HC Deb 21 June 2002 vol 387 cc568-81

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.27 pm
Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their support for the Bill. Without such support, good will and co-operation, the Bill would not now be receiving its Third Reading.

I cannot name all those who have given their support because it would take too long, but I should like to give a special mention to the Government for their support, especially the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson); the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and particularly Caroline Ellis and her team whose help and expertise have been magnificent; the copyright directorate, particularly Judith Sullivan; and the Public Bill Office. I should also like to thank my noble Friend Lord Morris in the other place.

I am pleased to say that the Bill has the support of the Disability Rights Commission, Scope, Sense, and Deafblind UK. It is supported by producers of alternative format materials, particularly the National Library for the Blind, the Calibre Cassette Library, the Talking Newspaper Association of the United Kingdom, the Torch Trust for the Blind, the Confederation of Transcribed Information Services, Share the Vision and the Scottish Braille Press.

I believe that the RNIB has received strong messages of support for the Bill from famous authors, including Philip Pullman, Jilly Cooper, Margaret Forster, Nick Hornby, Joanna Lumley, David Malouf, Rosamund Pilcher, Elizabeth Berridge, Harold Pinter, Claire Rayner, Michele Roberts, Eric Sykes and Joanna Trollope. Authors have been shocked if they have found that their agents had denied an organisation, such as the RNIB, permission to make accessible copies of their work. Those authors want their writing to reach as wide an audience as possible and appreciate that that can be achieved without compromising their moral rights or their livelihoods.

I am pleased to say that rights holders are now generally supportive of the Bill. They have been privy to drafts of the Bill, and it has been substantially rewritten since last autumn to reflect their concerns. The aim has been to achieve consensus about exactly what the exceptions should say. For example, I and other hon. Members supported amendments tabled in Committee that would require anyone acting under either of the two exceptions made in the Bill to put a note on accessible copies saying that they have been made under the exception and would require bodies making multiple copies to keep records and to make them available for inspection by rights holders.

All hon. Members have a direct interest in the contents of the Bill. We all have constituents who are visually impaired—there are around 3,000 in every constituency. Many of us also have friends, family members and colleagues who will directly benefit from the Bill. Throughout my life, I have had contact with children and adults with visual impairment, and that has been of great value to me. They have often stood out from the crowd—not because of their disability, but rather because of their achievements and their abilities. In my constituency, there is an excellent mainstream primary school, Touch primary school, which has a visually impaired learning centre that is used by 150 children from a wide geographical area—children with a visual impairment who can combine mainstream education with learning specialist skills such as Braille. Children at the school who have no visual impairment are given the benefit of working with and learning from those who do. The school thus promotes mutual respect and understanding.

Touch primary school is an excellent example of the high standards and deep commitment of teachers, parents, children and the community, and the Bill will directly benefit all that they strive to achieve. In the kingdom of Fife, we are fortunate to have the innovative and impressive Fife sensory impairment centre, which represents a partnership between the health board, Fife council, the voluntary sector and those with sensory impairment. It provides an open door of opportunity that will be opened even wider if the Bill is given its Third Reading. The Bill is about opening the door of opportunity to those with a visual impairment by removing the barriers created by copyright law to their access to books and other reading material, while seeking to safeguard the rights of authors and publishers.

The reality is that there is an acute shortage of books, magazines, sheet music and other materials available to visually impaired people in a format that they can access. Only 5 per cent. of all the books published in one year are available in an accessible format one year on. Nearly half—47 per cent.—of blind and partially-sighted students in university and higher education do not usually get books in their preferred formats, and 33 per cent. of visually impaired children do not always get their textbooks in an accessible format when they need them. Some publishers have joined or set up licensing schemes to facilitate the production of accessible formats, but at the present rate of progress it would take 20 years to get most works covered by such schemes, and still many authors may not join. If the Bill is not successful, current problems will ensure that visually impaired people cannot gain full benefit from the information revolution.

