Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 15 November, on Ticket Abuse, HC 823; and Independent Review of Consumer Protection Measures concerning Online Secondary Ticketing Facilities, presented to Parliament pursuant to section 94(3) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, May 2016.]
New Clause 28
Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material
“(1) Where the age-verification regulator considers that a person (“the non-complying person”) is—
(a) contravening section15(1), or
(b) making prohibited material available on the internet to persons in the United Kingdom,
it may give a notice under this subsection to any internet service provider.
(2) The notice must—
(a) identify the non-complying person in such manner as the age-verification regulator considers appropriate;
(b) state which of paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) applies;
(c) require the internet service provider—
(i) to take steps specified in the notice, or
(ii) (if no such steps are specified) to put in place arrangements that appear to the provider to be appropriate,
so as to prevent persons in the United Kingdom from being able to access the offending material using the service it provides;
(d) provide such information as the regulator considers may assist the internet service provider in complying with any requirement imposed by the notice;
(e) provide information about the arrangements for appeals mentioned in section17(4)(d);
(f) provide such further particulars as the regulator considers appropriate.
(3) The steps that may be specified or arrangements that may be put in place under subsection (2)(c) include steps or arrangements that will or may also have the effect of preventing persons in the United Kingdom from being able to access material other than the offending material using the service provided by the internet service provider.
(4) The notice may require the internet service provider to provide information specified in the notice, in a manner specified in the notice, to persons in the United Kingdom who—
(a) attempt to access the offending material using the service provided by the provider, and
(b) are prevented from doing so as a result of steps taken, or arrangements put in place, by the provider pursuant to the notice.
(5) The notice may specify the time by which the internet service provider must have complied with any requirement imposed by the notice.
(6) The notice may be varied or revoked by a further notice under subsection (1).
(7) The age-verification regulator may publish, in whatever way it considers appropriate, a notice given under subsection (1).
(8) It is the duty of an internet service provider to comply with any requirement imposed on it by a notice under subsection (1).
(9) That duty is enforceable in civil proceedings by the age-verification regulator—
(a) for an injunction;
(b) for specific performance of a statutory duty under section 45 of the Court of Session Act 1988; or
(c) for any other appropriate relief or remedy.
(10) Before giving a notice to an internet service provider under subsection (1), the age-verification regulator must—
(a) inform the Secretary of State of its decision to do so, and
(b) give notice of that decision to the non-complying person under this subsection.
(11) A notice under subsection (10) (other than notice of a decision to revoke a notice under subsection (1)) must—
(a) where subsection (1)(a) applies—
(i) say why the regulator considers that the non-complying person is contravening section15(1), and
(ii) indicate what steps the regulator considers might be taken by the non-complying person to comply with that section;
(b) where subsection (1)(b) applies, say why the regulator considers that the offending material is prohibited material;
(c) indicate the circumstances in which the regulator may consider revoking the notice it has decided to give under subsection (1) and the manner in which the non-complying person may notify the regulator of steps taken to satisfy the regulator that the notice ought to be revoked;
(d) provide information about the arrangements for appeals mentioned in section17(4)(e).
(12) In this section—
“the offending material”, in relation to a non-complying person, means the material which the age-verification regulator considers is—
(a) being made available in contravention of section 15(1) by the non-complying person; or
(b) prohibited material which the non-complying person is making available on the internet to persons in the United Kingdom;
“prohibited material” has the meaning given in section 22(4).”—(Matt Hancock.)
This new clause enables the age-verification regulator to require internet service providers to prevent persons in the United Kingdom from being able to access material on the internet where it is being made available in contravention of clause 15(1) or is “prohibited material” as defined in clause 22.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 29—On-demand programme services: specially restricted material.
New clause 1—Power to require the blocking of access to pornographic material by internet service providers—
“(1) Where the age-verification regulator determines that a person has made pornographic material available on a commercial basis on the internet to persons in the United Kingdom—
(a) in contravention of section 15(1), and
(b) the person has been the subject of a financial penalty or enforcement notice under section 20 and the contravention has not ceased,
the age-verification regulator may issue a notice to internet service providers requiring them to prevent access to the pornographic material that is provided by the non-complying person.
(2) A notice under subsection (1) must—
(a) identify the non-complying person in such manner as the age verification regulator considers appropriate;
(b) provide such further particulars as the age-verification regulator considers appropriate.
(3) When the age-verification regulator gives notice under this section, it must inform the non-complying person, by notice, that it has done so.
(4) An internet service provider who fails to comply with a requirement imposed by subsection (1) commits an offence, subject to subsection (5).
(5) No offence is committed under subsection (4) if the internet service provider took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to ensure that the requirement would be complied with.
(6) An internet service provider guilty of an offence under subsection (4) is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine.
(7) In this section “internet service provider” has the same meaning as in section 124N of the Communications Act 2003 (interpretation).”
This new clause gives a power to the age-verification regulator to require internet service providers to block pornography websites that do not offer age-verification.
New clause 3—Safety responsibilities of social media sites—
“(1) This section applies to a person who operates an internet site for commercial purposes which requires a user to create a personal account to fully access the internet site.
(2) A person under subsection (1) must—
(a) undertake and publish an online safety impact assessment in respect of their account holders,
(b) inform the police if they become aware of any threat on its internet site to physically harm an individual,
(c) remove any posts made on its internet site that are deemed to be violent or that could incite violence.”
New clause 10—Internet pornography: requirement to teach age requirement and risks as part of sex education—
“After section 403(1A)(b) of the Education Act 1996, add—
“(c) they learn about the risks and dangers of internet pornography, and the legal age requirement to access internet pornography under Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.””
This new clause would mean that the Secretary of State would have to include in guidance to maintained schools that pupils learn as part of sex education the risks and dangers of internet pornography and the legal age requirement to access it, as provided for under Part 3.
New clause 13—Code of practice for commercial social media platform providers on online abuse—
“(1) The relevant Minister must issue a code of practice about the responsibilities of commercial social media platform providers in dealing with online abuse.
(2) The code of practice must include guidance on—
(a) how a commercial social media platform providers shall respond to cases of a person being victim of online abuse on its internet site;
(b) quality service standards expected of the commercial social media platform providers in determining, assessing, and responding to cases of online abuse; and
(c) the setting and enforcement of privacy settings of persons aged 17 or under, where deemed appropriate.
(3) A commercial social media platform providers must comply with the code of practice.
(4) The relevant Minister may from time to time revise and re-issue the code of practice.
(5) As soon as is reasonably practicable after issuing or reissuing the code of practice the relevant Minister must lay, or arrange for the laying of, a copy of it before—
(b) the Scottish Parliament,
(c) the National Assembly for Wales, and
(d) the Northern Ireland Assembly.
(6) In this section “commercial social media platform providers” means a person who operates an internet site on a commercial basis on which people can interact.”
New clause 32—Approval of Age-verification providers—
“(1) Age-verification providers must be approved by the age-verification regulator.
(2) In this section an “age-verification provider” means a person who appears to the age-verification regulator to provide, in the course of a business, a service used by a person to ensure that pornographic material is not normally accessible by persons under the age of 18.
(3) The age-verification regulator must publish a code of practice to be approved by the Secretary of State and laid before Parliament.
(4) The code will include provisions to ensure that age-verification providers—
(a) perform a Data Protection Impact Assessment and make this publicly available,
(b) take full and appropriate measures to ensure the accuracy, security and confidentiality of the data of their users,
(c) minimise the processing of personal information to that which is necessary for the purposes of age-verification,
(d) do not disclose the identity of individuals verifying their age to persons making pornography available on the internet,
(e) take full and appropriate measures to ensure that their services do not enable persons making pornography available on the internet to identify users of their sites or services across differing sites or services,
(f) do not create security risks for third parties or adversely impact security systems or cyber security,
(g) comply with a set standard of accuracy in verifying the age of users.
(5) Age-verification Providers must comply with the code of practice.
(6) To the extent that a term of a contract purports to prevent or restrict the doing of any act required to comply with the Code, that term is unenforceable.”
Amendment 27, in clause 15, page 18, line 7, after “material” insert “or adult material”.
This amendment and amendments 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 and 34 would require all providers of internet content which is not suitable for children to put in place a robust age-verification system. In the offline world, children are not allowed to view material which the BBFC has classified to be only suitable for adults. This amendment ensures that these restrictions apply equally to the online world.
Amendment 28, page 18, line 11, after “material” insert “or adult material”.
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Amendment 29, page 18, line 18, after “material” insert “or adult material”.
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Amendment 30, page 18, line 24, after “material” insert “or adult material”.
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Amendment 2, page 18, line 36, at end insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State must make regulations to ensure that the definition of specially restricted material in section 368E(5) of the Communications Act 2003 is amended to reflect the definitions in this Part.”
The amendment requires the making of regulations to ensure that there is a parity of protection for children using different online media. The regulations would amend the definition of specially restricted material for UK based video on demand programming and extend it to 18 material as well as R18 material.
Amendment 31, in clause 16, page 19, line 17, at end insert—
“16 (1A) In this Part “adult material” means any of the following—
(a) a video work in respect of which the video works authority has issued an 18 certificate;
(b) any other material if it is reasonable to assume from its nature that any classification certificate issued for a video work including it would be an 18 certificate; and
(c) any other material if it is reasonable to assume that the video works authority would determine that a video work including it was not suitable for a classification certificate to be issued in respect of it.”
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Government amendments 35 and 36.
Amendment 32, in clause 19, page 21, line 9, after “material” insert “or adult material”.
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Amendment 1, in clause 20, page 22, line 26, at end insert—
“(13) Where a person is—
(a) based in a country outside the United Kingdom, and
(b) refusing to comply with the requirements of the age-verification regulator, the age-verification regulator shall notify Ofcom that the relevant person is refusing to comply with its requirements.
(14) Following a notification made under subsection (13), Ofcom shall direct internet service providers in the United Kingdom to block public access to the material made available by the person on the internet.
(15) An internet service provider that fails to comply with subsection (14) within a reasonable period would be subject to financial penalties imposed by the age-verification regulator under section 21.”
Amendment 33, in clause 22, page 24, line 33, after first “material” insert “, adult material,”.
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Government amendment 37.
Amendment 34, in clause 23, page 25, line 5, after first “material” insert “, adult material,”.
See explanatory statement for amendment 27.
Government amendments 38 to 42.
New clause 7—Bill limits for all mobile phone contracts—
“(1) A telecommunications service provider supplying a contract relating to a hand-held mobile telephone must, at the time of entering into such a contract, allow the end-user the opportunity to place a financial cap on the monthly bill under that contract.
(2) A telecommunications service provider under subsection (1) must not begin to supply a contracted service to an end-user unless the end-user has either—
(a) requested the monthly cap be put in place and agreed the amount of that cap, or
(b) decided, on a durable medium, not to put a monthly cap in place.
(3) The end-user should bear no cost for the supply of any service above the cap if the provider has—
(a) failed to impose a cap agreed under subsection (2)(a);
(b) introduce, or amend, a cap following the end-user’s instructions under subsection (2)(b); or
(c) removed the cap without the end-user’s instructions or has removed it without obtaining the consumer’s express consent on a durable medium under subsection (2).”
New clause 14—Impact assessment of macro not-spot roaming—
“(1) Within three months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must commission an impact assessment of enabling a system of macro not-spot roaming in the UK, and shall lay the report of the impact assessment before each House of Parliament.
(2) In this section “macro not-spot roaming” means the ability for hand-held mobile telephone users based in relatively large areas of non or partial broadband coverage to access coverage from networks other than their own.”
This new clause calls for an impact assessment of macro not-spot roaming in the UK, in line with the recommendations of the British Infrastructure Group report on mobile coverage.
New clause 20—Ability of end-user to cancel telephone contract in event of lack of signal at residence—
“A telecommunications service provider must allow an end-user to cancel a contract relating to a hand-held mobile telephone if, at any point during the contract term, the mobile telephones is consistently unable to obtain a signal when located at the end-user’s main residence.”
New clause 21—Use of emergency serve network wireless telegraphy infrastructure by multiple network providers—
“After section 8(4) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, insert—
“(4A) A licence issued in respect of a wireless telegraphy station or apparatus that is used for the purposes of emergency service network shall stipulate that more than one network provider can use the station or apparatus.””
New clause 22—OFCOM power to enforce structural separation of BT Openreach—
“After section 49C of the Communications Act 2003 insert—
“(49D) OFCOM has the power to enforce the structural separation of BT Openreach, should OFCOM consider this necessary.””
New clause 25—Ability of end-user to cancel mobile telephone contract in event of lack of signal at residence and place of employment—
“A telecommunications service provider must allow an end-user to cancel a contract relating to a hand-held mobile device if, at any point during the contract term, the mobile device is consistently unable to obtain a signal when located at the end user’s main residence or main place of employment.”
New clause 26—Wireless telegraphy licences and medical or hearing technology—
“After section 14(4) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, insert—
“(4A) Before granting a wireless telegraphy licence, Ofcom shall carry out tests to identify the risk of any interference with any medical or hearing technology and publish its findings.
(4B) Ofcom shall not grant a licence if tests carried out under section 14(4A) have found there is a risk of interference with medical or hearing technology unless—
(a) action is taken to eliminate the risk; or
(b) a fund is set up to meet the costs of replacing all medical or hearing technology affected by the interference.
(4C) Where a fund is set up under section 14(4B), Ofcom shall require that any person who is granted a licence takes action to inform its customers of the risk that its devices may lead to interference with medical or hearing technology.””
This new clause would place a duty on Ofcom to carry out tests in advance of the sale of radio frequencies to ensure that any interference identified with medical or hearing devices is made public. Where a risk of interference is identified, Ofcom shall not grant a wireless telegraphy licence unless action is taken to remove the risk of interference or a fund established to cover the cost of replacing medical or hearing technology affected. This new clause is supported by the National Deaf Children’s Society.
New clause 27—Introduction of broadband connection voucher scheme as alternative to universal service order provision—
“The Secretary of State shall introduce a broadband connection voucher scheme to allow an end-user to access broadband other than that supplied by the provider of the universal service order, under Part 2 of the Communications Act 2003.”
Although most individuals are likely to choose the standard universal service order offering, this new clause would provide individuals with the option of a voucher scheme that empowers them to take up an alternative solution.
Government amendments 23 and 24.
The Digital Economy Bill will help to connect modern Britain, support the digital economy and keep people safe online. The measures in this group are about strengthening the enforcement of protections for children, improving access to online media, and addressing consumer protection in telecoms. I will take in turn those three sub-groups of your excellent grouping, Mr Speaker.
Turning first to child protection, I am delighted by the cross-party support for delivering the Conservative manifesto commitment to require age verification to access online pornography. During the Bill’s passage through the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who is in the Chamber, ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), has led debate about this by powerfully expressing the view that the enforcement proposed in the Bill is not strong enough—she is right. We have listened to the case that she and others have made. They have advanced the argument that some companies, especially those based overseas, simply will not abide by the law that is enacted by this House, so it is clear that there is a case to direct a UK internet service provider to prevent access.
We all want the internet to be free, but freedom operates within a framework of social responsibility, norms and the law. The approach set out in Government new clause 28 will protect the freedom of adults to watch pornography online, but provide adequate protections by giving children the same sorts of safeguards online as they have offline. We have worked closely with the industry and I am confident that it will take a responsible position. I therefore envisage the regulator needing to use this power only sparingly, because the vast majority of companies will want to obey the law. We will work through the technical detail with the regulator—it is expected to be the British Board of Film Classification—and others to understand the broader implications and make the new system work as we take the proposals through the other place.
We have been persuaded of another argument that was made powerfully on Second Reading. The provisions we have discussed today will see children protected by one of the most robust and sophisticated regimes globally but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce)—I see her in her place—has said, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), the protections have resulted in a disparity between UK-based on-demand services on the one hand, and overseas-based on-demand services and online commercial providers of pornography on the other. We have carefully considered that and concluded that we do not want disparate regimes. Government new clause 29 will ensure that children are protected from pornographic content from wherever it is derived. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton for making her case; I believe that we will have a stronger system as a result.
New clause 3 proposes a legal requirement to undertake an online safety impact assessment. I understand the intent behind the new clause, but I think that the measure is unnecessary, because leading social media companies already report on their online safety practices voluntarily as part of the safety framework of the ICT Coalition. We work closely with social media companies to ensure that they take down content that is violent or that incites violence, and to flag terrorist-related content. The system is important and is working well. Since 2010, we have secured the voluntary removal of more than 220,000 pieces of content. A requirement for a safety assessment is likely to be difficult to apply in practice because of the extraterritorial organisations that are involved in this space, and it would be almost impossible to target individuals who run small online websites for commercial purposes.
I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to amend the Bill in this important area. As he is addressing the responsibility of social media sites, what action is he thinking of taking to prevent what happened recently, when Facebook refused to give the police information that it had relating to a missing child?
It is incredibly important to get the framework that operates in that sort of space right, as is the case for terrorist material and child protection online. The system that we have in place—it is essentially non-statutory, although it is underpinned by online and offline offences—is working well. Social media organisations’ collaboration with the police and others is incredibly important, and I urge them to collaborate with the police whenever they are asked to do so. We have taken the view that the effective and rigorous enforcement of rules relating to age verification is an important step to get that system up and running. The system is working well, with 220,000 take-downs since 2010, so we want to leave it in place. In all such instances, there might be difficult individual cases, but overall the system is, on the whole, working effectively. That is why we have taken different approaches for the two different areas.
New clause 10 would introduce some very specific requirements around online education. I maintain that the measure is not necessary, because e-safety is already covered at all stages in the new computing curriculum that was introduced in September 2014. From primary school, children are taught how to use technology safely, respectfully and responsibly, how to keep personal information private, how to recognise acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and how to report a range of concerns. As hon. Members will see, we care deeply about protecting children online both through direct rules for the internet and through education. The new clause is not necessary, and I worry that putting in place a more static system would risk making the task at hand harder.
When it comes to broader protection, we expect social media and interactive services to have in place robust processes that can quickly address inappropriate content and abusive behaviour on their sites. It would be difficult to make the sort of statutory code of practice proposed in new clause 13 work, as there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The way in which to deal properly with inappropriate content and abuse will vary by service and by incident. Technological considerations might differ by platform as innovation changes the way in which the internet operates. Legislating in this area is difficult because of the pace of change, and users will benefit most if companies develop a bespoke approach for reporting tools and in-house processes. Existing arrangements and the action taken by social media companies provide the best approach to tackling this problem.
We are working on codes of practice in a series of different areas. About 10 days ago, as my right hon. Friend will have seen, Twitter—one of the main players in this space—brought forward work towards a code of practice on online abuse. There is more to do in this area, but it is better that we have codes of practice that the organisations themselves can buy into and that can change with the times as the usage of social media changes. My goodness, we all know how social media changes over time—not always in a good way—so we need to make sure that we keep pace with that. I worry that putting something static into legislation would get into the way of such efforts. However, I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is incumbent on social media companies to play their part in establishing and rigorously enforcing norms and social responsibility in this area if we decide not to go down, or not yet to go down, the legislative route.
