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Perhaps I may put into one sentence-when people say that, they usually go on to speak for five minutes-what I feel is the view on these Benches. As noble Lords will have realised, I have always been hugely sympathetic to the interests of the creative industries. I completely buy the argument that we cannot allow our creative industries to suffer from the illegal downloading of material. However, the creative industries have spent a large number of years trying to get their act together in relation to what they want the Government to do. They have eventually arrived at that point, and we now have the proposals for the code and the technical measures. However, the creative industries cannot have it both ways. They cannot have the huge amount of effort which Ofcom, the Government and everyone else will be putting into getting the technical measures into place-let alone the costs which will be incurred both by the ISPs and by themselves-while at the same time saying, "But we also want to reserve the right to send letters to people through our lawyers saying that if they do not pay their £500, there will be frightful consequences". Under this amendment, if the copyright owner believes that there is a breach, it will have to go through the technical measures rather than go to court.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, the House is greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for tabling a number of amendments in Committee to which the Government have now responded. However, I wonder whether he does not feel that, on reflection, and on a close reading, government Amendment 100 largely deals with all the problems that he has raised, including the prospect of costs being awarded to the subscriber. That should be a sufficient deterrent to rogue firms of solicitors who try to make a quick buck by writing threatening letters.
The Government have given every evidence of having listened to everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in Committee, and with which I largely agreed. The balance was too heavily tilted in favour of the copyright owners. However, that balance has been addressed by the Government's later amendments. I am not sure that I see the point of looking for something extra at this point.
The Earl of Erroll: I greatly support the sentiments behind these amendments. Although I take the noble Lord's point that Amendment 100 addresses this issue, it deals with it only in the context of a letter that has been raised within the confines of the Bill. The point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that law firms and others could continue to send letters which are nowhere within the ambit of the Bill and which are not controlled under it. So they can put whatever they want into those letters. They could even refer to the letter in a way that would give the illusion that this legislation is involved.
This may sound like a different point, but it is not. When we had the confusion over people asking for information about subscribers' telephone details, we ended up having the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to try to consolidate the position. People did not know whether requests were genuine. It would be a big loophole if we left in the Bill a system that could give rise to abuse. We now have a chance to knock this on the head once and for all. Then we can do everything in a proper and consolidated way, and we will know where we stand.
Lord Puttnam: Will the Minister give us an indication of his conversations with the Law Society? In what ways or by what means can the Law Society prevent its members acting in a way that hardly appears to be in accordance with the normal duties of a solicitor?
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I was going to make a similar point. We have concerning evidence, as we all said in Committee, that one and now apparently two so-called solicitors are behaving in this way. Clearly this has to cease. Equally, there has recently been legislation and the establishment of new bodies which are just coming into effect. I am less keen to put something into the Bill immediately, as it will not necessarily be the right answer to the problem. I am a little more cautious about it at this stage. It has to be dealt with and is disgraceful. If these firms really are law firms, they are bringing their whole profession into disrepute.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government would be wise to take on board a provision such as this one if they want their other measures to receive a degree of acceptance if not enthusiasm. As my noble friend the Minister knows, I am deeply sceptical about the approach of this Bill. One of the reasons for that scepticism-and one of the reasons detected by the rather small group of consumers who actually understand these things-is an awareness of these kinds of abuses being committed under the present system by the rights holders who go to court and, even more diabolically, by some of their legal representatives. Acceptance of the future system proposed in the Bill would be aided if these abuses were cleared out of the existing system.
With due respect to my noble friend Lord Gordon, Amendment 100-with which there will be some difficulties anyway-does not address this issue because it is a post facto situation involving someone who has gone through the technical measures and procedures in the Bill. The abuse addressed in the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, involves the present system of going through the courts. That has given some rights holders and their representatives a pretty poor reputation among those who ought to be enthusiastic consumers of their output. This has in part soured discussion about the objective the Government are trying to achieve in the Bill. I hope that one of these amendments appeals to the Government-it ought to. If not, the Government ought to come up with one that deals with this very serious abuse once and for all.
On these Benches we are very pleased to see that the House is generally much more sympathetic to amendments of this nature. Obviously, they have been redrafted to be less exclusive in terms of ousting the courts, but as the Minister himself in his letter to us said:
"There will be occasions where the notification system is not appropriate, and it is important that we allow rights holders some flexibility, rather than tie the hands of the entire creative industries due to the possible poor conduct of some isolated parties".
