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7 Apr 2010 : Column 1117

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): Has the hon. Gentleman completed his contribution? In plain words, has he finished?

Mr. Mitchell: I have.

John Hemming: I start by declaring some interests. I am a member of the BPI, the Performing Right Society and the Musicians Union, and I have also run e-commerce companies for more than 10 years.

The Bill is a complete mess. There is a real problem, and, to be fair, a lot of the market for music is among younger people, so although the industry overestimates the amount of money that it would gain from having a very much more restrictive approach on download, a lot of the music business is involved in selling to teenagers and perhaps even younger children at times. There is an issue here; there is no question about it. Musicians need a way of getting their return.

The first problem is trying to deal with a very complex issue in the wash-up. It is a completely absurd thing to do. I accept that the industry has had to wait four years for this, but that is not a reason to do it all in one night or two nights. That is a reason to drop clauses 11 to 18 and new clause 1 from the Bill and examine the matter properly in the new Parliament.

The dangers lie with sites such as WikiLeaks, which is a good example to look at. It publishes leaked Government information, on which Governments always have the copyright. A recent example is the US air force video, which it published. Copyright exists with the US Government, who under the Bill could, and would want to, apply to ban WikiLeaks from the UK. That provision is clearly in the Bill. Yesterday I gave the example of freedom of information. Most local authorities, when they send people freedom of information requests, say, "By the way, we keep the copyright on this." They keep the copyright, and they could say, "There are websites that report on freedom of information requests, and they can be banned as well." I know that it sounds absurd.

This debate comes down to the fact that we need to review copyright, fair use and where copyright does and does not exist. On the one hand, the Government are imposing massive restrictions on copyright, whereby any situation involving any vague copyright suddenly means banning everyone in the family from the internet. On the other, the Government are taking from a television programme a picture of an Audi Quattro and mashing it up-and then somebody else is doing the same thing. We have that absurdity.

In my previous life I did a little computer programming for my casework system, and I still do. With computer programming, a small amount of code can have a massive impact. A plane that flies on duff computer programming can actually crash, and the same applies to laws. Computer programming involves testing, and the lesson is that we should test things rigorously before letting them go live. With laws we have scrutiny, and that process should be rigorous, particularly when it involves something that is a part of so many people's daily lives.

The amendments are welcome, but the Government's big mistake has been to take on this most complex issue, which has wide implications. WikiLeaks is a good example
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to consider, as are the websites that report on freedom of information requests, because the Bill would give the US Government the opportunity to ban people from looking at WikiLeaks. I am sure that the Government do not wish to achieve that end, but the way to deal with the issue is not to push the Bill through in two nights without any adequate scrutiny, and not to push through new clause 1 or clauses 11 to 18-although I understand that clause 18 will actually be disagreed to. The way to deal with the issue properly is to spend some time on it in the new Parliament, so that it can be examined from all angles. There is a real problem, but let us not make a real mess of it in order to deal with just one aspect.

Dr. Palmer: I shall be brief, because time is short. I am possibly one of the few Members who have suffered directly from illegal copying. When I produced my video game it was almost immediately copied, and I presume that I lost some royalties from that. So I do not consider this to be a completely trivial problem, as has been suggested.

However, there are two basic difficulties. First, the remedy is inappropriate. I am completely open to the argument that we should have stricter penalties for people who seek to make money out of illegal copying, from which many young people, to whom we referred earlier, might benefit. However, young people are not the primary instigators. The primary instigators are the people who make the original illegal copy and sell it on for gain. If we blocked internet access for individuals who make use of illegal copying, that would be inappropriate in two ways: they are not the primary instigators, and although we can imagine that perhaps they should be fined, we would be denying them access at a time when society as a whole increasingly depends on access, and when we are attempting to reduce the digital divide. By analogy, if I misused the postal service and as a penalty I was no longer allowed to receive letters, that would simply not be the right solution.

Secondly, owners of copyright are generally quite powerful in their financial resources. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) that some of them may be start-up bands and not very well set, but there has been reluctance among major companies to pursue copyright infringements. Sometimes the infringements can be helpful in their marketing. As one of my constituents has said to me, targeting ISPs is a bit as though we were prosecuting road maintenance workers because the council had failed to impose the correct restrictions on how the roads were used. The ISP should not be our primary target in attempting to attack the problem.

Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, although we will not get the opportunity to look into it, there is a lot to be said for confining the offences to those who are both organised and acting for profit on a commercial basis? Any attempt to place a restriction on young people and then provide for an astonishing mechanism of appeals to a first-tier tribunal seems unbelievable. Young people who are engaged in the activities in question as a matter of practice will not be restrained, despite what everyone might want to say. We might end up producing an unworkable law on a fast track through the House, when there are remedies if we could only get down to the business of considering them properly.

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Dr. Palmer: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Either the law will be effective or it will not. If it is effective, it will impose intolerable sanctions on individuals who are not the main instigators. If it is ineffective, we are wasting our time. I agree that the focus should be on the wholesale commercial violators. I would be very much in favour of stricter penalties for them, because I recognise that there is a genuine problem.

Mr. Vaizey: I commend the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who has set himself up as the digital tsar of the House of Commons and an expert on all matters to do with the creative industries. He is filling a vacuum left by the Government, who have refused to replace the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) since he resigned as Minister with responsibility for the creative industries.

Mr. Watson: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's praise. I guess the vacuum that I am filling is the one left by the lack of amendments tabled by Conservative Front Benchers.

Mr. Vaizey: I will come on to that. I was going to commend the hon. Gentleman for his amendments, and he has been open and honest in saying that they are probing amendments that he scribbled on the back of an envelope this morning at 100 megabits a second. He knows that we have not had time to scrutinise them or for the Government to redraft them.

That is the point that I wish to address. If we had listened in isolation to the Labour contributions, we would have heard the most extraordinary bleating from the hon. Gentleman and from the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew). One would have thought that this was not their Government. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East is one of the Prime Minister's closest friends, and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is one of the House's most eminent Members. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) is a former Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Do they not know Ministers and the Prime Minister? Were they not able to say months ago, "Bring this Bill into the House of Commons and scrutinise it"?

We hear talk of Lord Carter of Barnes, the author and éminence grise of the Bill, as though he were somehow passed away, deceased and spinning in his grave. No, he is alive and well. He spoke in support of the Bill on Second Reading in the other place. It is true that he has left the country-many people are poised to leave the country if the Labour Government win again, and Lord Carter was simply anticipating that possible eventuality-but he is on his mobile phone and Members could ring him up to see what he thinks. It is pathetic for Labour Members to pretend that the fact that we have had two hours to debate the Bill on Second Reading and one hour in Committee has nothing to do with them. They are responsible for the lack of scrutiny of the Bill, and that must be put on the record.

9.45 pm

Dr. Palmer: Is the hon. Gentleman going to proceed from his party political knockabout to tell us what the Conservative party's position is? Were it to take power, would it not do something very similar?

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Mr. Vaizey: We decided to support the Bill in principle. We would have loved to scrutinise the clauses being debated now and to table and debate amendments in the House. However, we supported the Bill in principle, and we support the principle that something should be done to combat illegal file sharing. In fact, every single Labour Member who has spoken has said that they support the principle that something should be done to combat illegal file sharing; they simply said that there is not enough scrutiny to make the Bill work, and whose fault is that? It is the fault of Labour Members.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): If my hon. Friend is suggesting that the remedy proposed by those who tabled the amendments is wrong, what remedy does he think should be put in place instead?

Mr. Vaizey: We simply make the point that there is not time-we have been put in an invidious position. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) has made this absolutely clear. The astonishing position of the Labour Members-it's nothing to do with me, guv!-is absolutely incredible.

Mr. Watson: The hon. Gentleman is a very good friend of mine, and that is the most intellectually disingenuous contribution I have heard in the debate. If I, as a raggedy Back Bencher, can table a dozen amendments in 12 hours and write a speech, he should pull his finger out and do the same.

Mr. Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman is not even going to move all his amendments; he is simply putting them forward for form's sake. I ask him what conversations he had with the Prime Minister-a close personal friend of his-who could have brought this Bill forward for scrutiny. The fault lies on the Labour Benches and with those hon. Members who could have brought the Bill forward for scrutiny. I rest my case, Sir Michael.

Mr. Timms: I ask the House to resist the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson). Clause 4 deals with the obligation to notify. Several points have been made that will be raised later, but I shall comment on some of them now.

It is important for the House to be clear that we are debating the circumstances in which people should be notified that a copyright infringement has occurred. My hon. Friend said that the remedy is inappropriate, but let us be clear that the remedy here is to send people a letter informing them that a copyright infringement has occurred. I hope that, in dealing with peer-to-peer file sharing, as this part of the Bill does, that measure-sending letters to people-on its own will lead to a substantial reduction in the incidence of the unlawful activity about which we are concerned. Many people have rightly spoken about the seriousness of the concern about the current level of unlawful activity under way.