I quite understand that the Minister wants buy-in from the commercial social media platform providers. In response to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), he sketched out a position that appears to be that there is no actual code of practice, but that codes are being developed. Perhaps I misunderstood the Minister because I thought he had said before the right hon. Lady’s intervention that codes of practice are in place and working well.
I will quickly mention the changing circumstances. The Minister is quite right that this is a fast-changing world. Subsection (4) of new clause 13 states:
“The relevant Minister may from time to time revise and re-issue the code of practice”,
so the very flexibility that he is praying in aid would be delivered by the new clause.
Let me be clear: when I said that there are codes of practice, I was talking about taking down online terrorist and child abuse material, on which there have been clear codes of practice for a number of years. Regarding social abuse online, we are working with the companies involved to make further progress.
The Government have had significant discussions with the devolved nations on these questions. They, of course, treat these questions differently—there is a different system in Scotland and Wales, and in Northern Ireland in fact—and it is a matter for them. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the response I gave about the computing curriculum is a matter for England, although most of the Bill involves UK matters. I am very happy to clear up that point.
The Public Bill Committee considered the subject matter of new clause 32, which calls for the regulator to approve age-verification providers and to publish a code of practice with which the providers must comply. As I said in Committee, such a measure is not necessary because clause 15 requires the regulator to publish guidance about the types of arrangements it will treat as being in compliance. That may include the characteristics of age-verification controls that would be considered acceptable. I have been made aware of a number of proposed technical solutions for age-verification controls during the passage of the Bill. Clause 15 already takes into account the need for guidance in that area.
The Minister will be aware that such age verification will inevitably require the companies concerned to hold a lot of data. What assurances can he give the House that those data will not be liable to being hacked, as happened in the Ashley Madison case?
That is incredibly important. We will come on to the data protection provisions later, but this whole area operates within the scope of the Data Protection Act 1998, which provides for very strong safeguards that are set to get stronger. The Government have said that we will opt in to the forthcoming general data protection regulation, which includes stronger enforcement measures than the current Data Protection Act. All the data measures in the Bill, and all the consequences of the age-verification process, will be covered by the Data Protection Act, which has a very broad consensus of support behind it and has operated effectively over a number of years. That means that companies are responsible for the security of their data, including their cyber-security.
It will be a requirement that the data are held in such a way that they are secure and not made available. It is a common principle across swathes of life that data must be held safely. The Data Protection Act is in place to make sure that that happens.
Returning to new clause 32, it is likely that a requirement on the regulator to approve providers would be unnecessarily restrictive. However, I understand of course the need to ensure that the age-verification process is of high quality.
As I have stressed, these measures are part of a broader effort to protect children online. For instance, parental control filters are an important tool to protect children from harmful online material. They were introduced by industry after the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes in the previous Parliament. In Committee, we discussed the concern that EU net neutrality regulations will render such controls, which have worked well, illegal. I am clear that our interpretation of the EU regulations is that filters are allowed when they can be turned off, as they are therefore a matter of user choice. I know that there is still uncertainty about this matter, as well as concerns that filters could be challenged. I am happy to confirm to the House that, to put this issue beyond doubt, we will table an amendment in the other place to the effect that providers may offer such filters.
Amendments 27 to 34 have been tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the former Secretary of State. The introduction of a new law requiring appropriate age-verification measures for online pornography is a bold step involving many challenges. It represents the first stage in ensuring that commercial providers of pornographic material are rightly held responsible for what they provide and profit from. While the internet brings incredible and unlimited opportunities, it has the potential to change the way in which younger generations grow up to understand and experience healthy relationships.
Delivering on our manifesto commitment to stop children and young people from accessing online pornographic sites remains our priority, and we want to get that right. I believe that the provisions in the Bill will enable us to do that. Our measures will protect children from exposure to material that is clearly inappropriate for them and that would be harmful to their development. Of course, pornography is not the only online content that may be harmful to children, but AV controls are part, not all, of the approach to protect children from possibly harmful content online.
The inclusion of other adult material within the scope of the Bill, as proposed in amendment 27, might not be the most effective way to address these issues. Most importantly, we must be careful to take a proportionate approach to ensure the success of our proposals. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke that we will continue to work to make sure that we take all action necessary on all fronts where children are at risk of harm. I look forward to continuing discussions with her and others. I believe our approach is a targeted and effective way of protecting children from accessing or stumbling across the pornographic material that is most readily available and potentially harmful, and that the Bill fulfils our manifesto commitment.
The age verification requirements apply to the commercial provision of pornography. That is not only the paid-for but that which is provided for a commercial return. There is a difference between websites that provide commercial pornography and platforms on which others can upload images. Getting this right with regard to that second group is much harder than it is with regard to the first. We are therefore proposing to put forward the measures in the Bill to deal with the larger swathe or mainstay of the problem, get them working properly and then see how they are working.
I appreciate that there is a big challenge in stopping those who really want to access porn online, but all the evidence suggests that children’s first interaction is often by accident. We are legislating to prevent as much as possible of that inadvertent viewing by those who are not desperately actively seeking to do so. I appreciate that the Bill is not a utopia, but it is a very important step forward. I hope my right hon. Friend will accept that.
The Minister is being very generous with his time. Is it not fair to say that four years ago providers such as Twitter told us it was impossible to take down visual images of children being sexually abused, but now, as he says, there is quite rightly a code of practice in place? Surely where there is a will there is a way. He has already proved that he can make significant progress, so should he not put more pressure on organisations like Twitter?
Yes is the short answer. The Bill does so, and we will best achieve that pressure by delivering on its proposals and then working with the platforms on the issue of platform-based pornography, because that is a much more difficult technical nut to crack.
The Minister has spent more time in the past few weeks thinking about children and pornography than I am sure he wanted to. The Bill deals with the publication of pornography, but we also need to help children to be more resilient and understand that those images are not normal sexual behaviour and are the kind of violence that should not be part of relationships, because research by the NSPCC and others tells us that children, and boys in particular, think it is normal. What discussions has he had with the Department for Education to try to build greater resilience among children to some of the images that, despite the efforts in the Bill, they will see?
I agree with every word of the right hon. Lady’s intervention—both the first part and the second. Yes, working with the DFE is incredibly important in building resilience and actively ensuring that people’s health through relationships is taught effectively. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I have both been in discussions with the DFE on that point. That said, the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) makes an important point about the broader circumstances that should be taken into consideration, as well as the clarity in the amendment, which I hope she welcomes.
Turning to mobile phone contracts—a bit of a shift—new clause 7 seeks to place a mandatory obligation on mobile phone service providers to agree with the customer at the time of their entering into a contract a financial cap on their monthly bill. Since the new clause was first tabled in Committee, we have had further contact with mobile network operators, and providers already offer consumers ways to manage their usage: apps that allow customers to turn financial caps on and off, warning text messages when customers are approaching their allowance limits, dedicated phone numbers that tell the customer their usage, and online tools that explain how much data is needed to carry out different online activities. I expect providers to continue to take steps to minimise bill shock and ensure that their customers are sufficiently equipped to manage their usage, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) will agree that legislation is not currently necessary, although the movement in this direction is.
On new clause 14, I understand the frustrations of people whose mobile experience does not live up to their expectations, but while roaming appears to offer a quick fix, it risks doing more harm than good, because it could undermine the incentive for operators to invest in new infrastructure. This is particularly damaging in areas with no coverage from any provider at all. There is no incentive to invest capital in a new mast if operators can by law simply piggyback off others’ investment. The Government considered roaming in 2014, but for the above reasons it was rejected in favour of licence conditions to drive increased coverage by all mobile operators.
That agreement locked in £5 billion of investment to deliver improved coverage across the UK, and we now have 4G coverage to 97.8% of UK premises. I can confirm that this is happening: a mast was turned on just last weekend in my own constituency, and coverage on the road to Newmarket from my house is now better than it ever has been—so I have seen it for myself. The House will also have seen the recent announcements from mobile providers that they are expanding coverage to meet their 90% landmass requirements, which they must now meet under the contracts in their licence agreements. The Bill strengthens the fines they face if they miss those agreements. Of course, however, we want further improvements. Last week, new planning laws came into force to allow taller masts, and we are reforming the electronic communications code in the Bill to help operators to extend their networks, making mast-sharing easier and infrastructure deployment cheaper. These reforms have been widely welcomed by industry, and Ofcom will hold providers to account for the delivery of wider geographic coverage.
New clauses 20 and 25 seek to place mandatory obligations on mobile phone service providers to allow an end user to terminate their contract upon their being unable to obtain a mobile signal at their main residence or main place of employment. Existing consumer protections are already in place, while the automatic compensation measures in clause 3 strengthen Ofcom’s powers to require automatic compensation when there is a complete failure to provide a contracted service. I think that the ability to break a contract when one’s signal is not good enough at home is already dealt with, as contracts purchased at distance can be cancelled under the statutory 14-day cooling-off period, while for “in shop” purchases there is often a “check your coverage” cooling-off period for the first two weeks after sign up. Some providers also offer extended periods to ensure that the service meets needs, with the option of cancellation without penalty.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that this must be the only product that someone can buy and end up not being able to use? People do not just move house during the first 14 days of a contract; it can happen at any time during the two years of a contract. Will he look again at this?
I want to tackle this problem primarily by achieving universal mobile phone coverage for UK properties, and we are on track to hit 98%. By comparison, the universal broadcasting service requires 98.5%. We are getting to the point where we have near-universal service, but that is not necessarily good enough. With the forthcoming Green Paper on consumers and markets in mind, I propose to work with my right hon. Friend to make sure that it addresses the issues of concern, so that we ensure that consumers get a good deal from their mobile phone contracts and that those contracts will work.
I hear all these statistics about the level of coverage there is meant to be here, there and everywhere, but they never seem to match the reality on the ground or in the living room or in the shop. I live in the town of Porth in the Rhondda, and through the main street almost right through the town there is absolutely no mobile coverage from any of the companies, so it does not matter whether one of them is providing a good enough service—none of them are.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will share my deep frustration over the fact that when mobile phone 3G licences were auctioned in the early 2000s, in order to get a big return to the Treasury they were auctioned without geographic coverage requirements. I think that was a serious mistake for this country. We have since engineered into the licence agreements mobile phone geographical coverage of 90%. The geography that is being covered is rising rapidly at the moment. For instance, one provider had 50% coverage last year; it is 75% now, and it has to get up to 90%. That shows how it is increasing. It is pity that from the period of the 3G licence in the early 2000s up to 2014, there were no requirements for geographic coverage, which meant that we fell behind. Thankfully, we are now catching up. As the head of Ofcom has confirmed to the Select Committee, we are in discussions with the mobile operators about getting to a universal 100% geographical coverage in the next licence period.
I am not trying to make a partisan point, but I think the Minister was trying to there. All I am saying is that even with the changes to the electronic communication codes that are in the Bill, I do not think we will be able to achieve that 98% or 100% coverage, because it is still too easy for an individual landholder to make it difficult for significant improvements to be made to the infrastructure in the area. Surely we should now be seeing access to mobile telephony as the same as access to water.
I am not making a partisan point at all. In fact, after cheering on Ed Balls on Saturday night, I am feeling about as unpartisan as I ever have! I send him my condolences.
I am speaking out of a deep frustration over the lack of geographic coverage by mobile phones in the UK. If I may say so, my constituency is significantly more rural than the hon. Gentleman’s, and this is a real problem in constituencies up and down the country. I look forward to my campaigning visit to the shortly marginal seat of Rhondda.
I, too, was pleased to hear Ofcom say in front of the Select Committee that it and the Government were looking at a universal service obligation for 3G and 4G phone signals. Does the Minister agree that there is sometimes a real frustration in communities where the statistics suggest that they have been covered, but local topography means that the mast signal does not reach homes? If the Minister visited Elham Valley in my constituency, he would meet people who suffer in that way.
Well, I have news for my hon. Friend. Next month, Ofcom will publish data for both fixed-line broadband and mobile phone coverage at the premise level for each individual premise. If the supposed coverage is different from what Ofcom says, there will be a mechanism to feed that back so that we get a proper map of coverage in both those respects. I look forward enormously to that happening, and I am sure that the Select Committee will investigate that data with great aplomb.
I ask the Minister to ensure that proper discussion takes place with the Department for Communities and Local Government so that the most sensible, but liberal, planning regime for new mobile telephone masts is in place in order to provide what amounts to a basic technological requirement.
Yes, and the new rules came into place last week. Nobody prayed against the statutory instruments in either House, so there was unanimous support for a more liberal planning regime. If my hon. Friend would like to work with me on what steps might be needed to improve the planning regime further, I am all his.
The Minister is being very generous, but may I caution him and press him a little on the methodology of the “premises by premises” survey? I live in a dense urban area. The coverage is nominally 4G, but I check my phone periodically, and I see that sometimes I get 3G and sometimes I get 4G. What will the premises survey say about properties like mine? I am paying for 4G, and it is the future, but I am not getting it all the time.
I would say that 5G is the future. As for the hon. Gentleman’s substantive point, I do not want the debate to turn into a seminar on mobile connectivity, but those in the industry have a wonderful phrase for the phenomenon that occurs as more people use data over a particular mast: they say that the coverage “breathes”. In other words, it comes in and goes out as other people use the data. Of course, at any one point in time the coverage may be different. The very best people to conduct the analysis are those at Ofcom, and they are conducting it, so I think it best for us to engage in this particular debate once they have published the “premises by premises” data.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his offer to incorporate some of the issues raised by the new clauses in the Green Paper. He says that those at Ofcom are the best people to make the decisions. No one in the House, indeed no one in the country, will believe Ofcom’s claim that nearly 98% of UK premises are covered. It does not stack up with reality, and it does not stack up with what the British Infrastructure Group of Members of Parliament found either. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that he does not himself start to believe this nonsense.
I am looking forward to seeing the data for exactly that reason. In my rural constituency, I can drive for 10 minutes without getting a signal at all—that includes driving past houses—and the same probably applies to many other people. The lived experience is critical to judging whether the figures are broadly correct. I am entirely with my right hon. Friend on that. My job, and our job in the House, is to hold the mobile network operators to account and ensure that they deliver high-quality geographic coverage, whether it is in Rhondda, Welwyn, in Suffolk or, indeed, in Buckinghamshire, Mr Speaker.
Will the Minister give way?
May I make what I hope is a quick, constructive point? May I urge all Members to encourage their constituents to download the Ofcom android app, which is specifically designed to gather data so that we can be better informed, and to publicise it in their constituencies?
Quite so. As you may say yourself, Mr Speaker, I am not sure that that is entirely a matter for the Bill, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point.
New clauses 21, 22 and 27, tabled by Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members, are not necessary, because they call for what is already the position. New clause 21 is not necessary because it is already a requirement that when emergency services network sites are used to provide coverage for the public, they must be made available to all mobile network operators. New clause 22 is not necessary because Ofcom already has the power to impose structural separation on BT Openreach if it considers that that is required. New clause 27 is not necessary because there is already a universal service obligation in the Bill to take high-speed broadband to all premises. I hope that we can use that as the means to deliver the goals that we no doubt share.
As for new clause 26, the Government take the issue of interference with assistive listening devices very seriously, and we will work with Ofcom to take appropriate action when harmful interference with such devices has been identified. I have met representatives of the National Deaf Children’s Society, and I can tell the House that further testing will begin next month and Ofcom will publish its findings by April 2017. I hope that we are making some progress on that important matter.
I am very encouraged by what the Minister has said about gathering further information. There is a particular issue for deaf children because of the way in which they learn. Interference from the spectrum can have a deleterious effect on their education. Will the Minister pay particular attention to the impact on children in schools?
Of course I will. I have discussed that precise issue with the National Deaf Children’s Society, and I will continue to work on it.
Government amendments 23 and 24 are detailed technical amendments concerning the installation of electronic communications apparatus on tidal land owned by the Crown.
I hope that, following my explanations and the commitments I have given, Members will withdraw their amendments and new clauses.
I rise to speak to new clauses 10, 32 and 7, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends, the Government new clauses, which the Minister has outlined, and new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), whom the Minister mentioned. I will also refer to some of the other amendments in the group.
In Committee, Labour Members, and indeed the hon. Lady, made it clear that we could not see how age verification could operate without a backstop power to block sites that failed to comply. In Committee, the Minister resisted that strongly. He said:
“The powers are not a silver bullet; sites that were actively trying to avoid the Bill’s other enforcement measures would also be able to actively avoid these measures. It is questionable how much additional enforcement power they would bring, given those downsides.”
He went on to say:
“I think the Bill has ended up with the correct balance.” —[Official Report, Digital Economy Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2016; c. 209.]
Clearly, the Secretary of State disagreed with him on that. She has now overruled her junior Minister by tabling new clauses 28 and 29 in her name, as we can see on the amendment paper. The new clauses tabled by the Secretary of State, who unfortunately is no longer in her place, represent significant changes at quite a late stage in the passage of the Bill in the Commons, confirming our contention that the Bill as published was not ready to leave home when it was allowed to do so.
As the hon. Gentleman knows from his ministerial experience, it is the job of junior, middle-ranking Ministers to do all the work and Secretaries of State to take all the credit. In this case, I assure him that the ears of all the Government Front Benchers were open to the changes that he and I wanted to make.
I am grateful for that intervention. All I can say is that I have just given the Secretary of State credit for the change, as the hon. Lady suggests I should.
The new clauses introduce significant changes at this late stage in the consideration of the Bill. We support blocking, but concerns have been raised in the press that the new clauses go beyond a backstop power to block sites to under-18s and could be used in practice to extend internet censorship to adults. The Government need to be clear whether that is the intention of the new clauses.
It is helpful to have that on the record. No doubt, the new clauses will be pored over in a lot more detail after they arrive in the other place. Given our time constraints today, I want to put on the record our concern that we did not have an opportunity in Committee to pore over such proposals; had the Bill been ready, perhaps we would have had. Notwithstanding our support for blocking, we think a lot more scrutiny will be required when there is more time available in the other place to discuss these Government new clauses, on the assumption that the House passes them tonight.
We have argued repeatedly that the Bill should have prepared the UK for the challenges faced by the digital economy and, crucially, should have featured digital resilience as a key part of the provisions. The opportunities of the digital economy cannot be exploited unless we feel safe and secure online, and that is nowhere more important and clear than with our children.
Children are growing up in the midst of an information revolution that, even a decade ago, was unimaginable, with instant access to an astonishing range of content and information. Today’s children are taking in an astonishing five times more information than the generation that grew up in the not so distant 1990s. So, far from tabloid stories about a distracted generation, those growing up today are in some ways on course to be the most informed generation in history. But of course knowledge is not understanding, and wisdom comes in part from experience.
