HC Deb 04 July 2003 vol 408 cc707-13

Amendment made: No. 20, in page 7, line 5, at end insert— database right" has the meaning given by regulation 13(1) of the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 (S.I. 1997/3032);".—[Mr. Mole.]

Order for Third Reading read.

1.44 pm
Mr. Mole

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

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who are here today to debate my Bill, some of whom were involved in its Committee stage. I thank them for their interest. The Bill is now very much better for having been through that process; it has benefited from the close scrutiny of many experienced colleagues and what they have been able to bring to it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister to her new role. I am sure that she will take the opportunity to reassure members of the industry who have expressed concern about the matter that the assurances and commitments that her predecessor made in Committee will apply whoever the holder of that ministerial position may be. I thank her predecessor and her Department for their continued help with the Bill.

I thank the legal deposit libraries, especially the British Library, for their continued support.

The Bill originated from the need to update and extend the current legal deposit legislation, which was passed in 1911. That legislation covers printed publications, yet more than 60,000 non-print items were published in the UK last year—a figure that will increase by a factor of four or five by 2005. Non-commercial publications, including websites, add enormously to that number. At present, there are no systematic or comprehensive arrangements for the collection and preservation of such non-print publications. Without new legislation to ensure that non-print materials are saved for future generations, the 21st century could be seen as a cultural dark age in which we failed to archive a substantial and vital part of the nation"s published heritage. The Bill proposes to extend legal deposit legislation to include non-print publications such as CD-ROMs and online resources, enabling the six legal deposit libraries to ensure that those items are collected and preserved for the national archive.

Together, the six legal deposit libraries—the British Library; the national libraries of Scotland and Wales; University library, Cambridge; the Bodleian library, Oxford; and Trinity college library, Dublin—maintain a world-class national published archive that has benefited generations of researchers from industry, academia and the general public. The existing print legal deposit arrangements have enabled the British Library alone to collect, and to save in perpetuity for the nation, more than 50 million items. In the past year, the library acquired 95,286 books, 248,686 journal issues, 1,994 maps and 2,357 newspaper titles through legal deposit. Once acquired, the library stores and catalogues those items and provides facilities for researchers to access them. In that way, millions of unrelated items, which form the national published archive, are transformed into organised knowledge and secured for posterity.

The legal deposit libraries and the four main publisher trade bodies—the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, the Directory and Database Publishers Association, the Periodical Publishers Association and the Publishers Association—have been working for several years to extend the national published archive. Through the joint committee on voluntary deposit, they oversee the code of voluntary deposit. The Joint Committee on Voluntary Deposits has already proved valuable in helping publishers and libraries to address implementation issues and in safeguarding the economic interests of the publishing industry. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has given an assurance that a body in a similar role will be developed; that will be essential to maintaining a high level of consensus.

Prior to Second Reading, publishers identified several issues that were not to their satisfaction. The Department has worked closely with publishers to address their concerns, and amendments and assurances in Committee went some way towards doing that. We are confident that the amendments that we have just agreed to will go further to satisfy those concerns and to reassure publishers that we recognise and appreciate the economic environment in which they operate. I thank publishers for their continued involvement in the process.

Those who have followed this issue, and indeed the passage of the Bill, will be well aware and, I am sure, appreciative of the urgency of the need to legislate. As we all understand, the world of new media publishing is fast changing, and we are discussing a Bill whose generic nature we consider to be the best way of tackling that situation. In terms of pace, the practice of legislating for legal deposit is not far behind technological advances in publishing. A few weeks ago, the Parliament of New Zealand passed the National Library of New Zealand Act 2003. It is hoped that that Act will protect New Zealand"s most precious heritage items, and at the same time allow the library to operate with credibility in the electronic environment.

That is what the Bill will do. The British Library and the other deposit libraries have shared expertise in this area and are respected across the world. The Bill is essential to them in building on their excellent work of collecting and preserving print material by extending legal deposit to non-print material. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.49 pm
Mr. Moss

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) on his success in the ballot and on selecting the Bill. I thank him for acting on suggestions and proposals that were made in Committee and subsequent consultations. He has tabled 19 new amendments and two new clauses; perhaps that suggests that the measure has turned out to be more complex than originally envisaged.

Estelle Morris

Hear, hear.

Mr. Moss

The Minister has been dealing with it only for the past week. Perhaps it has less overall support than we were led to believe.

