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My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey is quite right to hope that one day we will have local television news services. That is the objective, but we are still some way off. The Government brought forward the proposal for independently funded news consortiums, in which my Select Committee saw some attraction, but clearly that is not going to get through this week. There is, perhaps, an alternative way now. The new chairman of ITV has indicated that he might be willing to continue to provide regional news, which is a welcome development, but he will need some help if he is to do that. It is clear that the public service obligations and regulatory burdens of contract rights renewal are imposing real costs on
ITV. If we are to help it continue to provide the public service programming that we want to see, such as regional news, one way we can help is to lift those regulatory burdens, including CRR.
I share the enthusiasm for Channel 4 and welcome the fact that its remit is being updated. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee drew attention to the lack of accountability in the current structure of Channel 4, and I welcome the provisions that will require it to give greater detail to Ofcom about how it is meeting its public service remit. I am concerned that it is not subject to the same provisions as the BBC, for instance, on the potential impact of its activities on commercial competitors. Although it does not receive public subsidy, it is nevertheless owned by the state and needs to look carefully before moving into areas in which commercial competitors are already present. I should like there to be at least some recognition of that.
There are provisions in the Bill relating to video games classification. Many Members who are currently in the Chamber will have participated in long debates about whether that should be responsibility of the British Board of Film Classification or whether the pan-European game information system should be used. That has now been resolved, although there are still one or two issues of some concern. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed the Government's intention to recognise the potential loophole that exists in the case of sport and music videos, which are a method by which wholly inappropriate content can sometimes be viewed by people who are under age. The Government have suggested that they are willing to address that. In general, I will be pleased if the important provisions on video game classification pass on to the statute book.
Clause 43, on orphan works, and the subsequent clauses dealing with extended collective licensing, have been mentioned. That is another terribly sad subject, because the wish to use some of the creative content currently locked in libraries, museums and the BBC is absolutely right. The motivation behind clause 43 is entirely admirable, but again, it was not properly thought through and there are genuine concerns about the conditions in which it will operate. There is supposed to be a market rate, but what is the market rate for a photograph that has never been used? Photographs have hugely varying costs depending on who took them, their content and their age, yet it is suggested simply that there should be a market rate. There is also concern about the so-called "diligent search" that the collecting agency is supposed to carry out, and how diligent it will actually be.
Photographers have also expressed concerns to us about how metadata can fall off a photograph accidentally, or perhaps even deliberately through the actions of those who want to exploit it. It is sad, but there is no question but that clause 43 in its current form is not fit for purpose. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves today, without any ability to consider properly how the clause can be amended, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey is right to say that it should not be passed. That is a missed opportunity, because we have not had time to go through the Bill properly.
I welcome the provisions to extend public lending right into the area of e-books, which may become much more popular in the near future. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is quite right to say that they will be universally supported.
The final clause about which I have some concern is clause 46, which has not been mentioned this afternoon. In the House of Lords my party rightly identified what was then clause 17 as giving the Secretary of State sweeping powers to amend legislation by order and, essentially, bring in whole new areas of copyright law without proper debate. Clause 46 appears remarkably similar in that it provides the Secretary of State with general powers to amend legislation by order. I hope that that is not right, and that it is not a Henry VIII clause. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that, because if it is a Henry VIII clause, providing such wide powers, we should not pass it.
Although there is a great deal in the Bill that I support, I still fear that some measures that will go through have considerable flaws, and that we may well have to revisit them in future. There are other clauses, which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey identified, that we should not be prepared to pass.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): It is rather sad that we should devote one of the last major debates of this Parliament to such a sprawling rag-bag of a Bill. It is difficult to get a solid core to bite on and a solid argument to put, because it is very much like the curate's television. It is good in parts, but has large areas of dross and boredom and is bad in other parts. It is therefore difficult to come to any conclusion other than the one that a number of Labour Members have argued-that we should delay consideration until a better time when we can give the Bill more serious concern and preoccupation.
I heard all the Secretary of State's answers about how the House of Lords has devoted its usual frenzied, hectic consideration to the Bill, full-time, for months and months, and how the Government have conducted a full consultation with all the outside interests. However, I am suspicious, because if it has had such full consideration, why are so many of my hon. Friends upset at the speed at which it is going through? Why am I getting more e-mails than I can competently deal with now that I am in half-campaigning mode, saying, "This is a bad Bill. Stop it. We don't want it and we are threatened", from people more active and interested in the internet than I am?
The e-mails are mainly from young people, who feel threatened by the Bill. They may be wrong, they may not be threatened by it and the procedures for cutting off their access through the service provider may be fair, just, wholesome and very effective, but they still feel threatened. It will take time to explain things to them, and to examine their worries and discuss them. When I have replied to their e-mails, their answer has always been, "This is a Bill on which the big boys, the big corporations and the big businesses, which are now involved in the internet, have all been well consulted. Their voices have been well heard and they have dominated the consideration of the Bill. It is far too favourable to them and far too unfavourable to the little guy." The little guy-in particular, the people indulging in harmless file sharing out of interest-is how the people writing to me see themselves.
