Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make it his policy to maintain low value consignment relief for genuinely indigenous businesses in the Channel Islands; and if he will make a statement. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): The Department and the Highways Agency are committed to improving the levels of service experienced by users of the Dartford crossing. The Highways Agency and I will consider a package of measures, including better information and traffic management to help reduce the congestion at the Dartford crossing.
Mr Whittingdale: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but is he aware that, since the tolls increased, the delays when approaching the tolling booths are anything up to 45 minutes and more? That causes enormous frustration to those who use the crossing, which is increased by the fact that the original intention was to scrap the tolls once the bridge was paid for rather than to put them up.
Mike Penning: My hon. Friend knows that I am personally aware of the problems at the Dartford crossing, having used it for many years. The £40 million net that we recover from the crossing is a significant income, but we need to consider technology that is being used in other parts of the world, particularly in Australia, so that we can remove the barriers and increase the speed at which traffic comes through while also picking up the revenue that the country desperately needs.
I am extremely pleased to have this opportunity to debate the Select Committee report. It occupied more than a year of our time, and the coming of the general election prevented it from getting the debate that I felt it merited. At the start, it was not the Select Committee's intention particularly to focus on libel law. We realised that it was part of the agenda, but it was not the main issue. We were especially concerned with two things: the behaviour of the press in their reporting of the McCanns case, and what appeared to be the growth of a privacy law in the UK, particularly as a result of the judgment regarding Max Mosley. We devoted a lot of time to both those issues and were then slightly sidetracked into another important matter: the behaviour of the News of the World and one of its journalists in intercepting telephone calls. I do not wish to talk about that this afternoon; we spent a lot of time on it in the Committee. My main concern is to highlight that, in my view, the report's most important recommendations, which did not get the attention they merited because of the distraction caused by those other issues, were on libel, and on the concerns that are now widely felt, both in this country and around the world, about how UK libel laws operate.
I would like to put on record a few words of thanks. My thanks go to the staff of the Committee, who had to work very long hours over a lengthy period-not just the staff of my own Committee under Tracey Garratty our principal Clerk, but Hannah Stewart who was seconded to us from the Justice Committee. We also had the benefit of the advice of Professor Brian Cathcart and Sara John. We also had a lot of help from lawyers. None of the members of the Select Committee were lawyers and we were dealing with very technical and often complicated legal issues, which required several towels around the head on many occasions. We had a lot of advice particularly from people who came and gave up their time: Sir Charles Gray, recently retired from the High Court, Alasdair Pepper of Carter-Ruck, Andrew Caldecott QC, and Desmond Browne. If they had billed us at their normal rates, the House of Commons would probably have been bankrupted. They gave advice as part of a pro bono publico exercise, which was greatly appreciated.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Members of Parliament who do not have the time to sit on a Select Committee or who are not appointed to one owe a debt of gratitude to those who do serve on one. As a Member of Parliament who is not on a Select Committee, I should like to say that many of us have really valued the very detailed, technical and legalistic work that has been done by this Select Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that makes it all the more important that the Minister, in his response, should recognise that these are not just the recommendations of this particular Committee as a result of the work done by people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) and others, but that this is the Select Committee speaking on behalf of the whole of Parliament? That is why it is important that the Government respond to the individual detailed recommendations.
Mr Whittingdale: I entirely endorse the hon. Lady's comments. That is exactly the value of Select Committees, and I am pleased to say that they are becoming more widely recognised. When we set off, we did not anticipate that the inquiry would be quite as long and detailed as it was. It was, however, one of the most fascinating and satisfying inquiries in which I have participated. At the same time as we were having the debate in the House, there was a substantial debate and a growing clamour outside the House. I should pay tribute, as my colleague from the Committee has already done, to the work of Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense about Science. As part of their campaign they mounted a petition, which I think received 52,000 signatures, and I imagine that every Member of the House will have received e-mails from constituents expressing their concern about the operation of the libel laws. It is not an immediately obvious subject for generating great concern, but it is becoming such an important issue that a lot of people did feel very strongly about it.
The two principal conclusions that we reached-I will go into a little detail in a minute as to why we reached them-were that, in this country, the way in which the libel laws are balanced and the costs attached to going to court in a libel action, are having a seriously damaging effect on investigative journalism, standards within the press and legitimate scientific debate. As a passionate believer in freedom of speech and in the essential role that a free press must play in a healthy democracy, I believe that that matter should be of concern to every Member of this House.
However, as if that were not enough, the Committee also discovered that Britain is now cited alongside authoritarian countries as a place where the press is being suppressed because of the actions of the state-in this case, the libel laws. Committees are sometimes criticised for going on foreign trips, but, in this case, it was immensely valuable that we were able to go to America and talk to some of the people who were directly affected, including authors and journalists. We also discussed with the American judiciary how they viewed our system, and we spoke to legislators at state and federal levels. I shall deal later with libel tourism, which is very important.
A host of different issues affect the operation of our libel laws. Some of them are being dealt with, or at least addressed, in Lord Lester's Defamation Bill, and I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Minister speak about the Government's intention to examine all the issues and, in due course, to produce a draft Bill that we can debate at length. It is reassuring that they have taken on board the necessity of addressing the matter urgently. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, probably the biggest issue affecting the whole libel system in the UK-how much it costs for somebody to defend a libel action-is not actually covered by Lord Lester's Bill. None of us imagines that lawyers are ever cheap, but, in the case of libel, trials are often very long, no legal aid is available, and solicitors and barristers charge, frankly, eye-watering sums.
We had a slightly surreal debate in the Committee between various lawyers as to whether the average was £400, £500 or even £600 an hour. To most people, any of those three figures is extraordinary, and, given the time that can be taken, it is easy to see how the clock ticks quickly and the amount of money increases rapidly, to the extent that it is now said that the cost of a libel case in the UK is some 140 times the European average.
Paul Farrelly: Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the hourly rates actually double in many of the cases that are brought under conditional fee arrangements? The record shows that the so-called no win, no fee scenario is, as one would expect, nearly always a case of always win, double the fee.
Mr Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman pithily encapsulates the situation, which I shall come on to later. He is absolutely right, and that makes the situation even more damaging for any defendant facing a libel action.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the work of Lord Justice Jackson, who gave evidence to the Committee alongside the Master of the Rolls and addressed the broader question of costs in all civil litigation. I know that the Government have listened to his advice, which was that we should not pick out one particular branch of civil law and address that, but address the whole thing together. As my hon. Friend said, that was not the view of the previous Government, and I have some sympathy with their position. The matter is urgent, which is why the then Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), decided to move on defamation cases ahead of the rest of civil litigation. I hear what the Minister says, but I hope that there will not be further delay-we must address the matter quickly. By all means, let us address it in the round and look at all the costs involved in civil litigation, but let us not spend a long time doing so.