In Committee on 1 May, there was a good and balanced discussion on a range of issues and interests. The Bill, as amended in Committee, provides a fair and proper balance between the interests of visually impaired people and copyright owners. Several hon. Members asked some detailed questions about that and I assure them that I have reflected on them carefully. Further consideration has been especially helped by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Further meetings have been held—the most recent was last week—with representatives of publishers' and authors' organisations.

I have always maintained that the Bill should take account of the legitimate interests of rights holders as well as visually impaired people, and that we must be sure that it has been properly drafted to achieve that. We all agree that copyright is a just concept and it is more than understandable that copyright owners view any new exception with extreme caution because it erodes a little the rights that copyright granted them. I am grateful that rights owners have not gone so far as to suggest that there should be no exceptions for the benefit of visually impaired people.

Copyright owners have properly lobbied us on points of detail and I shall try to cover them. First, briefly to recap the Bill's purpose, it introduces two new exceptions to copyright for the benefit of visually impaired people. The first is the one-for-one exception in clause 1. Its essential feature is that a visually impaired person cannot have an accessible copy made under the exception unless he also lawfully possesses or can lawfully use what the Bill calls "the master copy" of the copyright material.

The exception does not make legal the production of accessible copies for differently visually impaired people when only one visually impaired person has a master copy. Transferring an accessible copy to a visually impaired person who does not have a master copy will immediately make the accessible copy an infringing copy. Those important points were raised at an earlier stage of our proceedings. Apart from the more general point about scope of the material that the one-for-one exception covers, I do not believe that hon. Members have other concerns.

Clause 1 will be invaluable to visually impaired people in many circumstances. For example, it will allow a neighbour who can read a book bought by a visually impaired person to put it on a tape for that person. It will allow a parent to put a few chapters of a school textbook loaned to a visually impaired pupil on a photocopier to produce an enlarged version. It will allow a book to which a visually impaired person needs to refer in a library to be scanned in a machine that will read out the pages to that person. I believe that we all accept that that is fair and reasonable.

Before I turn to the second exception in the Bill—the exception to copyright to be inserted by clause 2 into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, part I of which provides UK copyright law—I would like to say something about the scope of the copyright material covered by the Bill. The Bill refers to a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work and to "a published edition".

These terms are the ones used in the 1988 Act, and, to the extent that it is necessary, are defined in that Act. The term "literary work", for example, is very broadly defined, and is not limited to material of great literary merit. Scientific essays and articles can count as literary works, as can instruction manuals, information sheets and textbooks. Works of fiction, poetry, and so on, that are of great literary merit are, of course, also included.

Unfortunately, for the Bill not to contravene the EC database directive, it has been necessary to exclude any activity that would involve the infringement of copyright in a database. There are some very complicated issues to consider in that respect, and I am again grateful for my hon. Friend the Minister's advice on this point, which has helped me to ensure that my Bill is technically correct. I hope that, at some point in the future, there will be a change to the European legislation in this respect.

I appreciate that there could be confusion about whether only some of the contents of a database are being copied—it might still be all right to do that under the exception in the Bill—or whether too much is being taken from the database, and copyright is being infringed. I cannot believe that one of the purposes of the European legislation was to rule out any possibility of making accessible copies of all the material in a database for the personal use of visually impaired people.

The second new exception to copyright is provided by clause 2, and subject also to provisions in clauses 3, 4 and 5. Hon. Members have expressed a number of concerns about that, which I shall mention briefly. Of most concern seems to be the concept of an "approved body" being able to act under the second exception to make multiple copies of copyright material in accessible formats. Such bodies, however, are neither subjected to an approval process nor restricted to ones that have as one of their main purposes the provision of accessible copies for other services for visually impaired people.

For the benefit of hon. Members who were not present in Committee, I repeat that it is essential that the Bill allow a wide range of bodies to assist visually impaired people. A number of bodies acting at local level, such as a local women's institute or church group, might wish to help visually impaired people in their area by reading local newspapers, for example, on to tapes. The Bill now provides that flexibility. It is inconceivable that it would not be one of the purposes of such organisations to help visually impaired people, if they are to understand and meet the rigorous conditions applying to activity under the second exception.

