8. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle illegal distribution of intellectual property. [279008]

The Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (Mr. David Lammy): The Government work to tackle IP crime in three main areas. First, we have to get the legal framework right, so I have been working with my ministerial colleagues on the “Digital Britain” agenda, particularly on the problem of file sharing. Secondly, we have to co-ordinate enforcement activities. That is why I have set up a new ministerial group to deal with issues of enforcement and to support the IP group. Of course, we also have to raise capacity and awareness.

Mr. Whittingdale: Does the Minister agree that online piracy represents a threat to the survival of the TV, film and music industries? What progress has he made in persuading internet service providers to take action against illegal file sharers by adopting a graduated response? Can he confirm that the Government will legislate to back up any action that is agreed?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is right; this important issue is challenging Governments across the world. Indeed, over the weekend elected politicians have been standing on that agenda in Sweden, and he will be aware of issues that have been raised in France. In this country, we have said that it is important to move to notification, which will reduce file-sharing activity so that people know that what they are doing is illegal, and we will move towards legislating to compel internet service providers and rights holders to work together.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Although I share some of the reservations expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), I welcome a number of measures proposed in the report, in particular support for regional news programming, for tackling illegal file sharing, for assisting commercial radio and for relaxing the restrictions on newspaper mergers. Does the Secretary of State agree that all these matters are already very urgent? If we move to a world with ever-increasing broadband speeds reaching more and more households, that will increase still further the economic pressure on traditional media and will make the problem of online piracy even greater, so does he acknowledge that the players in the industry—all those involved—have been discussing these issues for months, and that any consultations that are to take place need to happen very quickly indeed? If there is to be legislation, and I believe there should be, we need to get that on to the statute book as fast as possible and before the general election.

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I certainly agree with that. The time between now and the next parliamentary Session gives us a chance for proper consultation, as hon. Members in all parts of the House would expect when considering legislating on some of these aspects. As I say, the only aspects on which we are proposing consultation, with the exception of the sharing of the licence fee for regional and local news, are those for which we require primary legislation. We want to get on with that as quickly as possible. We hope to publish a consultation document within the next two weeks, and hope that the consultation will be over in the middle of the summer recess, which will give us plenty of time, assuming we get a Bill in the next Session, to make sure that it is on the statute book before the election.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s commitment to civil liberties, but will the national security strategy include the establishment of a national database to maintain records of web page visits, e-mails and VoIP—voice over internet protocol—calls and whether the Government intend to introduce a compulsory register of all mobile phones in the country?

Mr. Hanson: If I may, I would like to come back to the hon. Gentleman on the detail of that point. Let me re-emphasise, however, that the whole purpose of the ethics committee that we are establishing is to look at the liberty issues surrounding internet activity under the cyber strategy. We are working through the detail of how we will do that, but I will certainly respond to the hon. Gentleman after this statement. However, the key thing, which those in all parts of the House need to know, is that the liberty of individuals to enjoy their business, their communities and their private lives on the internet is important to the Government, as is, equally, the ability to ensure that they are not subject to crime, terrorist threats or distraction by people who have alternative methods to hand.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I congratulate once again the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on introducing the Bill and on having a good chance of getting it on to the statute book. It is a great achievement to get a private Member’s Bill passed into law. He has been extraordinarily successful in managing to get a large number of other such Bills on the Order Paper, some of which I suspect have rather less chance of being passed. I think he had to get up early in the morning to get this opportunity; it was time well spent.

The best way of getting a private Member’s Bill passed is to pick up a subject that the Government are committed to advancing, but have failed to do so. The Government can then breathe a sigh of relief and use the vehicle provided by the private Member’s Bill. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman’s Bill does. This country has long been committed to amending the law to allow the restitution of artefacts and artistic objects that were plainly looted. It has been an embarrassment that we have not done so.

The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair, considered this issue a couple of years ago and called on the Government to make the necessary change. We were just one of a long list of bodies to have done so. I thoroughly support the Bill and I am delighted that it is likely to succeed.

One has to accept that the Bill is largely symbolic. We amended provisions in Committee to cover Wales, although there are no national institutions in Wales that would benefit from the Bill. It is nevertheless plainly right that we should extend it across the country. Equally, the one object—the Beneventan missal, where there is clear evidence that it should be returned—will not be covered by the Bill, unless another application is made, because it has already been considered. It may well be that the Bill’s provisions are never used. The Spoliation Advisory Panel has met very few times and the Bill may well pass on to the statute book and lie there. In my view, however, that does not matter. It is the fact that we have made the change that matters.

Many terrible atrocities were committed during the holocaust, and the looting of art is very minor in comparison with some of the horrific events that took place. The difference is that this issue is one that we can do something about and put right. By doing so, we send out a very important signal this morning. On that basis, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Bill.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I welcome the consultation paper, and all of this does, of course, represent a complete reversal of the position of the Secretary of State’s predecessor. Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that product placement will do only a small amount to assist commercial broadcasters, who are facing huge economic difficulty, and that we will need to go further and look at other deregulatory measures that will assist all the commercial public service broadcasters to survive?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight that this will not be a panacea for commercial broadcasting. There are a number of things we can do to help ease the plight of commercial broadcasting further, and we are looking into them. Ofcom has in the last year relaxed the rules on the responsibilities of commercial broadcasting, such as in respect of news in the regions. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have imaginative, sensible and practicable solutions to the problems and pressures facing regional news and other important areas of commercial broadcasting.

19. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations he has received on rights of appeal against a coastal access report under the provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill; and if he will make a statement. [283396]

Huw Irranca-Davies: Following concerns raised during the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Bill and during its passage through the House of Lords, we brought forward schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, as inserted by schedule 19 to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. This will enable those with a relevant interest in affected land to make objections should they believe the proposals in Natural England's coastal access reports fail to strike a fair balance on certain grounds.

Licensing Act

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on the Licensing Act 2003. The Committee held a wide-ranging inquiry into the Act. We had four public evidence sessions and received a wide range of submissions, and I would like to put on record my thanks, and those of Committee members, to our staff and to our legal adviser, Sara John.

The principle of post-legislative scrutiny is a good one, and it would be helpful if more Acts could be looked at two or three years after their implementation to see whether the objectives set out when a Bill was first introduced have been achieved. No one could possibly argue with the objectives of the 2003 Act. The four licensing objectives clearly make common sense and the Act’s intention, which was to streamline the process and make it easier to reduce costs, is one we all supported.

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T5. [284365] Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Minister accept that the blanket requirement to find 3 per cent. a year efficiency savings is particularly difficult for smaller local authorities such as Maldon district council? Will he confirm that there may be some flexibility in the imposition of that target that takes account of the size of the authority, as well as of its record in having already achieved savings?

Mr. Denham: That is an interesting question coming from someone who advocates a 10 per cent. cut in local government expenditure, which would have cut my Department's budget by £1 billion this year. There is a responsibility right across local government, as in other areas of government, to achieve the maximum efficiency and the best possible value for money for our citizens. I believe that the targets we have set are achievable, but I have to say that the destruction that the hon. Gentleman would wreak on local government is something we do not want to see.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the fact that a private investigator had intercepted the telephone calls of a large number of people was well known at the time. He will also be aware that the chairman of News International gave a categoric assurance to my Select Committee that no other journalist, beyond Clive Goodman, had any involvement in or knowledge of that matter. Can the Minister say whether he is aware of any evidence to contradict that statement? When my Select Committee reopens its inquiry, as it has decided to do, will he ask the Metropolitan police to provide us with any information that they have that is relevant to this case?

Mr. Hanson: The allegations came to light today, we are examining them with the Metropolitan police and I obviously concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said.