HC Deb 15 March 2002 vol 381 cc1192-203

Order for Second Reading read.

1.43 pm
Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

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

I begin by declaring the assistance that I have received from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Its help and expertise has been magnificent and I pay a particular tribute to Caroline Ellis, David Mann, Marilyn Oldershaw and the team that has supported them. I also pay tribute to the many hon. Members from all parties in the House who have been eager to give their full support to the Bill.

May I give particular recognition to the partnership that has ensured that the Bill has been given the time today for its Second Reading? I add further to their embarrassment by giving special recognition to, dare I say it, the two musketeers: the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who I know have been very keen to give the Bill their support. I thank those who have expressed their support in the other place. I also thank the Government, especially the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for her support.

Many organisations and bodies outside the House support the Bill. They include the Disability Rights Commission, the Library Association, the National Library for the Blind, the Calibre Cassette Library, the Scottish Braille Press, the Talking Newspaper Association of the United Kingdom, the Torch Trust for the Blind, the UK Association of Braille Producers, the Confederation of Transcribed Information Services, the National Federation of the Blind, the National League of the Blind and Disabled, Scope, Sense, and Deafblind UK.

A considerable number of authors have expressed their support, including Philip Pullman, Jilly Cooper, Joanna Trollope, Harold Pinter and Nick Hornby.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove the barriers created by copyright law to visually impaired people's access to books and other reading materials, while safeguarding the rights of authors and publishers. In so doing, it will greatly enhance not just visually impaired people's access to our written culture, but, crucially, the educational and employment opportunities open to such a hugely disadvantaged group.

Copyright is, in itself, a valid and valuable concept. Writers and other creators are entitled to have their work recognised and respected and to earn a fair return for their intellectual and artistic endeavours. However, visually impaired people face unacceptable delays in gaining access to books and articles in accessible formats or are denied the right to read certain books altogether because of current copyright law.

Visually impaired people cannot simply walk into their nearest bookshop and choose a book in large print or braille. With the exception of a few commercial publishers of large-print and audio books, most publishers find it uneconomic to make accessible copies of works available to visually impaired people. Research commissioned in 1999 revealed that only 5 per cent. of the 100,000-plus titles published in the United Kingdom in 1998 were available in formats accessible to the 2 million visually impaired people a year later. That shows the extent of the limited choice of reading material available.

The majority of accessible copies are produced by voluntary organisations or teachers of visually impaired students, yet the ability of schools and voluntary organisations to make books, magazines and other materials accessible and readily available to visually impaired people is massively constrained by current copyright restrictions.

Every time the explicit permission of the rights-holder is required, it is usually granted, hut, typically, there are significant delays and, occasionally, outright refusals. At best it takes a month for permission to come through, but the wait is often much longer. Frequently, six months pass before it is possible to produce an alternative-format version. Sometimes, the wait is as long as two years. When permission is delayed, visually impaired people are unable to participate in our society on the same terms as sighted people. Voluntary organisations find that they waste precious time and money chasing publishers and authors' agents for permission—time and resources that they would prefer to devote to producing more material in accessible formats.

There is compelling evidence of the disadvantage caused by copyright harriers to blind and partially sighted learners in particular. The largest ever survey of blind and partially sighted young people, the results of which were published last year, revealed that nearly half—47 per cent.—of students in university or higher education do not usually get books in their preferred formats and that 33 per cent. of visually impaired children do not always get their textbooks in an accessible format when they need them.

Let me give two examples of the problem. The first is of a visually impaired student who asked her university library to enlarge on a photocopier a book that she needed for her studies. It told her that it could copy only one chapter and that she should be grateful for that. How will that student get through her reading list and complete her studies when the copyright law makes it so difficult for her to gain access to books? Will she, sadly, become one of those students who give up their studies as a result? The second example relates to the recent attempts by the RNIB to persuade the agents of two very famous children's authors to give it permission to transcribe their works, which would enrich the lives of visually impaired children. Permission was refused point blank. Is such a denial of access justified simply because children are visually impaired?

There have been positive developments in voluntary agreements between right-holders and visual impairment organisations, but that does not negate the need for legislation. On the contrary, at the present rate of progress, the RNIB contends that it will take 20 years to get most works covered by such schemes—and many copyright owners will still not join.

