We intend to introduce legislation to address this serious problem in the next parliamentary Session. Our proposals include a system of notifications to those infringing copyright online and action against the most serious infringers.
I thank the Minister for that answer. There is genuine public concern about the Government’s proposals, and in particular the prospect that people who have done nothing wrong could have their internet disconnected. An appeal system has been announced by the Government, but will the Minister give an assurance that people will have a chance to defend their innocence before any decision is taken to disconnect their internet connection?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. People who have done nothing wrong should not be in any danger of having their internet interfered with at all. Hardly anybody, other than the most serious and egregious recidivistic offenders, should ever be in danger of having any of their internet affected, and nobody will have their bandwidth squeezed or their account suspended until they have had repeated letters, been given a healthy notice period and then had a right of appeal—indeed, two rights of appeal—as she requests.
I welcome, as anyone does, the warm words spoken by my hon. Friend, but he must realise that when we set these organisations up they grow like Topsy; they start impinging and pushing the rules. Will he ensure that it is implicit in the Bill that that will not happen and that we will not create a large sledgehammer to crack a small nut?
I can assure my hon. Friend of that. We are not creating a sledgehammer; we are creating a light-touch regime to enforce the existing law.
Everyone understands the need for safeguards, but will the Minister confirm that, assuming the successful passage of the digital economy Bill, the earliest an illegal file sharer could have their internet connection temporarily cut off is February 2012? That is hardly an example of the Government at their most decisive.
First, no I cannot confirm that; how long it will take to reach that point will depend on how things go. In any case, how long it takes to get to a tiny number of very serious infringers having their internet interfered with is not the measure of success. If everything goes well, nobody will reach that point because earlier measures will do the job. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could confirm to the House that he supports the proposals as they stand.
I am happy to confirm that the Conservatives support the proposals. We just do not think that they, on their own, will do the job. Does the Minister accept that if we are to tackle this problem, we also have to look at reforming the outdated intellectual property laws on digital content? If we do not do that, we will not, in the end, deal with the nub of the problem. Will the Secretary of State be addressing intellectual property laws or will that issue be put in the file marked “Post-election: someone else’s problem”?
That issue is very firmly in the file marked “Announced by my right hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last week.” As the hon. Gentleman says, we need reform of licensing and copyright legislation to bring the system into line with the new technology. That goes hand in hand with the measures to enforce copyright online, as does the message sent out clearly from the Government that the content industries, which will profit from these measures, need to step up to the plate and put some work in to develop new business models and new technology to give people what they need, at a price they can afford.