[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to debate under your stern but friendly eye, Mr Benton.
I intend to explain why the debate is important, provide my own report back on the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, look at the wider questions of how Parliament deals with internet and communications technology issues and suggest how Parliament and Government can push those issues up our national agenda. I am pleased that other officers of the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum will be taking part in the debate, as we asked jointly across parties to have this debate today.
The debate is important as a milestone in the development of parliamentary interests in the internet and in the development of proper accountability for British MPs’ engagement with the issue over a number of years. It is an attempt to bring the issue of communications technology into the parliamentary mainstream. The internet now pervades so much of our national and personal life—there is an enormous impact, even on those who do not use it—that it is essential for Parliament and Government to take a strategic interest in its development, which has been exponential in nature. The internet affects everything from national security to personal and family communications. As we saw during the summer, it has been grasped as an opportunity by those who want to nurture community action as well as by bad people and by organised criminals and terrorists.
Business challenges and opportunities range from the protection of intellectual property to savings and opportunities for the public service, and we need to ensure that our infrastructure and businesses are at the cutting edge of the fast-moving international communications market in hardware, software and services. Both the internet itself and wider issues of communications technology—ICT—are absolutely crucial to our economic success, our place in the world and our social development as a nation.
There have been valiant efforts to give a parliamentary focus to these issues, but it has mostly been done at the margins of Parliament, not at its heart and not through mainstream debate. I hope that today’s debate will establish a tradition for an annual debate on internet and ICT issues, with Ministers and Members across the parties taking stock of the developments of the past year and looking forward to future challenges.
The engagement of MPs has not been characterised by Members pursuing their own interests in isolation but through cross-party activity, co-operation between both Houses and the active engagement of Ministers. Above all, it has been done through a unique level of multi-stakeholder engagement. That is an ugly term, but no one has yet come up with a better one. The reality of partnership working and co-operation is far more beautiful than the terminology.
Today we can report formally on the annual United Nations event, the Internet Governance Forum, held this year in Nairobi. I am delighted that the Minister who will respond to the debate attended both the main forum itself and the high-level event held on the Monday before its formal opening. He was extremely effective in his interventions. I believe I speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), who was also at the IGF, when I say that, with the Minister, we were able to deliver a robust “Team UK” approach in Nairobi.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Although I was not at the Nairobi event, I was at the event in Lithuania. It struck me that very few parliamentarians were present, but there were people from the Pirate party. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is crucial that MPs from other countries attend such events to stop the spread of lawlessness through the likes of the Pirate party?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He brought considerable interest, particularly in intellectual property, and creativeness to the discussions in Lithuania. There were more mainstream parliamentarians in Nairobi this year, but he is right: if we are not engaged, we leave a vacuum, which would be a great pity.
I apologise to you, Mr Benton, and to the House for having to leave for another speaking engagement on behalf of the Science and Technology Committee. I was very impressed—unusually—that the Minister took the trouble to attend the forum this year. That is a fantastic step in the right direction. If we can create the necessary collegiate approach in this difficult area, we can address the problems that have just been raised. I want to say well done to my right hon. Friend for his perseverance both in government and in opposition in driving the agenda forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right about the importance of the Minister’s attendance this year. It made a significant impact on many people from other countries and showed an excellent example.
Engagement with the IGF has been nurtured by Nominet, the dot-UK domain name registry, which has enabled IGF attendance by parliamentarians; young people from the UK, who have also made a considerable impact; and other representatives of civil society. I pay tribute to the chief executive, Lesley Cowley, and Martin Boyle, a former Department of Trade and Industry official when I was a Minister, and their team at Nominet. Their financial commitment and organisational support is a superb example of corporate social responsibility and of partnership between industry, Parliament and Government. It has enabled us to put the UK in the forefront of internet governance worldwide. I have put the appropriate declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in respect of their support and my attendance at the IGF.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will mention an internet issue that my constituents are concerned about: the use of abusive language on the one hand and child pornography on the other. One of my constituents, Mrs Jane Osmond of 7 Newcombe Road, has written to me about that. She is part of a major campaign, which relates to the subject of the debate.
My hon. Friend makes a good point; it is an important issue. Today in Westminster we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Internet Watch Foundation. I hope to attend that event after this debate; I hope others will attend, too. The IWF is proof of the capacity of Government, with the support of parliamentarians and the engagement of industry and police, to tackle online child abuse more effectively than having additional legislation that might not work. We have achieved more in tackling online child abuse in this country than could have been done through additional legislation.
My right hon. Friend’s aims are laudable and I have no quarrel with them. However, my constituents feel that they have been given the run-around. I have written to the Minister about these issues and we have been pointed in a number of directions, but there does not seem to be a major clampdown or any real effort in the area.
In terms of child abuse images online, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has been successful in pursuing people who are involved in child abuse. In educational terms and in pursuing the bad people, CEOP has been effective. I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee and we are concerned about CEOP being merged with the national police agency. Assurances have been given, but we need to keep our eye on CEOP to ensure that it continues to be effective. We also need to keep up with the technology that the bad people are using.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate. In relation to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), my concern is that when constituents write to me on the same issue, I write to the Minister but the letters are then transferred to the Home Office. Would it not be more sensible for questions such as those from my constituent from Troon, to be answered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport? If the issues are not to be addressed by that Department, is it better for them to be looked at by the Home Office?
My hon. Friend illustrates one of the big problems in dealing with the internet. As I said, the internet is so pervasive that it affects every area of life, including technology and intellectual property, and sometimes leads to the abuse by bad people of the opportunities that it provides. Such issues should be dealt with by the Home Office because law-breaking is involved.
My hon. Friend also illustrates the crucial need for a joined-up approach across Departments and agencies. A couple of years ago I worked on internet-related crime, but I gave up once I had identified nine Departments that had a bit of the action—without even taking account of the different agencies, police bodies and so on that were involved. I believe, however, that co-ordination has improved; we have the central unit based with the Met, and the National Fraud Authority that looks at online fraud. People need greater clarity. Get Safe Online is an enormously important resource that I advise people to consult first when looking for advice on what to do. It requires, however, increased support across industry and by the Government, and it must explain clearly who should look where and for what. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point.
