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The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must say to the Committee that before I propose the Question that clause 1 stand part of the Bill, I must inform hon. Members that two manuscript amendments have been tabled by the Minister to clause 11. Copies of a supplementary amendment paper with the texts have been in the Vote Office for some time. The amendments are numbered 44 and 45. I have selected them and grouped them with the second group of amendments under clause 4, where the lead amendment is amendment 39.
The Chairman: Order. For the sake of rectitude, I should say to the right hon. Gentleman that he does not have to move this. The Question is on whether the clause stands part of the Bill, so we shall see what the debate brings on that matter.
Clause 1 gives us a requirement in the Bill for Ofcom to promote investment in electronic communications networks and public service media content. That is an important measure, particularly given that there is wide agreement, including across the House, about the importance of promoting investment and of Ofcom facilitating the investment we need in next-generation broadband and in modern communications networks. Nevertheless, given the nature of this wash-up process and my wish to help other Members, I am not moving that the clause should stand part of the Bill and I am not seeking to persuade Members to support it.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I understand what the Minister is saying about the nature of the process. Is he aware that in Montgomeryshire, which has many "not spots", there is a general nervousness that the Government have not sought to legislate to guarantee good access to fast broadband across the country? How does his action on this clause interrelate with my efforts to try to get Montgomeryshire on to the information superhighway?
The key steps that are being taken are, first, our commitment to universal service at 2 megabits per second-because many of the areas about which the hon. Gentleman is talking do not have any broadband at all at the moment-by 2012. Broadband Delivery UK is working on that at the moment. Secondly, we need the landline levy-sadly not now in the Finance Bill for this year, although it will be in the Finance Bill that we will introduce straight after the election-with a 50p a month levy on phone lines that will give us the funding to invest in next-generation broadband in rural areas across the country. There is wide agreement across the House about the importance of next-generation broadband being delivered in rural areas. There also needs to be a means to deliver it. That is what the landline levy will give us. There will be no means otherwise.
Lembit Öpik: Am I therefore right to understand that the action that the Minister is taking on this clause does not represent a change of policy from the Government on guaranteeing 2 megabits per second to rural seats? Can I go back to Montgomeryshire and say that despite the fact that he will not press this clause, he will still give an absolute assurance that all the communities and homes in Montgomeryshire can expect 2 megabits per second broadband access were his Government to be re-elected, however rural or remote the settlement?
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Minister tells us that he is sad that the broadband tax has been dropped and he said that it was being done to be helpful to the House. Will he explain why, given that there is a majority in this House and a majority in another place in favour of that tax, it has been dropped?
'(d) an indication of whether or not it is alleged that the subscriber or anyone else obtained financial or commercial gain from the alleged online copyright infringement through peer-to-peer filesharing networks'.
'The objective of the measures in sections 4 to 16 is to move to a lawful means of access to copyright material for consumers and businesses and to reduce unlawful file sharing and other forms of copyright infringement.'.
Mr. Watson: Sir Alan, you have always been a very patient man. I want to apologise to you in advance for the number of amendments that I suspect I will be moving alone. I know that you will patiently bear with me, but we have had to submit amendments and to consider our thoughts at light speed. Those people looking in will find the process as baffling as I am sure some of us in the Chamber do.
This basket of amendments is concerned with some definitions and with the scope of the Bill. Amendment 36 amends clause 4(1). This is about trying to identify liability. The wording in the Bill, as it stands, has an assumption of liability when it comes to people receiving notifications. Of course, a wi-fi network might have been used in a household. A parent might be paying for the broadband connection, whereas their children are illegally downloading. The assumption in the current wording is that that parent has authorised the child's infringement of copyright. My amendment would replace that wording with a neutral meaning to provide reassurance to parents up and down the country, students in houses in multiple occupation and anyone who shares a network, as the legislation would not assume guilt when a notification was sent out.
