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My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, who is the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said that the legislation would have a great impact on the economy, society and culture of Britain and that this was the least constitutionally satisfactory process in his entire time in Parliament. That says a lot, as he has been a Member for a long time, and that sentiment was echoed by many other hon. Members. He recognised the balance between freedom of expression and creativity and the absence of a definition of what 2 megabits per second actually means. That is an important observation, because if such speeds are only sporadically
available, even though the headline rate is 2 megabits per second, many of the activities that we wish to undertake on broadband simply will not come about.
Adam Afriyie: I thank my hon. Friend for the warning, but his observations were balanced and fair, and he recognised both sides of the issues. In many ways, Twitter and many of the modern forms of communication are at the heart of what we are talking about today, and perhaps parliamentarians should be a little more relaxed about the public expression of differences, because that adds to our understanding of these issues.
Adam Afriyie: The shirts and blouses that Members of Parliament may wear are important international issues, and I am glad that those who are wired in are discussing our sense of dress, as well as the points that we make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire also mentioned in particular clause 43 about orphan works and photo issues. I am glad that he did so; that is one of our red lines. We will not support any regulation that includes clause 43.
Fiona Mactaggart: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's reference to red lines. It seems that he is able, without there having been a vote, to declare some red lines-an opportunity that is not available to Back Benchers during the wash-up process. Does he feel that it is satisfactory that he and his Front-Bench colleagues can keep red lines, when issues that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about will not be dealt with in that way?
Adam Afriyie: I am quite surprised that the hon. Lady asks an Opposition Front Bencher that question when her Government have hastily rushed through the Bill, which has not had sufficient time for scrutiny. We will work and make decisions in the best interests of the country and the creative industries and for the future of digital Britain, even if we are delivered a dog's dinner by the Government.
I thought that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), a former Culture, Media and Sport Minister, made a carefully considered contribution-I should not sound surprised, should I? He pointed out that it needs to be acknowledged that illegal downloading is property theft, no matter how one looks at it. He also said that new business models for content delivery and economic value added are already available and that they are technically possible, morally right and economically necessary. If only his concerns had been echoed by his Front-Bench colleagues, the Government might have taken the issues more seriously and brought the Bill before the House two or three weeks ago, so that we could have had time to contemplate them more closely. However, the hon. Gentleman's contribution was well informed, lucid and, in some aspects, other-worldly.
Kate Hoey: I am a little concerned because the crux of much of the debate has been the way in which the Bill is being pushed through without genuine scrutiny. I would not want to support such a ludicrous timetabling motion, but I do not think that we would be able to carry a vote. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how it can be sensible to have a short Committee stage tomorrow? It will not be possible to do anything, so let us turn this out tonight.
Adam Afriyie: I share those concerns. We are keen that we use whatever time is available at this fag end of a Parliament to scrutinise the Bill, if only for an hour. Clearly, any Member of the House may object to the programme motion, and we shall see what happens.
Adam Afriyie: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman- [ Interruption. ] Yes, I am obsessed with Penrith. I made my notes in the absence of an opportunity to use technology in the Chamber and it is difficult to read my poor handwriting.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) made a passionate speech in support of the sanctions in the Bill against those who steal not only his intellectual property and collective works, but those of many people in a similar position. His plea will be recognised throughout the country and a balanced debate is required.
It is delightful to learn that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) is the estranged son of the dark lord, whichever dark lord that might be. I welcomed many of his balanced comments. His speech was impassioned yet thoughtful. He balanced freedom of speech with the privacy of the individual, and when he talked about intellectual property versus fair use, he tipped the balance towards what he saw as the future for the United Kingdom, rather than our approach of the past. He referred quite often to squalid deals, but I reassure him that we are here at the last moment before Parliament shuts down-at five minutes to midnight-because his Government failed to bring the Bill forward earlier.
