Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 15 March 2010

My first speech to Lib Dem Conference #ldconf

Yesterday I made my first speech to Lib Dem Conference. It was on the Digital Economy Bill emergency motion which was being debated in the early slot of 9:15am.

I had decided on Saturday that I would like to speak on it after it had won the vote for which EM to be debated. Freedom of use of the internet is a very important issue to me. At first I was unsure however what I should say about it. I could have stood up there for an hour talking about all the reasons why the motion should pass but of course was I to be picked I was only going to get 3 minutes. Also, the advice in the conference directory is the try and make your point "probably different from everybody else's". I reasoned that there would already be numerous people trying to speak for the bill as a whole and making the broad civil liberties points that many of us in the party instinctively agree with. Lines 36 and 37 of the motion had leapt out at me when I had originally read it:

Reform of copyright legislation to allow fair use and to release from copyright protection works which are no longer available legally or whose authors cannot be identified (orphan works).

This section is particularly welcome by me and other people who very much like watching old TV shows and other things such as old continuity and news etc. I mean the sort of thing that the TV companies cannot make money out of, do not really care about any more, is not released commercially and never will be and yet remains in copyright.

I filled in my speaker's card and handed it in early afternoon. I then heard no more and by the time I got back to my hotel room at around midnight I was unsure whether I should write a speech. To be on the safe side I drafted some words which when I trialled them only lasted for about 90 seconds but at least I had a decent starting point.

When I got to the conference venue at about 8:45 yesterday morning I asked a steward how to find out who was being called and I was informed that I would only get 3 minutes notice as they would tell me to "stand by" when the previous speaker went up. So I then thought I had better finish my speech which I padded by another minute or so and put into some semblance of order. Alex Wilcock had given me some advice that I should make sure I come in under 3 minutes as that would score me some brownie points with the chair so I didn't worry about making it last the full alloted time.

The debate itself was very good with a great opening speech from Bridget Fox who had come back from pounding the pavements of Islington specifically to make it. There were then good contributions from other members. about half way through I then heard "Will Mark Thompson from Bracknell stand by?". My turn came, I went up and delivered my speech. I largely stuck to what I had written only deviating briefly a couple of times. I was a bit nervous, mainly because I was not totally sure that the audience would be 100% receptive to my message given the rather niche nature of the particular issue I was raising. I needn't have worried and got many complimentary comments from people afterwards in person and online. I am not sure the Bob Monkhouse bit came across as I had intended. I was meaning to praise him for having done a great service to archiving but sort of forgot to mention that bit!

I have included a transcript of exactly what I said at the bottom of this post in case you are interested and Alex Foster has an mp3 of the entire debate here.

The most important thing is that the motion passed, almost unanimously (I think there was one vote against). It was good to chat to some of the speakers who had contributed outside just afterwards too.

So I have now lost my conference speaking virginity! Now that I know how it all works I expect I will have no hesitation in popping in a speaker's card in future conferences on issues I feel I have something to say about.

Good morning conference. This motion has lots of good and important stuff in it as you've been hearing and there are a plethora of reasons why you should support it in my view. Here's one more:

I'm probably slightly unusual in that I have a real passion for old television footage; continuity announcements, news, old episodes of long-forgotten and never repeated television shows. Traditionally the only way to watch these was maybe on a third-hand VHS copy or maybe on one that you had taped yourself many years ago or in one of the few museums that are dedicated to this kind of interest.

However with the technology nowadays it's possible for everybody's archives of this nature to be shared with the world. And it might sound like a narrow geeky interest but as far as I am concerned they are snapshots of our history. They form a rich part of our cultural heritage. TV companies don't, and frankly can't make any money out of them any more and yet they are usually still under copyright. The sort of things I am talking about would be covered by lines 36 and 37 of the motion which talks about: "Reforming copyright legislation to allow fair use and release from copyright protection works which are no longer available legally or whose author's can't be identified (orhpan works)".

Instead of enthusiasts worrying that they are breaking the law by sharing this material, instead we could have an army of archivists sharing and preserving this cultural content for future generations.

Bob Monkhouse used to keep a library of video tapes of all sorts of different programmes he had recorded over the years. And indeed television companies used to go to him to recover material that they had been careless enough to lose or wipe. Of course what he was doing was illegal - I don't really think he was aware of that.

Our party has a great tradition of sticking up for minority interests that are doing no harm and this is a real example of such a situation. The law as it stands in this respect serves no good purpose. Lines 36 and 37 would rectify this. And more widely the whole motion is sorely needed to restore confidence in our ability to stand up for people's rights.

I urge you to support it.


Helen Duffett said...

Cracking speech, Mark!

I was making notes as you spoke and particularly liked "army of archivists."

My Conference-speaking cherry is still intact, but your speech and this post make it unlikely to remain so, by autumn!

lizw said...

I thought your point about Bob Monkhouse came across just fine - I got that you were saying what he did was a good thing. Being another fan of old TV shows may have helped, of course, but I think you did well. Congratulations on your first speech! Be warned, it's addictive.