The challenges of this digital revolution for protecting our children cannot be ignored, and they are challenges parents across the country worry about every single day. They are worried they may not know what their children are being subjected to online, whether bullying or coming across inappropriate images, and as their children come to know much more about the online world than they do, parents feel they may not be best placed to stop it.
Our new clause 10 would help us all face up to that challenge. It would amend the Education Act 1996, so that secondary school pupils would be taught in an age-appropriate way and with the usual safeguards which apply to that Act about the dangers of the online world and how to keep safe. With digital devices more widespread among children than ever before and with five to 15-year-olds spending an average of 20 hours and six minutes online every week, having no clear education to sit alongside the blunt instrument of age verification is an important missing part of the Bill.
Age verification for online pornography to stop children seeing harmful content is of course welcome in the Bill, but, as the Minister hinted, it is not the whole answer. We can build a swimming pool, fill it with water, build a fence around it and put up a sign saying swimming is dangerous, but the most important thing is to teach our children to swim. Relying on age verification as the main way to tackle this problem is going to be inadequate. Age verification cannot teach children consent or about healthy relationships, or help them to navigate the expectations placed on them and reinforced online; that can be done only through well-devised and taught sex and relationships education, which incorporates discussions about online pornography, so that children can question what they see online in a safe environment.
A recent NSPCC report into the effect of online pornography on under-18s was revealing and troubling. It found that most of them felt that it was a poor model for consent and practising safe sex and that it could distort their image of a healthy relationship. But the Government have so far refused to even consider statutory online sexual education, and their recent “Keeping children safe” strategy dedicated only three paragraphs to the online world. Taking that in tandem with the Bill, which does not make a single mention of online abuse or online education, it seems that Ministers are ducking the challenge —or perhaps they are not able to comprehend it.
We have always known that education in this area matters. It is why when we were in government we expanded and updated sex education and commissioned the Tanya Byron review, whose lessons were largely abandoned after 2010. That is also why in the Bill we want to take steps towards developing statutory online education for this smartphone generation. We want it to extend beyond simple sex education to the entire online world, so that children, who, as many people say, are digital natives, can make safe and informed decisions.
With an 800% increase in the number of children contacting the NSPCC about online abuse, it is clear this is becoming a real problem for today’s schoolchildren. They clearly need more support and more advice, and someone to turn to. Statutory online education would work in tandem with a code of conduct for social media providers to prevent online abuse.
I am attracted to the shadow Minister’s proposal because I, too, feel more needs to be done to educate children in this area, but I am concerned that it is talking about internet pornography in isolation and potentially will not address the problems he is trying to address in his remarks, which go far broader than simply internet pornography.
I would certainly welcome the right hon. Lady’s support for a wider amendment and for a wider change in Government policy in this area, because a problem does exist. Our proposals have had to be drawn up to be within the scope of the Digital Economy Bill. In Committee, we were unable to table an amendment that was in scope, so I am incredibly grateful that we have been able to get one in scope and within the confines of the Bill today.
I entirely support my hon. Friend. I suspect that his experience of going round schools—particularly secondary schools—will be similar to mine. Among the things that bedevil teachers are mobile phones, online bullying and sexting, but the teachers—God bless ’em—often do not have the training to deal with those issues. Although they have the best intentions, they sometimes fumble in their attempts to help. Having these measures structured into the curriculum would help just about every secondary schoolteacher, even if they did not have to teach these things.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. I am a former teacher—from the analogue age, I hasten to add—and I have no doubt that many teachers who started their careers around the same time as I did would fall into that category.
Statutory online education could work in tandem, as I have said, but protecting our children is a major challenge and it cannot happen without education. That is why I was disappointed that the Minister chose not to support our proposal. I believe that it represents the other side of the coin to what the Government are trying to achieve through age verification. We contend that our measures are necessary, and we will therefore divide the House on this matter if we have to.
Our new clause 32 would oblige the age verification regulator to ensure that all age verification providers—the companies that put the tools on websites to ensure compliance—were approved by the regulator. It would also oblige those providers to perform a data protection impact assessment and to make it publicly available, as well as to perform an array of other duties. The new clause is designed to address concerns about the practicality of age verification checks. It would ensure that only minimal data were required, that those data were kept secure and that individuals’ liberty and privacy were protected.
We have not been reassured by the Minister’s comments, either in Committee or today, that the fact that age verification software is improving is enough. We should be able to guarantee the privacy of an individual before the verification tool comes into force. We are not asking anything unreasonable of the regulator or of the age verification providers. The principles of privacy, anonymity and proportionality should underpin the age verification tool, but as far as I am aware, they have not as yet featured in any draft guidance, codes of practice or documents accompanying the Bill.
If anyone thinks I am being partisan, I can tell them that the Information Commissioner agrees with me on this. In its response to the Department’s consultation on age verification for pornography, the Information Commissioner’s Office stated:
“The Commissioner’s concern is that any solution implemented must be compliant with the requirements of the DPA and PECR.”
That refers to the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 that sit alongside it.
I will finish the quote, then I will give way. The Information Commissioner’s response went on:
“The concept of ‘privacy by design’ would seem particularly relevant in the context of age verification—that is, designing a system that appropriately respects individuals’ privacy whilst achieving the stated aim. In practical terms, this would mean only collecting and recording the minimum data required in the circumstances, having assessed what that minimum was. It would also mean ensuring that the purposes for which any data is used are carefully and restrictively defined, and that any activities keep to those restricted purposes. In the context of preventing children from accessing online commercial pornography, there is a clear attribute which needs to be proven in each case—that is, whether an individual’s age is above the required threshold. Any solution considered needs to be focussed on proving the existence or absence of that attribute, to the exclusion of other more detailed information”—
[Interruption.] I will go on for a lot longer if the Minister keeps making gestures at me. The quote concludes:
“Any solution considered needs to be focussed on proving the existence or absence of that attribute, to the exclusion of other more detailed information (such as actual date of birth).”
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I just want to clear up this point. When this question was asked while I was on my feet, I responded by saying that the Data Protection Act, as cited by the ICO, is the legal framework for delivering this. The further quotes that the hon. Gentleman read out outline how the Act would operate in this case. In a sense, therefore, those quotes prove the point that the required legislation for ensuring protection of data already exists in the Data Protection Act and other measures.
We will see whether the Information Commissioner agrees. She made it clear that she would have
“significant concerns about any method of age verification that requires the collection and retention of documents such as a copy of passports, driving licences or other documents (of those above the age threshold) which are vulnerable to misuse and/or attractive to disreputable third parties.”
The Minister gave no real reason in his intervention about why he does not support new clause 32, which would provide that reassurance.
The risks of creating databases that potentially contain people’s names, locations, credit card details—you name it—alongside their pornographic preferences are clear. Our priority here is the protection of children and that is agreed across the House, but one consequence of the recent hack that was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) was the number of suicides. We should take things seriously and proceed with caution before creating anything that would result in the storing of data that could be leaked, hacked or commercialised that would otherwise be completely private and legitimate. That is the reasoning behind our reasonable, straightforward new clause, which the Minister rejects. It would place a series of duties on the age verification regulator to ensure that adequate privacy standards were applied, that any data obtained or stored were not for commercial use and that security was given due and proper consideration.
New clause 7 would mean that mobile phone service providers give all consumers the opportunity to place a financial cap on their monthly bill and that a mobile phone service cannot be provided until the service provider has put in place a cap of the agreed amount if the consumer has made an express request. Again, the Minister’s arguments, both in Committee and today, were nowhere near sufficient. The new clause would be welcomed by the many who have found that when they receive an email or check their bank balance at the end of the month, their mobile phone bill has come in much higher than expected. Mobile tariffs are complex, particularly on data, and few of us actually understand how much data we need for an average month. Consumers of all kinds can find that they use much more data than they expected.
Citizens Advice provided an example that reveals the problems. One of its clients changed his shift pattern and started using his mobile phone to watch films. He then received a text message saying that he had gone over his monthly allowance. He did not think too much about it until he received a bill for more than £2,000 at the end of the month. Unsurprisingly, his service was subsequently cut off. Research suggests that as many as one in five consumers find it difficult to keep track of how much they spend on data. The average unexpectedly high bill is often double the cost of the original monthly fee.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why new clause 7 is so helpful. Consumers could prevent that from happening by voluntarily asking for a cap. Citizens Advice received more than 60,000 inquiries about telephone and broadband debt, with its in-debt specialists dealing with nearly 27,000 individual mobile phone debt cases. Consumers support the measure, with more than 77% of them welcoming the idea.
This is not the first time such a proposal has been considered: in 2012, Ofcom considered introducing regulations but could not overcome the objections of providers, who argued it would be too costly. In fact, the lack of regulation is what has proved too costly—too costly for struggling consumers. Two providers now do what is suggested in our new clause. The Government say they want to help the JAMs—those who are just about managing—so if they fail to support the new clause, it will show they are not serious when they say that.
I strongly support this proposal and the new clause. Constituents have contacted me specifically about this point, because the complexity of the tariffs and the lack of knowledge about what makes up the information and the cost is huge for consumers, and this proposal would be a major step forward for them.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), and I share his regret that it is not possible to address online abuse in this Bill. I hope that the Minister will show the Government’s determination on this issue, as Ministers have done regularly in response to questions on a number of other measures. I particularly noted his response to my intervention about codes of practices. He is right to say that the industry has been able to move swiftly and effectively to deal with issues relating to terrorism and child abuse, but I think issues relating to online abuse more broadly are just as worthy of their attention. I hope that he is clear about the Government’s priorities in this area, to make sure that the industry really does act.
It is an art form to draw the scope of a Bill, and the Minister should get a grade-A medal for drafting the scope of this Bill extremely tightly to make sure that a number of issues that many of us would have liked to have drawn to the attention of the House are not covered by this Bill. That does not, however, mean that they are any the less important.
I really welcome Government new clauses 28 and 29 on the powers to block access to material where age verification is not sufficiently robust. That shows the Government’s intention. They have done well to reflect the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) in her new clause 1 and of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). It shows action and energy from Government to try to clean up the internet so that it is safer for children to use. My amendments 27 to 34 raise the question of whether the Government could have gone further in that, although I acknowledge that they are very much adhering to the manifesto commitments we made at the general election.
We have heard from the Minister at length, and I listened carefully, particularly to his response to my amendments. With his usual elegance and wit, he attempted to explain how this Bill can be at odds with Government policy but people can be very happy with it—I may be being a little unkind. He often tells us at the Dispatch Box that what is illegal offline is illegal online too, but it is illegal for children under the age of 18 to view adult material—I refer not just to pornography; as he knows, “adult material” is drawn more broadly than pornography alone. It therefore seems a little arbitrary for us to introduce a new law that makes such a distinction. I do not understand why one needs to be made.
My right hon. Friend says it is illegal for children to view adult material, but she will be aware that vast amounts of adult material are broadcast by our national broadcasters after the watershed at 10 o’clock, and it is not illegal for children to watch that, although it may be undesirable. How does she propose to deal with BBC iPlayer, ITV Play and 4oD, which broadcast 18 material?
My right hon. Friend, the former Secretary of State, makes an extremely important point. I suppose that the advantage broadcasters have over the online world is that they can use a notional watershed, although, as he rightly says, that is clearly not the case when it comes to iPlayer. I shall come on to technology that is on our side. Technology has moved on and given us opportunities, which my right hon. Friend would welcome, to make sure that children do not view things that we have said in Parliament are inappropriate.
I gently urge the Minister to consider how he might embrace my amendments in future. The law makes it clear that adult material does not just mean pornography. In response to my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State, that is the point that I am making. Whether it is extreme violence, beheadings, sadomasochism or other such behaviour or material, it is deemed as adult-related. However, for reasons that are unclear, that is excluded from the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can give me a little more information about why he decided to do that, and assure me that in future that will be dealt with.
I took the time to talk to some primary schoolchildren in my constituency about the sort of things that they came across on the internet. A group of them talked about viewing age-appropriate material—I think it was pictures of small kittens—but at the end material popped up that frightened them to their core. They were young children, and they were not out and out looking for such material—it just popped up. Restrictions and parental controls could be put in place to catch that, but the Minister has an opportunity to make sure that organisations such as YouTube are more careful about advertisements linked to child-related material. That is an important point for him to consider further in relation to my amendments.
Ofcom has done a great deal of work in this area, and the Minister will be well and truly aware of that. It says that this is a significant problem, and that this year, one in 10 under-11s has seen something online that is “worrying, nasty or offensive”. Two thirds of young people think that sites should do more to protect them from that type of adult content. One of the guiding principles of the new regulator, the British Board of Film Classification, is to protect children from harmful media content. We protect them on television, albeit with the problems that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State has mentioned, and we protect them in the cinema. In one of the most uncontrolled environments —online—we allow them freely to view things that are far more difficult for us as parents to control. My amendments would help to draw those restrictions and website blocking more broadly if proper age verification procedures are not put in place, and it is worth the Government considering that further.
Ofcom was charged with looking at common media standards four or five years ago, so perhaps the Minister can update the House on the progress that has been made in that area. Can he explain how the new regulator will balance its narrow responsibilities to look solely at pornography with the organisation’s broader remit offline with regard to adult-related material? Organisations such as Childline have to deal daily with the aftermath when young people look at more broadly defined adult material online, as I have said before, in videos of extreme torture, violence, and—this is particularly upsetting—beheadings. My amendments, which have the full support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children seek to put safeguards that we take for granted offline into the online world. Content that would require an 18 certificate in a film or video game would be subject to an age-verification system.
The technology exists to do that. We have an incredible IT sector in this country, and it has invented ways to verify age in an anonymised way online, particularly with the use of passport data and biometrics. Companies such as Yoti have developed facial recognition apps linked to passports so that they can make sure, using anonymous data, that individuals are the age that they say they are. These things exist; Parliament does not need to invent them.
Accepting that adult over-18 material should not be viewed by children does not undermine freedom of speech, because we insist on it offline. It does add to costs for businesses, but we accept that cost for offline businesses, and I believe we should accept it for online businesses too. Fundamental rights and freedoms have always been subject to limits within the law, and the amendments simply call for the law relating to adult material in general to apply online, and for children to be protected. People who choose to flout the law should be subject to the same action by the regulator as people who distribute pornography.
I should like briefly to touch on a couple of other amendments in this group. New clause 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), talks about the creation of personal accounts and removing anonymity on the internet. I sympathise with the measures that it proposes, but it is as important for non-commercial sites as commercial sites to adopt such a measure, and I do not think that the Bill is the appropriate vehicle for such a change.
New clause 10 was discussed at length by the hon. Member for Cardiff West. As I said in an intervention, I sympathise with the point that he made, because the guidance on sex and relationships education is 16 years out of date. It does not quite pre-date the internet, but it is close to doing so, and it does not address issues such as pornography and the way in which it drives young people’s understanding of relationships—something that no one in the Chamber feels very comfortable with. I do not believe, however, that the Bill is the proper vehicle for him to achieve the objectives that he has set out, as he may well end up distorting the issue, because people might think that we have addressed it with his provision. However, we would not have done so, because the measure deals only with online pornography. He will agree, especially if he has read my Select Committee report on sexual harassment in schools, that any measure to address SRE and its improvement in schools should be drawn much more widely than the internet alone. I hope he will forgive me for not supporting that narrowly drawn provision, although I accept that he probably did not have any choice, given the scope of the Bill—he is absolutely right about that.
I urge the Minister to consider stronger undertakings than those he gave me in his opening statement, given the importance of prohibiting children from viewing adult material in the broader sense, rather than the narrow sense on which the Government have chosen to focus. He has a personal responsibility to children who use the internet day in, day out. We need to make sure that it is a safe place. He has done more than any other Minister today in making the internet a safer place for children such as mine and his, but he needs to do more, so will he give me that undertaking today?
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall try to comply with your instructions. It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who made a powerful case for her amendments. She certainly has my support.
I shall try to be brief as I talk to a narrow and esoteric part of the Bill. Virgin Media has a workplace in my constituency that employs 250 people. The company has a particular concern which I shall take the liberty of connecting to new clause 27, because it is about the position before that measure could take effect. I am not arguing against new clause 27, which would provide individuals with the option of a voucher scheme that would empower them to take up an alternative solution. It has been tabled on the presumption that most individuals would be likely to choose the standard universal service order offering.
My argument is that in order for that proposal to be successful, there needs to be coverage in the first place to enable people to choose one option or the other. There are a number of obstacles in the way of that happening, and the Bill does not resolve the problem. Virgin Media argues that communications providers should, in effect, be treated the same as utility companies when it comes to being granted access rights or wayleaves from landowners to deploy their infrastructure on their land. The Government talk of broadband as a fourth utility, which generally is the case, but the code reform in the Bill is, in the words of Virgin Media, “a halfway house”.
Under the reforms as currently envisaged, broadband companies would face three drawbacks that water companies do not face and, as a result, higher deployment costs, which I shall say more about in a moment. The first drawback is that communications operators have to pay a rent for accessing land, whereas water companies do not. Instead, they have only to compensate landowners for any loss of value. Secondly, water companies have a right to net off any compensation that they pay with any increase in the value of the land resulting from the fact that sewerage is in place. Communications operators do not have that right, although in some cases they might seem to be carrying sewage of a different kind. Thirdly, water companies notify landowners of their intention to deploy by giving 42 days’ notice, whereas communications operators have to negotiate access with landowners who often have no particular incentive to grant it, which can cause huge delays.
I have great sympathy with what my right hon. Friend is saying. We talk glibly about access to telephony being almost a human right in our country. Obviously we need water to live, and having telephony is not a physiological necessity, but in modern life telephony is a necessity. Some 40% of the Bill is contained in schedule 1, which runs to 60 pages and deals with issues relating to that raised by my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that there is a missed opportunity in schedule 1 of dealing with the particular issue that he raises?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. Earlier today I waded through schedule 1, after which I was no wiser about its relevance to my argument. He, as a Member with a reputation for having an eye for the fine detail of legislation, will have spotted that in rather less time than it took me.
According to Virgin Media, it costs a communications service provider—Virgin Media or any other—150% more to put in infrastructure than it costs a water company, and 66% more than it costs an electricity company. I do not want to steal the thunder of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), although I condemn him roundly for not using new clause 27 as an opportunity to resolve the problem—that is not a criticism, really—but I ask the Minister to consider this problem before the Bill gets to the House of Lords. I have a handy amendment available if he wants one, but if he does not, I shall try to persuade somebody in another place to table it so that the issue can be more thoroughly debated there.
As the House knows, I welcomed part 3 of the Bill on Second Reading, but I did raise, as did many other right hon. and hon. Members, the question of enforcement. We considered the possibility of internet service providers being asked to block sites that disregarded the Government’s requirement for age verification, and I tabled a series of amendments on that point in Committee. I disagree with the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) because I think that Ministers absolutely were in listening mode about a manifesto commitment that they were clearly keen to deliver. Against that backdrop, I am delighted to speak on Report by welcoming new clause 28 and Government amendments 35 to 42, which address this critical concern.