Churches are a good example, because they are not bodies devoted primarily to providing accessible information to visually impaired people, but they might want to create more than one alternative format copy of a hymn book for visually impaired members of their congregation. Indeed, the RNIB has given me an example in which a blind choir member is still waiting for her Braille copy of "Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New". The RNIB is still waiting for copyright permission, because there are numerous contributors to that hymn book, and chasing them all up is proving extremely expensive. Yet until that blind choir member gets her Braille hymn book, she cannot participate as fully as she would wish in church activities. That is one small example of why we must be flexible in defining approved bodies.

I emphasise that, although education establishments and not-for-profit bodies that fall within the scope of the term "approved body" may not be approved, such a process could be very regulatory with little or no benefit. Any approved body must notify rights holders of its activity under the second exception and must keep records that rights holders are entitled to inspect on reasonable notice, so that the approved body cannot act without rights holders knowing ultimately which bodies are acting.

Moreover, clause 5 allows the Secretary of State to make an order to "disapprove", as we might term it, an approved body or type of approved body if its activity, under the second copyright exception, leads to levels of copyright infringement that are damaging to rights holders. The latter will of course provide a considerable incentive for approved bodies to adhere carefully to all the conditions that apply.

I am aware that time is passing and that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall make just a couple more points about the efforts that have been made in the Bill to satisfy concerns that have been raised. I particularly welcomed the decision of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 16th report of 29 April 2002. In relation to the Bill, it said: As copyright is a form of property protected by ECHR Protocol 1, Article 1, this could potentially engage the right to property of the owner of the copyright. However, the Bill contains extensive safeguards to ensure that the provision of accessible copies does not damage the commercial or moral rights of the owner of the copyright. and the purpose of the Bill advances the public interest in enhancing the lives of visually impaired people. That being so, there is little doubt that any possible interference with rights under ECHR Protocol 1, Article 1 by provisions of the Bill. would be held to be justifiable. That was extremely helpful.

An education establishment that uses the second exception in the Bill is required to demonstrate that it is doing so for educational purposes, so it comes under a much narrower definition. I was concerned that the Bill should not restrict exceptions to copyright only to educational use, but allow individuals to obtain reading material for personal and other use.

The fairly complicated subject of copyright protection technology was raised in Committee. I hope that, when it comes to implementing the copyright directive, that will provide adequate coverage and agreements between rights holders and approved bodies on the whole issue, affecting a much greater area than that covered by the Bill.

I apologise for going into technical details, but it is important for all hon. Members to feel that we have given proper consideration to the concerns raised. I trust that all hon. Members believe that there has been considerable debate and much careful thought on a Bill that will help a particularly disadvantaged group enormously, but that will not be detrimental to copyright owners' legitimate interests.

The Bill's passage to the other place will give all hon. Members a sense of achievement and a cause to celebrate. It will provide an excellent example of our determination to offer 2 million people of this nation the opportunities to develop their potential. It will open the doors of the information revolution to them and make a real difference to their lives. I ask all hon. Members to support the Bill at its Third Reading.

1.50 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) not only on coming high up the ballot for private Members' Bills, but on not taking the easy option. There are always two choices on these occasions. One can either choose a high-profile passing bandwagon and go down in a blaze of glory and—it is to be hoped—publicity, or do what she has done. She has taken pains to deal with a highly technical—and, from one point of view, narrow—issue in order to deliver enormous benefits to a large number of our constituents. Some 3,000 or more people in each of our constituencies will benefit, and I pay tribute her for what she has done. It is not easy to keep track of a Bill of this sort.

As I made clear on Second Reading, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) said in Committee, the Bill is an excellent measure that has the wholehearted support of the official Opposition. The principle that it involves could not be clearer: our visually impaired constituents should have unnecessary obstacles removed from their lives, whether it be in their leisure activities or their studies. They face quite enough obstacles in their lives already.

Another principle that the hon. Lady mentioned is also at stake. This country is a world beater in intellectual property. It is absolutely right that intellectual property should be fully protected in all its forms—hence the issue of safeguards was mentioned on Second Reading. The hon. Lady has dealt with it in some detail and it was discussed in depth in Committee. It is fair to say that those two principles have been entirely reconciled in the Bill in its current form, not least by the amendments made in Committee.