I welcomed the launch last October of the joint industry guidelines on copyright and visually impaired people which stated that it would usually be acceptable for a visually impaired person to make a single copy of a work for personal use, subject to various conditions, without seeking permission. However, publishers reserve the right to opt out, and I understand that many schools and libraries remain wary of transcribing works into accessible formats because the guidelines do not have the force of law.

The advent of the information society has rendered the copyright problem more acute than ever. It could offer tremendous advantages to visually impaired people. However, the development of digital rights management schemes has added a new technological barrier to the copyright equation. Most of those schemes are incompatible with the screen-reading technology that blind and partially sighted people use to gain access to material displayed on a computer screen.

Let me deal briefly with how the Bill proposes to address the barriers thrown up by copyright law. It would amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to create two exceptions in copyright law for the benefit of visually impaired people. Clause 1 provides for single accessible copies to be made for work purposes for the personal use of a visually impaired person without infringement of copyright, subject to a few conditions including that the work must be lawfully obtained, that there is significant acknowledgement of the author, and that the work must not already be published in a form that the person concerned can access. There would be no need to ask the rights-holder for permission in such circumstances.

The clause also makes provision for multiple-access copies to be made for and distributed to visually impaired people without asking permission, but with numerous safeguards for the moral rights of the author and without interfering with the legitimate exploitation of the work. Only educational establishments or bodies that operate on a not-for-profit basis could rely on that exception, and they would have to notify the copyright owner within a reasonable time that they had made accessible copies of the work.

In the unlikely event of serious infringements of copyright arising from the activities of bodies under the exception, the Secretary of State would have the power in extremis to prohibit the body or bodies involved from acting under the exception. The exception also provides for circumstances in which a large number of copies in an alternative format might be needed: for example, if a novel has to be studied as part of a school subject and children in many schools therefore need the same material to be made accessible, or if an organisation such as the RNIB is building up stock for its renowned talking books service.

Clause 1 also defines the meaning of an accessible copy and the group to whom the exceptions apply. The accessible copy is one that offers a visually impaired person access to the work equivalent to that of a person who is not visually impaired. It will include formats such as braille, large print, audio cassette or disk.

Visually impaired people access information in a variety of ways. Among other factors, the age of onset of disability, the amount of rehabilitation received and the facilities at the individual's disposal influence the way in which people are able to read. The Bill's definition of visually impaired persons embraces not only those who are blind or partially sighted, or have uncorrectable sight loss, but anyone who has a physical disability that means that they cannot pick up or manipulate a book, such as those with rheumatoid arthritis. That is the definition used by the publishing industry in the context of copyright issues.

Clause 2 specifies that the legislation will apply throughout the UK, given that copyright is a reserved matter. The exceptions cover literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works as defined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. However, given that the owners of copyright in music are highly dependent on royalties for the making of sound recordings of the music, and that a visually impaired person can enjoy such a sound recording without any reformatting, the Bill specifically excludes the making of an accessible copy of a musical work that involves recording a performance.

The Bill's provisions are heavily influenced by the original Patent Office consultation. They are also the result of lengthy dialogue and consultation with organisations representing visually impaired people and rights-holder organisations. Toward the end of last year I was pleased to meet representatives of the Publishers Licensing Society, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, the Publishers Association and the Writers Guild of Great Britain. I am grateful to them for their helpful suggestions, which have influenced the drafting of the Bill.

Throughout my life, I have been fortunate enough to meet and have contact with both children and adults with visual impairment. They stand out from the crowd not because of their disability, but because of their abilities and achievements in overcoming the many obstacles that they face. I hope that the House will support the Bill today and give visually impaired people opportunities to fulfil their potential—to read, to learn, to work and to participate fully in our society.

1.59 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on doing well in the ballot. I know from my own experience that a Member who comes high in the private Members' ballot is never lonely. We are besieged by good causes that wish a Member to take up their banner. There are difficult choices to make, but if I may say so, the hon. Lady has made a good choice in bringing the Bill forward.

I am aware of the immense amount of work that is involved in bringing a private Member's Bill together and trying to carry Members of all parts of the House in roughly the same direction at roughly the same speed.