The Government had argued for rather a long time that it was disproportionate to make provision for statutory IP blocking because that had been dealt with on a voluntary basis for child pornography—we are all aware of the wonderful work done by the Internet Watch Foundation—and with reference to terrorist material. There was perhaps a hope that internet service providers would voluntarily get involved in blocking sites in the absence of age verification. Many right hon. and hon. Members campaigned for years for the voluntary introduction of family-friendly filters by internet service providers. We have led the world by working across industry and across the Government to produce a sensible set of provisions. We now have online filters that are introduced—in some cases automatically—by ISPs and others on a voluntary basis, and they seem to be working well.
There were, however, significant problems in assuming that ISPs would operate voluntarily. It was not just me and other colleagues in the House who were concerned. Bodies such as Christian Action Research and Education, the Children’s Charities Coalition for Internet Safety, the NSPCC, the British Board of Film Classification, which is now the regulator, and the Digital Policy Alliance were concerned that this sensible provision for age verification would not stick unless there was a more robust enforcement regime.
I am delighted that new clause 1, which I tabled, has been co-signed by 34 colleagues from seven political parties. That demonstrates that although we might like to stand up and shout at each other, our best work is done when we work together on such vital issues. It is a testament to the power of this place that we can work together so effectively to get this done. I know that this is a difficult argument; we have only to look at some of our Twitter feeds to see that. I am no longer on Twitter, but we know from other parts of the internet how difficult these conversations are because they go right to the heart of issues surrounding the regulation of the internet, which grew up, very properly, in a regulation-free environment, and in many respects that environment contributed to its growth and its glory.
Are we asking Governments and companies to restrict legal material for adults? I would argue strongly that the new clause is not about censorship or the restriction of legal access for adults; it is about proving that those who are consuming the material are indeed over 18. The new clause simply puts in place the sort of Government regulation and advice, and corporate socially responsible behaviour, that has been seen in many other industries. Example of that include the watershed in broadcasting, the fact that adult content often sits behind PINs on online media, and restrictions on what children can buy on the high street.
There is also a sense that the argument in relation to child sex abuse images and terrorist material is really not relevant. There is a strong global consensus that images or movie materials relating to neither of those things should be tolerated, so there is no need for statutory compulsion. However, the sites we are talking about, which offer material defined as pornographic, are quite different, because they provide a product that it is generally entirely legal for adults to access, and in many cases entirely reasonable, as there is no sense in which this is a kind of anti-pornography crusade. In that context, it is completely unsurprising that the ISPs made it clear they would not block pornographic sites without statutorily defined age-verification checks. Indeed, in evidence given on 25 October to the Communications Committee in the other place, the director of policy at Sky said of IP blocking under part 3 of the Bill:
“If there is a desire for ISPs to be blocking access to those sites, then legislation is required…If you want ISPs to block, I think they will struggle to do so, unless they are compelled to, and not because they do not want to but because they would probably be breaking the law.”
Indeed, Ofcom gave the Committee a similar message a week later, saying:
“If ISPs were to take any action blocking non-compliant sites, they would do so on a voluntary basis…I think you…have heard from ISPs about the legal difficulties they…would face if they were to undertake voluntary blocking…it would raise issues in relation to net neutrality.”
The second point, which has been widely raised among colleagues, is that there is overwhelming support among the majority of the British public for introducing these age-verification measures robustly. Eight out of 10 people absolutely support this very good manifesto commitment and want it to work. Indeed, the BBFC, which the Minister has chosen to be the regulator—I think all of us absolutely support it as a trusted brand in the space; it is not me or anyone else deciding what is over-18 material, because that will be based on the BBFC’s tried and tested guidelines—said itself that it felt that the regulator needed this power if it was effectively to carry out its work.
I do have great sympathy with the provisions my right hon. Friend has tabled; she is absolutely right to keep pushing on the issue. We defined the manifesto commitment and the Bill very tightly in terms of the online pornography space, and I wanted to achieve that first before we moved to broader definitions which, as she will be aware, quickly throw up many more questions about the scope of regulation. As she and I both know, there is a great desire in this space to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and with almost every advance we have made, we have been told, “Back off,” because something is not absolutely perfect. She, I and many other Members think that this is a process of iterative steps forward, and the Government are doing a great job in that respect.
The final argument for putting such blocking on a statutory basis is the precedent for IP blocking in the case of copyright infringement under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It would seem perverse for the House to argue that it was legal to instruct people to block sites that infringe copyright, but not those that infringe a legal requirement for age verification. It would be quite wrong for us to suggest that child protection is less important than protecting the interests of often very large commercial businesses.
I have two other quick points to make about why the case for change is so compelling. The first is that the BBFC has said that it will focus primarily on offshore sites, which are the main source of much of this material. Of course, as we know, it will be very difficult to enforce fines outside the UK jurisdiction. Secondly, we know that many sites are not reliant purely on financial transactions coming through the sorts of sites discussed in the Bill, given that there are systems such as Bitcoin and other forms of revenue generation.
I am absolutely delighted that the Government have tabled new proposals. I will not press my new clause and I will support their measures wholeheartedly. However, I want to probe the Minister—perhaps he will answer this question in a moment—about who will actually enforce the Bill. My understanding is that the BBFC does not currently have the enforcement powers required by new clause 28, which was why many of us assumed that Ofcom would be the enforcer of choice, as was set out very explicitly by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). We would therefore be keen to hear who will actually enforce the Bill, because we know that, without robust enforcement, there will be little incentive for websites to implement age verification, despite these new powers, and I think almost the whole House will support me in saying that we want this to be a great success.
I finish by sincerely thanking those who have campaigned so tirelessly on this issue in this House and, indeed, in the other place. They include my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who was so instrumental when we first had the review, the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who is no longer in the Chamber, as well as several new Members, including the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr)—I should call him the hon. Gentleman who represents the borders, because his constituency is far too long to spell out—and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire.
I stand to speak to new clauses 22 and 27, neither of which I think the Minister referred to—unless I slept through that bit. I hang on his every word normally, so I am sure that was not the case.
Before I do that, I would like to touch on a couple of other new clauses. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry). She and her many colleagues in the House have campaigned hard on this issue, and the Government’s move in new clause 28 is welcome. However, I would just quickly recount a story. When I was on the Bill Committee, I phoned home one night. Of course my wife said, “What have you been up to today?” I explained about access to under-age pornography, and she said, “Well, funnily enough, I came home today from work and found Robert”—he is seven years old—“looking at inappropriate content.” My heart sank. She said, “He was watching the third presidential debate,” and I can see where she was coming from. She said to him, “Robert, do you know what you are watching here?” He said, “Yes, I do.” She said, “Well, why are you watching that?” He said, “Because it’s important, and I have a friend at school called Donald.”
That brings me on to the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), which we share. As we proceed down this route, it is important that these powers are a last resort, that they do not stop access to sites they were not intended to affect and that, as a result, we proceed with care. We should take sufficient time to look at the implications, and we should seek to avoid unintended consequences for ISPs and websites, while still developing a robust set of measures that stop young Robert accessing the content we really want him to avoid.
Earlier, we had mention of the importance of the method of verification and of the tool Yoti. I always pronounce it “yachty”, because I like yachty a loty, given that it means that databases are not built of what people are accessing, and individuals are protected. I commend those on the Labour Front Bench for some of their efforts to push these things further.
Let me quickly touch on two issues before going on to my own new clauses. On new clause 7, I am surprised by the Minister’s approach to mobile phone contracts. If he consulted Ofcom, it would tell him that it was highly supportive of measures such as a maximum bill level. It seems eminently sensible that when people sign up for a contract, they are asked, “Would you like to set a maximum amount?” I really cannot fathom why the Government would block that. I fully expect to revisit that sometime soon.
I would also ask the Minister to check some of the wording in terms of the ESN sites, which he said would be available to all providers. That is not my understanding. The ESN is provided by EE, but also by extended area network sites, and those are the sites that will be multi-platform, but they are only part of how the service will be provided, so perhaps the Minister will revisit and consider what he said there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), whose constituency name is as long as mine, is worried he may not get to speak, so I will mention his new clause 20, which is very similar to new clause 25, and provides for a constituent to cancel a contract if they do not have service.
In some circumstances, a consumer is unable to get what they have paid for. For example, I had consumers in Fort Augustus who had to wait over four months to be reconnected to their mobile signal and were threatened with a £200 cancellation fee. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is flatly unacceptable and they should have an option to get out of these contracts?
I wholeheartedly agree with that excellent point. This is another common-sense measure that should be taken. I also welcome some of the other comments about linking it to auto-compensation so that it should be a case of either cancelling a contract or potentially—
I wonder whether my hon. Friend is surprised, as I am, although perhaps I should not be, that the Minister has refused to accept this, given that last year his predecessor said to me:
“The suggestion you make—that mobile customers ought to be able to leave their contracts if the service is unacceptable is a good one. Mobile customers should not be trapped in contracts if they have no effective signal and an unusable service.”
How we learned, indeed.
I now move on to my two new clauses. New clause 22 proposes that there should be an explicit power for structural separation of BT Openreach were that deemed necessary. We in this place know how critically important connectivity is, and I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members welcomed, as I did, Ofcom’s digital communications review. I support its taking a fairly strong line on the measures that BT should take on access to ducts and poles, and on making a planning tool and other things more readily available, while retaining the option of structural separation. Indeed, the Secretary of State confirmed this on Second Reading. If structural separation is truly to be an option on the table, it is essential that Ofcom is confident that it can enforce it if it concludes that it is necessary.
The current situation is that Ofcom considers that it has the power under the EU framework directive to impose structural separation. Clearly, though, taking such a case to the EU Commission at a time when Brexit means Brexit is fraught with difficulty, especially considering that it is highly likely that BT would appeal any such move. It is also worth noting that BT has stated publicly that it believes there is no mechanism for structural separations of a telecoms company, and has even threatened 10 years of litigation and arguments. This Bill offers a simple way to remove any ambiguity around the issue, and that is what the new clause aims to do.
Unfortunately, owing to the processes of the House, I can press only one new clause in this group to a vote, so I will not press this one, much as I would like to. However, I encourage the Minister to revisit this measure and add it in, even though I still believe that the Ofcom strategy is right and that separation is the correct route only if combined with something else, such as a significant investment plan in Openreach from other providers who are currently making a lot of noise.
New clause 27 is about introducing a broadband voucher scheme as an alternative to the standard USO provision. Let me first say that I welcome, as I am sure we all do, anything that improves connectivity, but I have huge reservations about the approach being taken. I appreciate that, as the Government outlined in supplementary papers during the Bill’s progress, there is a flexible element to their design of the USO in terms of download speed, upload speed, latency and other aspects, but much is undecided. Although I disagree fundamentally with the 10-meg starting point, what really concerns me is the use of a universal service obligation. Pursuing this route pushes the Government into having to follow a very prescriptive process that will lead to a provider, or perhaps of couple of providers, being selected. It looks highly likely, as I think we all know, that it is likely to be BT. Sharon White confirmed before the DCMS Committee that BT is in pole position on this.
I absolutely do agree. I will come on to that point later.
I would contrast the USO measure with last week’s announcements. We have heard the Government say that fibre is the future, but our record in this country on fibre-to-the-home, or fibre-to-the-premises, is pretty woeful. The broadband investment fund announced in a previous Budget had some money put into it, and hundreds of millions of pounds were committed to 5G trials and fibre backbone. All that is welcome, if slightly unambitious, but we have not seen anything specifically for rural areas. We are talking about a fibre and gigabit future in urban areas while telling rural areas that they should settle for 10 megs and a USO. That is not closing the digital divide—it is turning it into a gaping chasm of inequality. A badly implemented USO will not fix the issue but might, through legislation, cement this digital divide.
My new clause aims to address this issue. From the start, as I have looked at potential solutions, the one that I kept coming back to was a voucher alternative. At the Broadband World Forum, a representative from the Independent Networks Cooperative Association said that if we introduce a voucher scheme, we turn a universal service obligation into a universal service opportunity. In our constituencies we have highly motivated groups of people who will, yes, okay, maybe on day one, be happy with 10 megs because if they have been living with 1 meg it will be transformational, but quickly see that they are being left behind and be very unhappy about it. Although the Bill includes provision to revisit this, it does not specify when, and these people will be left further and further behind. The idea of a voucher scheme was endorsed by INCA chairman David Cullen, who said:
“The principle of a Universal Service Obligation is an outdated concept in a sector focused on significant growth and could well translate into a ‘ceiling’…a voucher scheme for premises could be far more effective.”
The Minister did not deal with this new clause in his opening remarks. I urge the Government to embrace the option of a voucher alternative to empower our rural communities, who, as I know from my own community, want to go further. They understand technology. They will put in fibre-to-the-home, providing a much faster solution. This is not a one-size-fits-all—
I did address this point. I said that the USO contained in the Bill will get high-speed broadband everywhere. Furthermore, a broadband voucher scheme does not require legislation. In fact, we have had one in the past without legislation. This new clause is therefore unnecessary.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. He makes a point that I forgot to make, which is that there is previous history in this area. Broadband Delivery UK managed a voucher scheme that was phenomenally successful. Perhaps I have become a cynic far too quickly in this place, but if the Government do not put this in the Bill, I do not believe it will happen. I will therefore press the new clause to a vote. We should ensure that as the Government say that fibre—
As an example of the fact that we can do this through non-legislative means, not only did we have such a scheme in the past, but at the autumn statement last week we announced that we are to consult on a new one. I think that that takes care of the concerns behind the new clause.
I thank the Minister for that positive news, but it does not take care of those concerns. I am seeking a specific alternative to the USO, so that my communities who want fibre to their home can have this foundational voucher that sets them on a path to something far more ambitious than what the Government propose. The Government say that fibre is the future. Guess what? My constituents want to be part of that future, too.
I start by making it clear that I fully support the provisions in the Bill to require age verification to access pornographic sites. As I observed on Second Reading, it is just as well, since my name is on the front of the Bill.
I would like to introduce an element of caution. Unlike a lot of other material online that has been discussed—child pornography, racist material, hate speech, extremist encouragement and copyright breaches—we are talking here about legal content. Like it or not, the sites we are discussing are visited by millions and millions of people every day. They are some of the most popular sites on the entire internet.
As I have said, I support the idea of age verification to ensure that only those who can appropriately view this material do so, although there are concerns. I have yet to see exactly how age verification is going to work. We have seen examples of existing content access control systems through things such as credit cards, or mobile phones that have been verified as belonging to an adult. It is, in my view, asking a lot to ask people who want to access legal content to hand over their credit card numbers to pornographic website operators. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) was absolutely right to flag up the data protection concerns about that. I hope that Ofcom will look very carefully at how the CAC systems work.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main ways in which young people are now exposed to pornography is through social media such as Twitter, and I do not really see that the Bill will do anything to stop that happening. That is not to say that we should not take action against pornographic sites. The original Bill contained a number of quite significant enforcement measures, such as requiring payment providers, website hosting companies and advertisers to stop dealing with websites that had been identified as not complying with the law under the Bill. There are already signs that a number of the big providers are going to comply. MindGeek, which is probably the biggest operator, has said that it will introduce age verification systems, although it wanted others to do so as well. I hope that it will happen.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am very conscious of the Deputy Speaker’s strictures.
I was not persuaded of the necessity of introducing ISP blocking. It represents a considerable infringement of the civil liberties of individuals who want to access material that, as everybody has recognised in this debate, they are perfectly entitled to access. At a time when we are very concerned about the growth of censorship online, and when certain countries would like to take this as a precedent for saying, “It is fine to block content that we do not particularly like,” I think that it is a dangerous road to go down. I hope that the measures originally in the Bill will prove sufficient, that operators will introduce age verification and that we will pause before taking the next step and introducing ISP blocking. To that extent, I rather hope that this Digital Economy Bill is like the Digital Economy Bill that we debated in 2010. That Bill provided for the Government to intervene and require ISP blocking, but the measure was never introduced.
I am pleased to take part in this debate, and I was pleased to put my name to new clause 1. I am extremely pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), and I am glad to see the new regime on the Government Front Bench, who have basically accepted new clause 1. The right hon. Gentleman’s argument that because something is legal and enjoyed by grown-ups, we should not have restrictions for children, is patently absurd.
The right hon. Gentleman said that, but he also said that he thought that this was a difficult area, and one of the reasons why he thought so was that people enjoyed doing it. Grown-ups enjoy having sex and grown-ups enjoy drinking alcohol, but that does not mean that those things are okay for children.
My real purpose this evening is to speak to new clause 26, which I had considerable help from the National Deaf Children’s Society in preparing. The new clause is designed to protect from frequency interference those with hearing loss who have hearing aids, radio aids, cochlear implants and other hearing technologies. Ofcom is about to sell spectrum, and there is a concern that the part of the spectrum that it is going to sell is so close to the wavelength used by such technologies that interference will be caused.
The new clause would place a duty on Ofcom to carry out tests in advance of the sale of the radio frequencies to ensure that any interference is identified and made public and to take appropriate action. That action could take two forms: either Ofcom should not grant a wireless telegraphy licence unless action is taken to remove the risk of interference; or a fund should be established to cover the cost of replacing medical and hearing technology affected by interference. That is important for the 10 million people who suffer from hearing loss and the 45,000 deaf children in this country, and it will enable Ofcom to fulfil its duties under the Equality Act 2010.
The Minister has said that tests have been done and more tests will be done and that we will know what those tests come up with in April 2017, so everything is fine. That is not the view of the National Deaf Children’s Society, which is not confident about the way in which the tests will be carried out. It has undertaken considerable correspondence with the regulator, and there is still dispute about how the tests should be done and how the results should be interpreted. Even if the tests are done and the results published on this occasion, as the Minister suggested, what happens then? What if there is interference? Will the spectrum then not be auctioned off as the Government intend? Will there be some funding for people who have to have new hearing aids as a result? The Minister’s response, I am sorry to say, is not adequate.
Interference will be a problem for children who use radio aids in the classroom to help them to hear what their teachers are saying. Unlike grown-ups, they cannot easily guess what a person is saying, because they are hearing things for the first time. The tests done in 2014 found that someone with a mobile phone using the relevant frequency could interfere with a hearing aid 4 metres away. I know quite a lot about hearing aids, because my husband has terrible hearing and he has two hearing aids. If he goes to a party, he can hardly hear what other people are saying anyway, and if his hearing aids were interfered with by other people standing in the room, it would be a nightmare. I urge the Minister to be flexible and to look at the matter again.
I rise to support my new clause 25, on the ability of end-users to cancel mobile contracts. It is very similar to new clauses tabled by other hon. Members—indeed, on the last count, by hon. Members from four different parties. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that this will now be considered in the Green Paper that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will bring out next year. However, I want to point out that the idea that a 14-day cooling-off period after purchasing a phone is somehow sufficient for a contract lasting for two years is, frankly, completely inadequate. Some 60% of people now have contracts for two years, and there has been a 19% increase in the number of people with lengthy contracts during the past five or six years.
