Select Committee on European Communities Report


8.  INTERNATIONAL POLICY ISSUES RELATED TO INTERNET GOVERNANCE

Letter from Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  The above Commission Communication on the governance of internet names and addresses is the subject of an unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted on 10 March. Your Committee has not yet had the opportunity to consider it.

  I am writing to advise you that the UK Presidency is under pressure to seek agreement at the meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives on 11 March 1998 on the joint reply to be sent to the US Government by the Community and Member States. The deadline for comments set by the US Government is 23 March 1998, but the Commission and Member States have, since the Council, made clear their wish to respond as soon as possible, in order to provide a clear and early signal of the EU's views both to EU industry and to the US Administration.

  I am deeply aware of the requirement to provide your Committee with an adequate opportunity to complete scrutiny of Community documents and am very sorry to have to ask again for your Committee's understanding in regard to this paper. Commissioner Bangemann gave only a brief presentation to the 26 February Telecommunications Council of the document which the Commission had adopted the previous day. Copies of the document were not available to the Council. The conclusions of the Council called on the Committee of Permanent Representatives to reach agreement on a joint reply speedily, bearing in mind the 23 March deadline. For the reasons given above, the Commission and Member States wish to finalise the response even sooner at COREPER on Wednesday 11 March.

  I am writing now to advise you that if agreement can be reached on a text which the Government can support on Wednesday, I consider that it would not be in the UK's interest to maintain a reserve on a matter which is of benefit to the UK. In those circumstances, I would therefore intend to lift the Parliamentary Scrutiny reserve put down by officials and which we have hitherto maintained. We have meanwhile submitted an explanatory memorandum to the Committee.

10 March 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you very much for your letter of 10 March drawing our attention to the Commission Communication: International Policy Issues Related to Internet Governance. I realise that the Department of Trade and Industry has not had long to consider this document and that there is now a pressing need to reach agreement on it. Nevertheless, I am perturbed that the Select Committee is not to have an opportunity to consider it before an agreement is reached on it by the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

  I would be grateful if you could supply for the Committee the following documents and information:

    (i)  a copy of the United States Green Paper;

    (ii)  the date on which the Green Paper was issued;

    (iii)  the date on which the Commission first published their Communication and draft response;

    (iv)  a summary of the results of your consultative meeting on 20 February.

  The Committee is keen to know why the Community's response to such an important document is having to be rushed through so quickly at this stage.

  I look forward to hearing from you in due course. In the meantime, I propose to sift the document to Sub-Committee B for further consideration and not to lift the scrutiny reserve yet.

13 March 1998

Letter from Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 13 March asking for further information on the Commission Communication—International Policy Issues Related to Internet Governance. I will first address the information questions raised in your letter.

  The United States Green Paper—A proposal to improve technical management of Internet names and addresses—was released informally on the Internet on 1 February 1998, but was officially published in the US Federal Register on 18 February, triggering a deadline for comments of 23 March. A copy of the Green Paper is attached as requested (not printed).

  It now transpires that the Commission adopted its Communication on 20 February 1998 and it was circulated informally at the Committee of Permanent Representatives later that day. No formal circulation by the Council Secretariat to Member States (the usual procedure) was subsequently made.

  The DTI's informal consultation with UK industry revealed clear concern that the broader and long-term issues at stake not be settled by the US Government alone but in consultation with the international community. There was also concern voiced that the US Government was rushing some decisions under pressure from parts of its domestic industry. There was considerable support for a proposal that the new body responsible for Internet domain names and numbering separate that part of its functions dealing with commercial Internet domain names from other more technical aspects of its role. There was little agreement on other issues, however, given the wide-ranging and conflicting interests at stake and reflected in the varied attendance.

  I understand the concern you express at my having to move forward so rapidly but as I outline below, we were under considerable timing constraints. The adoption by the Commission of its Communication with a draft reply on 20 February was the first firm indication we had that the Commission were aiming at a co-ordinated Community response to the US Green Paper. This approach was confirmed on 26 February at the Telecoms Council which also gave the Committee of Permanent Representatives a remit to finalise the text of the draft reply. At a working group on 5 March the Commission argued strongly and convincingly to Member States that, notwithstanding the US deadline for comments of 23 March, the EU response should be sent as soon as possible to indicate the strength of European interest in this issue. It was therefore agreed that the final text be approved by 11 March. There were thus only three working days between the emergence of a stable text at the end of 5 March and its final approval on 11 March.

  You will recall that I wrote to you on 10 March enclosing an Explanatory Memorandum and explaining my need to move quickly. Since the draft response was in line with UK policy and would, in my judgement, be of benefit to UK industry, I did not wish to delay the Community's response. In particular, I agreed with the EU Commission that an early reply would help set the tone of the consultation and highlight the strong European interest in it.

  Once again, can I assure you that I am very aware of the need to provide your Committee with an adequate opportunity for the scrutiny of Community documents and regret that I was unable to do so on this occasion because of the speed with which the text of the response was agreed.

26 March 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your letter, dated 26 March, on the above Communication, which was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting this morning.

  In your letter you sought to explain why the Community's response to the document was rushed through so quickly thereby preventing the exercise of effective scrutiny. The Committee accepts that, in the circumstances, you were left with little option but to support the adoption of the draft Communication although we regret that we were unable to exercise effective scrutiny on what we consider to be a subject of importance. Your letter does not, however, explain the outcome of the discussions on the draft Communication and whether the final text of the Communication, adopted on 11 March, was in line with the United Kingdom policy.

  The Committee would therefore appreciate clarification on this matter. In the meantime, this letter maintains the scrutiny reserve.

7 May 1998

Letter from Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 7 May in which you enquired about the outcome of discussions on this Communication and whether the final text adopted 11 March was in line with UK policy.

  The document considered by the 26 February Telecommunications Council consisted of a Communication from the Commission with a draft response to the US attached (not printed). The Council welcomed the "broad lines" of the Communication's approach; agreed that a joint response should be made to the US proposals by the Community and its Member States; and instructed the Committee of Permanent Representatives to agree the wording of this reply. I attached the relevant part of the press release issued following the Council (not printed).

  The response subsequently agreed does indeed reflect UK policy in this area and the UK was of course represented on the working group which finalised the draft. The central conclusion of the response, that "...the US Administration limit its direct regulatory intervention in the Internet only to those relationships which fall clearly under existing contracts between the Agencies of the US Government and their contractors and that all other decisions be referred to an appropriate internationally constituted and representative body" is directly in line with Government policy on domain names.

  I hope that this is helpful. Please let me know directly if there is anything further I can do.

22 May 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you very much for your letter of 22 May telling me about the outcome of discussions on this Communication.

  We are very grateful to you for keeping us informed and I shall circulate your letter to Sub-Committee B, who take a particular interest in the subject.

17 June 1998

Letter from Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Further to my letter of 22 May, I am now writing to update you on developments with regard to the US White Paper on the future of the Internet domain name system (DNS).

  The US White Paper was published on 5 June and the proposals now reflect to a high degree the successful lobbying by the UK, the EU and other countries such as Australia in response to the earlier Green Paper on this issue.

  In particular, the White Paper proposes that all substantive decisions on the future of the DNS be made by a new not-for-profit body whose composition will reflect the functional and geographic diversity of the Internet. The US Government will in due course conclude contracts with this body to replace those it currently has with Network Solutions Inc (NSI) and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The potentially useful role of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in developing a dispute resolution mechanism has also been recognised in the revised proposals. The US Administration's position has thus changed considerably in response to international criticism of its original proposals.

16 July 1998


 
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