this evening?
Adam Afriyie: We have made it very clear where the red lines are. We are very keen that this Bill does get to Committee, if only for a short time. It is already reprehensible that the Government, who have been in office for 13 years and who began work on this Bill five years ago, should bring it forward only at this last minute. We want to examine what is available for examination in whatever time we have, but we will not cross our red lines.
Mr. Don Foster: I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I want to be helpful. He said that the Conservatives were unhappy with clause 23, which is entitled "Monitoring and enforcing C4C's media content duties", but I suspect that he was referring to clause 29.
At the height of the dotcom boom, new Labour talked about modernising Government IT. They talked about the digital economy, but they were not digital natives, so they created an e-unit, an e-envoy and even an e-Minister. In fact, they slapped an "e" in front of anything that moved. While the pace of technological change was breathtaking, the response from the Government certainly was not. They have had ample opportunity to face up to the realities of the digital economy and the digital age, but they have failed to do so. They promised competition and innovation in the media industry, but they have chosen to subsidise and entrench old business models. They promised a modern communications infrastructure but they have delivered some of the slowest broadband speeds in the world. We are ranked 40th in the world. Labour has left Britain in the broadband slow lane, behind countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. That was a fantastic achievement-and that was irony.
The Government promised a copyright system fit for the digital age. In the meantime, the music and film industries have lost millions, if not hundreds of millions, through illegal downloads. What is Labour's answer to the new digital economy? Old-style taxes, old-style subsidies and old-style regulation. The Bill is nothing like the measure we wished to see. It is nothing like a Bill that will kick-start the digital economy. It is a Betamax Bill from a bewildered Government who seem startled and dazzled by the lights of modernity and the open data challenges.
There have been some fantastic contributions to the debate. There were good speeches from both sides, and it is frustrating that there has not been time to examine the issues more carefully. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) said clearly that he was completely opposed to the Bill unless there was time to scrutinise and review particular aspects relating to civil liberties. I salute his integrity on those issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, pointed out that a large part of the Bill relates to the business aspects of the digital
economy and that there has not been time to examine them in detail. I shall come to some of his other remarks in a moment.
Adam Afriyie: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that correction. He gave a considered and balanced view. He was pleased with the reserve powers for Nominet, and concerned about internet safety issues. He was remarkably open to market mechanisms, or other ways of enabling internet access that did not require cumbersome legislation. I very much welcomed those comments and the fact that he wanted to avoid intervention on a large scale.
The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the Lib Dem Front-Bench spokesman, observed that there were some good parts to the Bill, but that the failure to have proper scrutiny was making life difficult. I thoroughly enjoyed the acrobatics he described when reconciling presenting an amendment in the Lords and campaigning against it the following morning. I am surprised he did not bump his head on the bath.
The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) paid tribute to Lord Carter-I think he referred to him as Lord Carter of Paris-and was particularly concerned about whether the Bill recognised the importance of next generation high-speed internet access, akin to ambitions in China and India. The hon. Gentleman said clearly that he felt the Bill lacked vision and that it was a missed opportunity on Channel 4. Like several other Members, the hon. Gentleman observed that it was his last speech in the House of Commons. We wish them well in their life beyond this place. What was most significant about his contribution was that he considered the practical measures that would have made the Bill better legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who is Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that the lack of scrutiny might well lead to a lack of legitimacy-that is an important point to hold on to-and that proving identity would be difficult in relation to university students in halls of residence and internet cafés.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) used an interesting term about the Bill. He said that the process and the ragbag of measures were akin to dross and that he had serious concerns about the digital switchover.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|