The Bill has the support of the official Opposition. Until the Royal National Institute for the Blind began to lobby Members about the problem, I was unaware of the technical, legal problems that were being caused to many blind and partially sighted people. I join the hon. Lady in congratulating the team that has been involved in the excellent work that has been done at the RNIB in putting everything together, in considering the realities and the safeguards that are needed, and on its most effective lobbying of all hon. Members in setting out the merits of the proposed legislation.

As always, there are points of detail on which some of us may have differing views, but that is why there is consideration in Committee. Such points are not for today's debate. This is a good Bill and a necessary Bill. It seeks to address a clear case of discrimination against blind and partially sighted people. It would be a travesty if it did not receive Second Reading today.

As the hon. Lady has so eloquently described, the problem is in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which wholly overlooks the needs of visually impaired people. As she has told the House, a survey carried out a couple of years ago revealed that only 5 per cent. of titles—I gather that about 100,000 are published every year in the United Kingdom—were available in formats that were accessible to people with visual impairment within a year of their publication. That is a damning statistic.

Another statistic is that nearly half—47 per cent.—of blind and partially-sighted students in universities and higher education do not usually obtain books in their preferred formats. We all know that it is difficult enough studying a course at university in the first place, without having additional difficulty because one suffers from visual impairment.

As the RNIB pointed out to me, there are about 3,000 or more voters in my constituency who are shut off from accessible reading material because of the copyright restrictions that the Bill is aimed to deal with. I am sure that the matter has been drawn to the attention of other right hon. and hon. Members.

We have heard from both the RNIB and the hon. Lady about blind and partially sighted learners having to give up in despair. They throw up their hands and walk away from courses because they cannot secure access to relevant study materials in a format that is accessible to them.

In a sense, the irony is that the various formats are invariably produced—not on a profit-making basis—by voluntary and charitable organisations. They have limited resources but they are extremely successful in producing the formats that are required.

It is right to emphasise, as the hon. Lady has done, that no one is setting out to threaten copyright and the legitimate interests of authors, publishers and distributors. I am pleased that only just up the road from my constituency is the national recording centre of the Talking Newspaper Association, which is at Heathfield. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry), who has given me some details from the centre. It does a tremendous job, both locally and nationally. It transcribes on to tape the contents of 1,100 of the 1,400 regional and local newspapers that are produced. That is an amazing achievement in itself. It runs also a national service that records more than 200 newspapers and magazines on to cassettes and transcribes about 75 titles into electronic format.

In a sense, it is a sort of sister organisation to talking books, and every bit as important for blind and partially sighted people. I can certainly say that from meeting them in my constituency. Talking to members of the Eastbourne Blind Society, I am always struck by how reliant they are on both talking books and talking newspapers. Their products are "read" by 230,000—nearly 0.25 million—blind and partially sighted people in the country. It is not just current affairs that they read, although hopefully they will all read avidly the reports of our debate that will no doubt appear in the national media. People with particular hobbies or interests can access specialist magazines through the service; people can also examine classified ads and pursue job opportunities of which they may otherwise be unaware.

The Talking Newspaper Association of the United Kingdom makes a fair point about the fact that it gets no Government funding; it is a voluntary and charitable organisation. It says that it can only operate effectively with the co-operation of local and national newspapers, and is in the happy position of having agreements with all the local newspaper editors and publishers, as well as national titles. However, it says that there have been a couple of occasions when reservations have been expressed about the provision of the state-of-the-art electronic service. It says that earlier this year, one publisher did suspend the provision of source material necessitating the temporary suspension of a number of titles. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West is trying to tackle that problem, which is more widespread in other areas, in her Bill. The Talking Newspaper Association puts it graphically: Were the Government to propose, for example, that all Jews and gays needed to obtain a licence in order to access books and information, there would—rightly so—be an outcry. I do not think that that analogy is over the top. Unbeknown to many people, nearly 0.25 million of our fellow citizens are effectively discriminated against, as I have described. I therefore commend the work of the Talking Newspaper Association.