It in no way negates the problem to say that, if someone realises during the first 14 days they cannot get a signal, they can exchange their contract. What happens if they move or if their place of work moves and they are stuck with such a contract? This problem can actually be solved quite easily. All we need to do is to split out the cost of the device—on average, about £800—from the cost of the mobile contract for the phone and data elements. If we did that, the person could stay within the contract to buy the device, while being able to move to another operator that can provide a contract with the ability to access a signal for phone and data use.
My point is very simple. I think that the briefing on this is extremely misleading. I do not believe that Ofcom is likely to do anything about this in the next year or two. I thank the Minister for his advice that this will be considered in the Green Paper next year, because unless we get a bit more radical, people will be forced to pay hundreds of pounds for a service they quite simply never receive.
I would have liked to speak to new clauses 3, 14 and 21, but I will restrict myself to new clause 13. New clause 13 would introduce a statutory code of practice to improve the performance of social media platforms when dealing with incidents of online abuse that cross the criminal threshold. It would place an obligation on the Minister to issue a code of practice, which would cover the processes and quality of the services provided. Such matters are commonplace in complaints procedures that already exist throughout the public utilities sector.
The code of practice would also cover an industry-specific requirement to set and enforce appropriate privacy settings for minors. This would be drafted after consultation with the industry, the criminal justice system, charities and other key stakeholders. An extensive consultation with a number of a significant bodies would guarantee a comprehensive set of guidelines.
Technology is ever adapting, which is why subsection (4) of new clause 13 states:
“The relevant Minister may from time to time revise and re-issue the code of practice.”
As technology is ever adapting, it is right and proper that legislation protecting vulnerable people from predatory and unacceptable behaviour online should be updated to reflect the dynamic nature of the online world. The new clause would have allowed that. I would have talked about this matter extensively had there been the time, but I hope that the points I would have made will be taken up in another place.
I am pleased to say that I will not press my amendment 2, but that I will support new clause 29. The new clause addresses the loophole that my amendment sought to address, and about which I spoke on Second Reading. I thank the Minister for listening and for acting by tabling the new clause.
The loophole is that, as established under the Communications Act 2003, the current law covering pornographic content online in the form of video on-demand only requires age verification for R18, not 18-rated, material when streamed from sites based within the UK. Without the new clause, the Bill would only deal with the provision of age verification for 18 and R18 video on-demand pornography streamed into this country from abroad.
New clause 29 will deal with the issue. The House has determined that it is not appropriate for under-18s to purchase videos that are 18-rated from a shop, and rightly so, so where the technology is available to apply similar protections online, it would be quite wrong not to use it. I am grateful to the Minister for tabling the new clause. Public opinion is very much with us on this issue. ComRes polling of 2,000 adults in Great Britain in July last year showed that 73% of people support age verification of any 18-rated DVDs shown online and that just 13% disagreed.
I rise to echo some of the concerns that have already been expressed by the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) about new clause 28. I should say at the outset that, as the parent of two teenagers, I completely understand the motivation of those who have raised these concerns with the Government. I commend them for the way in which they have done so, and, indeed, I commend the Government for responding in the way they have. However, I fear that this is another occasion on which the Government are responding because, as we say, something must be done. I fear that we are in fact going down a road that will leave us exposed to the law of unintended consequences.
My primary concern is that, ultimately, the proposed provisions will not be that effective. They are capable of being circumvented pretty easily by any tech savvy 14-year-old. Therefore, where do we strike the balance between the protection offered against the risks that come with it? One of the risks we have not touched on is that of complacency. Seeing such changes being made, parents will think that this problem has been solved and has gone away and that they no longer need to be vigilant in the way they may have been hitherto.
My real concerns centre on the holding of the data. As I put it to the Minister when he was at the Dispatch Box, there are no provisions in the Bill to secure the privacy and anonymity of those using these sites. He said that the data will be held in accordance with the Data Protection Act, but as we saw in the Ashley Madison leaks, that was of no great assistance. Let us not forget just exactly what is at stake: as a consequence of that hack and of the information being put into the public domain, a number of people committed suicide. We seem to be treating the symptom rather than the disease, and what would really make the significant changes we all want is better sex and relationships education.
Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
New clause 28 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
New Clause 29
On-demand programme services: specially restricted material
“(1) Section 368E of the Communications Act 2003 (restrictions on harmful material contained in on-demand programme services) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (5), after paragraph (b) omit “or”.
(3) In that subsection, after paragraph (c) insert—
“(d) a video work—
(i) in respect of which the video works authority has issued an 18 certificate, and
(ii) whose nature is such that it is reasonable to assume that its principal purpose is to cause sexual arousal, or
(e) material whose nature is such that it is reasonable—
(i) to assume that its principal purpose is to cause sexual arousal, and
(ii) to expect that, if the material were contained in a video work submitted to the video works authority for a classification certificate, the video works authority would issue an 18 certificate.”
(4) In subsection (6), after “(5)(b)” insert “or (e)”.
(5) In subsection (7), after the definition of “the 1984 Act”, insert—
““18 certificate” means a classification certificate which—
(a) contains, pursuant to section 7(2)(b) of the 1984 Act, a statement that the video work is suitable for viewing only by persons who have attained the age of 18 and that no video recording containing that work is to be supplied to any person who has not attained that age, and
(b) does not contain the statement mentioned in section 7(2)(c) of the 1984 Act that no video recording containing the video work is to be supplied other than in a licensed sex shop;”.”—(Matt Hancock.)
Section 368E of the Communications Act 2003 prohibits an “on-demand programme service” (defined in section 368A) from containing “specially restricted material” except in a manner which secures that persons under the age of 18 will not normally see or hear it. This new clause adds further kinds of “specially restricted material”.
Brought up, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 10
Internet pornography: requirement to teach age requirement and risks as part of sex education
“After section 403(1A)(b) of the Education Act 1996, add—
“(c) they learn about the risks and dangers of internet pornography, and the legal age requirement to access internet pornography under Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.””—(Kevin Brennan.)
This new clause would mean that the Secretary of State would have to include in guidance to maintained schools that pupils learn as part of sex education the risks and dangers of internet pornography and the legal age requirement to access it, as provided for under Part 3.
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
The age-verification regulator: designation and funding
Amendment made: 35, page 20, line 15, at end insert—
“(d) by an internet service provider to whom a notice has been given under section (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material) (1), against the giving of that notice; and
(e) by a person identified as the non-complying person in a notice given to an internet service provider under section (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material)(1), against the giving of that notice.”—(Matt Hancock.)
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied, before designating a person as the age-verification regulator under clause 17, that the regulator will maintain arrangements for appeals against the giving of notices under NC28.
Age-verification regulator’s power to require information
Amendment made: 36, page 21, line 8, after “is” insert—
“(a) an internet service provider, or
(b) ”.—(Matt Hancock.)
This amendment enables the age-verification regulator to require internet service providers to provide it with information to enable it to exercise, or decide whether to exercise, its functions under Part 3 (online pornography).
Exercise of functions by the age-verification regulator
Amendment made: 37, page 25, line 3, leave out “and 22” and insert
“, 22 and (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material)”.—(Matt Hancock.)
Clause 23(1) provides that the age-verification regulator may exercise its powers under clauses 20 and 22 principally in relation to certain descriptions of persons. This amendment provides that the regulator’s powers under NC28 may be similarly exercised.
Requirements for notices given by regulator under this Part
Amendments made: 38, page 25, line 19, leave out “or 22” and insert
“, 22 or (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material)”.
This amendment provides for the manner in which notices are to be given under NC28.
Amendment 39, page 25, line 22, leave out “or 22(1)” and insert
“, 22(1) or (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material)(1)”.
This amendment deals with the manner in which notices are to be given to internet service providers under NC28.
Amendment 40, page 25, line 30, leave out “or 22(3)” and insert
“, 22(3) or (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material)(10)”.
This amendment deals with the manner in which notices are to be given to non-complying persons under NC28.
Amendment 41, page 25, line 44, leave out “or 22” and insert
“, 22 or (Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material)”.—(Matt Hancock.)
This amendment deals with the giving by email of notices under NC28.
Interpretation of this Part
Amendment made: 42, page 26, line 16, at end insert—
““internet service provider” means a provider of an internet access service within the meaning given in Article 2 of Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2015;”.—(Matt Hancock.)
This amendment defines “internet service provider” for the purposes of amendments 35 and 36 and NC28.
New Clause 27
Introduction of broadband connection voucher scheme as alternative to universal service order provision
“The Secretary of State shall introduce a broadband connection voucher scheme to allow an end-user to access broadband other than that supplied by the provider of the universal service order, under Part 2 of the Communications Act 2003.” —(Calum Kerr.)
Although most individuals are likely to choose the standard universal service order offering, this new clause would provide individuals with the option of a voucher scheme that empowers them to take up an alternative solution.
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
The electronic communications code
Amendments made: 23, page 124, leave out lines 11 to 37 and insert—
64 (1) An operator may not exercise a tidal water right in relation to land in which a Crown interest subsists unless agreement to the exercise of the right in relation to the land has been given in respect of that interest by the appropriate authority in accordance with paragraph 104.
(2) Where, in connection with an agreement between the operator and the appropriate authority for the exercise of such a right, the operator and the appropriate authority cannot agree the consideration to be paid by the operator, the operator or the appropriate authority may apply to the appointed valuer for a determination of the market value of the right.
(3) An application under sub-paragraph (2) must be made in writing and must include—
(a) the proposed terms of the agreement, and
(b) the reasoned evidence of the operator and of the appropriate authority as to the market value of the right.
(4) As soon as reasonably practicable after receiving such an application, the appointed valuer must—
(a) determine the market value of the tidal water right; and
(b) notify the operator and the appropriate authority in writing of its determination and the reasons for it.
(5) If the agreement mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) or an agreement in substantially the same terms is concluded following a determination under sub-paragraph (4), the consideration payable by the operator must not be more than the market value notified under sub-paragraph (4)(b).
(6) For this purpose the market value of a tidal water right is the amount that, at the date the market value is assessed, a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the right—
(a) in a transaction at arm’s length,
(b) on the basis that the buyer and seller were acting prudently and with full knowledge of the transaction, and
(c) on the basis that the transaction was subject to the proposed terms set out in the application.
(7) The market value—
(a) must be assessed on the basis of the value of the tidal water right to the holder of the Crown interest, and
(b) must not be assessed on the basis of the value to the operator of the tidal water right or having regard to the use which the operator intends to make of the tidal waters or land in exercising that right.
(8) The market value must be assessed on the assumption that there is more than one site which the operator could use for the purpose for which the operator intends to use the tidal waters or land in question (whether or not that is actually the case).
(9) The appointed valuer may charge a fee in respect of the consideration of an application under sub-paragraph (4) and may apportion the fee between the operator and the appropriate authority as the appointed valuer considers appropriate.
(10) In this paragraph “the appointed valuer” means—
(a) such person as the operator and the appropriate authority may agree;
(b) if no person is agreed, such person as may be nominated, on the application of the operator or the appropriate authority, by the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.”
Paragraph 64 limits the level of consideration that can be enforced for the grant of tidal water rights where there is a Crown interest in the land. The amendment replaces this with provision for the consideration, if not agreed, to be determined by valuation at the outset.
Amendment 24, page 142, line 14, leave out “paragraph 64(2) to (5),”—(Matt Hancock.)
This is consequential on amendment 23.
New Clause 6
Code of practice: accessibility to on-demand audiovisual services for people with disabilities affecting hearing and/or sight
‘(1) It shall be the duty of Ofcom to draw up, and from time to time to review and revise, a code giving guidance as to—
(a) the extent to which on-demand audiovisual services should promote the understanding and enjoyment by—
(i) persons who are deaf or hard of hearing,
(ii) persons who are blind or partially-sighted, and
(iii) persons with a dual sensory impairment, of the programmes to be included in such services; and
(b) the means by which such understanding and enjoyment should be promoted.
(2) The code must include provision for securing that every provider of a service to which this section applies ensures that adequate information about the assistance for disabled people that is provided in relation to that service is made available to those who are likely to want to make use of it.
(3) In complying with subsection (1) Ofcom must conduct a public consultation to inform Ofcom’s determination of the elements of the code.
(4) In complying with subsection (1), Ofcom must have regard, in particular, to—
(a) the extent of the benefit which would be conferred by the provision of assistance for disabled people in relation to the programmes;
(b) the size of the intended audience for the programmes;
(c) the number of persons who would be likely to benefit from the assistance and the extent of the likely benefit in each case;
(d) the extent to which members of the intended audience for the programmes are resident in places outside the United Kingdom;
(e) the technical difficulty of providing the assistance; and
(f) the cost, in the context of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e), of providing the assistance.
(5) The code must set out the descriptions of programmes that Ofcom considers should be excluded programmes for the purposes of the requirement contained in that subsection or paragraph.
(6) The code shall make provisions about the meeting of obligations established, including by allocating relevant responsibilities between—
(b) platform operators; and
(c) any other provider or purveyor of programmes or programme services.
(7) For the purpose of subsection (1) a service is an on-demand audiovisual programme if it falls within the definition given in section 368A (Meaning of “on-demand programme service”) of the Communications Act 2003 (as inserted by the Audiovisual Media Service Regulations 2009).”—(Kevin Brennan.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 8—Responsibility for policy and funding of TV licence fee concessions—
“After section 365(5) of the Communications Act 2003 insert—
“(5A) It shall be the responsibility of the Secretary of State to—
(a) specify the conditions under which concessions are entitled, and
(b) provide the BBC with necessary funding to cover the cost of concessions,
and this responsibility shall not be delegated to any other body.”
This new clause seeks to enshrine in statute that it should be the responsibility of the Government to set the entitlement for any concessions and to cover the cost of such concession. This new clause will ensure the entitlement and cost of over-75s TV licences remain with the Government. It would need to be agreed with Clause 76 not standing part of the Bill.
New clause 17—PSB prominence—
“(1) The Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) At the end of section 310(1) add “that satisfy the qualification criteria to be set by OFCOM in the code.”
(3) In section 310(2) leave out “OFCOM consider appropriate” and insert “required by OFCOM”.
(4) In section 310(4)(a) after “programmes” insert “, including on-demand programme services,”.
(5) In section 310(5)(a) after “service” insert “, including on-demand programme service,”.
(6) In section 310(8)(a) after “services” insert “, including on-demand programme services,”.
(7) In section 310(8)(b) after “services” insert “, including on-demand programme services.”
This new clause would modernise the PSB prominence regime, as recommended by Ofcom in its 2015 PSB Review. This proposal would extend the provisions in the Communications Act 2003 which currently only apply to traditional public service television channels and menus to on-demand services.
New clause 18—Listed events qualifying criteria—
“(1) The Broadcasting Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 98(2)(b) and insert—
“(b) that the service has been watched by at least 90 per cent. of citizens in the United Kingdom in the course of the preceding calendar year.”
(3) After section 98(2) insert—
“(2A) The Secretary of State may by Order amend section (2)(b) by substituting a different percentage for any percentage for the time being specified there.
(2B) No Order under subsection (2A) shall be made unless a draft of the Order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.””
This new clause seeks to future-proof the listed events regime. This replaces the criterion on the capability of ‘receive’ a channel with an alternative based on its actual usage over the period of a year, lowers the threshold from 95% to 90%, and proposes delegating powers to the SoS to amend the 90% threshold.
New clause 24—Review of sale of counterfeit electrical appliances on the internet—
‘(1) Within six months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State shall commission a review of the sale on the internet of counterfeit electrical appliances and shall lay the report of the review before each House of Parliament.
(2) The review under subsection (1) shall consider whether operators of trading websites that allow individual sellers to use those websites to sell electrical items should be obliged to report to the police and trading standards any instances of the selling of counterfeit electrical appliances during the course of their business of trading.”
New clause 33—Report of cost to UK economy of counterfeit electrical goods on the internet—
‘(1) Within six months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State shall prepare and publish a report on the cost to the UK economy of counterfeit electrical goods on the internet and shall lay a copy of the report before Parliament.
(2) The report under subsection (1) shall include an assessment of—
(a) the amount of counterfeit electrical goods being imported into the United Kingdom,
(b) the efficacy of the 1994 Plugs and Sockets regulations, and
(c) the amounts of counterfeit electrical good being sold on trading websites on the internet.”
New clause 34—Review of impact of digital platforms on media advertising—
‘(1) Within 12 months of this Act coming into force, Ofcom shall conduct a review of the impact of digital platforms on media advertising and the sustainability of the UK media.
(2) Ofcom shall conduct another review on the matters under subsection (1) within five years of the publication of the first review, and within every five years thereafter.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report of any review in this section before Parliament.”
Government amendments 20 to 22.
New clause 15—Power to provide for a code of practice related to copyright infringement—
“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a search engine to be required to adopt a code of practice concerning copyright infringement that complies with criteria specified in the regulations.
(2) The regulations may provide that if a search engine fails to adopt such a code of practice, any code of practice that is approved for the purposes of that search engine by the Secretary of State, or by a person designated by the Secretary of State, has effect as a code of practice adopted by the search engine.
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—
(a) for the investigation and determination of disputes about a search engine’s compliance with its code of practice,
(b) for the appointment of a regulator to review and report to the Secretary of State on—
(i) the codes of practice adopted by search engines, and
(ii) compliance with the codes of practice;
(c) for the consequences of a failure by a specified search engine to adopt or comply with a code of practice including financial penalties or other sanctions.
(4) Regulations made under this section—
(a) may make provision that applies only in respect of search engines of a particular description, or only in respect of activities of a particular description;
(b) may make incidental, supplementary or consequential provision;
(c) shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
This new clause would amend the Bill to present an opportunity for the Government to fulfil its manifesto commitment to reduce copyright infringement and ensure search engines do not link to the worst-offending sites. There is an absence of a specific provision in the Bill to achieve this.
New clause 16—E-book lending—
“In section 43(2) of the Digital Economy Act 2010, leave out from “limited time” to “and loan.”
This new clause aims to extend public lending rights to remote offsite e-book lending.
New clause 30—Devices or services that infringe copyright—
“(1) The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 107(1)(d)(ii) after “offers” insert “, advertises”.
(3) After section 107(1)(d)(iv) insert—
(v) installs, maintains or replaces, or
(ii) otherwise promotes by means of commercial communications, or”
(4) In section 107(1)(e) after “article” insert “, device, product or component”.
(5) In section 107(1)(e) after “work” insert “or which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is, primarily designed, produced, adapted or otherwise used in a manner described in this section whether alone or in conjunction with another article, device, product, component, or service supplied by or with the knowledge of the same person for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the infringement of copyright”.”