I return to the Internet Governance Forum. As the Minister responsible for industry in 2005, I led the UK delegation to the world summit on the information society in Tunis. Journalists predicted that the talks would collapse because the Chinese, and others, were demanding a new international agency to, “run the internet”, and the US was saying, “Don’t change anything.” Two great public servants, Nick Thorne, then the UK permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, and David Hendon, a senior official at the Department of Trade and Industry, promoted “dynamic coalitions” and “enhanced co-operation” as a better option to bureaucracy. The IGF was born as part of that process and as an annual event for building consensus.
Today, the IGF process no longer depends on one annual event, and countries worldwide have seized the opportunity for co-operation, both between stakeholders and at regional level. This year’s IGF saw governmental proposals from India, Brazil and South Africa to bring the forum under centralised UN control, and Russia, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan called for the General Assembly to establish a UN code of conduct for information security. If such a code were to go through as proposed, it would focus primarily on affirming the sovereignty of national Governments to regulate internet traffic and content. That would exclude the voices of industry and civil society from regulation of the internet, which in turn would stifle the freedom, innovation and creativity that underpins the social, cultural and economic benefits that we all currently enjoy from the online world. There is also a Trojan horse agenda that would empower certain repressive Governments to censor and restrict any online content, discourse or behaviours that they did not like.
Will the Minister affirm his steadfast commitment to the current multi-stakeholder approach exemplified by the current IGF process, and will he join me in rejecting the idea that governance of the internet should be the sole preserve of monolithic and rigid Government negotiations? Will he ensure that the UK continues to provide leadership through the donors group? It is small change, but we must be at the table. Although this year’s IGF saw a welcome spike in levels of industry involvement, does the Minister agree that there is always room for more?
For years the IGF process was nurtured by two superb international diplomats, Nitin Desai as chairman, and Marcus Kummer as secretary. In Nairobi, however, I had to condemn the failure of the UN to appoint successors in either of those posts. That the event was such a success is a tribute to the vitality of its participants, but the UN is not doing its job properly; when I said as much during a high-level ministerial meeting, my comment received the loudest applause of the day.
British parliamentarians have been at the forefront of the IGF since its start, and our engagement is highly valued and respected across the world. Over the years we have worked with parliamentarians from other countries, notably the Kenyans and members of the European Parliament such as Catherine Trautmann and Malcolm Harbour. It is interesting to note, however, that we have not yet managed to properly link the IGF debate across Europe. We have the European dialogue on internet governance— EuroDIG—but that is serviced by the Council of Europe and has a focus on human rights and criminal law, which although an enormously important part of the international debate, is not all of it.
That work of the IGF goes wider than the European Union, which is its strength, but it also leaves a gap. In Nairobi we talked to colleagues from the European Parliament about the need for MPs and members of national Parliaments to be connected within the European Union. We do not have a European IGF that uses the same model as that developed in east Africa and other places.
The European Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, set out her approach, but without joined-up action by parliamentarians, industry and Governments in Europe, we will not get our point across. I suspect that hon. Members across the Chamber would agree on the need to avoid the domination of bureaucracy and rules in the European approach to the internet and internet-related issues. We need joined-up working by Team UK.
This year at the IGF, Monday was set aside for a high-level, ministerial event. Such occasions can become stodgy, with long speeches from Ministers, but this one was different. After Ministers—including our Minister—had spoken, formalities segued smoothly into a discussion, with authoritative figures such as Vint Cerf responding on some of the extremely important points under discussion. It was an excellent launch for the four days of the IGF, but I made a proposal that I believe should be incorporated in next year’s event. My suggestion is for Tuesday morning to be given over to statements of concern or other relevant issues, so that Members of Parliament can set out problems that have arisen in their Parliament or constituency. That would enable parliamentarians to be the voice of the people, rather than a second rank of techies, and would provide an opportunity for multi-stakeholder partners to respond to those concerns during the following few days, in parallel with other issues raised in advance. That suggestion received a positive response from industry representatives, who described it as an opportunity to complete the circle of policy development and accountability to the public.
The basic principle of the IGF is to bring together the four partners—Governments, parliamentarians, industry and civil society, including academics and others—to identify issues that need resolving, and seek solutions without requiring or mandating them, or limiting the debates in any significant way. It does not, therefore, lead to resolutions or treaties. The principle has been taken up by individual countries and on a regional level, particularly in east Africa, so it was appropriate that this year’s IGF was hosted there. As a result, the IGF is now a process rather than just an event, although the event remains important.
Great progress is being made in the Commonwealth IGF with its emphasis on child protection—the issue raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe)—and access.
My hon. Friend is right; I agree that the agenda is broader. The Commonwealth IGF started by looking at child protection, but behaviour is the big issue.
The development of a co-operative model for internet governance has developed quickly and positively. However, compared with the exponential growth and the mind-boggling levels of innovation that the internet has unleashed, that development looks, and feels, slow. That is why we in Parliament must be more ambitious, more impatient and better connected in every sense of the word.
To improve the quality of debate in Parliament, those involved informally in the work of relevant all-party groups have tried to bring everyone together to serve Parliament better. It is fair to say that for several years the cross-party architecture that focuses on internet and communications issues has been in a state of flux, with a proliferation of groups. Companies found it increasingly difficult to determine which meetings to attend and which groups to engage with. Equally, many MPs found the complexity and diversity of cross-party structures very challenging to digest. In fact, in the last two Parliaments, most MPs chose as the simple solution non-engagement, rather than struggling to get their heads round an ever-expanding ecosystem of interwoven groups and associations. I pay tribute to the 2010 intake of new Members, who have provided refreshing input from both sides of the House. That encourages me to believe that we can make a difference nationally and internationally in the future.
The online world and the associated technologies and patterns of use are constantly evolving at breathtaking speed. Without a cohesive and continuous commitment from parliamentarians to be connected with and informed about current developments in this sphere, Parliament will quickly fall hopelessly behind.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate and I share his hope that Parliament will debate the internet at least once a year. On the point about the internet’s fantastic speed of innovation and the changes that it has made to our everyday lives, does my right hon. Friend agree that it was unfortunate that following the unrest—the riots—during the summer, a number of parliamentarians on both sides of the House were seen to react by condemning aspects of social media that enable people to communicate with one another, while not equally recognising the tremendous support that the internet and social media give civil society? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that we need to ensure that parliamentarians are champions of the internet and the innovation that it brings, while obviously recognising the dangers?