I congratulate the promoter on the professional way in which he has taken the measure through the various stages and on the consideration that he has shown to Opposition Members. I join him in thanking the British Library, members of the Joint Committee on Voluntary Deposit and members of the Digital Content Forum, who have assisted me to table amendments that would affect their interpretation and implementation of the measure.

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. I had the pleasure of participating in a debate on a statutory instrument with her only the other day. I reiterate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that she has shown her professionalism in picking up a brief and becoming expert at it in a short time. Such is her ability to cleave through the huge tomes that relate to the Bill and other measures that she has already concluded that the Bill could have done with more consultation. She reached the same conclusion as her predecessor. He soldiered on gallantly for the Government on two enormous Bills—the Communications Bill and the Licensing Bill. I suspect that the measure was parked on the top shelf during that time and that when the former Minister lifted it off the shelf, he made similar comments to those of the Minister this morning, hence his many assurances in Committee about further urgent and necessary consultation between the end of the Committee stage and Report.

However, although some consultation has taken place, it has not satisfied those who will be affected by the Bill. I believe that the Minister acknowledges that much work remains to be done to reassure those who are on the receiving end of many of the Bill"s proposals. I want to communicate to the Minister and the promoter the growing feeling that the measure is being rushed through.

Hon. Members understand that the Bill is mainly enabling legislation and that flesh will be put on the bones at later stages. However, those who are staring at a potentially ruinous economic impact are rightly worried that so much, especially on the online side, is not defined. We discussed some of those matters in today"s debate. People feel exposed to potential problems. Consultation needs to happen urgently and in greater depth to reassure the relevant organisations. They believe that no matter what proposals they have presented, all have been rejected except slight suggestions in amendments Nos. 17 and 22. They should be shown a little more understanding in future negotiations so that their genuine fears can be allayed.

On Second Reading, we expressed broad support for the Bill. We still think it is important to the national archive and our heritage, and that it is probably overdue. We also acknowledge the excellent work done by the Joint Committee on Voluntary Deposit, and the progress that has been made to date. Because of the enabling nature of the Bill, however, and because many questions are still hanging in the air, it is difficult for the publishing sector—particularly the Digital Content Forum—to accept the Bill as it stands. No doubt the sector will press its case in the other place. I have already warned the Minister that the Bill is not done and dusted and that a good deal of work remains to be done to ensure its passage. We want that to be done because we think the Bill is important, but it must be as right as we can get it.

Although more work is needed, we will not oppose Third Reading, and we congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich.

1.56 pm
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Liberal Democrats accept the principle of the Bill, although we agree with the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that more work needs to be done—in the other place, if we send it there today.

I have followed the Bill"s progress with interest—indeed, I served on the Standing Committee—but I did not intervene on Report because the issues were covered so thoroughly and ably by other Members. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) on having got this far, but I shall leave it at that because there is other important business on the agenda.

1.57 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole). This is a highly complex matter, and I am glad that improvements have been made to the Bill. It is only the latest in a long line of measures dealing with legal deposit. In 1537, François I issued a decree requiring every printer in the country to deposit one copy of each book produced in his printing office. That was taken up in this country in 1610, when Sir Thomas Bodley made an agreement with the Stationers Company that became law in 1662. The Bill dates back directly to legislation passed in 1911 giving publishers and distributors in the United Kingdom and Ireland a legal obligation to deposit published material in the six legal deposit libraries.

The Bill seeks to ensure that non-print formats are included in legal deposit. More than 60,000 non-print items were published in the UK last year. The various non-print formats include DVD, CD-ROM, electronic journals and other items delivered via the web.

I hope that the Minister can reassure us about a couple of things. We all support the Bill, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that it is highly complex. The publishing industry is worried about the detail, and it is important for us not to rush it through.

I am particularly worried about two aspects. First, how can we protect publishers of valuable material who publish in low volumes? A number of such publishers are concerned about illegal use of their material. In Committee the then Minister, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Kim Howells), said that the Government would ensure that the necessary restrictions were put in place when regulations were made. I hope that the Minister can confirm that assurance.

My other concern, which has been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), relates to how online material will be deposited. I think everyone agrees that that is a complex problem. I understand that the Government will proceed stage by stage, dealing with offline material first and then, after consultation, online material. That seems a sensible way to proceed, but I should like an assurance today that the consultation process will start as soon as possible, that it will be thorough and that it will involve all interested parties.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire for addressing some of those concerns, and we hope that by the time the Bill becomes an Act it will meet all our requirements to help the publishing industry and ensure that we preserve our valuable cultural heritage. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich on his Bill.