I shall say only a brief word about safeguards, as it is more appropriate to discuss them in Committee. The hon. Lady recognised that it is important to protect intellectual property of all types. The UK leads the world in many respects in intellectual property, and the Opposition support attempts to strengthen copyright and patent protection. The Bill addresses the problem of providing such protection; I shall not go into too much detail, but the one-for-one exception in clause 1 makes it clear that a conventional copy of a publication has to be obtained in parallel with the production of a version accessible to blind or partially sighted people. There are also detailed safeguards on multiple accessible copies for educational establishments with a legitimate interest in producing formats for visually impaired students; those establishments are not in the business of making a profit or trying to skim off profits from the publishers or authors.

I am pleased that the Bill includes other safeguards. Had they not been included, we would have pressed for them. There may be scope for debate about their extent and whether they go too far but, again, that is a matter for Committee. We have heard stories from the RNIB and the hon. Lady about students who simply cannot obtain a complete book; they may be wrestling with a weekly reading list, but cannot get more than one chapter of a book at a time, which must be an extraordinary disincentive to pursuing a course in any subject. We have also heard about an advisory teacher for visually impaired children who simply could not get enough books in the right format to teach the children properly, which must be against the spirit of the original copyright legislation that the Bill seeks to amend.

In conclusion, I reiterate our support for the Bill; we look forward to it reaching its next stage. Blind and partially sighted people have enough obstacles to overcome in life; let us at least remove this one.

2.9 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on introducing what I consider to be a model private Member's Bill. It is focused on a particular problem; it is relatively and properly limited in scope; it is, we now know, uncontroversial; and it implies effectively no additional burden on public expenditure. Those are all admirable qualities in a private Member's Bill. The fact that the Bill seeks to correct something which is so patently wrong and does that in a businesslike way is an additional virtue.

I also welcome the fact that we have today had a brief but important opportunity to debate the Bill. That is of the essence of the parliamentary process, as it allows hon. Members and the House to indicate the extent of support—or, in some cases, the extent of opposition—to a Bill. The hon. Lady generously acknowledged that she had been assisted by hon. Members in all parts of the House. We now have the opportunity to debate the Bill, indicate our support for it and perhaps flag up one or two specifics, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has just done, which may need attention in Committee. Again, that is admirable.

I confess that I am generally rather uneasy about legislation. In my previous incarnation, I made a modest career out of trying to protect the public at large from what I saw as unnecessary or even disadvantageous legislation, but in a case such as this, I believe that legislation is entirely justified, particularly where it seeks to assist any group in society whose members are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. That is an aim to which the House should pay more attention and on which it should spend more time than it does.

The hon. Lady's speech reflected the fact that in cases such as this, there is nearly always a balance to be struck between the advantage properly being sought, and any risk of disadvantage to any other group that may have a legitimate claim. I acknowledge that the Bill seeks carefully to do that. As far as I know, none of the legitimate interest groups that could be affected has argued that the Bill should not proceed. The Committee stage will give an opportunity for such reservations to be made clear, if there are any. That is not necessarily a topic for Second Reading, but the Committee will be able to deal with it.

May I register one or two slight reservations, and perhaps put down a marker for the Committee? I am always nervous when I see a reference to the powers of the Secretary of State, such as that in clause 1, with its rather odd format, under section 31B(12) on page 4, which seeks to give the Secretary of State powers by order to prohibit or to disapply. It goes on to state that any body would therefore not be entitled to a licence, and continues: The Secretary of State shall only exercise the powers … if he is satisfied". I am not totally reassured by that, as I see nowhere in the Bill any provision for appeal.

Unless I am misreading the Bill, it strikes me that all the powers go in only one direction—that is, that the Secretary of State can prohibit. The fact that the Bill states that the Secretary of State shall exercise the powers only if he is satisfied does not make me feel any easier. I would prefer to see some further mechanism for appeal or redress under the same section.

Subsection (14) goes on to state that regulations or orders shall be subject to annulment. I would rather see the positive process, not the negative one, but that is a detail, however important.

In the explanatory notes to the Bill, paragraph 44 states rather optimistically: It is not expected that the provisions of this Bill will have any impact on public finance or manpower requirements. There may be minor workload implications for the Patent Office

Well, I hope that that will be the case. Having said that, however, simply because I wanted to draw attention to the point, this may be one of those fairly rare occasions when, even if there were more than minor work load implications, the cause is so worthy and admirable that we might all readily agree that expenditure should be undertaken.