Various solutions have been advocated, and we probably need to adopt a combination of them. The first thing the Committee considered was the suggestion simply to cap costs-to set a limit beyond which one should not be able to go. We accepted the evidence we received that that is a blunt instrument. It is difficult to predict the direction of a case, so capping is probably not a realistic solution. However, various solutions undoubtedly could
be introduced: greater cost budgeting and case management, and a pause every now and again to see how costs are progressing. Those are sensible options, but the real problem, as the hon. Gentleman said, is conditional fee arrangements, which were introduced with wholly good intent. I absolutely accept that the wish to make the legal process available to people who would otherwise struggle to afford it is an entirely worthy objective. The intention was that a legal practice would be allowed to charge a success fee if it won a case, in recognition of its risk in taking on a CFA. If it lost the case, it would not get any money, so the fee was a return for the risk.
The problem we discovered fairly rapidly was that the practices that specialise in CFAs are very thorough and do not actually take any risks. They go through the cases that are put to them for potential CFAs and accept them only if they are almost certain that they will win. We struggled to get the exact figures for the proportion of CFA cases that were won and lost, but it was clear that, overwhelmingly, the cases that were taken on a CFA were a pretty safe bet. On that basis, we found it difficult to understand why firms needed a 100% success fee on top of their costs. As I said, the costs are astronomical to begin with; they then double them, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, by imposing a success fee.
That is not the end of the story. An additional cost is after-the-event insurance, which is a premium taken out by the claimant in case they do not win, and which is chargeable to the defendant in the event that they lose. Such insurance can cost anything up to £65,000 plus tax for every £100,000 worth of cover, so we are now talking about almost 270% of the costs that can be awarded against a defendant in a libel action. The extraordinary thing about after-the-event insurance is that if the defendant loses, obviously he will have to pay the claimant's premium, but if the claimant does not succeed, he does not have to pay the premium. The insurance is marketed on the basis that one can take it out but not have to pay for it at all. It is simply another cost imposed on the defendant, and, because there is really no incentive for a claimant to keep costs down, it is a licence for companies to set their own sums and print money.
The effect of those three things taken together is that now many newspapers will not seek to defend a libel action, even if they are convinced that they have a strong case. They will regard it as quicker and cheaper to settle out of court. Perhaps even more worrying is that often they will not print the story in the first place, simply because of the danger that they might get sued. That chilling effect on press freedom and journalism causes great concern.
Paul Farrelly: The hon. Gentleman mentioned cost-capping and the importance of speedy reform. Does he agree that costs have become so surreal that when capping is mentioned as a measure to try to reduce them, a great number of the legal fraternity argue that actually it could increase costs because of the cost of cost-capping meetings, and that, as a consequence, nothing happens?
Mr Whittingdale: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend-I call him my hon. Friend in the spirit of the Select Committee. What he describes introduces another legal argument, which is, of course, billable. I will not say that this is a racket, but the lawyers do very well out of the process.
The Committee came up with a couple of recommendations to address these problems. The previous Government suggested that a 10% cap be set on success fees, but as my hon. Friend the Minister rightly said, the proposal did not find favour in the House when it was introduced before the election. The Committee's solution was not quite to introduce a straight 10% cap, but to say that the success fee that could be recovered from a defendant should be set at 10%. We did not feel it right to interfere with the arrangement between the claimant and their legal representatives; if the claimant wishes to pay a proportion of their damages in the form of a success fee, that is a matter for them. However, we said that the legal entitlement to recover from the defendant could be capped at 10%. Furthermore, for the reasons that I have set out, I view after-the-event insurance with some scepticism, and the Committee said that it should be made irrecoverable in its totality. I remain of the view that those two measures are sensible and would go a long way to removing the sting that currently exists in conditional fee arrangements. Obviously, that will be a matter of great debate over the coming months, and I leave it to the Minister to ponder those issues.
The issue is not just costs; there is a whole variety of other issues, many of which Lord Lester's Bill addresses. One issue is the multiple publication rule. Libel laws were written at a time when the internet did not really exist, and its advent has changed everything. That is true of the permanence of articles and statements, which can now be found on Google at the press of a button. The old Duke of Brunswick case also becomes much more serious in the age of the internet. Clearly, it is widely recognised that that should be addressed.
There are a couple of defences that must, on the face of it, make sense, but which are slightly unclear in legal terms at the moment. One is the defence of fair comment, and I want to say a quick word about the impact of libel law on proper scientific debate, an issue on which Sense About Science has done a lot of work. I pay particular tribute to Simon Singh, who is a very brave man for deciding not take lying down the legal action brought against him by the British Chiropratic Association after he suggested that there might be some debate about the medical effectiveness of chiropracy in treating certain conditions. He was willing to put up a great deal of money from his own account to appeal the judgment. Several scientific journals now say that they hesitate before carrying perfectly legitimate scientific papers that contribute to debate, because of the potential for organisations, and particularly big corporations, to bring libel actions. Libel is about whether someone is defamed; it should not be used to interfere with scientific discourse, which is important if scientific knowledge is to advance. The fact that Simon Singh was willing to defend himself and proved triumphant in the end was important and drew attention to the fact that the issue needs to be addressed.
The other defence that the Committee looked at, and which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is the Reynolds defence of responsible journalism. The two landmark cases of Reynolds and then Jameel set out the hurdles that a defendant must demonstrate they have got over before they can use the defence of responsible journalism. There is some debate about the difficulty of meeting each of those tests, with the result that few defendants have used this defence, and that has been a cause of concern to us.
It was drawn to my attention not more than two hours ago that the outcome of the Flood v.Times Newspapers case has been published. This is the first occasion on which the Court of Appeal has overturned a Reynolds defence. Times Newspapers used a Reynolds defence in an action brought against it by a Metropolitan police sergeant. It said that what it had published was in the public interest and that it had met the relevant tests, but the Court of Appeal overturned the initial judgment on appeal. I do not want to say anything about the merits of the individual case, but I imagine that the fact that there is a further constraint on using the Reynolds defence will mean that adopting it becomes even less attractive to serious newspapers. I share the view of the hon. Gentleman that putting these things into statute carries a risk as well and that it might not be the most sensible way of strengthening them. However, it is important that it should be a legitimate defence for journalists investigating stories that are plainly in the public interest-we are talking not about muck-raking, but about serious investigative journalism-to show that they have used their best endeavours to meet all the various tests. We may need to look at that again in the light of certain developments.