This new clause allows the Government to fulfil its commitment in the IPO’s Enforcement Strategy to ensure that UK business and rights holders have the necessary legal means to protect their IP. It brings in language to cover the supply of IPTV boxes clearly being marketed or sold for the purpose of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement, recognising that many devices may not, themselves, infringe copyright, but are supplied in conjunction with information which enables users to infringe copyright.
New clause 31—Offence to use digital ticket purchasing software to purchase excessive number of tickets—
“(1) A person commits an offence if he or she utilises digital ticket purchasing software to purchase tickets over and above the number permitted in the condition of sale.
(2) A person commits an offence if he or she knowingly resells or offers to resell, or allows to be resold or offered for resale on a secondary ticketing facility, a ticket that the person knows, or could reasonably suspect, was obtained using digital ticket purchasing software and was acting in the course of a business.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) a person shall be treated as acting in the course of a business if he or she does anything as a result of which he makes a profit or aims to make a profit.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to—
(a) imprisonment for a period not exceeding 51 weeks,
(b) a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or
(5) In this section—
(a) “digital ticket purchasing software” means any machine, device, computer programme or computer software that, on its own or with human assistance, bypasses security measures or access control systems on a retail ticket purchasing platform that assist in implementing a limit on the number of tickets that can be purchased, to purchase tickets.
(b) “retail ticket purchasing platform” shall mean a retail ticket purchasing website, application, phone system, or other technology platform used to sell tickets.
(6) Subsections (1) and (2) shall apply in respect of anything done whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.”
This new clause creates an offence to use digital ticket purchasing software to purchase tickets for an event over and above the number permitted in the condition of sale. It also creates an offence to knowingly resell tickets using such software.
New clause 5—Personal data breaches—
“(1) The Data Protection Act 1998 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 24 insert—
“24A Personal data breaches: notification to the Commissioner
(1) In this section, section 24B and section 24C “personal data breach” means unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data or accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.
(2) Subject to subsections (3), (4)(c) and (4)(d), if a personal data breach occurs, the data controller in respect of the personal data concerned in that breach shall, without undue delay, notify the breach to the Commissioner.
(3) The notification referred to in subsection (2) is not required to the extent that the personal data concerned in the personal data breach are exempt from the seventh data protection principle.
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations—
(a) prescribe matters which a notification under subsection (2) must contain;
(b) prescribe the period within which, following detection of a personal data breach, a notification under subsection (2) must be given;
(c) provide that subsection (2) shall not apply to certain data controllers;
(d) provide that subsection (2) shall not apply to personal data breaches of a particular description or descriptions.
24B Personal data breaches: notification to the data subject
(1) Subject to subsections (2), (3), (4), (6)(b) and (6)(c), if a personal data breach is likely to adversely affect the personal data or privacy of a data subject, the data controller in respect of the personal data concerned in that breach shall also, without undue delay, notify the breach to the data subject concerned, insofar as it is reasonably practicable to do so.
(2) The notification referred to in subsection (1) is not required to the extent that the personal data concerned in the personal data breach are exempt from the seventh data protection principle.
(3) The notification referred to in subsection (1) is not required to the extent that the personal data concerned in the personal data breach are exempt from section 7(1).
(4) The notification referred to in subsection (1) is not required if the data controller has demonstrated, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner—
(a) that the data controller has implemented appropriate measures which render the data unintelligible to any person who is not authorised to access it; and
(b) that those measures were applied to the data concerned in that personal data breach.
(5) If the data controller has not notified the data subject in compliance with subsection (1), the Commissioner may, having considered the likely adverse effects of the personal data breach, require the data controller to do so.
(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations—
(a) prescribe matters which a notification under subsection (1) must contain;
(b) provide that subsection (1) shall not apply to certain data controllers;
(c) provide that subsection (1) shall not apply to personal data breaches of a particular description or descriptions.
24C Personal data breaches: audit
(1) Data controllers shall maintain an inventory of personal data breaches comprising—
(a) the facts surrounding the breach;
(b) the effects of that breach; and
(c) remedial action taken
which shall be sufficient to enable the Commissioner to verify compliance with the provisions of sections 24A and 24B. The inventory shall only include information necessary for this purpose.
(2) The Commissioner may audit the compliance of data controllers with the provisions of sections 24A, 24B and 24C(1).
(3) In section 40 (Enforcement notices)—
(a) in subsection (1)—
(i) after “data protection principles,” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”;
(ii) for “principle or principles” substitute “principle, principles, section or sections”;
(b) in subsection 6(a) after “principles” insert “or the section or sections”.
(4) In section 41 (Cancellation of enforcement notice”)—
(a) in subsection (1) after “principles” insert “or the section or sections”;
(b) in subsection (2) after “principles” insert “or the section or sections”.
(5) In section 41A (Assessment notices)—
(a) in subsection (1) after “data protection principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”;
(b) in subsection (10)(b) after “data protection principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”.
(6) In section 41C (Code of practice about assessment notices)—
(a) in subsection (4)(a) after “principles” insert “and sections 24A, 24B and 24C”;
(b) in subsection (4)(b) after “principles” insert “or sections”.
(7) In section 43 (Information notices)—
(a) in subsection 43(1)—
(i) after “data protection principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”;
(ii) after “the principles” insert “or those sections”;
(b) in subsection 43(2)(b) after “principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”.
(8) In section 55A (Power of Commissioner to impose monetary penalty)—
(a) after subsection (1) insert—
(1A) The Commissioner may also serve a data controller with a monetary penalty notice if the Commissioner is satisfied that there has been a serious contravention of section 24A, 24B or 24C by the data controller.”;
(b) in subsection (3A) after “subsection (1)” insert “or (1A)”;
(c) in subsection (4) omit “determined by the Commissioner and”;
(d) in subsection (5)—
(i) after “The amount” insert “specified in a monetary penalty notice served under subsection (1) shall be”;
(ii) after “Commissioner” insert “and”;
(e) after subsection (5) insert—
(5A) The amount specified in a monetary penalty notice served under subsection (1A) shall be £1,000.
(5B) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend subsection (5A) to change the amount specified therein.”
(9) In section 55B (Monetary penalty notices: procedural rights)—
(a) in subsection (3)(a) omit “and”;
(b) after subsection (3)(a) insert—
“(aa) specify the provision of this Act of which the Commissioner is satisfied there has been a serious contravention, and”;
(c) after subsection (3) insert—
(3A) A data controller may discharge liability for a monetary penalty in respect of a contravention of section 24A, 24B or 24C if he pays to the Commissioner the amount of £800 before the time within which the data controller may make representations to the Commissioner has expired.
(3B) A notice of intent served in respect of a contravention of section 24A, 24B or 24C must include a statement informing the data controller of the opportunity to discharge liability for the monetary penalty.
(3C) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend subsection (3A) to change the amount specified therein, save that the amount specified in subsection (3A) must be less than the amount specified in section 55A(5A).”;
(d) in subsection (5) after “served” insert “under section 55A(1)”;
(e) after subsection (5) insert—
(5A) A person on whom a monetary penalty notice is served under section 55A(1A) may appeal to the Tribunal against the issue of the monetary penalty notice.”
(10) In section 55C(2)(b) (Guidance about monetary penalty notices) at the end insert “specified in a monetary penalty notice served under section 55A(1)”.
(11) In section 67 (Orders, regulations and rules)—
(a) in subsection (4)—
(i) after “order” insert “or regulations”;
(ii) after “section 22(1),” insert “section 24A(4)(c) or (d), 24B(6)(b) or (c),”;
(b) in subsection (5)—
(i) after subsection (c) insert “(ca) regulations under section 24A(4)(a) or (b) or section 24B(6)(a),”;
(ii) for “(ca) regulations under section 55A(5) or (7) or 55B(3)(b),” substitute “(cb) regulations under section 55A(5), (5B) or (7) or 55B(3)(b) or (3C),”.
(12) In section 71 (Index of defined expressions) after
“personal data section 1(1)”
“personal data breach section 24A(1)”
“personal data breach
(13) In paragraph 1 of Schedule 9—
(a) after paragraph 1(1)(a) insert—
“(aa) that a data controller has contravened or is contravening any provision of section 24A, 24B or 24C, or”;
(b) in paragraph 1(1B) after “principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”;
(c) in paragraph (3)(d)(ii) after “principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C”;
(d) in paragraph (3)(f) after “principles” insert “or section 24A, 24B or 24C.””
This new clause seeks to create a general obligation on data controllers to notify the Information Commissioner and data subjects in the event of a breach of personal data security. The proposed obligation is similar to that imposed on electronic communication service providers by the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
New clause 11—Public register of information disclosures—
“(1) No disclosure of information by a public authority under Part 5 shall be lawful unless detailed by an entry in a public register.
(2) Any entry made in a public register under subsection (1) shall be disclosed to another person only for the purposes set out in this Part.
(3) Each entry in the register must contain, or include information on—
(a) the uniform resource locator of the entry,
(b) the purpose of the disclosure,
(c) the specific information to be disclosed,
(d) the data controllers and data processors involved in the sharing of the information,
(e) any exchange of letters between the data controllers on the disclosure,
(f) any other information deemed relevant.
(4) In this section, “uniform resource locator” means a standardised naming convention for entries made in a public register.”
New clause 12—Review of the collection and use of data by government and commercial bodies—
“(1) Within six months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State shall commission an independent review of the collection and use of data by government and commercial bodies and shall lay the report of the review before each House of Parliament.
(2) The review under subsection (1) shall consider—
(a) the increasing use of big data analytics and the privacy risks associated with big data;
(b) the adequacy of current rules and regulations on data ownership;
(c) the collection and use of administrative data; and
(d) any other matters the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) In conducting the review, the designated independent reviewer must consult—
(a) specialists in big data, data ownership and administrative data,
(b) those who campaign for citizens’ rights in relation to privacy, personal information and data protection,
(c) any other persons and organisations the reviewer considers appropriate.
(4) In this section “big data analytics” means the process of examining large datasets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information.”
New clause 19—Disclosure of information by local authorities in relation to free school meals—
“(1) A “specified objective” under section 29(6) also refers to the disclosure of information held by a local authority to a relevant school to enable them to carry out the duty in Section 512 of the Education Act 1996 to provide free school meals to eligible children.
(2) For the purposes of this section, “information” refers to the disclosure of information to a relevant school on the names of—
(a) pupils who live within a household that claims council tax benefit;
(b) pupils who live within a household that claims housing benefit;
(c) pupils who live within a household that claims any other benefits administered by the local authority.
(3) The objective under section (1) may be specified by regulations only if it complies with the conditions under subsection (4).
(4) That condition is that the disclosure is for the purposes of assisting children eligible for free school meals to have access to the entitlement under section 512 of the Education Act 1996.
(5) Under subsection (1) local education authority must provide a relevant school with sufficient information collected to enable them to carry out the duty in subsection 3.
(6) For the purposes of this Act, a school is “relevant” to a local education authority if that school has on its pupil roll a qualifying child resident within that local education authority’s area.
(7) For the purposes of this Act, a “school” is any local authority maintained school, free school or academy, or voluntary-sector alternative provision working with the local authority.
(8) Local education authorities must provide the means for a parent or guardian of a qualifying child to—
(a) opt out of the arrangements envisaged in sections 1 to 4.
(b) consider opting in to free school meals at the beginning of each academic year, having previously chosen to opt out.
(9) Local education authorities and schools must take all reasonable steps to preserve the confidentiality and right to privacy of qualifying children and their parents or guardians in respect of the information, information-sharing and administrative arrangements provided.”
New clause 23—Provision of information on Government website in Welsh language—
“(1) Subject to subsection (2), services provided on the internet by the Government must be provided in the Welsh language in addition to English.
(2) Subsection (2) only applies to services provided on the internet by the Government relating to subjects not listed under Part 1 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.
(3) In this section “services provided on the internet by the Government” means—
(a) information on the www.gov.uk website, or
(b) interactive services on the www.gov.uk website.”
Amendment 3, in clause 32, page 31, line 30, at end insert—
“(8A) In its application to a public authority with functions relating to the provision of health services, section 29 does not authorise the disclosure of identifiable health information held by the authority in connection with such functions.”
This amendment is to ensure that there are adequate protections for the confidential health information of patients and to prevent the disclosure of identifiable health information.
Government amendments 4 to 11.
Amendment 25, in clause 49, page 48, line 6, at end insert—
“(g) for the purposes of journalistic publication or broadcast transmission in the public interest.”
Amendment 26, in clause 50, page 49, at end insert—
“(j) for the purposes of journalistic publication or broadcast transmission in the public interest.”
Government amendments 12 to 19.
We have 12 new clauses and amendments—and one that we withdrew so that the Select Committee could table it—in this group. New clause 6 stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). As the Minister has done many times, I pay tribute to the latter, who unfortunately is not here because she is part of a pre-planned parliamentary delegation. She did a tremendous job in Committee and has been praised universally on both sides of the House for her efforts.
On new clause 6, although subtitling is at or near 100% across public service broadcasters, three quarters of the UK’s 90 on-demand providers still offer no subtitling at all, despite the fact that according to Ofcom nearly one in five of the UK population use them. The principle behind the Communications Act 2003 recognised that those with sensory loss should not be denied access to the information services that many of us take for granted, but those with sensory loss cannot keep up with changing technology. In July 2013, the then Minister for the Digital Economy, the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), acknowledged this, arguing in the Department’s 2013 document, “Connectivity, Content and Consumers”, that if
“progress isn’t being made in three years’ time…we will consider legislation.”
Well, here we are, three years later, with an appropriate legislative vehicle right here in front of us, and the Government are failing to act.
We wonder why. There were strong rumblings that the Government were planning to act, and we were checking the amendment paper every day, anticipating that they would, so it is a bit odd that we, the Opposition, have to bring forward this new clause, which takes on the Government’s concerns, when it is supposed to be the other way around—the Government taking on the concerns of others in the House during consideration of a Bill. The new clause would update the existing regulatory regime and apply it to on-demand providers. It is clearly time the Government acted to reflect the digital world in which we live and allow those with sensory loss to play a full and active part in it. The Government should accept the new clause, and I look forward to the Minister telling us that he will.
Does my hon. Friend find it shocking that just one of the 21 on-demand services offered through Virgin TiVo—we discussed Virgin’s telephony and telecommunications services under new clause 27—is subtitled? That is less than 5%. Is that not a prime example of why we need new clause 6?
It is a prime example. I might even have had it in my notes, before I truncated them considerably in order to make some progress. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point it out.
New clause 8 opposes the way the Government are dealing with the free television licences for over-75s. The continuation of free licences for over-75s was a promise made in the Conservative party’s manifesto, which many over-75s voted for in good faith, but now, just 16 months later, the Government are legislating to do away with that pledge in all but name, on the pretence that it should now be for the BBC to decide who gets a free television licence. I am afraid that the promise in the manifesto was unequivocal. It said:
“We will maintain all the current pensioner benefits including Winter Fuel Payments, free bus passes, free prescriptions and TV licences”.
Notice the list of Labour achievements in that quote, Madam Deputy Speaker! It said “maintain” not “play pass the policy parcel”, which is what the Government are doing. They are legislating to hand over responsibility to a body that cannot afford to maintain the entitlement.
Far be it for me to accuse the Government of taking political decisions—this is the House of Commons after all—but it is nevertheless a broken promise, masquerading as an administrative change. I think that is the point my hon. Friend is making. If he were trying to imply that this were a craven approach, he would be absolutely right about that, too.
I am sure that the Minister will argue that, in fact, the BBC has somehow been rewarded handsomely in the charter renewal process, and that the BBC will decide its funding policy for over-75s set within that context. He will claim support from the BBC for what the Government are doing, because the BBC has said that it is in favour of it. It is the kind of support given when someone has a loaded gun placed against their head and is asked for that support. There is a reason why the BBC has agreed to take over control of setting entitlement for over-75 licences: it knows it cannot afford it at its current rate. The BBC should never have been given the responsibility for delivering on a Conservative party manifesto pledge.
I apologise for being controversial—the hon. Gentleman will not agree with me—but this is rather like the triple lock. The fact is that many pensioners over the age of 75 are perfectly capable of paying a licence fee, so perhaps we should concentrate resources on people who really cannot afford to pay, rather than piling up more and more benefits to pensioners. I know that is controversial, but it is a point that needs to be made.
It is an entirely legitimate point of view, but that is not what is under discussion. We are discussing who should take that decision. We say that the decision should be taken by this House and that the Government should be brave enough to face the electorate and say that they have decided that the policy is not, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, a priority. Instead of that, however, the Government are pretending that they are somehow keeping their pledge while transferring responsibility to an unaccountable body. The hon. Gentleman has been a powerful advocate in his long career on behalf of democracy and this House and against that kind of transfer of responsibility from this House and the duly elected Government to unelected quangos or other bodies. That is why we tabled the new clause, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will support for that reason.
It is a point of principle for us. We cannot accept a policy that takes responsibility for even a small part of our social security system and gives it to an organisation with no direct accountability to the electorate. If the new clause fails, Labour will do everything in its power to make it clear to those millions of over-75s exactly what is going on. It is not the BBC that will be reducing or taking away their entitlement to TV licences; it is the Government who have knowingly engineered the change. If we look at the Red Book for Budget 2016, we see that it is absolutely clear how much money the Government intend to save from this measure: in 2018-19, £185 million; in 2019-20, £425 million; and in 2020-21, £725 million.
Our new clause 17 aims to modernise the public service broadcaster regime, as recommended by Ofcom. Existing law would be extended to include on-demand channels and menus. The broadcasting landscape has changed significantly due to the emergence of new technologies such as the BBC iPlayer, the iPad and digital TV switchover, so although the Communications Act 2003 ensured PSB prominence on broadcast TV, it does not apply to connected TV sets or to catch-up services.
Connected TVs, such as Sky Q box, move the TV guide, where PSBs occupy the most prominent positions, so that it is increasingly hard to find. Seven out of 10 of the public say that they want the BBC channels at the top of the channel listings and that they want BBC iPlayer and the on-demand service there too. Among connected TV users, people are 10 times more likely to prefer to see the TV guide than the platform operators’ recommendations first. This holds true in focus groups, where consumers gave feedback on the obscuring of the TV guide. One said:
“I absolutely love Sky Q, but if there were one thing I would change, it would be where the TV guide is…it’s almost tucked away somewhere on my screen. You expect technological advances to make life easier, but this is making it harder…it’s an extra step.”
Essentially, the public are paying towards PSB content that is becoming increasingly hard to find.
The Minister argued in Committee that Ofcom should adapt the code in line with technological developments, but Ofcom itself has called for a legislative change. The point was made that the TV guide was of declining importance due to the increasing integration of TV and internet services. However, nine out of those who watch live or on-demand use the electronic programme guide to access TV programmes. Our new clause builds on the current system, with a strong duty placed on Ofcom to provide clearer guidelines than at present. The industry should then apply these as appropriate to their platforms. If the Government really believe in public service broadcasting—and they say they do—they should support our new clause 17.