My hon. Friend, who is one of the exciting group of 2010 new Members to which I referred, makes an excellent point. In the Internet Governance Forum, it was rather worrying to find that a large number of participants from across the world “knew” that the UK had tried to close down social networks. We had quite a battle to make it clear that the UK had not done that. Fortunately, the European Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, took the opportunity to dive in and endorse what we were saying. Given the pressure from the media to do something about something as cataclysmic as the riots this year, it was understandable that all Members of Parliament representing relevant constituencies felt under pressure to say something and, indeed, that the Prime Minister felt under pressure to say something when he arrived back in the country. Fortunately, common sense prevailed.
Immediately after the Home Secretary said that she intended to call together representatives of the social networks and give them a good talking-to—I paraphrase slightly—I wrote to her on behalf of the group, having spoken to some of the officers, and offered our help. I said, “There are Members of Parliament who take an interest in these issues. Can we help and can we engage our industry members in order to make a constructive contribution?” That was welcomed by the Home Secretary—we had a very good response—so it is another example of how the creation of a coherent, single group in Parliament has the capacity to help Government and properly inform public debate.
That is an example of exactly the point that I was making—the need for parliamentarians to be coherent and to work together on these issues. I said that without a commitment from parliamentarians to be connected with and informed about current developments in this sphere, Parliament would quickly fall hopelessly behind. That would be a great disappointment to those of us who know that knee-jerk legislation is not the answer to most or indeed any of our emerging technological challenges. As Gibbon said in “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, laws rarely prevent that which they forbid. That is even more true about the internet than it was some 150 years ago, when those words were written. Legislation is a blunt, unwieldy and ultimately retrospective tool, incapable of the speed and flexibility required to regulate such a rapidly evolving system. That is why we, as parliamentarians, need to be quicker on our feet, more joined-up and more immediate in our response to events.
However, reluctance to legislate does not mean that we should not seek to regulate online activity. The point is simply that we will not achieve the results we want by enacting laws that would be out of date by the time they hit the statute book. The time scale for a new technology coming in or a development that moves people on from Facebook, or whatever the current means of communication is, means that legislation will be well out of date by the time it is enacted, so flexibility is required.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. Would he like to clarify his position? We all accept that things such as the IGF are a good talking-shop and that these issues should be discussed at length by the various countries and parties involved, but is he saying that no legislation is worth having, not even legislation to set out the principles relating to intellectual property rights and so on, which would not be out of date once it was enacted?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I want legislation that is based on values, sets out broad principles and is technology-neutral. It is the behaviour that is bad, and it is intellectual property that we need to protect, rather than getting too deeply into detail. We need to go back to the legislation that set down broad principles and to go back on the excessively prescriptive and detailed legislation that removes flexibility. Essentially, I am arguing for us to concentrate on fostering a climate in which Parliament, Government, industry and civil society share perspectives, best practice and expertise to deliver a more adaptable and responsive regulatory approach, based on partnership and co-ordination, rather than top-down legislation. In other words, we need underpinning legislation for a coherent, co-operative style of governance.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. May I respond to the very good point made by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley)? Is it not also the case that there is a lot of existing legislation that applies as much to the internet as to any other form of communication and behaviour, whether it takes place in the real world or the virtual world—for example, libel laws—and that new legislation is often not necessary if the existing legislation is properly applied?
Indeed. This is about good legislation, rather than the internet. I take great pride in certain legislation with which I was associated, such as the Ragwort Control Act 2003, the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, because properly framed legislation will stand the test of time. In the examples that I have given, it was a case of using capacity that already existed and simply providing underpinning legislation that would allow the real mischief to be tackled. The real mischief is the behaviour, rather than the technology.
On the issue of parliamentary representation and how we bring people together, Mr Speaker kindly hosted an event last year for representatives of different parliamentary groups engaged with internet-related issues, along with those concerned with international issues, particularly the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and those who serve the House through PICT—Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology—and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. That gave us the impetus to link the informal work undertaken by parliamentarians in partnership with industry to the mainstream and formal work of the House, so we have merged the long-standing Parliamentary Information Technology Committee, or PITCOM, and a relative youngster, the all-party group on the digital economy, to form the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum, which is an associate parliamentary group.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk for the work that he has done to ensure that Parliament has a well-informed and vibrant all-party group that benefits from the solid and senior engagement of both MPs and representatives of business and industry. We are delighted that Mr Speaker has agreed to be the president of the new group to signal the importance of that development. We are adopting a new and innovative model, with parliamentarians in the lead. Individual officers of the new group, across parties, some of whom are present, are taking responsibility for different parts of the work, which will include ordinary meetings, as held in the past by PITCOM. Lively discussions have been brought into the new group by members of the former group. We have continued the successful primary schools competition, “Make IT Happy”, with which many parliamentarians have become increasingly engaged and which was endorsed by the Minister in the House only last week.
We have a CEO forum, at which a strong representation of chief executives—no representatives or delegations are allowed—and of parliamentarians debate big issues with experts. For instance, on Monday, we were joined by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and by Professor Ian Hargreaves, whose work will be familiar to the Minister and whose recent report deals with intellectual property, which is important to our economy. Past discussions focused on a range of important issues, from cloud computing and cyber-security to the growth agenda and the boosting of UK technology skills; I know that the Minister has taken part in one of the discussions.
We have not needed to. We have had three Ministers this year by mutual agreement, and I am pleased by that response. Ministers have been prepared to come to meet us and industry representatives. The fact that Ministers and parliamentarians are at the table brings chief executives there, and the fact that chief executives come complements the other meetings that we have, in which people with more technical or detailed knowledge are able to take part. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire prompts me to note that I had missed out a reference to the British-American Parliamentary Group, another of the distinguished band of organisations that are important in the work.
I have already referred to the fact that the arrangements are already working in relation to our communications with the Home Secretary. In response to the request for comment, we have received responses from a number of parliamentarians, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Harlow (Robert Halfon), and others who were more frequently involved in the all-party group’s work. Key points were made that the riots were not a breakdown of society as a whole, but isolated incidents of unrest followed relentlessly by the 24-hour media, and that the internet and online social networks were a channel for a widespread outpouring of positivity and reconstructive effort after the riots. That must be considered in balance with the use of the internet by some people to organise some of the activity. In the case of the police in Manchester, when people tweeted to say where the next activity was going to take place, the police tweeted back to say, “Thanks for telling us. We will be there too.” Therefore, it is not all one way.