Paul Farrelly: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the conclusions of the libel working group also highlighted the danger that a codification in law could become a rigid checklist in itself? It would also be very costly to mount a defence. However, the group was more sympathetic to statutory backing for the principles that underlie a defence of responsible journalism, which have already been developed in common law. That might be a fruitful way of proceeding.
Mr Whittingdale: The degree of flexibility that that might provide is clearly better than having a very detailed set of boxes, each of which has to be ticked. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is probably a sensible way to develop things.
Taken together, all these issues would go some way not towards weakening our libel laws, but towards restoring people's absolute right to defend their character and reputation. The other side of that coin, however, is the right of the press to investigate and to expose and the right of scientific journals to carry out legitimate debate. I hope that all those things will feature in the Government's draft Bill.
I turn now to the way in which Britain's libel laws are viewed overseas, because that should be of huge concern to the Government. The issue is encapsulated in the case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, whom the Committee met when it went to the States. She wrote a book in which she suggested that a Saudi Arabian business man, who has Irish citizenship, was in some way providing financial support to al-Qaeda and terrorism. An action was brought against her in the UK on the basis that 23 copies of the book had been sold here. Obviously, it was also accessible on the internet, so there was publication in that sense as well. However, the book was not widely available in the UK, and it is fairly clear that the case was brought here not because this was where the damage was done, or because Rachel Ehrenfeld or the Saudi Arabian had British citizenship, which they did not, but because the libel laws here were seen to favour claimants. On the back of that, we discovered that there are now widely shared fears in the United States. The Association of American Publishers submitted a statement to the Committee on the Judiciary of the US House of Representatives, which described libel tourism as
"the cynical exploitation of plaintiff-friendly foreign libel laws as a weapon to intimidate and silence U.S. authors and publishers."
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am not an expert in the area in question, although I have more than once had to bring a libel action. I think I am right in saying that in America pretty much anyone in the public eye can falsely be accused of quite serious wrongdoing but will have no recourse to a defamation suit. I acknowledge that the case that my hon. Friend used as an example is a worrying one, but I hope that he will not argue that we should adjust the libel laws in this country to prevent people who are defamed from taking action, just because in America people who are defamed are not allowed to take action. It would be a retrograde step to allow open season on reputations to the extent that that is allowed in the USA.
Mr Whittingdale: My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who sadly cannot be present this afternoon, thinks that we should move towards the American system, where two things apply. First, the burden of proof is reversed and it is up to the people concerned to prove that they did not do what is alleged, whereas here a newspaper or journal must demonstrate that they did. Secondly, in America the first amendment trumps virtually everything. It is essentially impossible to get a pre-publication injunction. The Committee was told by people in public life that for such people there is essentially no defence against libel other than to make their case in public and try to convince people that what was said was wrong.
I do not go that far. Some of the criticism of the UK's libel laws in America is based simply on the fact that they disagree with our stance and think that we should adopt their system. That is not the reason I am concerned. I am concerned about the use of the UK courts by people who have no connection with the UK; it is the tourism aspect. That is a much narrower, but nevertheless very important, issue. As an example of the consequences I want to quote a joint submission to the Select Committee by Advance Publications Inc., the Association of American Publishers, Associated Press, Bloomberg, CBS television, Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, the Los Angeles Times, Macmillan, NBC, The New York Times and others. Perhaps the most important passage reads:
"Leading US newspapers are actively considering abandoning the supply of the 200 odd copies they make available for sale in London-mainly to Americans who want full details of their local news and sport. They do not make profits out of these minimal and casual sales and they can no longer risk losing millions of dollars in a libel action which they would never face under US law. Does the UK really want to be seen as the only country in Europe-indeed in the world-where important US papers cannot be obtained in print form?"
Paul Farrelly: I do not want this to become a conversation between members of the Select Committee, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the internet age matters go rather further than that? We received evidence that aggressive firms in the field of so-called reputation management-the two names that came up most frequently were Schillings and Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners-were finding so-called defamatory articles on the internet and scouring the world for potential plaintiffs on whose behalf they could act, simply because the article was accessible from the UK. They could point out to such people that they might well win under Britain's libel laws and say, "So bring an action."
Mr Whittingdale: I think that there is evidence of that. I hesitate before accusing the two firms that the hon. Gentleman named, although they happened to crop up time and again in evidence. Concerns have been expressed about the way CFAs are used in ambulance-chasing cases-with ads on television saying, "Have you fallen over? Ring up this lawyer, because you can win thousands of pounds." This is basically the same thing, so there is a legitimate concern.
I think that what should really make the Government concerned, in relation to attitudes towards the British system, is the fact that it is not only publishers and newspapers who are making such comments. The UN Committee on Human Rights, members of which we met, has been very critical of the UK system. In addition, the US Government, at state and federal level, is taking action in response. We went to Albany, where New York state has passed what is called the Libel Terrorism Protection Act. The title is intended to suggest that we have been giving active succour to terrorism through our libel laws. The Ehrenfeld case was actually the cause of it; indeed, Rachel Ehrenfeld went to the New York state legislature to press for action to be taken.
The Act allows a judgment against an American citizen to be ignored or overturned in America if it is shown to be a breach of his or her first amendment rights. However, that has happened not only in New York state; such legislation is appearing in other states and has also passed into Congress. I have the report of 13 July-two days ago-stating that the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting authors and journalists from libel law suits filed abroad. Essentially, the New York Bill has now been taken up, and it looks as though it will pass into federal law.
When the previous Lord Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Blackburn, gave evidence to the Select Committee, he said first that he was not convinced that the situation was a great problem. Secondly, he did not seem terribly fussed even if foreign Governments were taking the attitude I have described. He said that we had learned that there had been no representations from the British Embassy to defend our system; those concerned had sat by and let these things go on. I find it profoundly worrying that Britain's closest ally-the country that, whatever one thinks of America, is regarded as a bastion of free speech-should regard us as so restrictive and hostile to the principle of free speech that it feels it necessary to pass an Act such as I have outlined. Although that Act does not specifically refer to the UK, it is perfectly clear that it is directed at this country. I hope that, given that the Bill is now actively passing through the Senate and Congress, the Minister will start to talk to American legislators as a matter of urgency, and perhaps reassure them that the Government intend to deal with the issue.
