Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Razzall: My Lords, it might be useful if, in what would otherwise be a rather dry topic, someone could explain the substance of the order. It concerns whether or not the noble Baroness can have as her e-mail address "[email protected]" or whether the Minister can have as his "[email protected]". Probably in both cases they cannot. Perhaps they ought to change their names to "Razzall", which is a lot easier to register as a domain name than either "Evans" or "Miller".

The order is about what happens if there is confusion over "[email protected]" or "[email protected]", who regulates it and what happens if they want to use that name and cannot, or they think they can use that name and somebody else is using it.

I am entirely supportive of the Government's decision that this should not be regulated by Ofcom at present. There was an implied criticism from the noble Baroness that this was for the moment. I believe that it has to be for the moment because the current position under which this is regulated by the American organisation ICANN is regarded as not very satisfactory. I believe that the American Government regard the operation of ICANN as unsatisfactory and have put ICANN on notice that if it does not get its act together and improve the operation of the existing regulation, they will take steps to ensure that some other form of regulation is put in place. Obviously, the organisation is based in California and cannot be regulated by us, but it is important that the Government keep their flexibility. Will the Minister undertake that the situation will be kept under review and that, if the progress of reform of ICANN is not successful, the Government will recognise their obligation, not necessarily via Ofcom, to ensure that there is a better system of domain names in the UK?

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I did not realise that the debate would spread so widely. I begin with the subject of regulating Internet domain names and addresses, ISP addresses and ICANN. The Internet has grown up as a self-regulating network around the globe. It came out of an American Department of Defense initiative to make it possible to communicate after a nuclear attack, and expanded into the academic environment. It is organised and run by a lot of very good well-meaning people, so to those who like regulating and controlling it is slightly anarchic, in that it has simply developed—but it works.

I would hate to see the Internet suddenly subject to huge amounts of government regulation from different governments fighting power struggles for control over the Internet. It works, and we should let it get on with it, so I am delighted to see this statutory instrument saying that we are not going to interfere in it. It is a very good thing that we do not do so—I thoroughly approve of it.

I should tell the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who is worried about e-crime and all that sort of stuff—

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, may be referring to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller.

14 Nov 2003 : Column 1741

The Earl of Erroll: Sorry, my Lords, I am going mad.

I belong to a parliamentary group called EURIM that worries about e-crime and things like that. We are always looking for parliamentary monitors and people who are interested in such matters, so the noble Baroness might like to come along and find out about it. We are about to publish a paper on e-crime, what people should be doing about it and the implications for Parliament—what Parliament might do to help.

ICANN and other organisations have tackled cyber-squatting, and done a lot of work in that area; it is not as easy as it used to be. If there is a very good reason to do so, a domain name will be removed, and that has been so for a couple of years.

The bit of the regulation that interested me was that it covers only the Internet. I could not quite understand, given that Ofcom has said that it will not interfere with private network numbers, why it did not simply have another statutory instrument to say so. There is a statutory instrument saying clearly that it is not going to do so on the Internet and it has been said, verbally, on consultation, that it will not interfere in other areas—areas that could cause problems with equipment manufacturers as well as operators, because there will be internally allocated addresses on private networks. Why would it be thinking of regulating in that area? If it is really not thinking of doing so, why not say so publicly in a statutory instrument, which after all can always be reversed? I could not work out the thinking behind separating the Internet non-regulation from private network non-regulation. That was the only aspect of the legislation that struck me; otherwise, it is an excellent statutory instrument.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I should say that, however the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, feels, there was nothing wrong with her voice when she spoke so eloquently on the order.

I start with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, about what the order does. Perhaps I should restate that this is an order about telephone numbers, which says that the Internet is excluded from Ofcom's responsibility. We are not really talking about domain names, or whether "Miller" or "Evans" can be used. It is a fairly narrow order.

I do not believe that the noble Baroness was making a criticism when she said that the provision was what the Government were doing for the moment. The few words that she so cleverly spotted underline the Government's approach to the Internet. I hope to give the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, the assurance that he wants. We believe, as many other governments do, that the system should be unregulated for the moment, but that we must keep our eye on what is happening.

The front page of this morning's Herald Tribune, for example, has a news story about new technology. It states that new technology that is,


    "being evaluated by phone operators in Europe, Asia and the United States promises to achieve what regulators and competition have so far failed to: drastically reduce mobile phone bills.

14 Nov 2003 : Column 1742


    The technology, which could be introduced next year, would allow people to scrap the separate phones they now use at home and at the office and instead rely on one portable phone and one number, regardless of where they are",

in the world at the time. With that sort of development in new technology, it would be most unwise for any government to look at the scene and decide that they must regulate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, asked who managed the manager—who managed ICANN. It is a self-regulatory body, but the governmental advisory committee provides a framework for governments to give policy advice to ICANN in areas of public interest. Membership is open to all governments; in practice, some 80 have nominated representatives, and about half of those regularly attend meetings. The DTI represents the UK on the governmental advisory committee, so there is supervision on a regular basis.

The noble Baroness also asked who supervises Nominet. The organisation is subject to UK laws. In addition, as a membership organisation, it is directly answerable to many of the key UK stakeholders. Nominet is a self-regulatory body and, if it fails, the Government will have to step in—but there are absolutely no signs that it is failing.

The noble Baroness asked for a report on what the Government are doing to combat Internet crime. The Government apply UK online law in the same way as we apply offline law. The Obscene Publications Act 1959 applies to material published in the UK on the Internet, and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 extends the laws on obscenity to cover material available on computer terminals. That is another area where we are vigilant and ensuring that, within the area of self-regulation, things are not going awry.

The noble Baroness asked what steps were being taken to protect children from Internet crime. As I have said, laws apply whether online or offline, but the Government recognise that there are particular problems with the international facet of the Internet and strongly support the measures taken by the industry to tackle potentially illegal material. The Internet Watch Foundation is a group set up and funded by the UK Internet service providers. It operates a successful hotline to which people can report potentially illegal material, and child pornography in particular. We are keeping a very close eye on the matter.

The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked why the order excluded Internet-related numbers but not other numbers not within the national telephone numbering plan. The Internet is very different from the ordinary telephone system, so unless there was a major regulatory shift, there would be no cause for Internet-related numbers even to be considered as telephone numbers for the purpose of the Communications Act. Numbers such as intranet network routing codes, on the other hand, are sufficiently similar to regulated telephone numbers for it to be possible that they might also need to be regulated at some time in future. As I have said, Ofcom has no plans to regulate them, and we would consult widely over a long period if we considered that they might need to be regulated.

14 Nov 2003 : Column 1743

I hope that answers all the questions. I am grateful to noble Lords who took part in the discussion. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page