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4.27 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is important to acknowledge at the outset that the timing of our Second Reading debate is unusual, as I think that we would all accept, and I shall set out more detail about that in a minute. The substance of what we are considering, however, is how we protect and build on the great British success stories that are our digital and creative sectors. The United Kingdom is now No. 1 in the world in those sectors, measured as a proportion of our gross domestic product. The creative industries have grown at twice the rate of the economy as a whole over the past 10 years, and they should do so again over the next 10, thus helping to create many of the jobs of the future. The speed of that growth has been more than matched by the speed of technological change. Many of us will be carrying communications devices that we could not have imagined even five years ago. Hon. Members might even be using them as I speak, given that the rules in this place were sensibly relaxed a few years ago.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): What about pagers?

Mr. Bradshaw: Pagers are long obsolete, as the hon. Gentleman will know.

Most of us, and certainly our children, are consuming music, film, books and other creative content in ways that would have baffled previous generations. The digital revolution has brought huge benefits and opportunities for a country such as Britain that is creative, innovative and flexible, but such rapid change also brings challenges. The overriding challenge that the Bill tries to address is that of keeping the legal framework that applies to our digital and creative sectors up to date in such a fast-moving world.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to explain why his name did not initially appear next to the statement on compatibility with the European convention on human rights? Is there a mysterious reason, was it an oversight, or did the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), who is sitting next to him, just get there slightly ahead of him?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that there is an innocent explanation.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right to mention the success of the creative industries. With reference to our children, the industry must act responsibly-with respect to video games, for example. Such responsibility must accompany the success of the digital revolution.

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Mr. Bradshaw: Indeed, and there are important provisions in the Bill that will help strengthen the protection of children in respect of video games, about which I shall say a little in a moment.

It is not ideal that the Bill is not likely to enjoy full debate through its Committee stages in the House, but at the end of a Parliament there are always Bills to which that applies. This was the case in 2005 with a number of Bills, including the Gambling Act, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, none of which was completely uncontroversial.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw: I give way to the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Mr. Whittingdale: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I was the shadow Secretary of State during the wash-up last time, when the Gambling Act was considered. That Bill had undergone full scrutiny in Committee of the House of Commons. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an example of a major Government Bill that generates substantial opposition that has a Second Reading one day and goes into wash-up for completion the next day?

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not want to read out the entire list of Bills. I have a much longer list, but I will let the hon. Gentleman have it and he can refer to it in his speech, if he wishes.

If the Bill gets on to the statute book, it will be with the co-operation of the main Opposition party and, I hope, the Liberal Democrats and others too. One of the Bill's strengths is that most, if not all, of it enjoys a good level of cross-party support. If it did not, its prospects of surviving the wash-up negotiations that will take place between now and Prorogation would be slim indeed.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there might be a deal with the Tory Front-Bench and the Lib Dem Front-Bench teams, but that the 20,000 people who have taken the time to e-mail their MPs about the Bill in the past seven days are extremely upset that the Bill will not receive the scrutiny that it deserves and requires?

Mr. Bradshaw: We are all aware of the e-mails with which we have been inundated in recent days. I am sure my hon. Friend is also aware of the competing newspapers adverts today from the unions and trade organisations representing those who work in the creative sector who, with respect, probably number hundreds of thousands and feel it is important that the work that they create is not devalued by an issue that we will shortly discuss in more detail. They feel just as strongly that they need the legislation now as the people he mentioned think we should not pass it.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD) rose-

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con) rose-

Mr. Bradshaw: No. I shall make some progress. Many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and if I take too many interventions, they will not get the chance to make their speeches.

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It is not true to say, as some have claimed, that the provisions of the Bill have not already been the subject of considerable discussion. Many of them have been heralded for some time in the reports of Select Committees of both Houses, including our own Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). Many of them were contained in the Government's "Digital Britain" White Paper published last summer after a year's meticulous work by my former ministerial colleague, Lord Carter.