Paul Farrelly: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, very soon after making those statements to the Select Committee, the previous Lord Chancellor was open-minded enough to change his mind completely? He added the issue of libel tourism firmly to the remit of the libel working group, and one of the four main areas on which it reported at the end of March was libel tourism and reforms to court procedures to stop abuse of process and abuse of forum.
Mr Whittingdale: Indeed, that is right, and the hon. Gentleman is correct to draw attention to it. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman came round to our view that the matter was a serious one, which needed to be addressed.
One or two other matters occurred to the Committee, one of which was referred to in passing by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, although, perhaps out of modesty, he did not devote as much time to it as it deserves. That is the issue of this place and the reporting of our proceedings. It is well known that the hon. Gentleman uncovered the existence of a super-injunction taken out on behalf of Trafigura and tabled parliamentary questions about it, which led to a spat between Carter-Ruck and The Guardian about whether it was legitimate to report the fact that those questions had been tabled. There is no question about where parliamentary privilege lies: the hon. Gentleman is completely protected under parliamentary privilege in tabling those questions.
The situation becomes a lot less clear-this was news to me-in respect of a newspaper's right to report the fact that the hon. Gentleman had tabled the questions. Previously, I had the impression that the reporting of responsible activity was allowed, under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, but Carter-Ruck argued vigorously with The Guardian that the super-injunction prevented the newspaper from reporting the questions. The Guardian's in-house lawyer confirmed that that was her view as well. It later became apparent that the House authorities probably shared Carter-Ruck's view. In my view, that is a profound threat to this place.
In a way, there is no point in our being able to say things in Parliament or table questions if nobody is allowed to report them. In the Select Committee's view, any uncertainty about reporting parliamentary proceedings and the extent to which privilege allows Members of Parliament to raise matters with a degree of protection against libel action, needs to be addressed quickly and removed. Lord Lester has included this in his Bill.
The two last things that I will mention are not principally about libel, but touch on it. We Committee members spent a lot of time considering privacy, and the balance between articles 8 and 10 of the European convention on human rights, which has been used to bring in a privacy law in this country. That matter touches on libel because some people now choose to use privacy legislation rather than libel legislation. Those two kinds of legislation are not separate. Under privacy legislation, people do not necessarily have to say whether the story is even true-they can just use such legislation to prevent it from being published. That needs to be borne in mind if we are going to have the thorough overhaul that I hope the Minister intends.
The last area that I should like to mention, which is complementary to libel law, is the self-regulatory mechanism adopted by the press-the Press Complaints Commission-which the Committee supports. There is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of the PCC, but it offers an alternative. If people choose to go to court and mount a libel action, it can take a long time and cost a lot of money, but at the end they might get a definitive statement that they have been defamed-and they may get a lot of money as a result. The PCC can take action quickly and is free, but people do not get any money: the most that they can hope for is a judgment by the PCC that the newspaper was wrong to carry a story. Each option has alternative attractions; each mechanism is useful, and one cannot substitute for the other.
The Committee was concerned about the most serious serial libel that has taken place in the past 50 years-perhaps within memory-which is that suffered by the McCanns, who were subjected to libel not once, but day after day, and not just in one newspaper, but in newspapers across the whole range of Fleet street. That was eventually recognised and a lot of apologies were made, and payments were also made, but that cannot have made up for what they suffered at what was already a terribly distressing time for them. We were concerned that the self-regulatory mechanism of the press appeared to have failed in that instance, and we made a number of recommendations about how it should be strengthened. The role of the PCC needs to be borne in mind when looking at libel, because it and the courts deal with similar problems, but perhaps from different ends.
I think that I have spoken for long enough, but I have spoken for so long because we in the Committee spent a great deal of time on this serious issue. I am pleased that statements in the manifestos of all three parties, and in the programme of the coalition Government, are now being progressed and that the Government have made it clear that they are determined to take action in this area. I hope that we, as a Committee, have helped that process and that we will continue to do so in the debate on the draft Bill when it appears.
Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for a thoughtful question, as ever, on the topic. He is absolutely right that media companies of the future will have to operate on different platforms. That is why one of my first decisions was to accept a recommendation by Ofcom to remove the regulations on cross-media ownership locally to allow local media operators to develop new business models that let them take product from newspapers to radio to TV to iPods to iPads and so on.
We do not currently have any plans to relax the rules on cross-promotion. Indeed, the regulations on taste, decency and political impartiality on Five remain extremely tight, but we are aware of the need to lighten regulations in general because, if we are to have a competitive broadcasting sector, we must have one in which independent players can also make a profit.
Mr Jeremy Hunt: The UK Film Council works alongside various partners to support the British film industry, including funding, training and promoting the UK as an international filming location and raising the profile of British films abroad.
The key mechanisms which support the UK film industry will be retained, including the system of film tax relief and lottery funding. We are considering options for some functions to be transferred to other existing bodies, with a view to reducing administrative costs.
Mr Jeremy Hunt: The Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) Council has a range of responsibilities as the strategic and expert body for the museums, libraries and archives sectors. In particular it is responsible for administering and funding the 'Renaissance in the Regions' programme for regional museums, carries out improvement and best practice work with library authorities and has a non-statutory function to advise Government on library policy. It also has responsibility for the provision of services in relation to cultural objects on behalf of the Secretary of State.
The key functions of the MLA will be transferred to other existing organisations within the next Government spending period although no arrangements have been finalised. Officials will work with the MLA ahead of its closure to ensure the smooth transfer of key functions.
The MLA website gives further information about current programmes and activities and more details on the Renaissance programme, library advisory, improvement and best practice work and the provision of services for cultural property:
Mr Jeremy Hunt: The Government are committed to moving quickly to reduce red tape around live music and other forms of live performances, including those by travelling performers. However we want to get this right, so I have been talking to people from the sector and from local government to get their views. I hope to bring forward proposals as soon as possible.
Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is helpful of him to put before the House what happened in the Select Committee inquiry on the matter. As I have said, it is for the Metropolitan police to consider fresh evidence, if any comes forward, and I am sure that the Select Committee will be kept informed of any developments.
Mr Vaizey [holding answer 6 September 2010]: We considered carefully the position of public intermediaries, including libraries and universities, under the Act. Libraries and universities have taken the opportunity to contribute to the Initial Obligations Code discussions-the subject of a formal consultation by Ofcom, which closed on 30 July 2010. Ofcom is now in the process of reviewing the responses it has received from all stakeholders and will publish a formal statement when the review is complete.