It is important to mention some of the issues that have been addressed, as the hon. Lady has done. Perhaps the most important condition or safeguard in many respects is the so-called one-for-one exception, which goes a long way to reassure those who might have had concerns about the Bill's effect on intellectual property. I take on board what she said about the database issue, which may have to be revisited on a future occasion. The new provision—I think it was introduced in Committee—enabling schools, libraries and voluntary organisations to make and distribute multiple accessible copies is also important, as are the provisions relating to so-called intermediate copies. It seems to me that, in Committee, the genuine concerns of a number of people and organisations were addressed as fully as they can be in the practical world. That is a very good thing.

The hon. Lady also reminded us of the reasons for introducing the Bill. It can take years to obtain the necessary copyright permissions, even with the best will in the world, simply because of the time that these things can take. The key statistic, which was also discussed on Second Reading, is that only 5 per cent. of all the books published in one year are available in an accessible format one year later. Some 47 per cent. of blind and partially sighted students do not usually get books in their preferred formats. It beggars belief that they can continue their studies in those circumstances, given all the other difficulties that they face.

We are also told in the RNIB briefing—I pay tribute, as the hon. Lady did, to the RNIB's excellent work in preparing some meaty and useful briefing material on the Bill—that that organisation spends about £60,000 a year chasing authors, agents and publishers for permission. The position is ludicrous, in that authors who would be helpful and supportive if they knew of the problem are unaware of it because of the number of intermediaries in the chain. There have also been many examples of people who have refused point blank to give permission. I shall not give their names, but it is rather surprising that major authors who have made millions of pounds or dollars from their works have behaved in that way.

On Second Reading I mentioned the Talking Newspapers Association, which is based at Heathfield, just up the road from Eastbourne and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry). It does excellent work, taping and transcribing the contents of some 1,100 regional and local newspapers as well as the nationals with which it deals. Although its task is easier than that of those who must deal with books, it is very sympathetic to the Bill. I have received support not just from my local branch of the association, but from the Eastbourne Blind Society.

As I have said, an average of at least 3,000 people in each of our constituencies have no access to reading material because of copyright restrictions. Talking to those people, we cannot but be struck by how much they rely on talking books and talking newspapers to remain in touch not just with specific interests or even studies, but with the world in general. The Bill would make it much easier for them to do so.

I do not want to detain the House, given the 2.30 pm cut-off. It seems that the Bill still has cross-party support, and I am delighted to reiterate my party's support for it. I wish it a swift passage.

1.59 pm
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)

I too support the Bill, whose benefits are obvious. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) that this is an ideal subject for a private Member's Bill, and I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire)

As my hon. Friend said, the RNIB estimates that more than 3,000 people in the average constituency are visually impaired. Yesterday, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was in the Houses of Parliament raising awareness of issues relating to vision, and offering eye tests. I asked what percentage of people were found to be short-sighted or suffering from other eye problems as a result of the tests. Apparently, almost everyone over 45 needs assistance with eyesight, usually when it comes to reading. I am not quite there yet, but having been short-sighted since the age of seven I know how important it is to be helped to see properly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West pointed out that people we know often bring to life the problems experienced by those who cannot read what they want or need to read. Late in life my father could not read very well, and found books with larger print very helpful. Some people at the church I attend also need assistance of this kind. My hon. Friend mentioned churchgoers as well. On Sundays, I usually sit next to Hilda and Ray Horbury, members of my church who are in their 80s. Unfortunately, Ray's sight has deteriorated over the past couple of years. At our church, he benefits from a large-print book, but I see at close range the distress that is caused in a central part of his life when material that is not large print is used. It means that he cannot access information, take part in activities or be part of a service when he wants to be. In these days of technology and despite the array of assistance that is available, it is a dreadful shame that there are barriers that prevent people from participating fully in life for as long as they can.

