How to grill a minister

Tom Watson, the former Cabinet Office minister and the only guy in the government who really understood the networked world, gave Ben Bradshaw an exemplary grilling in Committee Lord Mandelson’s Dangerous Downloaders Act. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript on Tom’s blog:

Q25 Mr Watson: Perhaps we can explore what a tier one tribunal is later on. I want to test you a little more on this. Have you estimated the cost of implementing the system to suspend file sharers for industry? If so, can you say what that is?

Mr Bradshaw: I would imagine we would do so in the regulatory impact assessment that we will be publishing alongside the bill. I know you have a strong record of speaking out on one side of this argument – this is not meant pejoratively – but there are very strong arguments on the other side, the cost of doing nothing to the music industry alone in this country is estimated at about £200 million.

Q26 Mr Watson: Whose estimate is that?

Mr Bradshaw: That is the industry’s estimate. It is an estimate that I have not seen challenged by anyone in any serious way. You will be aware that it is not just the film industry that is concerned about illegal file sharing, it is the music industry, it is all of our creative sectors. This is a problem which governments all over the world are grappling with. I welcome having a serious debate about how we ensure that people who create things can make value out of it. What I do not accept is the argument that there should be anarchy on the internet and that anyone should just be allowed to access what they like free of charge. The bottom line is, this is theft and I think we have to be clear about that. Yes, there need to be market solutions and there are some very imaginative and innovative market solutions that are being developed all the time, but if you are suggesting that we do not need to take action to curb this problem I think the impact on that on our creative sector – which is massively important to our economy and which has outgrown our economic growth in general and will provide a lot of the well-paid jobs in the future – will be devastating. I think we do need to get the law right and I hope that you will help us do that if you have the chance to serve on the committee.

Q27 Mr Watson: I will try to do that in any way I can. So the only estimate we have got to the cost to industry is £200 million and that is an industry statistic.

Mr Bradshaw: That is just for the music industry.

Q28 Mr Watson: Has the music industry estimated how much it will cost industry to police the system with the suspension system?

Mr Bradshaw: They may well have done.

Mr Stephens: I am afraid I do not know either but, as the Secretary of State said, that is one of the issues that will be covered in a regulatory impact assessment.

Q29 Mr Watson: Has the Department estimated what the increased income to industry will be as a result of implementing this new regulatory burden?

Mr Bradshaw: The aim is to significantly reduce – I think we give a figure – by 70%. If we do not manage to reduce by 70% the level of illegal file sharing then we would move to the next stage in terms of considering technical measures. One would have to take the estimate of what is currently being lost to our creative industries and cut 70% off that to arrive at the figure you have just described.

Q30 Mr Watson: Would it be possible to give us in writing the estimates that helped you to form the decision to implement this new system?

Mr Bradshaw: Absolutely, I would be delighted to do that. I am not sure whether or not it is something we should do in advance of publishing the regulatory impact assessment or whether it would be best to wait and put it all in there in a comprehensive way or to do both at the same time.

What’s clear from the session is that the government has made no estimates of the cost to the network industry of implementing this daft statute. The madness continues.