Part of PICTFOR’s role is to raise our game at the international level, persuading more parliamentarians to engage with the IGF, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the IPU, and directly with members of overseas Parliaments, particularly the Americans, whom we are engaging through an annual internet event in Congress. The most important aspects are to use the partnership between MPs and industry representatives to inform Parliament in the mainstream rather than at the periphery, to ensure that we continue to punch above our weight in protecting the concept of an open, co-operative and multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance, and to fight off attempts to impose a centralised and bureaucratic approach to managing the internet, whether in terms of critical infrastructure, online behaviour or the exploitation—in a positive sense—of the internet’s potential.
We are bringing together opinions from industry and Parliament. I wish I had some time to enumerate the comments that have come in. We had hoped for a longer debate, but we are grateful for the opportunity today to raise these issues. We intend to summarise all the issues and provide them to both the Minister and MPs to inform future debates.
Just to pick up one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, there will be one debate a year to look at the overarching issues with the internet. The internet touches on so many issues that there are bound to be debates on Bills and on the Adjournment regarding specific issues, including those that have been raised by some hon. Members in their interventions on me.
My message to parliamentarians and to business is that, although good governance may sound boring, it is essential. Banking governance was boring, until the failure of governance in the world’s banks brought the international financial structures to collapse. Let us avoid such a debacle online by fighting for good co-operative governance of the internet now.
At a time of massive constraints on the public purse—I will not go into the discussion about whether they need to come so fast or cut so deep—it is not just tempting to use the efficiency of the net to deliver public services, but right and essential. However, that would involve a massive improvement in the quality of public procurement, of which I had some experience as a Minister. It is vital to recognise that some 40% of those who are not online at the moment were shown in recent research to be so resistant to going online that they would not do so even if they were provided with free broadband and a free computer. Some may be resistant or even perversely reluctant; others may simply be unable to cope. That latter group includes some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It follows that the exploitation of online delivery options by the Government needs to be costed in a way that ensures the availability of services to those who do not go online, which might involve paying for facilitation, perhaps at local libraries or in post offices. However, if it is not built into the Government’s model, it will bring online delivery into disrepute and widen the digital divide into a chasm, ultimately creating a problem that will involve even more expense to solve than building in the solution at the design stage.
Cloud computing is often highlighted as a challenge to public services, but in many ways, it is already with us. The challenge, in my view, is good management, including good data management, rather than major issues of principle. Security of infrastructure and our national security are enormously important, and they are given considerable emphasis by the Government. However, it is also important to deal with the low-level crime and nuisance activity that face people every day. I am pleading for a broken windows approach to the internet. Having succeeded in local crime reduction, that approach would be able to help us in the online world.
I am also a little concerned about the language that is creeping into the discussion. I challenged some police officers who talked about “cyber” as if it were a term of art to describe a discrete chunk of reality. They responded by saying that the police were merely reflecting the language of Ministers. If that is the case—I am not sure that it is—we need to change the language. Internet-related crime is not entirely about technology; indeed it is mainly about human behaviour and criminal activity. The use of the internet is relevant only in the same way that a burglar uses a motorway or footpath to reach someone’s house to break in.
Regarding the police’s attitude to cyber-crime, does my right hon. Friend agree that all serving police officers should be knowledgeable of the way in which the internet can be used for crime? Does he also agree that to criticise those serving in the back offices of the police and to imply that we can tackle crime by being only on the physical front line does the police no service and may reduce the possibility of tackling virtual crime?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is part of the discussion that we have been having in the Select Committee on Home Affairs on what constitutes the front line and the back office. Protection against the use of the internet for organised crime, as well as some of the issues that have already been raised, is extremely important.
A friend of mine has recently become a special constable. When people are recruited to become special constables, it is very much about being on the front line, patrolling the streets. However, in the cyber-age, we should perhaps also invite people to become special constables to work on issues such as cyber-crime and on using the internet as a tool for policing.
The Minister’s comments reflect something I said a while ago in the presence of some people from the Metropolitan police. They included Charlie McMurdie, who said afterwards, “Yes, it’s a good idea—we’re already doing it.” The Minister is absolutely on the ball, and some police forces are very much up to date, but others are not enabling staff on the front desk to tell people what they need to do when they wander into the police station and say, “This has happened. What should I do?” We therefore need to improve communication and to make better, more focused use of Get Safe Online, as I said.
The more we use language that emphasises the human damage, rather than the technology, the more likely we are properly to inform public policy and to reassure the public. That is why I am a bit dubious of using the word “cyber” as if it identified something different and discrete from human behaviour.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that most cyber-crime, so to speak, is conducted by sophisticated organised criminals, who, in effect, have their own cyber-crime divisions? The only way we will tackle cyber-crime is by getting the message out there that we have to tackle these massive organised gangs.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Actually, the police are getting on top of tackling criminal activity by organised gangs, and it is perhaps right that they do not talk too much about how they do that, because it is not far distant from the work they do in combating terrorist activity. What does affect public confidence are the low-level things, and we probably need more engagement with Get Safe Online and more public information in that respect.
I was about to apologise for taking rather longer than I had intended, but I have taken quite a large number of interventions. Given the need to focus on internet governance and the report from Nairobi, I have had time to touch only briefly on some enormously important issues. However, I hope this is only the first such debate, and I look forward to hearing from other Back Benchers and the Minister.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) on securing the debate, on the great work he continues to do on this issue and on his role in helping to establish the Internet Governance Forum. I fully appreciate that he kindly took a large number of interventions, so I shall skip through my remarks at speed to let other Members participate in the debate.
The forum tries to answer the impossible question of how we regulate the internet, which is a global information resource used by more than 1 billion people. The Minister showed great leadership in attending the sixth conference in Nairobi, because he has allowed Members to become collegiate and to work almost on a cross-party basis in trying to tackle the issues before us.
The forum has done great work in establishing transparency and an acceptance that the internet is too important, and evolves too quickly, to be left to the traditional models of regulation and to international treaties. It focuses on developing an understanding of emerging challenges, pulling together a vast array of stakeholders to tackle them.
Underpinning the work of every group and every one of the 125 nations involved in the forum’s sixth meeting in Kenya was the desire to build safety into internet access, whether to protect vulnerable children from exploitation or nation states from cyber-attack. The challenges we face on the internet are so wide-ranging that they encompass everything from cyber-bullying—the UK Council for Child Internet Safety does excellent work on that—right the way up to the possibility of cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure by terrorists or rogue nation states.