I particularly welcome the Bill's definition of a visually impaired person and the fact that it is drawn widely to ensure maximum benefit to all those who cannot access copyright material in the form in which it has been published. There is no doubt that the Bill has wide support, and when the issue is discussed outside the Chamber it seems straightforward. However, although my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West has shown that to be true, introducing legislation is not without its problems. The longer I spend here, the more I realise how difficult it is to produce good legislation that works, so I pay tribute to her for having overcome the problems and technicalities of introducing legislation that, on the face of it, seems simple.

Other Members want to take part and to put their views, so I end by saying that the Bill has my full support. I hope that it commands the support of the House and of the other place.

2.2 pm

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

I add my full support for the Bill, partly on behalf of my party and partly on a personal basis. I am introducing another private Member's Bill on copyright law, which has led to confusion on two levels. First, I am occasionally showered with approval from institutions involved with the visually impaired. Although I am tempted to lap up their applause, I must acknowledge that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) should receive it.

Secondly, and more substantially, people say, "You are introducing legislation that would increase the criminal penalties against those who seriously abuse copyright law. How can you favour legislation that widens access to material?" Of course, the two are not incompatible. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who rightly emphasised that we must properly protect intellectual property—the purpose of my Bill is to increase criminal penalties in line with the trademark provision—but there must be exceptions.

It has always been understood that personal copying is not a problem, although the Bill goes slightly further by addressing multiple copying and copying without the author's permission, but for an entirely necessary and desirable public good. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West painstakingly explained how she has created through the legislative process a series of safeguards that protect copyright holders. I am entirely satisfied that that meets their purposes as well as those of the visually impaired, and it strikes me that the balance has been well preserved. I fully support the legislation.

I have two final points to make. First, we are all receiving a lot of submissions from different groups, so I acknowledge the work of the universities. The Bill will contribute substantially to the work of higher education. People have been severely inhibited by copyright problems in universities, which have publicly acknowledged that the legislation will be an excellent help to them in making it possible to assist their visually impaired students without fear of legal comeback.

Secondly, the Bill will also help many voluntary organisations. Like many constituencies, mine has a talking newspaper, which has expressed full support, and I hope that the legislation proceeds rapidly.

2.4 pm

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

I am delighted to welcome the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), and to add my thanks to the disability campaign organisations on the long list that she read out, to the Disability Rights Commission, the Talking Newspaper Association and others, and to the many authors who have been outraged by the fact that visually impaired people have been prevented from accessing books and printed material by the operation of copyright law. May I add to that list the name of Fran Hibbert, who is the manager of the Merton Voluntary Association for the Blind and the Guardian centre in Merton? My office has been in contact with her again this morning, and she is delighted, as are the many visually impaired people in Merton who depend on the centre's services, that the Bill will make excellent progress again today.

The Guardian centre was founded in 1965 by a visionary visually impaired man, Eric Walford MBE, and is funded by the local education authority and through donations. It has also received a £115,000 lottery grant to provide services to the many hundreds of visually impaired people in Merton. More than 800 people in Merton receive the Merton Talking Newspaper every week from the Guardian centre, which provides many other services. With such support from lottery money, the local education authority and charitable donations, it is absurd that the operation of copyright law should thwart the centre in providing the service on which so many people depend.

We spoke to Ms Hibbert this morning, and she feels angry that organisations such as the Merton Voluntary Association for the Blind and the Guardian centre are put in an invidious position when people ask them for help with photocopying any document or printed material to put it in larger print, or with translating it into Braille or Moon. It receives many such requests, but it cannot respond to them without breaking the law. By assisting visually impaired people in that way, it would infringe copyright law.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West on using the opportunity of her private Member's Bill to bring the law in this area into line with common sense. I do not think that any reasonable person would believe that the operation of copyright law should come between organisations such as the Guardian centre and the visually impaired people whom it was set up to serve and who depend on its services.

It is important that the Bill should not undermine the work done by many businesses that publish material in Braille and in Moon. We want that industry to expand. I am delighted that I shall be able to go back to my constituency and perhaps report on the Bill's excellent progress in the Merton Talking Newspaper, and to tell the Guardian centre and the many people who depend on its services that it will soon be able to fulfil its mission to assist visually impaired people without the operation of copyright law getting in the way.