Amendment 37 deals with definitions. The lineage of the Bill is that it came out of a consultation that lasted for six months and looked into how we deal with illicit P2P-person-to-person-file sharing. In the amendment, I try to give a narrow definition of P2P file sharing, as opposed to opening up a rather general definition of copyright infringement. If the amendment were accepted, it would probably save embarrassment to many people on both sides of the House because, under the clause as it stands, anyone who downloaded the image of Gene Hunt that has been used by both political parties would be caught by the measure. I will not embarrass one of my very good friends in the Whips Office who every day sends me clipped pieces of news reports from national newspapers, but that practice could be seen as copyright infringement under the clause unless the amendment is accepted.
Mr. Watson: I shall not name him because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, naming Whips is not a good thing to do, particularly when one is moving an amendment that is hostile to the Government. I think I have chanced my arm enough. This Bill's whole definition has been broadened in the different iterations that have appeared since the original concept in the "Digital Britain" report, and I am trying to focus it just on P2P file sharing.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is quite a lot of concern among members of the wider public who are interested in these things that this widening seems to be taking place in a Bill that is coming in right at the end of the Parliament, when there is limited scope for consideration? That is one reason why it makes sense to narrow the scope.
Mr. Watson: Yes; I have said categorically that if I had my way, the Government would remove clauses 11 to 18. Given the time scale, that would be a sensible way of going forward. I am really trying to tidy up what could be a catastrophic disaster if all the measures are voted through this evening.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for all the arguments that he has put forward so far this evening and previously. If those measures were removed from the Bill and it turned out that it was incredibly important to consider them at an early stage, I presume that they could be brought forward in the new Parliament in a very short Bill to deal with the matters that had arisen. Do they need to be dealt with tonight, at this stage, or could they be addressed in a few weeks if it was important to do so then?
Mr. Watson: I shall not be tempted to go too far on that point, except to say that we heard yesterday that there is broad consensus on some of the measures in the Bill. I feel certain that the House could consider all these clauses again straight after the election and give them the proper scrutiny that they deserve.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, given the very real public concern about this Bill, it is much more important to get things right than to get them through?
Mr. Watson: Yes; I was rather taken aback yesterday to hear someone-I think it was the Conservative Front Bencher-say, "Let's just get this Bill through and if there's anything wrong with it, we can put it right." Ten years into being here, I know that if we do things in a hurry and get them wrong, the law of unintended consequences always kicks in. It would be far better to remove clauses 11 to 18 and have a period of reflection.
Amendment 34 would place a responsibility on rights holders to inform people whether the infringement that the rights holders have identified was, in their view, done for financial gain or simply because those people decided to infringe. The thinking behind the amendment is that, because the lobby groups that we have talked to have given us a host of what I consider to be rather bogus financial and economic predictions about the effects of illicit file sharing, rights holders and internet service providers should be required to determine whether this so-called online privacy is being done for personal financial gain, or simply because people want to share things that interest them. That would allow us to build up a body of evidence showing the true effects of illicit downloading in the future. I believe that this is a reasonable amendment, and I hope that the Government will consider accepting it.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a point about the financial aspect of file sharing, but does he agree that many of the people being criticised in the Bill are children, and that they will not pay for downloads or access to sites because they do not have the money?
Mr. Watson: Yes, and the same is true more broadly for people who want to share knowledge, data, culture, art and music with each other. They are not motivated by financial gain. Much of the criticism that the Bill has attracted is based on the fact that it concentrates on the economic impact of file sharing, whereas its social and cultural impact has not really been discussed or teased out.
Amendment 41 provides a definition of P2P file sharing. The Government have had trouble in that regard, and this amendment is my stab at the problem. It may be a rather folksy and, I guess, amateur attempt but, given that the great people at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have been unable to come up with a definition, I thought that I would try.
I turn now to new clause 3. We have been told that the whole thrust of the Bill is to reduce illegal infringement and illicit file sharing by 70 per cent. The use of such a target strikes me as slightly naive and gauche, when we should really be adopting a carrot-and-stick approach. We could reduce copyright infringement and illicit file sharing by 70 per cent., but there is no certainty that that would raise a single penny for the creators and rights holders.
Accordingly, new clause 3 seeks to remove people from the illegal black or grey markets by placing an obligation on the Government to promote legal downloading. I hope that the greater optimism of that approach will take the place of the pessimism that pervades the Bill.
With that, I conclude my remarks on this basket of amendments.
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