With those few words, I add my support to the Bill and wish it well in its further stages.

2.15 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on her good fortune? She has an opportunity that I, in my 14 years here, have never yet had. I am told that these experiences can be either frustrating or rewarding, and I very much hope that she will find her experience rewarding. It is sensible that we also congratulate the RNIB, which I am sure has done a great deal of work on the Bill. It does a huge amount of good in the community at large.

Some private Members' Bills are exotic and some affect only a few people. I am clear, as I am sure other Members are, that this Bill is not exotic but very sensible, and it will affect the best part of 2 million people, who could most certainly benefit from its provisions. They are the sort of people who need whatever help we can give them. Help for those people currently depends on voluntary agreements, and clearly we should be grateful to those who have entered into those agreements. Having said that, although I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), am a reluctant legislator, on this occasion it seems sensible to consolidate those voluntary agreements in law.

It would be foolish to suggest that there are no difficulties ahead for the Bill. There are some very technical matters to be dealt with, and there are legal issues that will exercise minds far greater and more powerful than mine. It is important to make sure that when the Bill goes into Committee, as I hope it will, the concessions that we want to make are not abused. I am sure that that point will be addressed in Committee. It is essential that we do not lose sight of the need to protect copyright owners in the general run of things, and I am sure that the need for safeguards will be borne in mind. Those are issues of detail, and it would be entirely wrong to debate them today.

There really is a need for the Bill. The only figures for a complete year that I have seen suggest that about 5 per cent. of books published in a year become available to people who need such help. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West pointed out that there are those, particularly in schools, who are reluctant to act ahead of legislation. I accept the need for the Bill. It is a sensible Bill, and it appears to have the support of those who own copyrights. My mailbag has been silent on these matters, and I take that to mean that no real opposition has been stirred up. The Bill seems to be non-controversial. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her good fortune, and I wish her Bill well.

2.18 pm
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

May I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) both on securing this opportunity and on introducing a Bill of such evident value? I also congratulate the RNIB, which I know has helped her in preparing the Bill.

I speak on this matter in three capacities. First, in a personal capacity, I know what a difference the Bill will make to many people. Secondly, I speak in a professional capacity because, as some hon. Members will know, I practised as an optician for some years, so I recognise the difficulties that many partially sighted people face in everyday life. Thirdly, I speak in my capacity as the chairman of the recently constituted all-party group on eye care, which is a worthwhile venture. It would be incorrect of me to purport to speak for the group as a whole, but we have briefly discussed the Bill in our meetings, and I got a sense of very strong support for it from the membership and a wish for it to proceed.

Blind and partially sighted people do not have a terribly good deal in this country, for all sorts of reasons. We do not pay adequate attention to the need for primary care in the first instance, and we do not pay sufficient attention to the acute phase in loss of sight and the possible interventions that can take place at hospital level. We certainly do not provide enough support in terms of the rehabilitation and equipment that partially sighted and blind people need in order to maintain their life following what is a very difficult event.

Access to written material is a constant frustration, and is something that Members of Parliament probably do not address properly in our communications with our electorate. This Bill will go a long way to deal with one aspect of that. The difficulties of students in school and in college have already been mentioned. That is a real problem that is made worse by the otherwise wholly beneficial process of integration into mainstream schools and colleges, which do not, to the same extent, have specialist staff who know their way around the system and how to access it.

This Bill will make a significant contribution to the well-being of blind and partially sighted people. I hope that the Government will be able to respond positively to it, and I hope that our contribution will be to make sure that it passes through the House without further delay.

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

I am delighted to be here today to contribute to this valuable debate about the problems encountered by visually impaired people when they cannot read material that is protected by copyright in the format in which it has been published.

The Government recognise that this issue needs to be addressed; indeed, we consulted on a possible way forward only last year. We recognised then that a solution to these problems lies at least in part in a change to copyright law. Copyright gives rights to creators, which allow them to control the use of their copyright material, including by making copies. The material that we are talking about is wide-ranging, as several hon. Members have said. It could be a book of fiction, a newspaper, a school textbook or an instruction manual for household equipment. It could even be a map or information about a job. I recently received a letter from the National Centre for Tactile Diagrams, which is based at the University of Hertfordshire in my constituency, which helped me to appreciate the wide range of copyright material that visually impaired people may currently be unable to use because it is presented in a format that is inaccessible to them. In addition, that lack of access plays a part in the exclusion of blind and partially sighted people from the cultural, social and educational life of the country.