I congratulate my hon. Friend once again, and wish the Bill good speed. I hope that it makes further progress in the other place.

2.9 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

This is a small, complex, technical but important Bill, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on it. It is an excellent Bill, because it begins to provide a workable relationship between royalties, copyright and accessible copy. "It is timely," I said to myself and then realised that we have had the written word and books for centuries. It is outrageous that in the 21st century we should be considering such a large part of our community for the first time in a real way. The Bill will benefit millions. I am absolutely delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West has kept the Government on side. She has worked extremely hard and I compliment her.

The Bill establishes a workable legislative framework. It has achieved widespread recognition throughout our communities. It has got many authors, agents and publishers, whether they be involved in dramatic, music or artistic work, to agree that accessible copies for people with impaired vision are an absolute necessity and a requirement. In fact, many have been shocked that their books have not been available to date.

I cannot imagine what it is like not to be able to pick up a book and read, or to go along a shelf and choose. It is totally inconceivable. Reading is one of the finest pleasures in my life. It is time out and, goodness me, we all need time out. The fact that we have excluded so many people from that is wrong.

Reading is not just time out. As many hon. Members have said, there are the benefits of higher education, or education per se. Reading opens doors, thereby ensuring that people with aspirations can develop their intellectual potential. The Bill gives educational establishments the opportunity to support visually impaired people.

In a complex and technical world, my hon. Friend has achieved a clear and concise Bill that I believe will be successful. I am delightful—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sorry, I take that back. I am delighted with the whole idea of one for one. It seems so logical, if someone owns a book, needs to make a copy of it and to change it so that they can access it, to allow them to do so—it seems so jolly obvious. I am delighted with the whole idea of educational establishments having that right if they are not run for profit. That should ensure that there is an open door. I am mortified that the Churches are struggling to ensure that they have copies for all their—I cannot think of the word—

Roger Casale


Ms Taylor

What a good word. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and I are great singers. We would want copies to be available. We hope that the Churches get that together speedily.

I have so little time and I know that another colleague wants to speak. I am an enthusiast of the Bill. I have spoken to members of the Teesside and District Society for the Blind about it; they are enthusiasts. The chairman of that organisation is completely blind. He is a local radio producer, and he is delighted that the Bill has been introduced.

Many blind people and people who are visually impaired believe that they are Cinderellas. They are unconfident. They think that we do not care about them. They will begin to see today that they are not a forgotten group, that there are many champions and that the Bill truly begins that process for all of them. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West on what is a very good Bill. It opens doors for many people, many of whom we will, I hope, get to know in the near future.

2.13 pm
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

It is a great pleasure to be here to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire). I have been tracking the progress of the Bill on the Royal National Institute for the Blind website. It described it as a fundamental question of social inclusion, which other hon. Members with their enthusiasm obviously appreciate.

I come to the Third Reading debate to support my hon. Friend, having been present on 10 May and on Second Reading on 15 March, although I did not have the benefit of serving on the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Bill. I have had the benefit of listening to my hon. Friend's report on that. I also took the opportunity yesterday evening to read the Hansard record of that stage of the Bill. It records the care with which she and others have refined and improved the Bill. I am impressed with that care and with the range of expertise that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have brought to it—there was the usual legal and technical experience that one hopes to have available—including the chair of the all-party group on eye health, which I had not realised existed until I read the Hansard of the Standing Committee.

The Bill and its consideration have drawn on a range of expertise to which my hon. Friend and others have referred. The care taken has resulted in a measure that meets the high expectations expressed in the policy statement on the RNIB website, which states: We seek legislation which:

  1. a) asserts visually impaired people's rights to equitable access to all published information;
  2. b) enshrines rights, and does not merely create vehicles for permission;
  3. c) is not tied to particular formats of particular technologies;
  4. d) is future proof;
  5. e) focuses on the individual end-user, not the format".
It also refers to a number of other factors. My hon. Friend's Bill lives up to those high standards. It is a tall order, but my hon. Friend and those working with her have produced a measure that looks as though it will stand the test of time. I hear what she said about databases and we shall certainly follow the issue with interest. Perhaps the House will give it further consideration in future.