That report was subject to a full public consultation and rigorous scrutiny by the relevant Select Committees of both Houses. More recently, the Bill passed through the other place which, as I am sure hon. Members will recognise, contains a large number of peers who show a great interest in these matters. That is perhaps why the Bill took a month longer than we would have hoped to complete its Lords progress. It was debated for 12 full days-more than 50 hours-on the Floor of the other House, during which some 700 amendments were tabled. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House reminded colleagues in Business questions, it had more debating time in the other place than any other Bill in this parliamentary Session.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State look back in history and see what happens to legislation that gets pushed through the House quickly, without consultation? It looks as though we could push some measure through-perhaps there will be a little stitch-up between the three Front-Bench teams-but out there, ordinary people, many of whom have only begun to realise the repercussions of the Bill, will feel totally let down by Parliament, just before a general election.

Mr. Bradshaw: With respect to my hon. Friend, I suggest that in her constituency many ordinary people, as she refers to them, who work in the film, TV and creative sectors desperately want this Bill, and their voices should be heard, too.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Bradshaw: I give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), the Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Peter Luff: Does the Secretary of State acknowledge also the role of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in this Bill and, in particular, the report that is tagged to this debate, the Committee's report on broadband, to which Ofcom has had the decency to reply in time for the debate, but to which sadly the Business Department, despite having a response ready, has not actually responded? It would have been good to have had this debate on the basis of the fullest available information, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on the lack of detail available to Members in scrutinising the Bill.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), will want to respond to the hon. Gentleman's point when he sums up at the end of the debate.

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Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall give way one more time and then make some progress.

Alun Michael: Does my right hon. Friend accept that what is important in terms of this Bill is putting a framework into place, and that there needs to be a good deal of flexibility thereon? I heard one person this morning criticise the fact that Ofcom will produce guidance in consultation with the other parties, but I thought that that was a potential strength of the Bill.

Mr. Bradshaw: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.

During the Bill's passage through the other place, 700 amendments were tabled. The Government listened to the concerns that were raised, and we either accepted a number of amendments or made some of our own. I hope that those hon. Members who have followed this discussion for some time will agree that, for the most part, the Bill has arrived here in better shape as a result. I can understand the frustration felt by colleagues that the parliamentary timetable means it unlikely that they will have the chance to get their teeth into the detail of the legislation as they would have liked, but I hope that the House will support the Bill's Second Reading and recognise both the importance of passing many of these measures now and the potential damage to our digital economy and our creative industries if we fail to do so and there is further delay.

Let me turn to the contents of the Bill. I have already outlined to the House the importance of the digital economy and our creative industries to Britain's economy. But, hundreds of millions of pounds a year is haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file sharing, and that is not a harmless or victimless activity. It deprives our musicians, writers, film makers, actors and other artists of their livelihood, and if we do not do something about such activity it will pose a serious threat to our creative sectors and Britain's leadership in them. We believe that the provisions in the Bill balance protection for our creative artists with a fair deal for consumers without trampling on the openness that makes the online world the gateway to new experiences and greater democratic freedoms.

The Bill introduces obligations on internet service providers-the ISPs-to send letters to subscribers who are linked to an alleged infringement, and to record the number of notifications with which each subscriber is associated. Copyright owners will be able to apply for a court order to access the names and addresses of alleged serious infringers and take targeted legal action. We expect that those initial measures will be effective and anticipate that, on receipt of such letters, the vast majority of subscribers will seek legal alternatives. There is research and real-world experience to back that up.

The Bill also introduces a power to impose on ISPs a further obligation to apply technical measures against the most serious infringers. To give the initial obligations time to work, those measures cannot be introduced for 12 months from when the code comes into effect. Any decision to introduce them would be based on a careful examination of the evidence, including an assessment and a progress report from Ofcom. That includes looking to see whether copyright owners have played their part in relation to education and developing legal offers.

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John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Although I accept everything that my right hon. Friend says, and accept everything behind those comments, my great fear is that we will turn children into criminals. The Bill is not supposed to do so, but there is nothing in it to protect the child in such cases.