It is in everyone's interest to ensure that their connection or network is not misused. Intermediaries will need to continue to play their role by taking precautions and taking measures to tackle infringement in order to ensure that their connections are not used by individuals to copy material and avoid any repercussions.
Mr Vaizey [holding answer 6 September 2010]: The Department has not yet offered guidance on classification under the Digital Economy Act 2010 to those providing free wi-fi accesses to the internet. The relevant requirements of the Digital Economy Act will not have any effect until a code has been approved by Ofcom and Parliament. Ofcom is reviewing the responses to its consultation on its draft obligations code. It will issue a statement when this review is completed with a view to approving a code by the end of the year.
Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what steps he is taking to prevent illegal file-sharing by those accessing the internet through free wi-fi hot spots; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr Vaizey [holding answer 6 September 2010] : The relevant provisions in the Digital Economy Act are intended to address the online infringement of copyright irrespective of whether such activity is undertaken via a personal internet connection or through a commercially-or publicly-provided wi-fi network.
Many providers of public wi-fi networks, such as universities, already take measures to prevent infringement which go far beyond what the Act requires, but the Act brings regulatory certainty and consistency.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I am mindful of your instruction that this is a narrow debate about referring the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it might help if I clarified one or two aspects regarding the two examinations of the matter that have been carried out by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
We first looked at the issue in 2007. It is important to distinguish between two different episodes, both of which potentially affect hon. Members. The first episode was the arrest and conviction of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, specifically for phone hacking. The second was Operation Motorman, carried out by the police, which identified a private investigator who had been employed by a large number of journalists from many different newspapers, usually to undertake what is called blagging rather than hacking.
While hacking is an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, blagging is a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. Both are criminal offences, but in the second case, there is a public interest defence. No journalists were ever prosecuted in the Motorman case, so we do not know whether a public interest defence might have been used. However, the sheer number of blags or attempts to seek information in breach of the 1998 Act led us to believe that what was happening was, in large part, fishing by journalists and did not involve the pursuit of specific public interest matters. We revisited the matter in July 2009, after the publication of a story in The Guardian providing new evidence that led us to question the evidence that we had received in the first inquiry that Clive Goodman was the only journalist who had any knowledge of, or involvement in, phone hacking at the News of the World.
As I have suggested, there is evidence from both inquiries that hon. Members were affected. Specifically in relation to the first episode, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was named in the indictment of Mr Mulcaire as one of those who had suffered from hacking. When it came to Motorman, there were literally thousands of names. We know, for instance, that Peter Kilfoyle was one of them, although he did not know that until it was subsequently uncovered. In both cases there was concern that the victims were not informed, either by the police in relation to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, or by the Information Commissioner in relation to Motorman.
As the House knows, the Select Committee took considerable evidence from a number of journalists-principally from the News of the World in relation to Clive Goodman, but from other newspapers too concerning Operation Motorman. At that time-it is important to remember that we are talking about events from some time ago-we found that there appeared to be a culture across Fleet street in which such practices were routine, and that law breaking was taking place in many news rooms. We were also assured that things had changed. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was a little unfair to suggest that the Press Complaints Commission did nothing. I have been critical of the Press Complaints Commission in the past, but it certainly did do something: it made it absolutely plain that such practices were unacceptable and required editors to tighten their rules, and we received assurances that such practices had stopped.
We now know that there is one journalist under investigation by the News of the World potentially for hacking, but it was the News of the World who acted on that and then notified the Press Complaints Commission that it was doing so. I very much hope that the events that we are discussing today relate to some time ago and that such practices have ceased right across Fleet street.
I understand the frustration felt by hon. Members during our inquiry-indeed, I shared it. We did make use of some of the powers that the hon. Member for Rhondda referred to, particularly in obtaining documents that various witnesses were, at first, unwilling to provide. We certainly had some arguments over which witnesses would give evidence. For example, we were unable to get evidence from either Clive Goodman or Glenn Mulcaire-or, indeed from Mr Ross Hall, who was in Peru at the time, although I understand that he has now returned to this country.
I recognise that new evidence might well have emerged. Some of the information that has entered the public domain in the past few days certainly appears to contradict some of the evidence that we received. The Standards and Privileges Committee has slightly more powers available to it than the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and I in no way oppose the motion. I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda that this is an extremely serious matter, and it is not just about MPs. The illegal obtaining of information about any individual is to be deplored. I therefore strongly welcome the moves that have taken place to ensure that it does not continue.
I have one small concern, although I am not in any way accusing the hon. Member for Rhondda. This issue is mired in politics, and the Standards and Privileges Committee needs to be very careful to ensure that it is not used as a vehicle for political ends. I am sure that that will not be the case under its new Chairman, whom I congratulate on his election.
Before Dr Ganic's provisional arrest, however, the Metropolitan police held a meeting on 1 March 2010 at New Scotland Yard. Officials from the FCO and Home Office attended the meeting which was to discuss Serbia's request for Dr Ganic's provisional arrest and the issue of possible immunity from arrest and detention. Pursuant to a warrant issued by a district judge at City of Westminster magistrates court, the Metropolitan police later arrested Dr Ganic.
Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions the Government has had with the government of Serbia on the judgement given by Mr Tim Workman, Senior District Judge at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on 27 July 2010 in the case of the Government of the Republic of Serbia v. Ejup Ganic. 
Mr Blunt: The Ministry of Justice is committed to publishing a Green Paper on Rehabilitation and Sentencing, consulting on our longer term plans for offender management. As a consequence the Ministry will re-evaluate its strategy for prison capacity.
Nick Herbert: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary received no reports concerning the steps taken by Interpol between the issuing of a red notice and Dr Ganic's provisional arrest, pending receipt of an extradition request, on 1 March 2010. Interpol London can neither confirm nor deny whether the diffusion notice in respect of Dr Ganic is still extant.
Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (1) on how many occasions and for what periods the website of the Intellectual Property Office has been unresponsive as a result of denial of service attacks in the last three years; 
Mr Vaizey: This Department was approached by one private sector company that was suffering a denial of service attack attributed to Operation Payback. Officials advised that company where to seek advice and to report the attack to the police. In the past week this Department has been working with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) on the similar attack on their website. This is the first time in the last three years that the Intellectual Property Office website has been unresponsive as a result of denial of service attacks. The IPO have taken advice from experts within Government and their service has now been restored. The Government clearly abhor this sort of direct action and the impact it has on businesses consumers and citizens who rely on access to Government websites for the delivery of important services; and call on those taking part to behave responsibly. The question as to whether this can be regarded as a criminal act is a matter for the appropriate authorities.
Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for his well-informed question. He is absolutely right that at a time like this, boosting philanthropy and other sources of income for the arts is extremely important. Arts and Business has done some valuable work. Obviously its funding is a matter for the Arts Council, which operates at arm's length. However, I am pleased to be able to tell him that before the end of the year, we will be announcing a package of measures designed to boost philanthropy and help to strengthen the fundraising capacity of arts organisations-something that will be helpful to them in difficult times.
Sir Stuart Bell: The following positions in the House entitle the holder to accommodation: Clerk of the House, Serjeant at Arms, Speaker's Secretary, Head Office Keeper and two Senior Office Keepers. Sleeping facilities are provided for the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, Assistant Serjeant at Arms, Clerk Assistant, Clerk of Committees and Clerk of Legislation, reflecting their particular need to be available on the parliamentary estate over prolonged periods and at unpredictable times. The addresses of the accommodation are: 2 Parliament street, 3 Parliament street, 2a Canon row, 2b Canon row, 4 Canon row, 102 Rochester row and 22 John Islip street. The sleeping facilities are also used by other staff when there is a need to do so.
Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the cost to the public purse was of the extradition case The Government of the Republic of Serbia v. Dr Ejup Ganic concluded by the judgment of 27 July 2010. 
Nick Herbert [holding answer 9 September 2010]: It is not possible to provide a complete or accurate breakdown of costs incurred in this or any other individual extradition case. A number of Departments and agencies are involved in extradition cases including the Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and HM Courts Service; and the cost of each case is (which differs) dealt with as part of the overall and larger case load.
Mr. Whittingdale: I welcome the Government's statement this morning, which appears to address a number of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on reform of the libel system. However, on the specific issue of libel tourism, is the Secretary of State aware that only last month the Senate Judiciary Committee voiced support for federal legislation in America to allow US courts to negate the judgments of UK courts in libel actions, on the basis that UK courts do not give sufficient recognition to the need for freedom of expression? Does he accept that that is a matter of profound concern that we need to address as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Straw: Yes. The hon. Gentleman properly draws attention to the fact that our defamation laws have developed in rather an unbalanced way. They are now, for example, having a chilling effect on legitimate and important scientific research. We therefore have to bring them back, not into direct symmetry with those of other jurisdictions, but into a better balance.
Mr. Bradshaw: We will consider all representations very carefully. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point about the potential impact on some of the sporting organisations, although some of the figures that are being bandied about may be open to challenge. There is a balance to be struck between the understandable desire of sporting organisations to make a lot of money by selling television rights and the right of the public to have access to some of the big sporting occasions that the nation enjoys.
Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) is a stimulant drug which is structurally related to cathinone and methcathinone, both of which are controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), whom we are required by statute to consult before bringing forward legislation under the 1971 Act to Parliament, is currently considering the harms of mephedrone and related cathinone compounds as a priority. The ACMD's latest letter on its consideration of these drugs is available at:
Tessa Jowell: The Cabinet Office is not responsible for the broadcast footage of the Iraq Inquiry. The UK Broadcasting Pool, a partnership between the BBC, Sky News and ITN, is responsible for distributing footage from their cameras in the Inquiry's hearing room. Other broadcasters would need to make arrangements with the pool, not the Government or the Inquiry. There is already an agreement to provide footage to all Iraqi broadcasters at no cost.
In December last year, UKCCIS launched its first child internet safety strategy 'Click Clever, Click Safe'. We believe this is the first such strategy of its kind anywhere in the world and represents a real step forward in the development of work to keep children safe online.
(2) what steps his Department is taking to ensure the National Lottery Commission consults stakeholders and other interested parties on the implications for its core National Lottery business and brand of Camelot's application to operate certain commercial services; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: My officials and I have regular meetings with both the National Lottery Commission and Camelot about the full range of National Lottery regulation issues, and the possibility of Camelot providing commercial services which are ancillary to the operation of the National Lottery has been discussed in that context.
The approval of the National Lottery Commission is required before the National Lottery operator can undertake any ancillary activity and the commission is currently considering a proposal from Camelot to offer commercial services using National Lottery terminals. The commission will consider the proposal in light of its statutory duties and therefore will take into account issues such as the implications for the core National Lottery business and brand.
The commission is currently consulting on the EU/competition law considerations which may arise from the proposal, as these are issues on which those already offering such services have a direct interest. The commission considers that it will have sufficient information to exercise its discretion properly, without consulting on the implications for the core National Lottery business and brand.
The table includes estimated expenditure on motorways and trunk roads in the East of England, but expenditure on the strategic road network is not available by local authority boundary. The table also excludes shadow tolls for design, build, finance and operate contracts on the strategic road network.
Mr. Bradshaw: We will consider all representations very carefully. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point about the potential impact on some of the sporting organisations, although some of the figures that are being bandied about may be open to challenge. There is a balance to be struck between the understandable desire of sporting organisations to make a lot of money by selling television rights and the right of the public to have access to some of the big sporting occasions that the nation enjoys.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I thank the hon. Gentleman for the recent report on this issue by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which he chairs. In parallel, in January I established a working group on the libel laws, and I have today, by written ministerial statement, published that report. As the latter makes clear, action on libel tourism is urgently needed and will be taken as soon as possible. That will be part of a draft libel Bill that we intend to publish in the new Parliament, as well as other more immediate action that we believe, and the working party believes, could be undertaken by changes in the procedural rules and in judicial practice.
I hope that the Minister will address the questions raised by the previous speakers about the consequences of the loophole, because I share their concern about the status of those who have been convicted over the course of the past 25 years and the possibility of their bringing action for what now appear to have been unlawful convictions. I hope that he will spend a little more time on that subject when he responds.
I wish to make a few observations about the Video Recordings Act 1984. I always approach any such legislation with some suspicion, as I am fundamentally opposed to censorship. I believe that in a free society it is up to adults to choose what they wish to see, but there are two important qualifications to that. The first is that there will always be some material that is so unacceptable in its violent or explicitly sexual content that it is deemed to be damaging to people to view it. I accept that, and some examples have been given in the debate.
This is not just a UK problem, but an international one. I have with me a chart showing the number of people employed in newspaper publishing in America. In 1947, the figure stood at about 240,000 and it grew steadily until about 1992. It peaked at 460,000, but in the 15 years since then it has fallen to 260,000, and it is still plummeting. All of us know of local papers from around the country that have closed, but even where papers have not closed, their offices on the high street are being shut, the number of journalists is falling and the number of photographers is no longer the same. As a result, the quality of local coverage is diminishing.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): As well as the consternation felt about the cut in the amount of lottery income going to heritage and at the absence of the draft Heritage Protection Bill, is the Minister aware of the consternation in the heritage sector at the original draft of planning policy statement 15, which the Royal Town Planning Institute called
"a charter for people who want to knock buildings down"?