Today, I want to focus on the mobile internet, which has probably been the fastest growing technology in history and has changed how we as a society interact with the internet. First, however, I want briefly to say something about the riots, because there was some talk about them earlier. Everybody has talked about social platforms and social networks, but they are not what causes the fear. As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, Manchester police were probably grateful for the tweets telling them where the next riotous behaviour would take place. What people are concerned about, however, is BlackBerry Messenger and the fact that the information on it is encrypted. That is the type of area where we need to think about regulation. How do we regulate an organisation whose information is encrypted on servers that are not based in this country? That is the issue we need to tackle, and I would be interested to hear any comments the Minister has.
To return to the mobile internet, the UK now has 1.3 mobile devices for every man, woman and child. A real explosion in data traffic is under way. Ofcom’s analysis shows that data usage increased by 3,700% between 2007 and 2010, and independent analysts estimate that network traffic over mobile networks will increase sixfold by 2014. Internet-based traffic globally will grow by more than 2 billion usages, 85% of which will involve a mobile device.
The new smart phones have led the way in enabling customers to access new digital applications and services. More than 50% of all teenagers now have smart phones and use them to surf the internet, send e-mails and use social networking sites. I am slightly older than a teenager—in fact, I am almost twice as old—but I pop my laptop on only once a week, and I use my smart phone to do my internet banking, to deal with my e-mails and to do everything else. A huge number of teenagers no longer have laptops; instead, they have smart phones, iPads, tablets and other such devices. We are therefore moving away from needing to regulate what we might think of as the wired internet and towards needing to regulate the mobile internet, and there was some discussion at the IGF about whether we needed different regulations for the wired internet and the mobile internet.
High-performance mobile capability has the potential to allow services and speeds significantly to increase, compared with what we know today. For example, there has been huge debate about providing access to broadband coverage in rural areas, and mobile internet gives us the opportunity to do that.
Other benefits of the increasing use of mobile broadband applications include increasing access to, and lowering the cost of, health care by using solutions that remotely monitor patients and provide real-time data to clinicians. Online health e-systems, which all the mobile phone operators are developing, touch on an issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman: which Department is responsible for regulating such things? Is it the Department of Health or the Home Office? Furthermore, how do we regulate something that pervades and touches every aspect of our lives?
Mobile-enabled machine-to-machine technologies are supporting the roll-out of smart energy grids via smart meters in premises. Analysts suggest that this segment of the UK economy will grow by 30% per annum over the next five years. Is it the responsibility of the Department of Energy and Climate Change or another Department to regulate such things?
Another benefit of the increasing use of mobile broadband is the ability to mobilise and empower citizens through e-government, e-learning and e-volunteering. Getting involved in that way encapsulates what is meant by the big society.
Mobile broadband is crucial in supporting universal access to broadband across the UK and to delivering digital inclusion. It will be the technology of choice for many because of its convenience and the wide geographical access it allows. It will deliver broadband access to many rural areas that have never had mobile or fixed broadband.
However, Ofcom must structure next year’s auction of 4G mobile broadband spectrum so that it rebalances competition in holdings of spectrum ownership and supports competition in coverage. Spectrum policy is vital to maintaining competition in the delivery of mobile broadband coverage. At issue is the allocation of wireless spectrum, the lifeblood of mobile and wireless networks.
The potential for a severe spectrum crunch looms over the next decade, and even international regulators have started to point out that substantial amounts of new spectrum will be needed to drive the continued growth of the mobile wireless industry. Will the Minister consider reviewing the process for allocating spectrum so that we can give it to those who can use it to generate economic growth?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) on obtaining the debate, and on his leadership of the new group, the Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum, of which the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) is also a member. PICTFOR is making good strides towards getting people from different places around the table for a series of debates, to which the internet is central.
I shall be as swift as I can, Mr Benton, so that another hon. Member can speak. I want to reflect quickly on the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, which the Minister attended. Several other colleagues were there too, and I should make the same declaration as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth with respect to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and Nominet sponsorship. It seemed to me that there were interesting thematic divides at the forum that reflected discussions and debates that we have—or often do not have—here. It is clear, as has already been alluded to, that some Governments see the internet primarily as a threat, whereas others see it as a benefit, but with substantial caveats. The rest of us—although we are not perfect in any respect—tend to see the internet as best advanced through collaboration, common sense and a multi-stakeholder approach. Although the divide is not unbridgeable, in some respects it creates very different perspectives. A society that is not open at the best of times will have some difficulty with the way it manages the internet. That is not to be critical of emerging countries, which have their own challenges, but we hope we can help them to come to a benign or constructive impression of how the power of the internet can be harnessed to everyone’s benefit.
In this place we tend to discuss technicalities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned the Digital Economy Act 2010 and relatively few hon. Members engaged with that, although more would do so now, since last year’s intake. The reason relatively few engaged with the issue was largely that not a great deal of party politics was involved. It is a bit annoying that the Government insist on being commonsensical on most of the issues; we would rather it were different, as it would make our job as party politicians a lot easier, but it behoves us all to look at the intelligent arguments for pursuing one or another course of action. Of course, there are conflicting ideas about how to approach matters such as copyright, which was mentioned earlier, and freedom of use. I shall not bang on at length, but the Hargreaves report on intellectual property rights seems to me to be an intelligent step forward. It is super that the Government have accepted all 10 of Professor Ian Hargreaves’s recommendations. We must be aware that in the coming years it will be a constant—battle is probably too strong a term—contest, perhaps, to ensure that the multi-stakeholder approach that we are calling for endures, and we do not end up with an over-regulated internet. As with anything else, over-regulation would damage it and it would fall apart. That was one of the significant themes I identified.
A couple of my colleagues made interventions earlier in the debate, which were perfectly understandable and intelligent, and the kind of things that our constituents raise with us all the time, about bad things that might happen on the internet. An academic called Dr Vicki Nash, who was also at the IGF, said on the UK IGF Network:
“We spend a great deal of time balancing risks, identifying potential harms or assessing trade-offs in key values which does little to convince those who are ambivalent about getting online. Isn’t it time we redressed the balance?”