Mr. Don Foster: I apologise for interrupting so early, but will the Minister make it clear to the House that the ambition to reduce the number of illegal file sharing activities will be met not though letter-writing alone, but by placing requirements on the industry to develop new models that make it easier for people to legally access their material at an affordable price?

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Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is very important that the industry does that and develops an effective education campaign. In fact, I have seen some interesting proposals to do that, which I hope will go forward. However, we need legislation as well. The House needs to be clear that we cannot make headway on this issue unless we have legislation along the lines proposed.

Stepping back from the detail of the amendments, let me make a couple of points. Does anything really need to be done to address online copyright infringement? A subsidiary question might be: is legislation the right vehicle to do so? In a number of the speeches that we have heard, hon. Members have expressed misgivings about some aspects of the Bill. I am thinking, for example, of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), who, in his speech on Second Reading yesterday, strongly supported the need to support the creative industries in the Bill. However, my sense is that there is a pretty broad acceptance across the House that we are talking about a serious matter, that it needs to be addressed and that legislation is appropriate for addressing it.

There is certainly significant harm to our creative industries resulting from the current level of online copyright infringement. That harm is estimated in the impact assessment for the Bill at £400 million for music, film and TV. Others have come up with a larger figure for the content industries more widely. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East talked about the games industry, which is certainly affected by online copyright infringement. The figure that the International Chamber of Commerce estimated for the scale of the problem is £1 billion, or perhaps more, so we are talking about a serious problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) suggested that we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it is not a nut; it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Mr. Cash: There is a real problem, but there is also a problem of proportionality and realism. I return to the question that I put to the Minister earlier, which is simply this. I object to the speed at which the Bill is being progressed, but leaving that aside for the moment, if the Bill was more focused on that £400 million, or whatever figure the Minister quoted for the loss to legitimate complainants whose copyright was being infringed, so that only those who were organised and engaged in such activity for commercial advantage were affected, those complainants would get the benefit of a piece of legislation that was directed at something that can actually be tackled. The problem is that we are trying to engage in a surveillance society-like attack on young people, who will not take any notice and in respect of whom there will be no reasonable way of enforcing the Bill.

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman's characterisation of clause 4 is quite wrong. It is a very focused provision, dealing with the problem of unlawful downloading by means of peer-to-peer file sharing, which accounts for the lion's share of the problem, although that will no doubt change in future. Clause 4 is proportionate to the scale of the problem, and we have come up with an effective method to address it. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) suggested that the provision had been added at a late stage, but that is not the case. It has been in the Bill from when it was published.

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There are strong feelings on the issue, but let me say this to the House. We have heard the strength of feeling against what is in the Bill, which many people have expressed. However, the House also needs to recognise both the strength of feeling on the other side of the debate-a feeling that we need to move, as we are in this Bill-and its importance, not only given the point of view of an economically significant part of UK activity, but in terms of the number of people affected. That is reflected, for example, in the campaign of the Creative Coalition Campaign, the trade unions representing workers in the film industry and others. In the end, the House has to take a view. There are different and opposing views being expressed, and we have to take a view about what is right.

John Hemming: On the practicalities of clause 4, proposed new section 124A(6)(d) of the Communications Act 2003 talks about collecting the IP address, which will be supplied to the internet service provider. How is that to be achieved?

Mr. Timms: When a copyright owner identifies that their copyright has been obtained by somebody without payment, they will notify the details to the ISP. The ISP will then send a letter to the customer who is responsible for that account. We are simply talking about letters being sent at that stage. I challenge anyone to suggest that sending such a letter would be a disproportionate response, given the scale of the problem.

John Hemming rose-

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con) rose-

Mr. Timms: I will not give way. I need to make a bit more headway before I give way again.

It is right that we ask the industry to help to educate consumers and-as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) rightly suggested-to develop the kind of attractive commercial deals that consumers want, at a price that they are willing to pay. However, we need legislation as well.

Turning to amendment 36, I think it appropriate that we should ask an internet access subscriber to be responsible for trying to ensure that their access is not used for unlawful purposes. That is what the current wording of the Bill does. Perfectly proper concerns have been expressed about children downloading material unlawfully. I remind the House that, under the clause, a letter would be sent to the person responsible for the internet access, to inform them that unlawful downloading had occurred. It would be a matter for them to ensure that their internet access was safeguarded. Sending a letter is entirely appropriate in such circumstances.

Mr. Todd: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Timms: I would be grateful to my hon. Friend if he will forbear for a moment while I make a little more headway.

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