Margaret Hodge: I am indeed in constant conversations with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about their review of such planning guidance. I hope shortly to bring forward a statement-a cross-Government statement-about the importance of heritage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should try to reintroduce the lost Bill as soon as we possibly can because it is an important Bill that would demonstrate our commitment to heritage. Until that comes about, however, I hope that my statement about the value of heritage and the work I do with colleagues across Government will reassure the heritage sector that we value its contributions.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Current legislation, some put in place as recently as December, effectively controls the export of nuclear waste.
Mr. Coaker: I am aware of representations made to the CRB in January 2009 by Southend-on-Sea borough council. The question concerned the retention of risk assessment information made by recruiting managers, including cases where an individual is appointed to a post after a CRB disclosure has been provided which includes relevant information. The CRB responded to the question, and DCSF officials undertook to consider the issue in the context of planned revisions to the Department’s “Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment” guidance.
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.
Mr. Hanson: The Government have no plans to build a national database maintaining records of e-mails, VoIP telephone calls or instant messages. This was made clear in the public consultation “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment” which was published by the Home Secretary on 27 April 2009.
14. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with internet service providers on maintaining records of electronic communications; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Hanson: The Home Office has regular discussions with a wide range of communications service providers. These discussions include the implementation of the EU Data Retention Directive, and potential future policies set out in the recent consultation document, “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment”.
Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for a compulsory register of mobile telephones; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hanson: We have no plans to introduce a mandatory registration scheme for mobile phones and would want firm evidence of the effectiveness of any such scheme before deciding whether legislation, as proposed by some European member states, was appropriate.
Mr. Byrne: Departmental budgets are set until April 2011. The exceptional economic uncertainty we now face means that it would not make sense to set budgets now for 2014, less than half way through the current spending review period. The Chancellor will set out economic and fiscal forecasts at the time of the Pre-Budget report, when he will return to this issue.
Mr. Kidney: There are currently no proposals to bring forward legislation to permit the export of graphite nuclear waste to the United States of America.
The Government’s policy, as set out in the Command Paper 2919, is that radioactive wastes should not be exported from the UK except in circumstances where is to be treated so that its storage and/or disposal is more manageable; where other countries have the ability to deal with it appropriately; and where it will not add materially to their existing radioactive waste legacy.
Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when his Department intends to consult on the wider application of the Kent County Council Act 2001 and the Medway Council Act 2001 for the regulation of markets and occasional sales.
Kevin Brennan: A consultation on measures to tighten the regulation of markets and occasional sales was recommended in the Gower Review of intellectual property. However, the Department’s resources are limited and current efforts are focused on providing targeted help and protection for consumers struggling to make ends meet as a result of the global downturn. It is therefore not possible to give a specific timeframe for implementing this recommendation.
Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is quite right to say that we need to look afresh at how best to provide local news in future and to consider other ways of working—perhaps local newspapers working with media at a regional level or other possibilities that might include considering the role of regional development agencies and the Learning and Skills Council. Those are all ideas that I am perfectly happy to consider.
The hon. Gentleman raised specifically cross-media ownership rules. He will know that, as part of the “Digital Britain” interim report it was proposed that there be now a review by Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading on the appropriateness of current rules, given the structural change in the media industry. That work will come forward as part of the final “Digital Britain” report, but the views that he has placed on the record today will obviously be heard as part of that.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): Dissident republican groups have nothing to offer but violence and suffering and are funded by criminal activity. Resources for the prevention of recruitment are shared between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr. Whittingdale: Is the Secretary of State aware of reports that dissident groups are using social networking sites, websites and blogs to recruit young people, some of whom may be as young as 13? Will he say what he is doing to tackle that and, in particular, whether he will consider taking down any offensive material promoting terrorism or violence that appears on social networking sites, or blocking access to any such websites?
Mr. Woodward: I have been made aware of this, and the police are indeed investigating it. The site itself has vowed to remove materials that it considers illegal, defamatory or fraudulent or that infringe or violate any individual’s rights. There are clearly some legitimate concerns, and obviously the police will act if there is any evidence of activity of a criminal nature going on. The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Whether this activity is done on social networking sites or in any other way, these organisations are criminal organisations and we need to ensure that young people realise that they are just that.
The media are affected by the recession in the same way as every other industry. As many people who have been in business will know, one of the first casualties in a recession is advertising spend, and there has been a significant drop in advertising expenditure across the board. On top of that, we are seeing a fundamental structural change in people’s consumption of media. More and more people consume media online, and as they move from traditional media outlets advertisers are following them. The result is that every commercial operator is under greater pressure than ever before. ITV has moved from children’s programming and regional programming, and it has now pulled out of arts programming with the ending of “The South Bank Show”. It has also cut drama. Channel 4 has identified a £150 million gap in its funding. Channel 5 is struggling to survive. Every commercial radio station is now considering its economic prospects and wondering whether it will still be in business in a year’s time. As we know, local newspapers are going out of business every week.
All those sectors face competition from the BBC, and that has always been a matter for concern, but the disparity between the amount available to commercial media and that available to the BBC has now become enormous, and it is distorting the market. For the first time, the BBC’s income will exceed the total advertising revenue of the entire commercial sector. That gap will grow to more than £1 billion.
Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as opposed to the BBC press release masquerading as the Liberal Democrat spokesman’s speech, even if the motion were to be passed today, that would not comprise a cut in BBC expenditure? The motion would simply result in the BBC’s not being given a further increase in funding. It is nothing to do with a cut to the BBC’s funding, anyway.
Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservatives are entirely familiar with the claim that there will be cuts when in fact we are talking about a slightly reduced increase in expenditure.
Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman is of course absolutely right to describe the pressure on established media businesses, but, given that, will the public get the quality of media they deserve if the licence fee is cut? How can the public in this country get the quality of media they deserve and that democracy needs if the licence fee is to be cut?
Mr. Whittingdale: We simply cannot ignore the environment in which the BBC is operating. That is not to say that the BBC does not do masses of things that are essential. However, my question is whether it needs £3.6 billion to do them. The BBC will always point to its comedy, drama, children’s television, regional television and its religion, arts and education coverage. However, just because the BBC produced “Cranford”, “Life in Cold Blood” or “Panorama” does not necessarily justify £3.6 billion. We have to ask whether we need all the channels that the BBC produces. BBC 3 has cost more than £500 million since it was set up, and to be honest I do not believe that the amount of product that has appeared on BBC 3 justifies that amount.