Through no fault of ours—well, who knows; perhaps it is our fault to some degree—there is an awareness in society about potential risks, but less of an awareness of the enormous benefits of the internet. We often think about internet issues through the prism of fear. It seems to me that it would be good if, over time, partly through the leadership of this place and the kind of language we use, we were to try to move beyond that. I suspect that to some degree it boils down to theories of human nature, if that is not too grand. On the whole people will use new things to do good things. We must do what we can to prevent the bad stuff, but inevitably bad stuff will happen, and we must minimise that. However, if we continue to think about the internet and its governance through the prism of fear, we will end up over-regulating it.
It is worth referring to a couple of other observations that were made by some of us at the IGF, which were helpfully referred to on the ukigf.org.uk website. One was that some emerging economies or developing countries are concerned about EU blocking practices. I do not mean to say that the practices they have in mind are wrong, with respect to the examples I heard in Kenya, but they see it as a restrictive practice. Lots of stuff coming out of Nigeria gets blocked automatically, because of the country’s reputation—deserved or otherwise—for economic crime on the internet. I have never replied to an email by giving my bank account details in the hope of getting the $10 million lodged in my account, so I am not sure how much of what is said is fear-mongering and how much is real, but nevertheless it has led to some emerging countries having their country domain names blocked. That is a pity and I hope that over time the Government, in conjunction with other Governments around the world, can do something about the relevant perceptions and practices.
I had not come across the Internet Society before I went to Nairobi. It is a very good organisation, with a good website, showing a series of models of how the internet could evolve. One model is called the common pool: that is, generally, a bit of tussle and roughness along the way, with, in the end, people stressing the collaboration, competition and sound evolution of the internet. There are other models, showing the risks of over-regulation. Governments might over-regulate because they fear the consequences in their own countries—if they fear freedom of speech, for example. Over-regulation might come about because large commercial interests demand that walls are put up for their commercial reasons. We must guard carefully against that and I recommend looking at those models on the isoc.org website.
I have been reading a book called “The Revolution Will Be Digitised” by Heather Brooke. Many hon. Members will know who she is. I do not see her around here much; perhaps that is for her own protection. She has written a pretty good book, actually. It is a romp through things that have happened—particularly, from the past year or two, WikiLeaks. She mentions the Icelandic modern media initiative, and that pooling of different legislation together for good use is quite interesting. I do not say that it is necessarily the exact model for the future, but it will be interesting to watch it as it evolves in the Icelandic Parliament.
Ms Brooke raises an issue that is a core aspect of another of the divides in our discussions of the internet, and the WikiLeaks phenomenon is central to it. There is a trend among some people to laud the release of information for its own sake, and to see that as reflecting a sound, open internet. I am currently a member of the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions, and it is my opinion that a balance must be struck between such openness and privacy. I am not as negative as some hon. Members about the Pirate parties, because I see them as putting a polemical argument that can be deconstructed and can be seen to have some valid points. The clash of ideas is important. It is necessary to listen to those parties’ lines of argument, make sense of them and break down some of their assumptions. I have found that they will often accept an argument, and they are a useful addition to the mix—not that I am encouraging any kind of piracy, obviously. The important thing is that we will have to find a balance between privacy—and everyone, including the pirates, stresses the importance of that—and the free flow of information. I do not propose to present the full solution in the next 30 seconds, but it is an important theme, which came out at the IGF.
When the IGF was held in Nairobi the Kenyan Government did a super job and flew the flag very well for emerging economies. I took the opportunity, while I was there, to have a long meeting with the Rwandan Foreign Minister. As the Minister knows, this Government have followed the path laid by the previous Administration and formed close contacts with the Rwandan Government. They have also provided strong budgetary support. Rwanda is not a perfect regime, but it is a progressive and positive force. One of things that it has done of which it is proud is to install fibre optic cables across Rwanda. Clearly, it wants to be at the forefront of the internet age, which is a big challenge for such a poor country. I have a particular interest in Rwanda and have found that people refer to Rwanda in all sorts of ways; sometimes they say good things and other times not such good things. When it comes to the internet though, Rwanda is making a genuine effort to bring the benefits of the internet to an impoverished, developing country—albeit one that will hopefully reach middle-income status in the next nine years, which would be a remarkable feat.
I encourage the Minister not to see the internet through a prism of fear, cyborgs and men in shiny suits. We are not talking about the silent footfall of the mad cyborg axeman. He should look at the whole area in a constructive way and accept that the divides that exist can often be overcome by intelligent discussion and debate, as I have found in recent discussions with corporate stakeholders and ISPs. The Minister should perhaps reflect on that fact. It behoves all of us to remember the enormous potential benefits that mobile networks and mobile access will bring to Africa.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) on securing the debate. As members of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee, now the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum, we have attended some fascinating discussions over the past year on many of the areas under discussion today. The IGF in Nairobi covered a wide area and was entitled, “The Internet as a Catalyst for Change: Access, Development, Freedoms and Innovation.” In my short speech today, I should like to focus on just one area—access, which has already been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). This one topic includes many elements, covering traditional wired access, the mobile internet, accessibility to the internet and the right of access of many people to the internet.
The most readily understood element of access is the wired access provided by phone lines and fibre-optic cabling. This country has a relatively strong position in that area. My home city of Edinburgh is among the best. According to a recent Ofcom study, it has an average maximum broadband speed of 10.1 megabits per second. Only 4.5% of people receive less than 2 megabits a second. I think that we can guess who represents all of them. Many rural and urban areas still lag behind. Kirkliston, a village barely 10 miles from the centre of Edinburgh, has speeds on its copper infrastructure of generally less than 1 megabit a second. Such speeds make real functional access for both individuals and businesses nigh on impossible.
I welcome the £68.8 million pledged by the Government as a contribution towards upgrading Scotland’s infrastructure. However, that money now sits in a bank account waiting for a strategy from the Scottish Government to emerge some time next year, which is not a great help to my constituents.
To be honest, the problem, or indeed the opportunity, is not really wired access but the mobile internet, a technology whose growth has outstripped all others and which, worldwide, will transform how the internet is accessed and, therefore, governed. Today, about half of all internet users, and a seventh of the world’s population, have already moved to mobile internet. A recent industry survey estimated that mobile broadband subscriptions would reach 3.8 billion or about half the world’s population by 2015. Another report predicted that by 2015, traffic from wireless devices would exceed traffic from wired devices. To date, the mobile internet has possibly been the fastest growing technology in history, but even that takes us only partially towards the access envisaged by the title of the IGF debate this year.