We took that on board in formulating these amendments. Clearly, we are very strong supporters of the system of graduated response, which as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said is being considerably improved as a result of amendments to the Bill. However, in the mean time we learn of new entrants to the hall of infamy, such as Tilly Bailey & Irvine-the second law firm which I do not think anybody has mentioned in addition to ACS:Law. We also know more about the firm responsible for the investigations, Logistep. As my noble friend mentioned, the activities of these two law firms and Logistep are an embarrassment to the rest of the creative rights industry. We have seen more letters since Committee stage which demonstrate the methods being used by these law firms, which are of a threatening nature-some six or so pages as a first letter is grossly disproportionate.
"We appreciate the impact that receiving letters from ACS:Law is having on individuals, and the need to bring this matter to a conclusion as soon as we are able. However, we have to undertake a thorough investigation to ensure the right outcome in the public interest".
With respect, I mention to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, that Amendment 100, which he talked about, is on a wholly separate issue-appeals against technical measures-and does not cover the matter in hand.
We are pleased that the SRA has said that it will deal with this with dispatch. However, we feel something in the order of the amendments tabled by the noble
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Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, I rise very briefly. We sympathise a great deal with much of what has been said, but it is an important point of principle that nothing that is put in the Bill prevents rights holders from using civil proceedings.
The initial obligations procedure in this legislation is an additional remedy designed to tackle illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing. That point of principle is important when discussing and looking at these amendments. Amendments 16 and 31 would appear to limit the ability of a rights holder to use established remedies. If rights holders want to go to court to seek damages under existing copyright laws, then this Bill should not stop them from so doing.
On these Benches we obviously agree with the aim of stopping unscrupulous law firms sending demanding letters to unknowing and innocent customers. However, I am not sure whether the way to stop these is to stop rights holders being able to exercise their legitimate claims in a timely manner.
Finally on this issue, I thank the Minister for taking this matter up with the Secretary of State for Justice. While I appreciate that he will not wish to comment before the individual cases are resolved, can he give the House an update on discussion with his government colleagues about alternative means by which help can be given to protect consumers?
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, as I have expressed on previous occasions, I sympathise with the concerns-there is nothing between us on the problem. I understand the intent behind these amendments. Though I did not initially receive the letters I am sure I am being included in the loop; I get the letters now. I share the concern: I would liken them to rogue wheel-clampers, if I can use that analogy.
There are certainly some law firms which appear to act in a way that some consider heavy-handed or unfair. However, the proper way to control the conduct of law firms is through the independent regulator, and that is what we are doing. Following discussion of this matter in Committee, we wrote to the Lord Chancellor, as has been heard, to bring this matter to his personal attention. As you know, we have received a reply from the Ministry of Justice, and a further letter from the Solicitors Regulation Authority. These letters explain that there have been complaints and a thorough investigation is under way. Like all noble Lords, I wish it could act more promptly and we could bring this to an end.
It is fair to say that we expect that copyright owners will want to use this notification system to tackle appropriate cases. Indeed, should the Bill become an Act, the courts may choose to view the approach taken within it as an example of good practice for cases of this sort-although clearly this would be for the judiciary to decide.
We believe that the notification system is fair and proportionate, and we hope that it will be effective. However, we do not believe it is right to remove flexibility from the courts and copyright owners in the way these amendments seek to. There will be occasions, as-I nearly said "my noble friend"-the noble Lord, Lord Howard, quite rightly pointed out, when the notification system is just not appropriate, and there is no justification for adding extra difficulty to those cases. I remind noble Lords that the graduated approach which we seem to accept as the right way forward was really designed to deal with the mass problems of peer-to-peer file-sharing. That is why we talked about behavioural change, and why that was appropriate. However, in certain cases this is not appropriate-for example, where people are stealing or infringing high-value copyright, or where there is a need for action to be taken more promptly-then, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said, we cannot deny copyright holders an alternative approach. This notification system will not be appropriate, and there is no justification for adding extra difficulty to those cases.
The right to access the courts is a fundamental one, and to limit this in any way may infringe upon basic human rights, as well as on the free exercise of the property right in copyright itself. It is not that we do not want to be of assistance-we want to help. However, going down the route suggested in these amendments unfortunately will not solve the problem.
I will rest on this final point, which is another reason why we cannot accept the amendments however much we sympathise with their aim. The right to take action against a person who has infringed your copyright is enshrined in international and European law. There is also a more fundamental question here: the right of access to the courts and access to redress for a civil wrong. Human rights are engaged, as well as matters of constitutional law. This is a matter that needs to be solved through regulation, not by interfering in these basic rights. It is not that we do not have a great deal of sympathy. In a way, we wish that we could do this. Unfortunately, however, the suggested remedies are not capable of being introduced, and they are not appropriate for the reasons that I have mentioned.
