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EU: Digital Single Market

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made towards completing the digital single market within the European Union.

My Lords, the digital single market is a stated priority of the Juncker Commission, which the Government welcome. Achieving our objectives on digital could add up to 2% to UK GDP. We have made some progress with agreements to end data roaming charges and new protections for travellers who book online. We are pressing for ambitious proposals on copyright and consumer protection.

Like the noble Baroness, we want to see a digital single market in Europe which works for both businesses and citizens. However, does she accept that the current system of financing independent films and television, with all that they bring in cultural richness and linguistic diversity, depends crucially on the ability to pre-sell and license individual territories within Europe on an exclusive basis? So can she confirm that she agrees with her colleague, the Secretary of State for DCMS, who has indicated his support for the continuation of territorial licensing, and ensure that this position is communicated robustly to the European Commission?

My Lords, I entirely share the noble Lord’s concern about territorial licensing. Reforms will need to be very carefully assessed to ensure that they do not undermine incentives to invest in the production of content, particularly by our European and British creative industries that contributed £77 billion to UK GVA in 2013.

My Lords, the EU digital single market programme includes 16 separate initiatives covering issues ranging from parcel delivery to a European cloud. Can the Minister tell us which of these the UK Government see as having the highest priority and what specific results they would like to see emerge within the next couple of years?

My Lords, we see the 16 headings as a good menu from which to choose. What we are hoping to see is some progress quarter by quarter. As I have already said, we see the priorities for the next few months to be copyright and consumer protection, but the other headings are also important because of the huge potential of digital to fuel innovation and growth across Europe and to help our competitive position.

My Lords, would the Minister like to give the Government’s response to the recent case striking down safe harbour for data transfer, and does she believe that that will have a major impact on our ability within Europe to create a digital single market?

As the noble Lord suggests, this is a disappointing judgment. Companies need to be able to transfer data to third countries with appropriate safeguards. I discussed the judgment with businesses yesterday to better understand what they are facing. We will continue to engage. The Information Commissioner’s Office was also there and will update its guidance in the coming weeks. We will continue to press the Commission to talk to the United States—because it is an EU competence—to get clarity, but we are also making progress domestically.

My Lords, given that the Government have finally decided to pull their finger out on the digital single market, which others of the items listed by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, are the Government prepared to concentrate on, to the advantage of British business, industry and jobs, instead of footling around with a negative EU referendum?

Actually, we have been extremely positive on the digital single market and I have spent a lot of time and shoe leather on this right across Europe. I do not want to delay the House but I will certainly send the 16 headings to the noble Lord and I am very happy to engage with him on this highly ambitious, very important, positive agenda.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Institute for Security & Resilience Studies, a not-for-profit affiliated to University College London, as in the register. When citizens provide information in privacy to government, public authorities or public bodies, they expect that to be retained in privacy. As we move towards the digital single market and the use of private sector cloud suppliers, can the Minister tell me what measures have been taken by the Government to ensure the privacy of that information, including against data mining and matching, however anonymously, which is used by some private companies for their own profit?

My Lords, we have a strong Information Commissioner’s Office, which is at the heart of ensuring that data are properly used and that companies have proper systems. The cloud is an important enabler, especially for small businesses and private citizens, but clearly you need a global approach to the standards of that cloud.