My blood is pumping, but it was pumping before the hon. Gentleman's words of encouragement. I assure him again that Conservative Members will do our utmost to ensure that those aspects of the Bill that have not been correctly considered do not go through. We will not move from that position because this is not about party politics or electioneering; it is about ensuring that this country has the legislation that it requires. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State gave the further commitment that we completely reserve the right to revisit any measures that might go through the House this side of the election. From my and my party's perspective, it is quite clear that we need an update of intellectual property law and copyright law, so we are committed to carrying that out. We will do our utmost to allow through the bits of legislation regarding which we think that there is time to make corrections, if they are needed. The hon. Member for
West Bromwich, East said that there are unpalatable truths to deal with. I can assure him that an incoming Conservative Government would take the bull by the horns.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) gave an experienced and considered exposition of the dangers of the hasty treatment of legislation, and of the lack of scrutiny. He pointed out that even on Second Reading, there were about 11 themes in the Bill that needed to be discussed. Contributions from around the Chamber have touched on many of those themes, but we have not dealt with them in as much detail as we should have done.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) actually agrees with the Conservative policy that we should consider opening up and enabling access to the ducts. We go further and say that that should apply also to the sewers and any other medium through which cable can be run and digital transmission can take place. We do not see that the only tool available to a Government is draconian legislation forcing measures through by the centre. We recognise that we have had a thriving and booming mobile phone sector and cable sector in the absence of the type of measures that the Government seem to wish to take.
John Robertson: Far be it from me to correct the hon. Gentleman, but I said that although I do not have a problem with opening up the ducts or sewers, or with pylons, somebody must be in control to make sure that things are run properly. Cowboys cannot be allowed to come in, as happened in the past, and ride roughshod over the infrastructure.
Mr. Redwood: The main issue that I was raising in my speech, as my hon. Friend may recollect, related to clauses 10 to 18, which are a blank cheque saying that orders will be laid in due course. We have no idea whether they would work or how they would be constructed. Is my hon. Friend sure that it is possible to construct sensible orders out of the chaotic haste of that part of the Bill?
Adam Afriyie: It would be an enormous challenge, which is why we have left open the opportunity to revisit the Bill, if it goes through and if there is a Conservative Government. It is not just the Bill that requires further work. There is a lot more work to be done to ensure that Britain is at the forefront of the digital revolution, rather than a laggard, as we are at present.
The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made a clear and robust speech, commenting that it was utterly feeble that in their dying days, a Government should try to introduce such legislation. She also rebuked those on the Opposition Front Bench for perhaps being in cahoots. I reiterate that we are clear that in our approach to the Bill, we will defend the interests of the country and we will not budge on the clauses that I mentioned.
Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman misquoted me. I did not say that the Government were being feeble. I said that Back-Bench Members and Opposition Front-Bench Members are being feeble by failing to scrutinise what the Government offer us.
Adam Afriyie: That is a curious comment, given that it is the hon. Lady's Government who have introduced the Bill in massive haste. I thought that she was being altruistic and impartial in her comments, but striking out any contribution from her own Government to the chaos that we see this evening seems a little one-sided.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) pointed out that there were some good clauses in the Bill. He was critical of the process that the Government have adopted, and observed that the fact that the Lords had taken such a long time to consider the Bill might be a bad sign. He suggested that it might be a more complicated and difficult piece of legislation than it seemed, and that therefore the House needed to concentrate on it. He pointed out that clause 43 on orphan works was not adequately thought through and he did not support it.
The hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) made a constructive contribution. He praised the public-private partnership-admittedly introduced by the previous Conservative Government-and the way in which it worked, and he raised many issues about the provision of local and regional news.
The hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), apart from having a few constituents who may be bonkers, observed that there was a challenge because of the shameful abuse of the process, and he was challenged to find a precedent of such importance in any wash-up prior to the Dissolution of Parliament. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) said, "Don't let this through," and there was some debate about the redress to legal process for those who are accused.
On the economy, there are some useful aspects of the Bill. There is some merit in establishing reserve powers on the domain name system, and the proposals to tackle online copyright infringement are long overdue. Anti-piracy measures should recognise new technologies, and thankfully the Government have backed down on their draconian plans under the old clause 17. However, it is an insult to democracy and to this House not to make sufficient time to scrutinise the proposals in more detail.
We strongly oppose Labour's old-style subsidies that embed old-style business models, and we oppose unnecessary regulatory burdens. The Government have failed to explain why Ofcom requires additional duties, hence the opposition to clause 1. Ofcom already considers the state of infrastructure, and there is now a serious risk that the new duties could distort its objective of sustaining competition. That measure is nothing more than a shabby political dividing line of the Prime Minister's making.
I have also said many times before that we need a workable system for dealing with orphan works. If the Government had provided the time, rather than a cobbled-together mismatch, Britain could have led the world with a state-of-the-art copyright system. The Gowers review was published in December 2006, so they have had four years to find a solution, but this incompetent Government now want to force through substantial changes with insufficient scrutiny.
