don't read the menu options and go directly to the page content 
standard text size larger text size largest text size
You can follow Derek on any of the sites below

MP's Speech on the Digital Bill

07 April 2010

Speech during 2nd Reading of the Digital Bill

5.53 pm

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my great friend, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Judging by what Opposition
6 Apr 2010 : Column 861
Front-Benchers said, I thought for one moment that he was going to be the MP for Bath and Munster, but perhaps not.

I pay great thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), who is on the Treasury Bench before me. During the past 13 years, he has been most civil and courteous about all IT matters on which I have gone to see him, and he even had time last week at 9 o'clock to fit me in and go through the Bill, so I thank him.

I thank also Lord Carter, now Lord Carter of Paris-not just in another place but in another country-for having had the vision to write the original White Paper. However, I sense that the Bill has not captured all of its contents, and I agree with everyone working in the digital UK marketplace: the Bill ought to have had a Committee stage and a Third Reading. Indeed, I am mystified as to why it did not start its parliamentary journey in this House, but we are where we are, as we often say.

Let me note four things that concern me most about the overall vision. I cannot see how the Bill takes on India or China; I simply cannot see a single provision that does so. They are not going to settle for 2 megabytes; they are going to settle for 100-and much, much more. If one talks to Tata and Reliance in India, one finds that the major cities in India aim to be far more ambitious. The situation is much easier in China: they can insist on such development, and they will deliver it, as they are doing in Shanghai, Guangdong province, parts of Hong Kong and in Beijing. If our creative industry is so important to us over the next 10 years, we should be far more ambitious. If we were having this debate in 2020 and looking back, we would say that it was pretty poor just to settle for as little as 2 megabytes.

Mr. Simon: Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Derek Wyatt: No, not yet.

In January this year, Google had a problem in China, and it forgot to think about where it would take its problem. It decided then that it did not need to talk to the State Department in Washington, but it certainly is now, and the one good thing about Google's demise in China was a brilliant speech by Hillary Clinton about what the internet is and what it stands for. Her vision of what can be delivered through the internet is what is lacking from this Bill.

The issue is more perplexing when we think that the Treasury gave Google a two-year moratorium on paying tax in the United Kingdom. That is staggering, and it is made more staggering when we read what ITV sent us this morning, which said:

    "Google will take more advertising revenue this year in the UK than the whole of commercial television."

I wonder where it will pay its tax. I doubt that it is in the United Kingdom.

We should adopt a much tougher approach to the internet, so, given that we have established Ofcom, which is one of the leading communication organisations in the work, naturally my instincts were to say that the Bill ought to provide for it to have the legislative feel for the internet. Then I started to think, "Hang on, how big could Ofcom get?" However, it has started that journey,
6 Apr 2010 : Column 862
given that it already has some responsibilities for the internet, so it is quite hard to take those away. However, I feel that the British Library has the most fantastic sense of what the internet is and what it can do. I also feel that the Oxford Internet Institute could also be a stakeholder-I am bound to say that because I founded it. What we are lacking, and what was missing from the Google-State Department debate in January, is the forum in which today's discussion about the internet could be considered. What is more, we are not expert enough to have that discussion, so we need to find a via media of groups and stakeholders, some of whom I have outlined, with whom we could trial such a proposal and ask them to debate those issues with us.

Last year was the 20th anniversary of the UN convention on the rights of the child, but that convention is about offline rights, not online ones. What a good thing it would have been if the Bill had insisted that the convention cover online rights, too. I am certain that if it had, we would have been able to persuade if not Barack Obama, at least Michelle Obama to get the United States finally to sign the convention. In that sense, I do not feel that the Bill has the overarching vision that the White Paper cogently expressed to begin with.

Let me turn to the more controversial aspects of the Bill, especially clause 18. I am a writer and a former publisher who has produced television programmes and is mad on music, so of course it cannot be right to steal other people's intellectual property. I debated my view with the Under-Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, and pointed out that we give Ofcom the right to look after radio, spectrum, mobile and television matters, but not internet service providers. Would things not be much simpler if there was a charter between ISPs and Ofcom, outlining the conditions that enable people to hold a licence in the United Kingdom? If that were to include all that we have discussed today about stealing copyright, the Bill would not be so contentious. However, it is contentious because we do not think that anything will come from it.

I was opposed to legislation on file sharing, but I was in Washington with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), who gave a very great speech there, and I am persuaded that we should at least trial some legislation on file sharing and copyright. We have been inundated by creative people in Britain, who are desperate for us to try it. The solution is not prefect, but we should try it.

The hon. Member for Bath mentioned clause 43. Listen, if we want the smartest, most creative industry, we have to tackle intellectual property and copyright together. They cannot just be shunted in as a couple of paragraphs; they are so fundamental to the reason why people write music, sing or create whatever they do. I wish that we did not have to go forward with clause 43. What we need is a brand new intellectual property Act, but we are not going to get that from this debate. I hope that the next Government, whoever they are, will see that we have to build bricks into the wall if we are going to be the best in the world in 2020. I have mentioned one of those bricks.

On photography, people accessing the Getty collection, for example, get a low res, so they cannot steal the intellectual property-well, they can, but it would be no good for reproduction. I am mystified about why photographers do not do that unilaterally. If a cost
6 Apr 2010 : Column 863
element is involved, we could say to Ofcom, "Listen, deliver us a piece of software that would do that for them." That is a bit over the top, I know, but there is a way of solving the issue from a software point of view.

I turn to the issue of orphan works. Extraordinarily, the simplest thing is to charge people for the use of anything, even if the copyright owner cannot be found. The money can then be put into an orphan fund, and young musicians from school, older musicians from elsewhere or writers who need help could access that fund. If and when the original copyright holder is found-that is pretty unlikely-the money would still be there and they could still claim for it. I wish that we had done that, too.

I will not rehearse every argument about the future of Channel 4 and public sector broadcasting. We have really missed an opportunity with Channel 4 by not giving its online activities a public sector role. For instance, why was it not given the opportunity to run The channel would have made it spankingly brand new and sexy, attracting hugely greater numbers of people-although the numbers are not bad as they are. We in Government always think that we have to do such things, but if we had given a public sector broadcaster such as Channel 4 a substantial part of the online world, that would have been such a challenge to the BBC; it would have sharpened its reflexes. I am sorry that that chance has been missed.

In 1997-98, we were trying to persuade Chris Smith, the then Secretary of State, to bring forward the digital switchover. Everyone said that it would be a nightmare, and we fudged it over seven years. By the opening year, however, 90 per cent. of the population already had a digital TV set, so we did not need the £600 million that we are arguing about now. We are early adopters in this country-the car industry is evidence of that, as digital radios are installed in cars. Digital radio prices are down. As has been said, we can use FM for something else. I do not think that there would be problem if we went for digital radio in 2015, and I congratulate Andrew Harrison, Lisa Kerr and Darren Henley for making a cause of the issue. Radio used to be a Friday afternoon activity for any bit of policy, and it is nice to see that digital radio is now discussed on a Tuesday.

This will probably be my last speech here, and I wish the House well. Thank you.

6.3 pm


Derek Wyatt TV Website