New clause 18 deals with the listed sporting events regime, which ensures that events such as the Olympics are freely and widely available. Unfortunately, that is at risk, so our new clause would help to safeguard listed events into the future. Some 45 million people in the UK watched the Rio 2016 Olympics, while millions watched the Euros—including Wales’s stunning run to the semi-final this summer. Listed events are responsible for 5% of sports output but 60% of sports viewing in this country. The current law specifies that 95% of the population must be reached by a channel for it to acquire listed events rights. Due to the proliferation of alternative media devices, PSBs believe that by the end of this Parliament no TV channel will, in fact, meet that 95% reach criterion.
New clause 18 offers a solution. There is a crucial legal difference between receiving a channel and watching it. Replacing the criterion on the capability to “receive” a channel with the alternative that it “has been watched”, based on its actual uses over the past year, would capture factors such as continuous free-to-air availability, popularity and audience awareness. The new clause would lower the threshold from 95% to 90%, and give the Secretary of State powers to amend it so that the law is flexible enough to reflect consumption trends and change in new and unpredictable ways.
Let me deal now with new clause 15. Over the past few years, there has been a series of round-table discussions with search engines, including Google, Bing and Yahoo, and rights holders including the British Phonographic Industry, the Music Publishers Association and the Alliance for Intellectual Property. The various parties have been trying to negotiate a code of practice to tackle copyright infringement whereby search engines would do more to demote sites that carry pirate content. These discussions are dragging on and, years later, the search engines and rights holders are yet to come to an agreement. Our new clause would provide the Secretary of State with the powers to legislate for a code of practice to be agreed if the next rounds of talks fail to come to a conclusion.
Piracy continues to weaken the UK recorded music industry. For example, academic evidence based on average retail prices and Ofcom’s tracker survey indicate a loss of between £150 million and £300 million a year. Our new clause would give the Secretary of State a backstop power to legislate that a code of practice be agreed. I think the Government should accept that now is the time for action in this sphere.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that this issue featured in the Conservative manifesto, it would be fantastic if the Government came forward to support the new clause, so that they could implement a promise they made at the last general election?
My hon. Friend anticipates something that I was intending to say, but did not say. She is absolutely correct to point that out. The figures clearly show that this measure is not being implemented, even though the Minister claimed in Committee that it was.
New clause 16 is about public lending right. Hon. Members might be surprised to know that it does not extend to e-books where they are borrowed remotely, which by their very nature, of course, they are. It is ludicrous that 2.3 million remote loans were made in the last year, none of which were counted for public lending right. The method by which a book is borrowed should not determine whether authors and illustrators receive fair payment for their work. That predicament has been significantly worsened by the closure of public libraries that has occurred on the Government’s watch as a result of its failed—as we now know—austerity policies. The new clause would close the loophole, and it is supported by the Society of Authors, the Association of Illustrators, and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.
In 2013, the Government seemed to be saying that they would do something about the problem. Following the independent review of e-lending in public libraries in England, they said that they intended to reflect technological changes. Had they done so, other inconsistencies involving e-books—such as the fact that they are subject to VAT, while physical books are not—could also have been resolved in the Bill, but they have not done so, and the problems therefore remain unresolved. Our new clause is very simple. The Government have already acknowledged the existence of the issue at hand, and it is in no one’s interest to leave it unresolved. The Government were disappointingly un-co-operative in Committee, but I hope that that will change today.
New clause 30 is intended to tackle a proliferation of devices that, either alone or in conjunction with other technology, give access to copyright-infringing material. The best-known example of such a device, although by no means the only one, is the internet protocol television box. According to a recent Government report, there was a 33% increase in the illegal downloading of television programmes between March and May 2015 compared with the same months two years earlier. When we discussed the issue in Committee, the Government claimed that that was covered by other laws such as the Fraud Act 2006 and the Serious Crime Act 2015 but, as the Minister knows, the broadcasting and creative industries do not think that that is enough. They argue that the legal routes are much more complex and can be pursued only by the police, whose resources—especially IT specialist resources—are already thinly spread. In other words, the laws are not purpose-built. Our new clause should command the Government’s support, particularly in the light of its enforcement strategy.
The intellectual property Minister has said that the Government will be
“looking at new areas where we might need to create new legal tools to tackle new modes of infringement.”
“we will look at the legislation around set-top boxes, and whether we have enough effective remedies to tackle their misuse.”
Well, we do not. New thinking is needed, and it is presented in our new clause. If the Government will not legislate in this Bill, when will they legislate? If they are serious about meeting their obligations in their own enforcement strategy, they should support the new clause and ensure that profits reach creators, not criminals.
New clause 31 has not been tabled by the Opposition. We tabled it originally, under a different number, but then we withdrew it, so that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee could table the measure on a cross-party basis, and added our names to it. I know that other Members will want to say more about the new clause, which is intended to deal with the buying of tickets by “bots”, and the extortionate prices for which those same tickets are sold on secondary sites, making live sport and music unaffordable, and preventing access to entertainment for the public. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for the tireless and energetic campaign that she has waged on the issue.
Does my hon. Friend agree that true fans do not stand a chance nowadays, because touts have evolved from blokes in sheepskin jackets lurking outside stadiums trying to sell spare tickets, to IT crooks who harvest thousands of tickets just seconds after they go on sale?
I do agree with that. In Committee, the Minister told us a tear-jerking story about his efforts to buy tickets to a Paul Simon concert at the Royal Albert Hall. We look forward to a review when he rises to speak. At the moment he is chewing, so it is “The Sound of Silence”.
I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) expand on this point in more detail. Is it not time for us finally to do something about ticket-touting, on behalf of all the fans in the country who just want to enjoy music? I have not been a Member of Parliament for all that long, but we have been talking about this issue for the past six years. I see that tickets for tomorrow’s Justin Bieber concert are on sale for more than £1,000. Can we not do something about that, and ensure that everyone in the country can enjoy music?
My hon. Friend makes her point passionately. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West, and I hope that we can play a part in a good result for her today when the Minister gives way on this point and accepts the cross-party new clause tabled by the Select Committee. My hon. Friend drew attention, in correspondence with us, to an analogy that was sent to her by someone who pointed out that the ticket-tout approach was nothing more or less than a protection racket. The bad guys create a problem, and then go around charging everyone else for solving it. The new clause would acknowledge ticket touting for what it really is: criminal exploitation. I hope that the Government will listen to Members on both sides of the House and do everything in their power to prevent and prosecute such behaviour.
The Bill might not be the vehicle with which to do it, but another thing that needs to be tackled is the absolute scandal of administration fees, or booking fees. When one tries to buy a ticket, one pays 50 quid for the ticket and another 20 quid for the booking; the price should be £70 upfront.
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I shall stick strictly to the new clauses that we have tabled.
New clause 5 would establish a duty for companies to report any breach of cyber-security and to inform customers when possible. Just 28% of such attacks are reported to the police. We have welcomed the Minister’s announcement that he will implement the general data protection regulation in full, but even the GDPR provides extensive caveats, and it falls a long way short of the comprehensive regulatory system that the United Kingdom needs. Our new clause would impose a general obligation on data controllers to notify the Information Commissioner and data subjects in the event of a breach of personal data security.
New clause 11 provides for a public register of shared data. It would require all disclosures of data between data controllers to be logged in a public register giving, at the very least, a title, a description and a web page so that people can find out more. If there is transparency through a register, there can be an informed conversation about whether a particular data disclosure will solve the problem that it claims to solve. There has been data-sharing to “prevent fraud” for decades, and there has been a complete absence of audited and accurate results from that work. With additional powers come additional responsibilities. The argument that because current data-sharing has not prevented fraud there should be more data-sharing could be described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. While part 5 of the Bill will remain a concern—I am sure that our colleagues in the other place will examine it—we believe that the Government should accept new clause 11 and demonstrate that they understand the importance of transparency in data-sharing.
Let me now deal with new clause 12, which concerns a review of data collection. Data are the currency of the digital economy but, in yet another missed opportunity, the Bill does absolutely nothing to address people’s rights over their data, which are increasingly a cause for concern. It is time that the Government acted, because consumer mistrust in the digital economy and in the use of our data is becoming corrosive. That is why we are calling for a royal commission to examine the use of our personal data in the commercial sector, to establish the extent of that practice, and to draw up a series of rights on which consumers and customers can rely in the digital age. The new clause would require the Government to commission an independent review of information and big data, and data administration, which would seek to establish the direction in which the stated policy intent of Government and big business—for individuals to have control over their own data—is heading.
Many providers are in the market for data, and there are many ways beyond our imagination in which our data can be modified. However, it will only take one exposé on “Dispatches” or a Mail on Sunday scandal to force the Government to react, and it is likely to overreact, as all Governments do. The Bill provides an excellent opportunity for the issues to be viewed in the cold light of day rather than in the heat of reaction, and I strongly urge the Ministers to support new clause 12.
New clause 19 is about free school meals. Many families who are eligible currently do not claim them. The new clause would explicitly provide for councils to share benefit data with schools, thus allowing eligible children to be automatically enrolled to receive free school meals rather than having to apply.
The issue of free school meals was raised in Committee. Does my hon. Friend agree that two-tier authorities consisting of a shire and a district should be able to share data seamlessly and automatically, as unitary authorities do in metropolitan areas?
I am grateful for the new clause because it follows a private Member’s Bill that I introduced. Following Liverpool’s example, Wirral carried out automatic registration for free school dinners and the school premium, and that resulted in £750,000 more coming into the area to target those poorest families.
My right hon. Friend is correct. I was about to say that I wanted to praise him and, again, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West for their work on that matter. We hope that the Government will support this sensible new clause.
I turn to amendment 3—our final amendment, you will be glad to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the group. In the aftermath of the care.data scandal, it is vital that patients are able to have trust in the confidential nature of the health service and to feel confident in sharing sensitive information with health care professionals. Part 5 of the Bill—clause 29 in particular—appears to permit an unprecedented sharing of confidential information. We are extremely concerned that if the information-sharing powers cover information held by bodies providing healthcare services, patient confidentiality could be undermined.
Amendment 3 would ensure that identifiable information held by healthcare bodies in connection with their functions would be exempt from the information-sharing powers in clause 29, thereby upholding current protections for confidentiality. We believe that the Bill should be amended to ensure that patient confidentiality is protected by clarifying that the Bill does not give power to public authorities to disclose any identifiable healthcare information. That would bring clause 29 into line with clause 56, which addresses information sharing specifically for research purposes. That was amended by the Government in Committee to prevent any erosion of the status quo for sharing healthcare data for research purposes. We believe, as does the British Medical Association, that similar protections should be extended to cover part 5. I look forward to the Minister accepting that amendment, along with all the other measures in the group.
This may have come up in Committee, and it might come up later on Report: the concern of the National Union of Journalists about journalists not being mentioned on private data being shared. Is that coming up now, or does it come up later?
I will resist the temptation to be drawn by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) into discussing his new clause 8 covering the funding of free television licences. We have already debated the issue at some length. Instead, in the spirit of consensus, I would like to concentrate on some of his other amendments, with which I have greater sympathy.
The first is new clause 15. On Second Reading, we discussed complaints by the creative industries that, when content is sought, the majority of sites produced by search engines such as Google and others are illegal. That has been the subject of discussion among the search companies, the rights owners and the Government for a long time, and progress has been glacial.
Since that discussion on Second Reading, I have had the advantage of talking to Google. I suspect the hon. Gentleman will have had that advantage, too. Google makes the point that if we put into its search engine the name of the artist and the name of the track, the overwhelming majority are legal results. That is progress. There is no doubt that it is better than it used to be. That deals with the problem of people who do not necessarily want to break the law but just find themselves directed to illegal sites, even when they are not looking for them. That is a step forward, but it does not deal with the problem of people who do not want to pay for music. If we put an additional few terms into the search box, such as “MP3 free download”, the position is completely different and the overwhelming majority of results from that search are illegal. That remains a big problem.
The right hon. Gentleman knows—he has probably seen the results from the Intellectual Property Office—that 78 million tracks were illegally accessed between March and May this year. It is still a huge problem. Twenty per cent. of all access to the internet for music is for illegal downloads. The Conservative party manifesto promised to deal with that. Does he believe that now is the time for action? We must act now.
I do think that more needs to be done. The counter to the statistic that the hon. Gentleman has just quoted is the number of pages being taken down. The BPI alone is notifying half a million infringing pages and they are promptly removed, but this is a Hydra—as soon as one comes down, another three go up.
The need to achieve greater agreement between the search companies and the rights owners remains as great as ever. Therefore, the idea that the Government should spur them on to get that agreement by saying that, unless it can be obtained, the Government may have to impose the code of practice, is now something that we need at least to consider. I do not necessarily say that I support the new clause of the hon. Member for Cardiff West, but I have considerable sympathy with it because we still have a long way to go to solve the problem, and at the moment progress is almost impossible to detect.
The second new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West that I wanted to refer to, which I have even greater sympathy with, is new clause 30. My right hon. Friend the Minister is a champion of the creative industries because he knows, as I do, that our economy benefits enormously from the strength of the UK creative industries. Their success rests upon IP rights. They have to be confident that their investment, their creation and their skills will receive proper reward from consumers who pay for that content. It is not just the film, television and music industries and the sports companies; it is also our broadcasters, who are spending billions of pounds in some cases to acquire rights. They are entitled to expect that the people who access them do so legitimately and pay for that, and do not do so through illegal streams from offshore.
The latest development in the technology, which the hon. Gentleman rightly identified, is IPTV set-top boxes. These are being marketed in vast numbers. They arrive fully loaded with the codes and the access to go straight to the sites that are providing illegal content. An empty set-top box may not in itself be illegal but, clearly, when it is being marketed on the basis that it is all too simple to fill it with the apps and the codes that will access illegal sites, that is a problem that we need to address.
I give the Minister just one example that was quoted to me today. It is an advertisement for the Amazon “Black Friday” sale, so we are talking about no more than a couple of days ago. It read:
“Come with the newest KODI 16.1. Cut your monthly TV subscription and enjoy FREE Movies, shows and live entertainment from all over the world including sports. No restrictions! Forget the limitations and necessary payments by using Apple TV or ROKU! Android on your TV. Install your favorite apps from the Google Play Store.”
This is being marketed on Amazon and those boxes are being shipped in their millions from China in the main, but from elsewhere, too. They are clearly being used to make it easy for consumers to access content for free and illegally. That is doing real damage to our creative industries. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause is not perhaps the right way to proceed. I am sure that it is deficient and that the Government will find failings in it, but the problem it identifies is a real one, so I hope that the Government will look to see what additional measures we can take to ensure that our IP law remains up to date with the technological developments that are again threatening our creative industries.
Finally, I want to talk to new clause 31. When I had the privilege of chairing the Select Committee, we spent a lot of time discussing ticket touting, and at that stage we were unconvinced that it was right either to ban the secondary market, for which there is a legitimate role, or to impose a flat rate top-up limit as to how much extra could be charged on a ticket; those were two possible solutions advanced at that time. We felt to some extent that this was more an issue for the industry and the market to address, and indeed the industry has worked hard to introduce technological requirements designed to stop people selling on tickets.
However, I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Cardiff West about my right hon. Friend the Minister’s Paul Simon experience. I have to say that I do not necessarily share his enthusiasm for Paul Simon, but when I sought to buy tickets for the V festival I was unable to get on the website for the first 10 minutes and then in the 12th minute was informed it was sold out, and in the 13th minute I discovered those same tickets on Seatwave for about four times their face value, so I have some sympathy.
My right hon. Friend mentioned earlier that there are possible industry-based solutions. I am reminded of the way the Government handled the 2012 Olympics, when it was not possible to get tickets without providing photo ID, and it was an end-user sale in the first place, which effectively meant the bots could not buy large numbers of tickets in the way he has just described for the V Festival, or indeed for a Paul Simon concert. Does he believe that the solution therefore lies with the sporting and entertainment industries, and that they could have done this several years ago, and it is peculiar that they have elected to come to this place asking for a legislation-based solution when there is a software answer out there right now?
I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend on that. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the greatest concerts of all time—the Led Zeppelin reunion at the O2—where exactly that system was introduced. People had to produce the credit card used to purchase the ticket in order to get the ticket; they did not get the ticket until they arrived at the venue. There are ways around this problem, but that imposes quite a considerable additional burden on the ticket purchaser, either to supply a photograph or to take a credit card. Of course, it does not then assist when there is a legitimate reason why somebody might want to transfer their ticket to another person because for some reason they are not able to attend. We do not want to stop the secondary market working in a way that is wholly legitimate, which is the case in such circumstances.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the Select Committee looked at this matter under his chairmanship one of the big changes is that it is less about the regulation of the secondary market than the fact that the technology has effectively destroyed the primary market, because most people have no chance of accessing the primary market to buy the tickets they want?
I agree, and that was my experience, and indeed my right hon. Friend the Minister’s, despite our different musical tastes, when we sought to purchase tickets. For that reason, I am interested in the suggestion in new clause 31 to target specifically the bot problem, or the electronic purchasing in a short period of almost the entire ticket allocation—hundreds of tickets in a matter of seconds bought up by these bots—which prevents ordinary fans from accessing the tickets. I cannot believe that that is what the promoters want, so looking specifically at this problem as the new clause does is an interesting approach, and certainly one worth exploring further.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I was a little unkind to him earlier this evening, so I would like to make amends by saying that he spoke a lot of good sense on illegal downloads.
I would like to speak to amendments 25 and 26. I am chair of the all-party group on the National Union of Journalists, and the arrangements for the payment of the secretariat appear under my name in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The NUJ was extremely helpful in drawing this problem to my attention and drafting the amendments.
Part 5 of the Bill appears to put freedom of expression and journalistic rights under serious threat by criminalising onward unauthorised disclosure of information. Specifically, clauses 49 and 50 completely fail to recognise the role of journalists in providing information that is in the public interest; I think that is the point the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) was trying to make.
The hon. Gentleman is right.
Under the Bill, publications made in the media that are in the public interest are not on the list of exceptional circumstances in which information to combat fraud against the public sector and related personal information can be disclosed. For example, if a whistleblower were to leak the records of a private company to a journalist without authorisation and the journalist ran a story based on this, both parties could receive criminal sentences. This is particularly pertinent to clause 50, which states that a person who discloses personal information not in one of the stipulated excluded situations will be committing an offence.
This is quite technical and complex, so if the Minister cannot respond in this debate today, I would like him to write to me about the definition of the information covered and of the public sector here. Let me give an example to explain why. I was given information that Coutts—which is currently owned by the taxpayer; it is a subsidiarity of one of the banks we bought in 2008—was selling tax avoidance schemes in Switzerland. I spoke about that in the House, but if I had instead given the information to a journalist and it had been printed in a newspaper, it would appear that under these provisions the journalist or newspaper would be criminalised.