I hope the noble Lord will recognise that we have treated this matter seriously and that we will continue to do so. We will continue to press the Ministry of Justice and the Solicitors Regulation Authority to act on this. In the light of the points I have made, I hope he will feel capable of withdrawing the amendment.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, as the Minister pointed out when he referred to rogue wheel-clampers, it seems to take a very long time and the suffering of tens of thousands of people before a Government will move to deal with an abuse that has some justification in fundamental law. Rogue wheel-clampers are merely enforcing their rights of private property. I suppose that bailiffs are doing an excellent job in retrieving lots of money for the public purse and for creditors. Here we have another case where many tens of thousands of people are subject to something that is not as we would wish it to be in a proper and perfect world.
I appreciate what the Minister said about there being deeper questions here, and I understand that my own Front Bench shares those qualms. Other than an
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Lord Young of Norwood Green: Perhaps I can be of help. We will continue to pursue this problem with the Ministry of Justice and the SRA. I give that assurance because we share the concerns that this problem does not look as though it will go away even if the Bill is enacted. I can give that assurance, if it helps the noble Lord.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is appreciated. I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench also shares those sentiments, but I will not press him to go outside the rules of Report. With grateful thanks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, these pilot regulations will implement the Government's proposal to introduce increased obligations for jobseeker's allowance customers to undertake training from 26 April 2010. Perhaps it would be helpful to explain how this fits with the current core regime for jobseekers.
The department is currently introducing a new jobseekers regime and implementing the Flexible New Deal, which builds on the successes of the outgoing new deals, to offer a much more personalised and responsive service to jobseeker's allowance customers. The new regime offers increasing support to people during the first 12 months of their jobseeker's allowance claim and expects individuals, in return, to undertake more activities to return to work the longer they
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Of course, the recession has made things tougher. But the Government have responded by making available up to £5 billion to provide significant extra assistance to help jobseekers find work. That means that more help is now available to everybody prior to redundancy and from the start of a claim. Those out of work for six months or more have access to new support, including retraining opportunities. Furthermore, all 18 to 24 year-olds are guaranteed an offer of a job, training or work experience through the young persons guarantee after six months on JSA.
The Government are also introducing the new integrated employment and skills service in which early contact with Jobcentre Plus and a learning provider or adult careers services will provide the range of services to address the specific skills needs of customers and overcome employment-related barriers to work. In return for this support, the Government expect individuals to take increased responsibility and have committed to take the legislative powers necessary to pilot requiring jobseeker's allowance customers to address their skills needs as a condition for receipt of benefits. This pilot will run in 11 Jobcentre Plus districts that have already embedded both the Flexible New Deal and IES services.
We know that skills and qualifications play a vital role in improving labour market outcomes, both for individuals and society. Those with higher qualifications are more likely to be employed and earn more than people with lower level or no qualifications. Around 4.6 million people possess no qualifications at all and 3.5 million of those fall into at least one other priority group-they are disabled, aged 50 or over, a lone parent or from an ethnic minority. The employment rate of those with level 2 qualifications or above is around 20 percentage points higher than those with qualifications below level 2 or with no qualifications.
"Individuals must raise their sights, aspirations and motivation and invest in their own skills. Where skills were once a key lever for prosperity and fairness, they are now increasingly the key lever. The UK can only achieve world class prosperity and fairness if it achieves world class skills".
For those out of work, the skills that they have to offer employers are critical to their chances of finding a new job. There is a direct relationship between how good a person's skills are and what their prospects are for employment. The longer a jobseeker remains on benefit, the greater the levels of support. But in return for this support the Government rightly expect individuals to step up to those requirements. However, we know that even where a customer has identified a training
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It is not acceptable that those who are disadvantaged fail to address the very issue that could prevent them from realising their potential. That is why we have designed the JSA skills conditionality pilots so that we can learn whether equipping people with the right training means that they can ultimately get sustainable jobs and move away from a life on benefit.
The proposal to pilot skills conditionality was first announced in 2006 and details have been included in a series of Green Papers. Meanwhile, the Social Security Advisory Committee carried out a consultation on the regulations. We are grateful to SSAC and to those who responded to it. We acknowledge the concerns of SSAC about why the department did not conduct a full consultation on these regulations, and as a department we will continually look at how we can improve in this area. DWP is not averse to consultation; indeed there were 26 separate consultations during 2009, and there have already been six consultations this year. We take the comments of the committee seriously and the Permanent Secretary has recently stressed the importance of consultation to senior officials.
In this particular instance, DWP quite rightly placed great emphasis on introducing the recession measures that were urgently needed to combat rising unemployment. The enormous amount of officials' time required for those measures unfortunately resulted in a wider consultation not taking place before SSAC was consulted. For this, I apologise. We do, however, consider that those who responded to the SSAC consultation would have raised similar questions to a DWP consultation.
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