The Bill consolidates previous voluntary agreements with sound and comprehensive provisions; the principles that it lays down will become increasingly necessary as technology brings even more diversity to the means of production, distribution and access to creative works. The Bill will overcome some of the dreadful delays and refusals to grant permission that, as debates on this Bill today and previously have illustrated, remain far too common despite the goodwill of many authors and publishers. It will also give people with visual impairment opportunities to fulfil their potential to read, to learn, to work and to participate fully in society. It has received careful consideration and scrutiny and represents a fair balance between the rights of people with visual impairment to access material in the format of their choice, and the ability of copyright owners to monitor what is happening and obtain copyright royalties in circumstances where their interests might otherwise be prejudiced.

In her letter urging us to attend today's debate and support the Bill my hon. Friend told us that the RNIB estimates suggest that more than 3,000 people in the average parliamentary constituency have some visual impairment. I am pleased to be here today to thank my hon. Friend and support her endeavours to help her constituents, mine and those of every hon. Member here today or otherwise serving their constituents in the various activities that usually occupy us on Fridays. I hope that the Bill receives the same reception in the other place as it has here.

2.18 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on introducing the Bill and my thanks to the impressive list of people who have contributed to the Bill being in the shape it is and being considered in the House today.

We have heard once again how the Bill will considerably assist visually impaired people who are currently unable to read so much of the material that we all take for granted, ranging from books, magazines and newspapers to maps, washing machine instructions and knitting or cross-stitch patterns. However, the Bill must also take into account the legitimate interests of copyright owners. Government support has therefore been conditional on maintaining an appropriate balance between copyright owners and visually impaired people.

As hon. Members—and sometimes delightful ones—know, the Government have helped with the drafting of the Bill to remove certain technical deficiencies and build in some additional safeguards for copyright owners. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West has already reviewed a number of important points, but it might be helpful if I comment on concerns that I have discussed recently with rights holders.

Those concerns relate to the multiple copy exception to copyright, which applies only when accessible copies are made and supplied by an approved body to visually impaired people for their personal use. Rights holders have expressed a desire for a narrower definition of approved body because of the difficulty of identifying which bodies might seek to rely on that exception. However, the making of accessible copies must be notified to rights holders within a reasonable time; copyright owners will therefore be well placed to learn what activity occurs under the copyright exception and which bodies are involved.

We have already promised guidance so that approved bodies will understand their obligations should they choose to help visually impaired people by activity under the exception. I have recently promised some of the organisations representing rights holders that we shall consult them as we draft guidance, but we must also make sure that organisations such as the RNIB play a part both by helping us to make the guidance as clear as possible, and by helping to disseminate the guidance to those bodies that are able to act under the second exception.

We do not feel that it would be right to narrow further the definition of an approved body so as to limit the potential range of bodies that could help visually impaired people. Much of the work of transcription into alternative formats is likely to be done by national organisations that help visually impaired people in particular, but given the range of material—much of which we have heard about during the debate—that might need to be put into an alternative format, and the cost of doing that, it would be unhelpful to visually impaired people to choose a narrow definition of approved body. That could prevent many other not-for-profit bodies that may occasionally want to act from being able to do so under the Bill.

Clause 5, which inserts new section 31E into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, gives the Secretary of State the power to vary the scope of the multiple copy exception to copyright where there has been an infringement of copyright as a result of activity under the Bill on a scale that would not otherwise have arisen. That provision is extremely important given that there is no restriction on the type of accessible copy that can be made, or on the type of not-for-profit body that can act under the exception.