That is a complex argument, but it is true that the big corporations and big business have loud voices and that the House of Lords is a natural forum for the expression of those loud voices and opinions. When discussing the Bill we have talked about peer-to-peer transfers, but peer-to-vested-interest transfers are a major part of the process.
Pete Wishart: I am following the hon. Gentleman's remarks with great interest. Does he actually believe that there is a problem with illegal file sharing, as has been outlined by the Secretary of State? If we do not take the measures in the Bill, what would the hon. Gentleman do to try to tackle it?
Mr. Mitchell: My answer is simple: I do not know. That is why I do not want the Bill to be rushed through; my education is involved here, as well as the education of all the people who are concerned about this throughout the country. The House will often find it difficult to come to a verdict on these issues without hearing further explanation and having further discussion, without the Committee work that is involved and without the hearings involved in pre-legislative scrutiny, which Lord Puttnam has told us that we should have had on this Bill. So I am not going to propose an alternative solution, but I am worried that the one proposed in the Bill frightens a lot of people in the country. I want to allay their concerns and to be able to explain to them that it is not damaging and it is not dangerous-if that is indeed the case. I do not know whether it is.
So another argument for having further consideration of the Bill is that the voice of the young is saying, "This threatens us." These people may be nerds, fanatics or zealots for all I know, but they are concerned and worried, and they will not be bullied into accepting the Bill. We have to weigh their voices, listen to what they are saying and discuss their concerns. I cannot do that and the House cannot do it if we are half in campaigning mode, if most Members' minds are back in their constituencies and if most Members are worrying about what will happen to them or are thinking about the coming joys of retirement-that is a pleasant occupation, which I hope I shall not be enjoying. We cannot give full consideration to the Bill in that state of mind. Logic says to the Government and the precautionary principle says to me, "If it is doubtful, if you are not sure, if you have not consulted and if there are voices that need to be heard, do not rush into doing anything. In particular, do not rush into legislation."
What would a delay of another three months or so in order to discuss the Bill properly and give it full consideration do? There would be no danger in taking such an approach. A delay of three months would not produce the collapse of the creative industries, which has been held up as the threat hanging over us. This needs to be settled and discussed by the Commons through its full procedures; this should not be a rushed Bill, carried on the basis of the half attention of a discredited, dying and distracted Parliament. If the Bill is passed in that form, it will not have legitimacy and consent, and it will not be accepted in the way that it needs to be. There is, thus, a strong argument for delay. The Government say that they are going to provide for all this in regulations, but regulations do not receive the full discussion. Thus, they do not carry the full confidence of the people on whom they are imposed that having a full discussion in this House would.
"This seems to be a draconian and heavy handed bill aimed at appeasing big business and I do not believe its being granted royal assent is in the best interests of British citizens."
"I'm a self-employed media professional working in the entertainment industry, who earns his living by creating intellectual property and licensing it to publishers. You might think I'd be one of the beneficiaries of this proposed law: but you'd be dead wrong. This is going to cripple the long tail of the creative sector-it plays entirely to the interests of large corporate media organizations and"-
"on the plate of us ordinary working artists."
"Want to write a casual game for the iPhone and sell it for 99 pence? Good luck with that-first you'll have to cough up £50,000 to get it certified as child-friendly...Want to publish a piece of shareware over BitTorrent? You're"-
"all it takes is a malicious accusation and your ISP (who are required to snitch on p2p users on pain of heavy fines) will be ordered to cut off the internet connection to you and everyone else in your household. (A really draconian punishment in an age where it's increasingly normal to conduct business correspondence via email and to manage bank accounts and gas or electricity bills or tax returns via the web.) Oh, you don't get the right to confront your accuser in court, either".
I wish to comment on other aspects of the Bill that concern me and I would like these to be discussed at some length. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) in his analysis of the digital radio switchover. Clearly the industry, in the main, supports digital switchover, but of course a switchover to DAB radio by 2015 is wholly impractical and out of the question because that is too soon. It will be much more difficult to switch over to digital radio than it was to switch over to digital TV, because that process was helped by the mass subscription to Sky and by the development of Freeserve. Such provision does not exist in respect of radio, because there are 120 million radios in this country and sales of digital radio have not taken off. Digital radio is quite expensive and if we make it compulsory, that will be a heavy tax on the consumer. One of the lower prices for a digital radio is about £85, and that price has increased with devaluation. So this would be a heavy burden to impose on the consumer, and if we require switchover, it would leave about 120 stations still on FM and locked out in the cold. We do not have to switch over at this speed and we do not have to switch over to DAB because we could move to DAB plus, which would allow both services to be run concurrently.
