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Lord Puttnam: I have a few comments to make about the noble Earl's amendment. I am most concerned that he should not be allowed to be, or feel, a lone voice. The issues he has raised are of enormous importance. I am sure that other members of the Joint Committee will confirm that when we were confronted with the colossal task that we undertook a year ago we experienced some relief when we were told that we did not have to address such issues. Their inclusion in our work would have greatly increased the burden placed upon us. But these issues must be addressed, though this may not be the Bill within which to address them, nor the moment to do so.
To pretend that because such issues are complex, or in some respects defy our ability to pin them down, is no reason at all to imagine that we shall not have to grapple with them sooner or later and bring them under some form ofhere is the dreaded wordintelligent "regulation". It may well be a dotcom, that is a decision for the Government. The noble Earl has
Lord Avebury: I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, on introducing this subject and I agree that it is extremely important. If we are seeking to regulate the content of newspapers, but we are not seeking to regulate those newspapers as they appear on the Web, then there is a philosophical inconsistency in our approach to the legislation. Perhaps we will be told by Ministers that what is published on the Web is dealt with in other ways.
However, that seems incongruous. The noble Earl pointed out that much of what is published on the Web is identical to that which appears in other media. He cited the example of the BBC and other television companies which relay identical material on the Web. It is possible to listen to Radio 4 if you so wish, or you can hear the news in real time. Alternatively, you can use a function which I find extremely convenient, that of time-lapse recording. It is then possible to listen to BBC broadcasts or watch transmissions later on.
However, it goes much further than that. It is possible to read almost any respectable newspaper, the text of which is placed on the Web simultaneously with its publication in hard copy. That applies to newspapers all over the world. I do not know whether noble Lords are familiar with a website which offers access to any newspaper published in any country. The website is called www.thepaperboy.com. You are presented with a menu of countries. A click on Pakistan allows you to read this morning's issue of Dawn. Alternatively, the Australian section allows you to read the Brisbane Courier, or in the Thailand section you can see the Bangkok Post.
We live in a global era as regards the publication of newspapers on the Web. The regulations applying to different newspapers in different countries may seem almost irrelevant when it is possible to access all this material in an identical text format via the Internet. Issues of privacy therefore have to be considered in a much wider context than that encompassed by this Bill. I suggest that they must be dealt with on a global basis because the Internet is a global medium. If we ever seek to introduce regulations that apply to the publication of hard copy when it is relayed via the medium of the Internet, then that must be done by means of international agreement rather than through legislation in any one country.
Perhaps the Minister will try to explain how we should deal philosophically with the inconsistency of attempting on the one hand to regulate the print medium, saying that certain things can or cannot be published in that format, while backing off from any attempt to regulate the content of the Interneta point made by the noble Earl at the start of his remarks. Given that the material may be identical, that would be a hard position to sustain.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I shall be extremely brief. I, too, wish to support my noble friend Lord Northesk. From the body language of the Government Front Bench, I detected a sense that we might be drifting away from the text of the amendment. Given that my noble friend has moved the first of a series of electronic and technological amendments, I shall do once what, in a different mode, the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, did when he declared his interests and said that he would not do so again at any stage. I will not repeat the speech I am about to make on any of my noble friend's subsequent amendments.
I share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I can well recall occasions when in debate between the Department of Trade and Industry and the then Department for National Heritage, some attempts were made to secure rapid decisions favourable to one department by using the complexity of the issue as a way of blinding the other department. I do say that unkindly; it was perfectly proper and understandable. But it means that we must bear the responsibility to ensure that all the technological and electronic flap doors are opened in order to be certain that we are legislating sensibly. We should not pass them by because they are too difficult.
Baroness Buscombe: I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Northesk. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, that we should be grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue. It is a complex subject, one from which perhaps some of us would wish to shrink away, and I must be absolutely straightforward and say that I defer to the expertise of my noble friend. I am grateful to him for raising these important issues.
Lord McNally: Perhaps I may intervene briefly. This is an extremely important matter. I served on the wonderfully named RIP Bill, now an Act. I recall that the interventions of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, then were inevitably correct. Ministers and the department would do well to study carefully his amendments.
The broader issue running through all his amendments is one that cuts both ways. I have heard arguments which declare that technological convergence makes legislation superfluous and unnecessary. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is shaking his head. As a democrat, that attitude goes against every fibre of my being. Whatever the complexity of the technological issues, Parliament should be able, capable and willing to deal with the problems that arise.
One of those problems is of the kind referred to by my noble friend Lord Avebury; that is, print media on the Internet. Similarly, although we might agonise about taste and decency on television, you can send your nine year-old child to his room, where shortly he could use his 3G telephone to access a Dutch porn channel. It is that convergence of technology which forms the background to the Bill, but which will produce many of the problems that this amendment seeks to tackle.
All the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, present the challenge we must face. We are dealing with compartments of communications systems, but convergence is going to render some of the protections we put in place in certain compartments unworkable because of technological change.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I wish to intervene very briefly because I had intended to bring forward a similar issue under a later amendment. The noble Earl has done the Committee a valuable service with his amendment. He has caused us to think about these matters.
Although I think I already know the answer, I wish to ask whether it applies to the Internet, however it is accessedmobile 3G telephones and so forthbecause, as we all know, with the advent of broadband we shall be using our computers in all kinds of ways. If the answer is "No, and deliberately so, because that is left to the self-regulation arm of the proposal", is that wise? We are bound to be reaching the point when there should be at least some duty on Ofcom, even if not to regulate formally, perhaps at least to approve codes. I see nothing in this Bill that gives one confidence that the whole area is being looked at in the detail required at this stage.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My reply to this debate has been anticipated by nearly every speaker, and in every case wrongly. I do not disagree at all with the argument of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. He is quite right in saying that, if we have provision in Clause 3(2)(f) in respect of radio and television services, there ought to be comparable provision for electronic communication network service usersthere is no doubt about that. I shall not rely on Clause 3(3)(e); nor on saying that the matter should not be covered in legislation. I shall rely directly on my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on Amendment No. 10: any standards imposed by Ofcom would have to be consistent with the new European regulatory regime for electronic communications, including the new directive on privacy and electronic communications, to which I referred in some detail.
That directive updates the existing telecom data protection and privacy rules. It will introduce new e-mail and Internet controls. It will not mean us controlling the Internet. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, that that is not our aim. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, we intend to implement the directive in the UK by means of separate regulations under the European Communities Act 1972 for the reason that I gaveit is wider than the remit of Ofcom. We do not think that an additional general duty on Ofcom of the kind proposed in the amendment is necessary or useful.
We started consultation on 27th March. As it is a complex issue, we expect a large response. But we shall implement the directive and put in place a set of controls that will have the enormous virtue of covering Europe. It is not a UK matter, it is an international one.
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