Mr. Bradshaw: With respect, I must say that my hon. Friend is wrong. The Bill does not contain any provision that turns children into criminals. The safeguards that I have already outlined, and will continue to outline, ensure that that is not the case.

The measures to which I was referring would be introduced only after warnings to subscribers and in conjunction with a clear route of appeal. Although a technical measure might include temporary suspension of accounts, it will not involve permanent disconnection-as has so often been misrepresented.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall not. I shall make some progress if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

I have focused on measures to tackle unlawful file sharing, but we have stressed all along the importance of developing legitimate paid-for downloading models. The problem, however, is that those will become widespread and sustainable only if there is a proper legal framework to tackle unlawful downloading.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con) rose-

Mr. Weir rose-

John Hemming rose-

Mr. Bradshaw: No, I shall not give way. Many people want to speak in this debate and I want to make progress so that they get the chance to do so.

Unlawful file sharing using peer-to-peer networks is not the only way in which copyright can be infringed online; according to industry estimates, about a third of current infringements are already carried out in other ways. Originally, the Government wished to future-proof the legislation with what used to be clause 17, which would have provided powers to take action against other forms of online infringement. That clause, however, was too much for Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers in the other place, who tabled a new clause 18 to allow site blocking. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) smiles, as well he might; he wrote the clause and has since disowned it. I shall come to that in a moment. The Government had problems with that clause for a number of reasons, as did both Opposition parties subsequently.

The hon. Member for Bath was so monstered at the Liberal Democrat spring conference for having proposed such a draconian measure that he did not even dare turn up-neither did his noble Friend in the House of Lords. They were both so monstered in their absence for having supported such a draconian measure that they now appear to have changed their whole position on the Bill. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will explain himself in due course.

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To accommodate the changing positions of the Opposition parties, we have drafted the current clause 18, which is far more proportionate than what was suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It would require full consultation and the approval of both Houses by super-affirmative resolutions. I hope that that will meet the approval of the House.

One of the other big challenges that we face in the digital age is how to protect and guarantee television and radio content that the public want and value. As has been highlighted again today by the Select Committee report, the issue is most acute in the case of regional news on ITV in England and ITV news for the nations in Scotland, Wales and, to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland. The Bill will secure the future of quality news on ITV in the regions and nations of the UK.

Just before Easter, I was delighted to announce the three preferred bidders for pilots for these new independently funded news consortiums in Scotland, Wales, the north-east of England and Scottish borders. I deeply regret the position that the Conservative party has taken on the issue. I do not know anyone in the media world who believes that the market will secure the future of the quality TV news that the public expect. At this late hour, I appeal to the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to think again before he signs what could be the death warrant for plurality in the regions' and nations' news.

Other measures in the Bill are aimed at securing a healthy and diverse future media landscape and include an updated remit for Channel 4, ITV and Five, so that they can respond more flexibly to changes in the market and people's viewing habits.

The Bill not only deals with the creative and broadcasting content that we value; it also helps to modernise our digital infrastructure. The switchover to digital radio has probably aroused more interest than any other issue in the Bill except that of unlawful file sharing. The target date of 2015, set by the Government, is an incentive not an ultimatum. We have made it clear that a decision on digital switchover will not be made until national DAB coverage is comparable to that of FM, until local DAB reaches 90 per cent. of the population and all major roads and until 50 per cent. of listening is through digital means. Once all those criteria have been satisfied, there will be at least two years before switchover takes place, at which point we expect coverage and listening to reach nearly universal levels-that is, about 98.5 per cent. judged by television reach.

The Bill also implements the recommendations of Tanya Byron on the classification of video games, an issue referred to a little earlier. It enhances Ofcom's duties on investment in infrastructure and public service media content. It provides the regulator with additional powers to support the modernisation of the mobile network spectrum. It supports the efficient and effective management and distribution of internet domain names and updates the regulation of copyright licensing and public lending rights for the digital age. The Bill will ensure that Britain's digital economy and creative industries can build on their success, continue to thrive and lead the world. I commend it to the House.

4.44 pm

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