I am worried about the digital switchover for radio, because the crucial factor here is car radios, for which the technology is never sold effectively. Like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), my experience with DAB in the car has been totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it messy, but it is difficult to pick up a station, and the signal cuts in and out and fades away, so one is constantly having to switch back to FM. Digital car radio sales are crucial, but such sales have been low and there is no sign of their taking off.
Only 1 per cent. of cars are fitted with a digital radio, and until there is a mass fitting of digital car radios we shall not be able to have an effective switch-off. I am worried about that provision.
The photo provisions have been well dealt with. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned the access to orphan works, which we all welcome, but let us not forget that that can be a threat to existing photographers, for whom their photography is a living and who thus need the royalties to be paid. As Tom Stoddart, a well respected and well known photographer, has said in submissions to us, the metadata that are attached to the photograph can be simply cut off, junked and lost, so there is no attribution to an author. There is no definition of the search that the photograph user has to make. It could be totally perfunctory, and used in undesirable situations and without payment to the author of the photography. That problem with so-called orphan works is not satisfactorily dealt with in the Bill.
My last point concerns regional television. I grew up in regional television and I am a strong supporter of it, and the way that ITV has been treating its regional commitment is outrageous. It should have been held more firmly to the contract pledges that it submitted when it got the contracts in the first place. Ofcom has given it an easy option, and so has failed in that respect. The experiment with three new providers is a brave and effective one, and I am glad to see it going ahead in Tyne Tees, Scotland and Wales-I hope it is successful-but it does not have a firm financial base. The original hope was to cream something off the licence fee, but that has not happened. There will be a substantial cost to the operation, and an even bigger one if it is extended to other companies, as it should be if ITV is going to wriggle out of its regional commitments.
The Conservative party's hope that the market will provide is laughable. The market certainly will not provide regional television; it is a regulatory requirement. It is ridiculous to argue that the ITV companies are so overregulated that they cannot provide regional television, because it is regulation that is keeping regional television there-and we want to keep it. I wish the experiment success. It is a brave idea on the part of Ministers, but it needs a firm financial base if it is to be extended to other companies and organisations, as it should be. ITV's roots have to be in the regions, because that is how it builds up its audience in the early part of the evening. Only an ITV that provides effective regional television can compete with the BBC. Regional television has increased and improved enormously over the past few years, and is now leading the field. ITV needs to fight back, and if we can help it with these sorts of provider experiments and by providing a new financial basis, we should do so.
I do not want to continue at length sorting through this rag-bag-one never knows what kind of smelly garments one will find when sorting through such a rag-bag-but it is unsatisfactory that we are putting this rag-bag into the wash-up. I know that hands that do dishes can be as soft as your brain, with bright, green Fairy liquid, but a wash-up is not a satisfactory way of dealing with measures as important as this to the future of radio, television, the internet, and the music and film industries. We should not be considering this at this hectic, break-neck pace; we should be postponing it for
three months and giving it full and proper consideration in the next Parliament, when Labour can reintroduce the Bill and we can get back to it.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). His optimism will ultimately prove to be misplaced, I hope, but I found myself in total agreement with the broad thrust of his remarks. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) talked in his interesting remarks about the lack of vision in the Bill. Legislation is not always the best place to find vision, as a general rule; the nearest we get to it in this legislation is the title-the Digital Economy Bill. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, it is a rag-bag of measures that do not live up to that relatively grand-sounding title.
I cannot overestimate the importance of the Bill-or, at least, of the things that it deals with-to the future of the British economy, society and culture. The internet has already transformed our lives-even now, as I speak, I see hon. Members tweeting and taking text messages. I welcome that, but the transformation has only just begun, and getting this right is hugely important. I have some sympathy with the Government. I was a special adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry when the then Government produced the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and even then we were discussing, at official level, how to cope with legislation that can keep pace with environments as fast changing as those we are dealing with in this Bill. That was before the digital revolution, and the rate of change has been transformed.
Nevertheless, this is the most profoundly unsatisfactory constitutional process I have engaged with in my 18 years in the House. In his opening remarks the Secretary of State promised my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) that he would write up a list of precedents, but I do not believe-I could be proved wrong-that there is a single precedent for giving a major and controversial Bill a Second Reading once a general election has been announced. It is a scandal that the House is being asked to agree that tonight.
I have given the matter careful consideration and I make this commitment: if there is a Division, I will support the Bill because, under a true constitutional process, it deserves a Second Reading; it does not, though, deserve what will happen to it thereafter. However, I broadly support the aims and objectives of the Bill and will vote for its Second Reading should there be a Division-but I shall do so under duress and protest, because I hate and loathe the process in which I am forced to participate.
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