Everything I have talked about so far deals merely with the pipes and not with what comes out at the end. By that I mean the obvious difference between access and accessibility, which in itself covers many areas. There is an urgent need to consider how information is presented on the internet. There was much talk at the IGF of a move to a more multilingual internet and one that looks to put all users of the internet on an equal footing. Taking that down to local level, I am having a new parliamentary website designed with the help of the plain English campaign. In doing that, I have to take into account accessibility for users with varied needs. That is something that many companies and Departments need to spend a great deal more time on.
Equality of access across the world raises even more basic questions. The UN rapporteur on human rights has called for access to the internet to be a human right, giving individuals, as it sometimes does, their only access to an unfettered flow of information and a right to freedom of expression. That poses an interesting question for me, sitting as I do on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and on PITCOM; I am straddling both those strands.
In the past, many countries, Kenya included, have faced challenges to shut down or limit access to the internet. The internet in general and the social networks in particular have heightened our awareness of many such issues. For example, they were used to co-ordinate many of the uprisings in the Arab spring and the riots in this country.
We must stand by free, unlimited internet access in this country and abroad. The internet is fast becoming one of the key engines of economic and social transformation and growth across the globe. The internet governance framework will be an important way of ensuring that we focus not only on physical access but on access to freedoms of expression and association. I hope the Minister will rapidly do all he can to push forward both sides of that access agenda.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Benton. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) on securing this extremely important debate. Ironically, when the Minister and I were debating one of the world’s oldest technologies this morning, this place was packed out. Now, we are at the cutting edge of technology and there are far fewer people, which is perhaps not the best reflection on parliamentarians.
What has emerged this afternoon is the complexity of the issues and how difficult it is to get the balance right. I was struck yesterday by the impact that the net is having on business development in this country. Despite the recession, net-based firms are expanding at a phenomenal rate and are completely bucking all trends. We are also aware of the positive role that the net and mobile devices have in developing countries. They enable people to know which markets to take their produce to and to save time on travel when travel links are not very good. It is clear that there are many positive benefits to be had.
Children and young people’s capability on the net and their capacity to use it for positive purposes are way ahead of the rest of us. Politically speaking, we have seen in north Africa and the middle east the huge impact of the net on enabling people to communicate. That had two benefits: access to ideas, which was not previously available to people there, and the facility for communicating swiftly, which was undoubtedly significant.
At the same time, however, there are risks and we need to consider the public policy aspects of the internet. One public policy aspect that I shall be interested to hear about from the Minister is whether the internet service providers or the owners of the technology are themselves competing in a proper market. Because the technology has emerged very quickly and because some firms have grown very speedily, I wonder whether there is both monopolistic and monopsonistic control of some parts of the market. We need to think about that issue, because obviously a firm such as Google, which has grown very quickly, is technology-based. In a way, one could almost say that it is a happy accident that Google has been so successful. One can imagine that similar market power held by other companies might not be quite so beneficial. We need to address that issue.
Labour endorses the report by Ian Hargreaves on intellectual property. We look forward to the implementation of many of his recommendations.
My hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) spoke about crime on the internet. There are many dimensions, but I want to say something about child safety online and online harassment. A major piece of work is being done at the moment by some colleagues about online stalking, which is emerging as a significant problem. I wonder whether people take online stalking seriously enough and realise how terrifying and harassing it can be. We hope for some developments on that issue.
One of the things that I have noticed in the short time that I have been in the job of shadow justice Minister is that for many of the proposed protections people are supposed to engage in self-protection. For example, I went to a meeting last week where I was told by BT that it was quite simple for people to organise online protection for their children on their home computer; it was supposed to be perfectly straightforward. I went home, tried to do it and could not make the computer work for the next 24 hours.
I reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth: it is important that we discuss different aspects of the issue in different parts of the House and think about the different elements of behaviour that impact on people. It is also important that we take understanding of the internet, its implications and its governance beyond people interested in the technology involved, because as my right hon. Friend said we cannot simply have technological solutions.
It is clear that there is a group of people who think that the internet should be like the forest in the 14th century—a place where outlaws can run free and unrestrained. That is not realistic and it is not what any of us who are here for this debate want. I respect my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), but we have learned that piracy is not a very good idea. From the 16th century to today, we have had increasing developments in the international law of the sea.
I was not suggesting that piracy is a good idea and I was not referring to Somalia. I was simply saying that it is good to listen to polemical arguments sometimes, because sometimes they are made with considerable force. I would also caution against situations where some interests—I am not being negative about corporate interests—will sometimes use the internet to extend their control, such as was the case when someone wanted a book loan in the past but were not able to pay to file-share.
My hon. Friend makes a good point—I was only teasing him. However, the fact is that we have been told on a number of occasions that we cannot control things that are problematic on the internet because it is international; that was the first set of responses when people were raising concerns about the internet. Well, what that tells us is that we must have international governance arrangements. I am very pleased that so many of my colleagues, from all parties in the House, were in Nairobi to look at the international governance arrangements.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point indeed, but there is more connection between what she is saying and what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) said than might immediately appear. One of the problems is getting two groups of people who take a diametrically different view from each other into the same room to have a debate. We have seen that in relation to intellectual property and exploitation of the internet. In that sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk is right to say that we must not close anyone out of the argument, even if we ultimately reject the case that they are making. We must have a joined-up approach so that as far as possible everybody is in the room having the debates and understanding each other’s point of view.
Of course. My right hon. Friend speaks with experience and good sense about the need to take account of different perspectives. I also thought what he said about the nature of rules is important. He said that they need to be values-based, outcomes-based and technologically neutral. That is absolutely the right approach. Privacy offers an important example. It is no more acceptable to invade a person’s privacy using one technology than it is using another. Everybody must understand that, but sometimes we behave as if it is not the case.
That point raises another issue, which is whether different technologies tend to encourage different sorts of behaviour. If I were to tell you something quietly in the corridor, Mr Benton, and said, “Please don’t repeat this to anybody”, I am absolutely certain that you would not repeat it. Equally, if I was to go to my doctor and tell him something, and he wrote some notes down in handwriting and put them in a safe place, I would not be worried about them being leaked. However, in my mental health trust recently somebody took a memory stick out of the office, dropped it in the local car park and all the mental health records of everybody in County Durham became widely available. That kind of casualness or casual behaviour is more prevalent in the zone of computers. Although the values we use should be neutral in relation to the technology, I do not think that people’s behaviour is quite so neutral.
In conclusion, I hope that we can have further debates about this important issue in this Chamber.