2 pm

Dr. Murrison

I support the Bill. This is a complex matter, and we have delved into some of those complexities today, but this skimming of the surface has revealed that a great deal more work is needed. One looks forward to seeing that work done before the Bill passes into law.

I am concerned about awareness. I highlight the example of the printed media and the fact that people are unaware of the requirement to deposit printed publications. I suspect that the same will be true of electronic media if the Bill passes into law. I am also concerned about compliance and enforcement. I particularly draw the Minister"s attention to the current situation relating to printed matter. Most people are not aware of the existing law; they do not comply with it and enforcement is extremely difficult.

I have said enough. Many of us want to proceed rapidly on to the High Hedges (No. 2) Bill, so I just want to say how much I support the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) on it.

2.1 pm

Estelle Morris

I shall try to keep my remarks brief, but it is important that I put on record the assurances that I need to give the publishing industry.

I want first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) on the Bill. He has done incredibly well in guiding it through Committee. It has not been the easiest of Bills, and it has involved him in not only adopting the original principle, but being prepared to take on board comments from other members of the Committee and the industry. He has done a brilliant job and I thank him for that.

I know that my hon. Friend will want to join me in thanking the Department"s officials and lawyers, who have helped us in recent weeks to end up with a Bill that is far better than when it went into Committee. I pay tribute to everyone who has been part of that process, which was a cross-party effort. I hope that eventually we will have a Bill that will stand the test of time and perform the function for which it was intended.

I want to emphasise the importance of getting this right. It is of great importance to future generations that we preserve publications of great cultural, intellectual and scientific significance. The fact that those now appear in non-print material should not stop us preserving them, but we have to ensure that we have the necessary provisions to do that as effectively as possible.

I want to give assurances about the way forward. The Bill is generic, so it has enormous potential to generate regulations, but our enthusiasm must be tempered by a recognition of the burdens that those could impose on deposit libraries and publishers. The Bill is enabling, but it makes clear the process by which regulations will need to be made. All regulations will be subject to consultation of 12 weeks or more and, as I have said, accompanied by a rigorous regulatory impact assessment that will examine the potential cost of deposit for all parties. That will be prepared in advance of an affirmative resolution in both Houses. No regulations will be produced without that adequate assessment and understanding of their implications for other people.

The Bill, as amended, assigns areas of responsibility relating to access and preservation to publishers and deposit libraries. It provides specific protection concerning copyright and liability for defamation relating to contracts under UK law. It also directs the Secretary of State to take particular note of the legislation"s impact on the commercial interests of publishers and of issues of proportionality. I know that the measures will be welcomed by the House.

As noted in Committee and again today, we shall create an independent advisory panel to assist us in drawing up regulations. I reaffirm the commitment made in Committee and shall briefly describe our intentions. I hope that will reassure hon. Members that the Bill is in a fit state to move to another place.

The advisory panel will be constituted of members from the deposit libraries, the publishing industry and other stakeholders, as well as including expert members. We believe that it will be best served by an independent chair who, together with the members, will be able to guide us on drawing up the regulations. It is important that the advisory panel is up and running in advance of proposals for the first set of regulations and we shall take action to ensure that that is so.

Once the panel has been set up, it will play, and will continue to play, a key role in advising the Secretary of State on the preparation, monitoring and review of regulations. We expect that, typically, it might assist in the development of policy on new media that are eligible to be brought under the scope of the measure and would advise on how best to achieve that.

In conclusion, the Bill is important, and I repeat that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, the publishers and the deposit libraries are all to be commended for their work and their engagement during the Bill"s passage through the Commons. The legislation will, no doubt, be implemented slowly, incrementally and, above all, selectively, but it offers the possibility of enhancing the wealth of our national repositories to the ultimate benefit of us all. Against that background, I commend the Bill to the House.

2.6 pm

Mr. Mole

With the leave of the House, I shall do no more than thank my colleagues for their comments and for the opinions expressed during this interesting debate. I single out my right hon. Friend the Minister for her quick grasp of the subject and the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) for his constructive approach on behalf of the official Opposition.

I commend the Bill to the House and hope that it has a trouble-free passage in the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.