This cannot be the Government’s intention. I am sure the Government do not like leaks about Concentrix or about sustainability and transformation plans in the NHS, but I am equally sure the Government are not trying to clamp down on the effectiveness of the media in our country to such an extent that we cannot use these leaks about these sources.
I am glad that is not the Minister’s intent—I did not think that it was—but the Media Lawyers Association highlighted in its written evidence that it thought there was a problem. So if the Minister wants to avoid his colleagues in another place having to have this debate again in two months’ time, perhaps he could write to me with a full explanation of what he thinks is going on, because I think that there might be a problem with the Bill in this respect.
Order. We have one hour and one minute left in this debate and many Members want to speak—and I suspect they will also wish to have answers from the Minister and would not like to truncate his contribution to the debate. I cannot impose a time limit; I can only ask for courtesy from one Member to another and short speeches. I am not suggesting speeches so far have been too long, but I ask Members to speak as quickly as they possibly can.
I will try to adhere to your guidelines, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I would like to speak to new clause 31, but first I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on her campaigning over many years to deal with the abuses in the secondary ticketing market. I also want to congratulate my Select Committee colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who took up this issue strongly in the Bill Committee. In fact, the new clause that we are discussing tonight is exactly the same as the one he tabled for discussion in Committee. Such was the power of his argument that he persuaded the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) to pursue this matter on Report, and I am grateful to the shadow Minister for agreeing that the Select Committee could table this new clause for discussion on Report.
Following the Bill’s Committee stage, the Select Committee was so concerned about the bot problem—as the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), described it—and the use of computer programmes to harvest tickets from the primary ticket market in large quantities, that we wanted to look at the matter further. So, between the Committee stage and today’s debate on Report, we called in a number of representatives of the music industry and of the primary and secondary ticketing markets, along with industry experts, to discuss the problem. That left us with the clear view that major abuses are taking place in the ticketing market and that the victims of those abuses are the consumers: the man and woman in the street who want to go to see their favourite performers and concerts but have no chance at all of accessing any tickets.
Computer programmes are harvesting thousands of tickets as soon as they go on sale and immediately transferring them to other websites where they can be bought only at inflated prices. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) cited an example in Committee of a Phil Collins concert at the Albert Hall next June for which no tickets were available on the Ticketmaster site. However, tickets were available on Ticketmaster’s secondary site at many times their face value, providing a huge margin and handling fee for the secondary site. The venue itself had stated that those tickets were not for resale. When this is happening on a day-to-day basis, there is clearly a problem.
We were also concerned to hear that people in the secondary market in particular felt that it was not their responsibility to police the sale of tickets. As a consequence of that, tickets are routinely sold without the information that is required under consumer protection legislation, which should identify the seller of the ticket as well as the row and seat number, so that they can be identified by the venue. These are routine abuses. The issue of bots harvesting tickets and putting them on immediate resale is an abuse of the system.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for giving way. I just want to place on record the fact that I was pleased to be able to attend and witness his Select Committee hearing. It showed the House and its Select Committee work at their best. I witnessed some of the excellent questioning of representatives of the secondary market on the policing of their sites, and the hon. Gentleman did sterling work. I want to commend him for that, here on the Floor of the House.
I want to ask the Chair of the Select Committee whether, in among the penetrating questioning that we have heard about, anyone on the Select Committee asked the people they were interviewing why they were not installing any of the safeguards that are already available. They are already being successfully used in sporting and entertainment events. If those safeguards already exist, why should we be expected to introduce a red tape-heavy legislative solution to a problem that the industry could solve for itself? Indeed, it could have solved it several years ago had it cared to do so.
Those issues were covered in the Select Committee hearing; they are there in the transcript for all to see. Some venues have introduced direct selling technology, and it can work. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon said, it would be unacceptable to many consumers if our blanket response to this crisis in the ticketing industry was to say to the industry, “Solve it yourself.” That would place large costs and burdens on the venues, and it would be particularly unfair on the smaller ones. This problem affects not only the blockbuster events at the O2 or the Royal Albert Hall but events at small venues all around the country. I even saw tickets for a comedy event next year at the Winter Gardens in Margate being sold at three or four times their face value on the secondary market. This is affecting all sorts of venues.
More seriously, however, it is not in the interests of some of the primary ticketing sites to report the problem, because they own the secondary sites that are making the massive profits. The profit growth in the secondary market stands at between 30% and 40% a year. It is true that at the moment more tickets are sold through the primary market—through companies such as Ticketmaster —but very large profits are being made in the secondary market.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend on the diagnosis of the problem. I think everyone here shares the sense of injustice and iniquity that he is describing. My concern, however, is that it is not just the punters who go to see these events who are being affected. The talent—the musicians, the actors and the sportsmen and women—are also losing out because they are getting less money from the initial ticket sale when the ticket is sold on at an inflated price. They and the punters could all win if more of that value could be captured for the talent and if the punters were able to pay less. Both sides therefore have a huge interest in cutting out the middle man, and I do not understand why they are not doing it.
My hon. Friend is right to say that it is in the interests of many different stakeholders in the industry to do that, but at the moment it is not happening across the board. Some of the bigger artists and events have been able to introduce these measures, but it has been difficult to do it uniformly.
We must ask ourselves why the primary ticketing sites do not report the mass use of bots to the authorities. Why did they not report it as suspicious behaviour? It would be easy for them to do so. We heard in evidence to the Committee that it is so easy to do that the primary sites’ biggest customers often have favourable terms of trade. Their own secondary ticketing sites certainly have favourable terms of trade with people who are bulk selling vast numbers of tickets. It is easy to identify who they are, and it would be easy for a primary site to report them if it became suspicious because they were selling thousands of tickets only minutes after they had gone on sale on the primary ticketing site. If they are able to do that so quickly, they must be using bot technology to pervert the market. It does not get reported, however, and we must ask ourselves why that is. Is it because they are making too much money?
The hon. Gentleman mentions smaller venues, and I want to put on record something that happens in Northern Ireland. People often queue on phone lines or try to buy tickets online only to find that they have already all been sold. Does he agree that the industry needs to be regulated and that this is the place to do it? If it cannot regulate itself, let us do it here.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments; he is right.
We are proposing a way to control the bots. The Government are in discussions with the industry, and they might find a better solution to achieve the same end, but I certainly think it is incumbent on us in this place to try to find a solution, not only because this affects the ticketing market but because it rips off the consumer. What kind of people seek to make money selling tickets in this way? We asked that question in the Select Committee and we were told that criminal gangs—some linked to paramilitary organisations in Ireland—were making money as industrial touts selling tickets on the secondary market. It is important that we regulate this industry, not only to protect the consumer but to clamp down on some serious criminal elements who are seeking to make money through this technology. If we can stop that, we will be doing this country a service.
I shall try to be brief because I am aware that a number of Members want to speak. I commend the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for his excellent run-through of some excellent ideas. If only the Government were more often in listening mode than in broadcast mode. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about new clause 8. It was a political decision to introduce free television licences for the over-75s. We have an ageing population and a rising number of cases of loneliness among the elderly, and this is a welfare policy. Why would the Government outsource a welfare policy to an external body such as the BBC? Their answer was that the BBC wanted it as part of its financial settlement, but that does not make it right. The reality is that this is an abdication of responsibility and an outsourcing of bad news.
I wholeheartedly agree. I think people at the BBC were saying, “They’ve got us so worried about what the settlement could be. Let’s just accept the offer that’s on the table for heaven help us what might happen.” There is cross-party support for this new clause.
Six-party support; I thank the hon. Gentleman for his clarification. He is well deserving of his TV licence—when he gets old enough. I truly support new clause 8 and also back the other measures relating to the BBC in new clauses 17 and 18. If we believe in public service broadcasting, the way to protect it is to cherish it, to look after it and to ensure its listings appear as technology evolves, not to give it a huge liability and line it up for a potentially deeply unpopular future decision.
Turning to new clause 15, it was interesting to hear and largely concur with the comments of the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I support the idea of pushing for something further on search engines, but I am conscious that there is a dialogue between parties that both have a stake in something. It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman is now coming around to the idea of some legislative intervention, but we look to the new Front-Bench team for answers to what that might be and when. What movement do they expect to see before they would legislate? The Minister touched on that in Committee, but what would be the trigger for intervention if the industry was not going far enough?
Digital ticketing has been well discussed already. If someone behaves illegally by going into a shop and buying all the produce and then selling it in a way that was not intended, the answer is not necessarily better security; the answer is making it illegal. I get the point of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), but let us make it illegal and drive out this morally unacceptable behaviour. If I may paraphrase the US moral philosopher Eric Holler, as I did in Committee, every great idea begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket. That is what we have here. Fan-to-fan ticket exchanges have led to rampant touting.
Finally, I commend the Labour Front-Bench team for their valiant efforts to rescue part 5 of the Bill through measures such as new clause 5. We had two days of evidence in Committee, during which witnesses were fairly damning of the approach being taken on data sharing or data access. As we have gone along, the Government have tried to give us a little more information and have applied sticking plasters here and there, but nothing has convinced me that they have learned from things such as the Concentrix episode. Somebody tried to buy bulk data and apply it to people receiving tax credits, leading to some of the most vulnerable in our society having their money stopped, being forced into debt or other far more severe consequences.
I remain unconvinced that the Government are heading in the right direction. There is an inherent paternalism. They say, “Don’t you worry. We’ll be fine. Trust us,” and give us a pat on the head, but when it comes to protecting people’s data we should be looking at the Estonian model, which puts the citizen at the centre. We should be open. I should be notified every time my data are shared if it is for my benefit. We should not hide that. Right from the start of the evidence-taking, people were saying that data-sharing is a good thing, but we must earn and retain public trust. I see little evidence that the Government understand that and are willing to do anything other than learn the hard way by making mistakes. I look forward with trepidation to the many debates in this place as various data breaches emerge. I urge the Government to consider removing this whole part of the Bill and to revisit it once they have actually done a proper job.
I rise to answer the points made so far, but I hope there will be time afterwards for others who still want to speak. We have had a broad debate on the amendments relating to copyright, broadcasting, ticketing, data and intellectual property, and I will speak as quickly as I can and take as many interventions as I can. There are a total of 36 proposed new clauses and amendments, and I propose to address each in turn in broadly the same order.
On copyright, new clause 15 proposes that the Government take a power to have a code of conduct on search engines to dictate how they should work to prevent copyright infringement. This new clause was also proposed in Committee, and I would like to update the House on the progress. Since then, the Intellectual Property Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, has chaired a further round-table among search engine and creative industries representatives. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) said, that group is now making some progress towards agreeing an outline code of practice, but much more needs to be done. Following the round-table, a revised draft code will be prepared by the IPO for consideration by the group before its next meeting on 10 January. Our position on online platforms is that they must act responsibly and work with rights holders to help enforce IP rights. We are clear on the importance of getting things right and do not rule out legislation, but given the progress being made it is not necessarily the right time for legislative intervention.
We also discussed new clause 30 in Committee, where I set out the range of criminal provisions that apply to the sale and use of devices that infringe copyright. This matter relates to the IPTV devices that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, the former Secretary of State, spoke about so powerfully. Following a number of investigations across the country, there are pending prosecutions relying on a number of offences. I am sympathetic to the intent behind the new clause, but it does not in and of itself offer any greater legislative protection to rights owners than the existing offences that target this type of behaviour. If the existing legal provisions are shown to be deficient when the pending prosecutions have concluded, we will bring forward proposals for legislation.
New clause 16 is another of the helpful proposals from the shadow Front-Bench team to deliver on a Conservative party manifesto commitment—this time on e-book lending. I am grateful for the degree of support that our manifesto has received from all parts of the House during the Bill’s passage.
Just you wait. We of course agree that authors should be recognised for e-lending by ensuring appropriate compensation for them in an enhanced public lending right. I need to correct an omission. I belatedly declare a potential interest which I should have mentioned in Committee—at least, I hope that I can declare an interest, as I have a book that is available for borrowing in this way, although I have no idea whether it has ever been borrowed. As I said in Committee, we have been carefully considering the options for delivering the manifesto commitment. We had to wait for the conclusion of a court case, which ended earlier this month, before setting out the proposals, but I can confirm today that we intend to legislate to extend the public lending right to include the remote lending of e-books. It is important that we get that right and ensure that any changes are compatible with the copyright directive. We will therefore bring forward legislation as soon as possible.
Turning to broadcasting and subtitling for video on demand, new clause 6 was also considered in Committee. As I said then, we are keen to address this shortcoming and want to ensure that the requirements that are placed on on-demand programme service providers are appropriate and proportionate. Since then, we have discussed how best to increase the use of subtitles in video on demand with charities, broadcasters, Ofcom and others and have worked further on the best way to address the concerns that the new clause intends to address. Through working collaboratively with all interested parties, I hope to reach a resolution in the other place that results in an increase in the provision of access services for video on-demand services.
Let me turn to new clause 8, on TV licence fee concessions, a subject we discussed at length in Committee. Government Members are clear that we support the free TV licence for the over-75s, we committed in our manifesto to keeping it and we are glad that it is protected as part of the BBC charter and licence fee settlement, which has been debated extensively in this House and is delivering on our manifesto commitment. The new clause attempts to unpick that settlement and, in so doing, undermine the stability of the BBC. This funding settlement, which the new clause would undermine, was described by the director general of the BBC as a “strong deal” for the BBC and one that “gives us financial stability”.
The point is that it is not a welfare benefit; it is about funding policy, and the BBC asked for this policy to be determined by the BBC. Indeed, the shadow Secretary of State said that
“the charter provides the BBC with the funding and security it needs”—[Official Report, 18 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 699.]
As part of that “security it needs”, we kept, in this Parliament, the free TV licence. The BBC itself has asked for this and only this morning the BBC said that
“the overall funding settlement reached with the government provides the financial stability for a strong creative BBC. The BBC is concerned that”—
could reopen the whole deal and make the BBC worse off.”
So we have here an 11-year charter renewal, a strong and stable financial settlement praised by the Labour party and a clause that has been requested by the BBC, whereas the new clause could, in the BBC’s words, make the BBC worse off. Supporting new clause 8 would undermine the BBC and undermine its finances. This measure is expressly against the wishes of the BBC, and I urge anyone still considering supporting it to ask themselves how they will explain this attempt to undermine the BBC—Government Members will not do that.
New clause 17 deals with the issue of public sector broadcaster prominence, an important matter on which we consulted in the spring. In Committee, the point we reached was that a detailed, over-prescriptive regulation of the detail of the PSB prominence rules would be a mistake, and having not seen compelling evidence of harm to PSBs to date, we have decided not to extend the electronic programme guide—EPG—prominence regime for PSBs to on-demand. When PSBs make excellent content, audiences generally follow.
Finally on broadcasting, new clause 18, on listed events, was also discussed in Committee, and I have seen no evidence to change our view that the current listed events regime is not under threat—we will not let it be under threat. The range of our most loved and important sporting events will remain on free-to-air channels. Even if there were a problem, it would be undesirable to fix it in the way the new clause suggests, as it would lock in the incumbents’ positions, as the requirement to be watched by 90% of the population would narrow considerably the number of channels that could qualify. So I suggest that the problem does not arise; that were it to arise, we would legislate; and that if we were to legislate, this would not be the way we would do it.
In this Bill, we have shown that we are open to being persuaded by good argument, and we have tabled amendments 20, 21 and 22 to ensure that Ofcom is able effectively to enforce requests for information from third parties in relation to its new functions as regulator of the BBC. I hope that these provisions have broad support.
I now turn to the much discussed issue of ticketing. New clause 31 seeks to deal with bots that harvest tickets for resale in the secondary market. We have heard very powerful explanations of the scale of the problem and its breadth, and I can confirm that I had great difficulty in buying Paul Simon tickets. Initially, I failed to buy them despite having my finger hovering on my mouse the moment they went on sale, and so I had to buy them at a much greater price in the secondary market. They were worth every penny, but that in a way makes the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) makes: the gap exploited is between the level at which the artists wants to sell their tickets and the amount that they represent in true value to the customer. I was still happy to pay hundreds of pounds for my Paul Simon tickets, but the point is that they were meant to be on sale for £75 so that everybody could get them. I am persuaded by the arguments and we shall be holding a roundtables meeting on Wednesday to discuss the best way to tackle the problem.
The Government will give full consideration to what is said at these roundtables, in Parliament and in the Waterson report on the issue of ticketing bots and the harvesting market. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who has made a huge amount of the running on this issue. He has made the argument powerfully and, as has been said, the Olympics showed that this can be done.
I am not normally reassured by the advent of a roundtable, but I am enormously reassured in this case because the Minister is a very persuasive man and I am sure that he will have around that table representatives from the sportsmen’s agents groups, from Equity, the actors’ union, and from all sorts of UK music organisations and various others. I am talking about the people who represent the talent, who are currently being ripped off because they are getting only the face value when these things go on sale, when they are bought by the bots, and not the eventual secondary market value. They are the people with a huge interest in getting this done so that they get a larger proportion of the eventual value and customers are not getting ripped off, too.
Yes, we have representatives of all sides coming to the roundtable, including my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty—I am not sure that that will reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare. Although we would not want to close down the secondary market for tickets altogether, clearly the automatic harvesting of tickets sold below market price—so that fans can afford them—for resale at a higher value is wrong. I want to build a bridge over troubled waters, listen to the points made at the round table and bring forward legislation in this Bill if this is found to be necessary.
On digital government, amendment 3 and new clause 19 concern data-sharing powers in education and health. They address the same issue from the opposite end, and it is a bit of a surprise to find that they have been submitted by the same people. Not only can people’s health and education data be incredibly powerful in improving lives, but they are very sensitive and need to be carefully handled. These two proposals from the Opposition represent amendments both to open up data sharing and to close it down. This is a slightly confused approach, but neither of the proposals is necessary, because the concerns expressed at the root of each are already addressed in the Bill. New clause 19 would open up more data sharing in education, and it is good to see this direction of travel supported by the Opposition Front-Bench team, because data sharing can improve people’s lives, for instance by making sure that we better identify eligibility for free school meals. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has made this argument strongly. This is a laudable aim, but it is already provided for in the Department for Education’s electronic eligibility checking system. Indeed, the Bill sets out how aspects of data sharing can be expanded through secondary legislation in due course.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, but would he tell us what is in the Bill to make local authorities that seem to have no interest in sharing data obtain the numbers of children eligible for free school dinners, and thus increase the pupil premium to act in the interests of those children?
The proposals in the Bill are permissive, rather than requiring action. I would be concerned if we required the sharing of data, because of their sensitivity, especially when they are not anonymised, which they would not be if the aim was to find children who are eligible for free school meals. We want to make sure that the person receiving the data has the necessary assistance to handle them, and it is incredibly important that the law should make it clear that that data sharing is permitted, as that removes a reason not to share data.
May I ask the Minister to keep a close eye on this, because in Wirral the number of families who have the right to opt out could be counted on the fingers on one hand, so there is a willingness for data to be shared so that schools and children can benefit?