It is a pleasure to appear under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. I welcome the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) to her position as Labour spokesman on communications and creative industries.
I pay a heartfelt tribute to the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), not just for securing this debate but for his leadership on this important issue, both as a Minister and since leaving post. In the spirit of co-operation that I think has characterised the debate, let me put on record how helpful he has been to me as a new Minister, in establishing myself in the post and finding my way around it. His co-operation and knowledge sharing has helped me to get up to speed and to continue, I hope, to represent the UK effectively in these important debates. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), who was with us at the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, is now following these matters very closely, and will be an important contributor to debates on this issue.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) for his contribution on broadband, and I shall briefly touch on that issue now before turning, in the main part of my response, to internet governance. On the issue of the spectrum, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), we obviously know that the internet is very important. At lunchtime, I was at a retail store with people we were encouraging to get online—there is a campaign called “Give an hour”, run by Martha Lane Fox. Pat Harran, Mohammed Mir, Errol Hall and someone called Pitchit were there to get online, and I promised I would mention them so that they could look up Hansard online. Showing them how to find a Hansard debate on the Parliament website on an iPad was instructive because it was almost impossible; there is a message there for the parliamentary authorities.
I learnt an interesting statistic today that marries my two responsibilities in culture and communications. During the Frieze art fair, which lasted just four days and had 60,000 visitors, 1 terabit—a trillion bits of information—was downloaded. Incidentally, 85% of visitors were using an iPhone or an iPad, which shows the dominance of Apple, at least in trendy circles such as contemporary art. In 1993, 100 terabits was the entire amount of information transferred across the internet—I was virtually middle-aged then—so we can see how things have changed in a short time. My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage and the hon. Member for Edinburgh West are entirely correct to focus on the spectrum, and it is vital that Ofcom gets the auction rules right and that we are able to auction the 4G spectrum as soon as possible, because otherwise it will become more and more difficult to use the smart phone gadgets on which we all depend.
Turning to the substance of the debate, which is the Internet Governance Forum and the multi-stakeholder approach, I shall recount a short anecdote for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth. The Foreign Secretary does not like the term “multi-stakeholder”; indeed, he has said that it is an ugly term, and at the London conference, which begins next week, I think he plans to use “co-operative governance”, which is a bit of a mouthful for a Conservative—he might even stretch to “mutual governance”. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary’s power will shift us away from “multi-stakeholder engagement,” but that is the term that people across the world understand.
The conference in Nairobi was very useful. I went because of the persuasion of the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, and I am grateful that people said it was good to see a Minister there. It was certainly worth my while, and I will continue to go as long as I hold this job, because it is important to have a presence there and engage with not just stakeholders but Government representatives who might have a different approach. The multi-stakeholder model is not universally accepted, and different models have been put forward. The right hon. Gentleman knows that moves are afoot to transfer responsibility for internet governance to the International Telecommunication Union—the ITU. The UK Government does not support that, and so in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question, we will continue, I hope, to lead on this issue and support the multi-stakeholder approach.
There is a proposal from India, Brazil and South Africa, known as the IBSA model, to set up a new global body within the UN system, but I think that that would be an unravelling of the world summit on the information society—WSIS—principles that were established, thanks to the right hon. Gentleman, in Tunis in 2005. In addition, China and Russia have submitted to the UN General Assembly a proposal for the international management of the internet.
I subscribe to the multi-stakeholder model. The internet was built from the ground up. It is an innovative medium, and not just Governments but other stakeholders, civil society groups and business all must have their say if it is to remain so. One reason for the debate in this area is the continued role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Recently, there have been concerns about ICANN’s approach regarding the .xxx domain name, but I am glad that as a result we have had significant reforms of the corporation and a more coherent role for its Government Advisory Committee—GAC—and are now well placed for the corporation to move forward, particularly as it releases more generic top-level domain names from next year.
We also have the re-letting of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority—IANA—contract, which is currently operated by ICANN under the auspices of the US Government. It is absolutely clear that the US Government take their responsibility in that regard very seriously, as a steward for the global internet. People who suggest that they would somehow seek to turn off the internet are completely wrong —there is even an untrue anecdote that they cut off Syria four or five years ago. It is important, however, that the US recognises such concerns, and I think that it does. For example, when the IANA contract is let, it might go to ICANN or it could go to another body, and that will be seen as a global body, although it will be registered in the US. Local law will apply to the country that owns the domain name, so .uk will continue to be subject to UK law. In any dispute, the relevant domestic law of the domain name will prevail.
In consideration of new generic top-level domains, there will be a requirement for community support for IANA to amend the root and thus add a new domain—.scot for example—to protect us against controversial root domain names coming forward. The operator of IANA will also have to introduce enhanced transparency so that a request for root zone changes can be tracked through the system. I hope that people who feel that somehow a UN or an ITU route would be better—in that it would reduce the influence of the Americans— understand that the Americans do not seek to influence the governance of the internet and that they regard themselves very much as stewards.
I have very little time left, but I am glad that I have covered the main points: support for the multi-stakeholder approach; concern about the two proposals that I have mentioned; contentment that the issue between GAC and ICANN has, I think, been resolved and moved forward; and the United States Government’s recognition and addressing of the concerns about the re-letting of the IANA contract. We have the important London conference on cyberspace next week, and I hope that some of the Members present will be able to attend. If not, I ask them to please let me know. I am sure that they will be able to attend if the problem is at our end.
Let me make a couple of other points. There is the importance of internet protocol version 6. We have run out, as it were, of domain names and need to move to IPv6, and I want to use this opportunity to call on industry, particularly the internet service providers and the mobile operators, to support 6UK, which is the business body charged with raising awareness of IPv6. So far, support has not been forthcoming, and it now needs to come from the people who will reap the main benefit—the ISPs and the mobile operators. On the philosophical approach—if I may put it that way—that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland took, there is potentially common ground between us. I am interested in her monopolistic and mons—
I will not even try to say it. I will not give any views on that approach because I do not want to set any hares running.
There is also the self-regulatory approach to try to protect people from inappropriate content on the internet, and I welcome the ISPs’ code of conduct on active choice, which is designed to do precisely what the hon. Lady says, to give parents easy tools with which to protect their children. My approach with these businesses is to say, “This is the policy problem. You have the technical knowledge, so help us to solve it. Don’t simply say, ‘It can’t be done’.”
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.