The order-making power applies either where certain, or certain types, of approved bodies have behaved irresponsibly to the extent that copyright infringement has had a serious impact on copyright owners, or where the making of certain types of accessible copy has had a similar effect. For the record, I state categorically that we are prepared to use that power as a matter of urgency to disapply the exception from a particular body that is claiming to act under the exception if it is involved in activity that seriously undermines rights holders' interests. We are also ready to introduce an order with a more general effect should the exception lead to serious harm of a more general nature. The process for dealing with complaints from rights holders about abuse of that exception can be set out in more detail in the guidance.

Approved bodies that decide to act under the legislation to make much-needed accessible copies for visually impaired people must appreciate that they have a responsibility to observe all the conditions in the legislation or in a licence provided under the licensing scheme. If they do so, they will be able to give real assistance to visually impaired people who cannot currently access copyright material, and the Bill will represent a major step forward in reducing the social exclusion of visually impaired people. If they do not, those bodies must understand that we shall be prepared to use the order-making power in appropriate cases.

The other matter about which copyright owners are especially concerned is the meaning of the phrase "reasonably practicable" in new section 31B(8). In determining whether it is reasonably practicable to re-apply copyright protection technology, the cost of doing so is not intended to be a relevant factor, and the guidance we have promised can certainly cover that point as well. The test is really one of whether re-applying it is technically possible: for example, there would be no point in insisting that copy protection that made the copyright work inaccessible in the first place should be put back on.

Advances in technology do, however, provide an opportunity to ensure that an original lack of access due to incompatibility between copy protection and visually impaired people's access technology does not even arise. If the original digital copy is accessible to all, it will not be possible to act under this exception. Technology can help only if everyone understands each other's problem and is willing to help find the solution, so it will be necessary for the organisations representing the rights holders and those representing visually impaired people to work with those who develop the relevant technologies to ensure that lack of access does not inadvertently arise in the first place.

The multiple copy exception is rightly overridden where copyright owners have set up a licensing scheme, because it must not totally remove the copyright owners' ability to seek remuneration by way of a copyright royalty. Of course, licensing under a licensing scheme can also be used to give copyright owners a valuable closer relationship with approved bodies.

New section 31D does not allow a licensing scheme to be "unreasonably restrictive", and that is defined in subsection (2) to rule out in general any terms or conditions that would restrict the doing of anything that would be possible under section 31B or 31C. Clearly, that makes sense, but I would like to comment on which body can decide what is unreasonably restrictive. The Copyright Tribunal is an independent body already established by copyright law to decide more generally whether terms and conditions of licensing schemes are "reasonable in the circumstances".

For licensing schemes set up in this new area, part of the Copyright Tribunal's judgment of what is reasonable in the circumstances could concern whether the scheme is unreasonably restrictive, but we have been encouraging those setting up or changing licensing schemes in any area to consult fully the representatives of those who will be affected by the schemes: the users of the copyright material.

We are ready to facilitate any discussions about licensing schemes in this area, if necessary, so that concerns about opposed schemes that might be unreasonably restrictive can be addressed at an early stage. That should give all concerned greater certainty that a scheme is not one that can be challenged as unreasonably restrictive.

New section 31C permits an approved body to keep intermediate copies against their future use to make more accessible copies. An approved body can also lend or transfer an intermediate copy, but only to another approved body that is entitled to make accessible copies of the copyright work itself under section 31B. It would be wrong to permit the transfer of an intermediate copy to a body that could not use it under the exception, as there would be a high risk that it would use it for an illegal purpose. Moreover, that limitation means that an intermediate copy can be transferred only to another approved body in the UK, as section 3IB will be inserted in UK copyright law and cannot apply to what people do in other countries.

I, too, am concerned that the Bill will not allow databases to be copied without infringing copyright. As I said in Committee, we are taking up the matter with the Commission, including in the context of the current review of the database directive.

The Bill provides all the necessary checks and balances, while offering the prospect of real help for visually impaired people. Several hon. Members have explained just how important that help is, and just how much it will be valued. I am delighted to reaffirm the Government's continuing support for the Bill.

I offer my hon. Friend my warmest congratulations on having brought the Bill so far through so much hard work, and I share other hon. Members' admiration for all her efforts. I hope that it will continue to receive the widespread support in the other place that it has rightly enjoyed thus far in the House of Commons. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.