The Secretary of State said that “The BBC is there to provide content that the commercial sector would not”. I entirely agree, but too often the BBC is providing content that looks very similar, if not wholly identical, to the content that the commercial sector provides. One has to ask whether it is justified for the BBC to go on paying the amount that it does in recruiting talent, top salaries, competing against commercial providers and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey said, bidding against commercial television to acquire imported American television or to acquire Hollywood movies—in that case, the only beneficiaries are the Hollywood studios.
The BBC does not need all the money it receives and, in the longer term, we need to be having a bigger debate necessarily about whether the BBC needs this amount or that amount, but about how we can sustain public service broadcasting in this country. There is a desperate crisis, and it is essential that the BBC is not left as the sole provider of public service broadcasting. If we are to sustain plurality, we must support commercial providers’ continuing to provide public service programming. That might well need public support, and the obvious source for that is the licence fee.
Is it more in the interests of the public and the viewing public in this country that we should go on sustaining BBC 3 or yet another American import, or should we be using that money to ensure that regional news does not just appear on the BBC but continues to be broadcast on ITV? Should there be other providers of children’s programming outside the BBC? I welcome that debate, which Lord Carter is currently conducting, but those points have to be taken into account in this debate.
There is very little time, but I want to finish by saying that I am profoundly disturbed by the comments made by the chairman of the BBC Trust, which was set up to be different from the board of governors. It was supposed to be an arm’s length regulator, yet increasingly the chairman of the trust appears to be a champion of the BBC. When he suggests that it was somehow wrong for the Opposition to table this motion today, I have to say that he is straying on to political territory, which is very dangerous. He is also questioning the right of Parliament to determine the appropriate level of funding for the BBC. Of course Parliament should not interfere in the BBC’s editorial independence, but debating the right amount of public money to go to the BBC is not interfering in editorial independence. It is a function of this House. If the chairman of the trust is suggesting that we should not be having this debate, I believe that he is in severe danger of overstepping the mark. I hope that he will think very carefully before continuing to make that argument.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jane Kennedy): May I say on behalf of those who come to Prayers that it is a little disconcerting to have the blinds run up and down during them, particularly as we need all the help we can get these days and Prayers are quite important?
At the end of last year, in response to concerns expressed by the industry about shortages of seasonal labour, the Government announced a 5,000 increase in the seasonal agricultural workers scheme quota for 2009. I am pleased that we were also recently able to address swiftly some practical problems that could have arisen affecting the availability of sheep shearers. I am grateful for the assistance of my Home Office colleagues, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we meet representatives of farmers regularly on all sorts of subjects.
Mr. Whittingdale: I welcome the measures that the Minister refers to, but she will be aware that many people, particularly in the horticultural and fruit growing industries, depend heavily on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and are concerned about what will happen when Bulgaria and Romania become full members of the European Union. Will she consider extending the scheme to other countries to ensure that there remains a flow of seasonal workers for those very important industries?
Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. We are being advised that there is more confidence among farmers and growers this year that they will have sufficient labour for seasonal fruit and vegetable harvesting, largely due to the economic climate in which they are operating. However, I can assure him that we keep the situation under close review. Indeed, all being well, my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will meet my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration in the week after the recess.
I express my thanks and those of the rest of my Committee for the work of the Standards and Privileges Committee. When we made the referral to that Committee, to ask it to try to discover the source of the leak, we did so without huge optimism that it would be successful; on previous occasions, the Committee has not managed to expose sources with the success that it has had on this occasion. We are grateful to the Committee and we hope that the fact that we have been able to discover the source and take action this afternoon will send a message to other Select Committees about the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of their proceedings.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, began by talking about the importance of a relationship of trust between Committee members; that, he said, was why leaks should be regarded as reprehensible. I entirely endorse his words, but I take issue with one comment in his report. Having said that the matter was serious for the reason that I have just mentioned, he went on to say:
“We have to recognise that no-one outside Parliament has complained about the leaking of the draft Heads of Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the BBC’s commercial operations. It is quite possible that no-one outside Parliament cares.”
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised that I slightly dispute that. The leak occurred online, appearing on mediaguardian.co.uk. Most news distribution is done online in the world that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looks at; indeed, as observers will know, that is the cause of problems for the traditional media.
The report appeared at about 10 am, I think. I was at a meeting of the British Screen Advisory Council, an umbrella body for media organisations. I was approached by representatives of ITV and the BBC within 35 minutes of the report’s appearance, and I was called by the chief executive of Channel 4 within two hours. I simply say that the report was of great interest to a number of people in the media. It also had a degree of market sensitivity because we were dealing with the independent production sector, which was going to be affected by our recommendations.
I fully agree with my right hon. Friend that the relationship of trust is paramount, but I would not like him to think there were not other good reasons why we felt that the leaking of that particular heads of report was indeed a serious matter.
In its report, the Committee rightly draws attention to failings of members of my Committee’s staff. That is fully accepted by those members of staff, and they will take its recommendations very seriously. As Chairman of the Committee, I should like to put on record the extent to which we depend on those staff and how professional and dedicated I have always found them. It is not just my Committee that enjoys that degree of support; I think that any hon. Member who is involved in Select Committees would agree that generally we are extremely well served by our staff. I was slightly surprised to discover that some of our papers were being circulated by e-mail not only to people involved in our present inquiry but to some of our advisers in other inquiries. I am not sure what our adviser on heritage and planning made of the heads of report on the BBC’s commercial operations. In future, we will be much more restrained in circulating material; I think that that lesson will be well learned in all Select Committees.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders)—in this context, I would say my hon. Friend—has made a gracious apology to the House. When I first asked all members of the Committee whether they could give any indication of how the leak occurred, he was clear that he had no knowledge of how it came about. I said to him at the time that I fully accepted his assurance, and I fully accept it this afternoon. It is extremely unfortunate that the leak occurred within his office, but he has made it plain that he had no knowledge of it and that it was not under his instruction. That is fully accepted by me and, I think, by all members of the Committee. Although I think I am right in saying that he told the Standards and Privileges Committee that our inquiry into the BBC’s commercial operations did not “float his boat”, he is nevertheless a valuable member of our Committee who participates in other areas of our activities. We are very glad that he does so and look forward to his continuing to do so in future.
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. 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. 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.