Many hon. Members have highlighted the serious questions about clause 43, and with the Government's consultation on copyright exceptions in its second phase it is clear that the copyright debate is not over yet. We
are committed to updating our copyright system for the digital age. In the interests of the country and the economy, a Conservative Government would retain the right and maintain the intention to revisit orphan works, in addition to extended collective licensing, as part of a broader copyright update.
Old-style taxes, old-style subsidies, old-style regulation: that is Labour's plan for the digital economy. After three Parliaments of digital dithering, they have left us at the last minute with some botched legislation. This is a washed-up Bill from a washed-up Government. There is a clear choice at the election: five more years of old-style, old-fashioned Labour dithering, or a new Government with the energy, ideas and leadership to deliver for Britain's digital future.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Stephen Timms): We have had a good debate about the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) made an excellent speech, and I join him in paying tribute to Stephen Carter, who through his work on the visionary "Digital Britain" White Paper, which was published in June last year, started us on this road and did a great service to the House and the country through his work.
We have had a good debate today, and there has been a long debate in the other place about the measures before us in the Bill. It is now for the House to determine whether the Bill be given a Second Reading. Some have argued that it should not, given the extent of concern about the Bill's measures to tackle copyright infringements. I shall be completely straightforward about my views; I shall not, like the Opposition Front Benchers, try to face both ways. My view is that it should be given a Second Reading, because it is right that we support the creative industries and make progress on the other measures that the Bill addresses.
I should point out that although it is opposed by some from whom we have heard, the view that we need to press on and make progress is strongly supported by the Creative Coalition Campaign, which includes trade unions that have rightly said that we must not let this opportunity pass. If we did not allow the Bill its Second Reading, we would be taking no action on copyright infringement at all-for several months at least, and possibly for much longer.
Some, of course, would welcome that. Some want the current ability to download unlawfully not to be fettered. But according to the Bill's impact assessment, the annual cost of online copyright infringement for UK industry is estimated at £400 million for music, film and TV. Meanwhile, the International Chamber of Commerce estimates the total annual cost at more than £1 billion a year. Given the importance of the creative industries, with their high growth rates, as we come out of the downturn we cannot afford a long delay in addressing the problem.
Legislation alone, of course, is not the answer; I agree with the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Chairman, on that. Lots of other things will need to be done as well. We certainly need the creative industries to help educate consumers about the damage caused by piracy-and the straightforward fact that it is
wrong-and to try out new approaches and develop online business models that offer consumers what they want at a price that they are willing to pay.
Those business models are starting to be developed. We are certainly seeing some encouraging moves on education and I hope that we will hear more about that in the next few weeks. It is fair, however, to make some criticism of the creative industries for being rather slow in coming forward with online business models that can work. In the end, however, people cannot develop a business model if they are having to compete with others who offer their products for free. There need to be back-stop safeguards to assure legitimate businesses that they will not simply be competing with those who have taken unlawfully what they have paid to provide.
I turn to unlawful file sharing using peer-to-peer networks. I expect that the initial measures, which require internet service providers to write to customers who download copyright material without paying for it, to lead to a substantial reduction in the scale of the problem, and I think those measures are pretty widely supported. I hope that that will be enough to achieve a 70 per cent. reduction, as is our aim. If it is, the technical measures set out in the Bill will not be needed. However, we cannot guarantee that the provision will lead to that scale of reduction, so we need to be able to back up those initial measures with technical measures, including the possibility of temporary account suspension.
Accounts would not be suspended lightly. The Bill provides robust safeguards. Multiple letters will have been sent before technical measures are considered. If a technical measure is imposed, the subscriber affected can appeal and the measure will not be imposed until the appeal has been determined.
I understand the concern, expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), for example, about the danger of technical measures being taken against broadband in public libraries or universities, or against public wi-fi services. I do not think that it would be right to provide a blanket exemption for those services. However, the Bill requires Ofcom to draw up a code to govern how technical measures would be applied. The code will need to recognise and address the particular position of public services and institutions of that kind. We would not regard any assessment by Ofcom, under clause 10, as satisfactory unless it took account of the impact on public libraries, universities and public wi-fi services.
Alun Michael: Will my right hon. Friend also undertake to require Ofcom to engage those bodies in designing something that suits how they work as well as meeting the clearly important requirements in the Bill?
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