In general, when copyright material has only been produced in a format that a visually impaired person cannot read or see, the copyright owner's permission must be sought before it can he put into an accessible format such as large print, Braille, audio tape or—when it is graphic material—a tactile representation. Many copyright owners give that permission, but there can be delays in getting it—sometimes very long delays—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) said. That is why we started looking at a new exception to copyright that would allow these alternative formats to be produced in some circumstances without infringing copyright, and therefore without the need to seek permission.

An inability to access copyright material can give rise to problems for visually impaired people in many situations—in school, in the home and at work. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West gave several telling examples of the problems that disabled people currently face. As I have already mentioned, visual impairment could be one of the factors leading to social exclusion. A visually impaired person may not be able to study the necessary material to gain a qualification or to read the information that they need to take a full part in ordinary life, including in the workplace. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West on choosing this worthy subject for her private Member's Bill. I appreciate that it is the culmination of much hard work by her and by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. It also has a formidable degree of support outside the House, as she has detailed.

Copyright law already contains a number of exceptions to copyright covering situations in which it would not always be reasonable or feasible to get copyright clearance. The balance in copyright law between the interests of the users of copyright material and of those who create it is extremely important, as several hon. Members have recognised in their contributions to this debate. Those—including visually impaired people—who cannot always do what they would like with copyright material can and do argue for exceptions to copyright. That is what we are considering in this debate. However, we must ensure that exceptions are fair to copyright owners as well as to users, so it is important to understand why we have copyright protection.

In general, copyright underpins and enhances our creative industries, which play a key role in bringing us the information and the resources that we need to participate in and benefit from the knowledge economy. The Government, therefore, welcome the very positive contribution made by the creative industries to the economy and value very highly the individual contributions of many authors and composers. Copyright provides the mechanisms for these industries and creators to protect—and be rewarded for—their skill and investment in bringing us new products. Protecting creativity and providing the mechanisms for creativity to be rewarded are vital if the creative industries and authors are to continue being successful in producing high-quality material for the benefit of us all.

Copyright protection remains crucial, and that is especially true where the very success of the information society has led to many people believing that the material that others have created can be copied freely. Such issues go well beyond the subject of this debate, but it is important to stress those points because some people here may think that there are easier solutions to the problems faced by visually impaired people than those contained in the Bill. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West emphasised, the Bill quite rightly takes into account the very real needs and rights of copyright owners too.

Moreover, I want to acknowledge the considerable efforts that have recently been made by the publishing sector and authors to listen and respond to the needs of visually impaired people. I know that some copyright owners believe that voluntary solutions to copyright problems could continue to develop to provide all the solutions that visually impaired people need. I want to encourage the dialogue to continue, but I do not believe that voluntary solutions will provide all that is needed to overcome difficulties with copyright clearances. That is why the Government were still working towards new exceptions to copyright in this area before this Bill was proposed.

I am pleased, therefore, that my hon. Friend has brought this Bill before the House. Its intention is to deliver two distinct but complementary exceptions to copyright that, in principle, we can support. It provides a fair balance between the needs of visually impaired people and the interests of copyright owners. Visually impaired people and organisations working on their behalf will be able to act under the exceptions to provide alternative formats of copyright material that are needed to allow visually impaired people to read copyright material. However, copyright owners will have the ability to monitor what is happening to their material and obtain copyright royalties for this in circumstances where their interests might otherwise be prejudiced. That is an important balance and I know that it is one that the House will wish to maintain.

I am delighted to confirm, therefore, that this worthwhile Bill has the Government's support. I am happy to learn that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and other hon. Members support the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman said, amendments might be necessary and the Committee will have to consider the detail of the exceptions that may be required at a later stage. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West said, the Bill is about access and opportunity for many visually impaired people and about enabling them to have the opportunities that many of us take for granted. I therefore look forward to the Bill being debated in detail at later stages.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).