Don Foster MP

Don Foster MP (Liberal Democrat) for Bath. Don Foster is a former teacher and management consultant. He has been a Liberal Democrat MP since beating Chris Patten back in 1992. Since first being elected he has held a number of posts including spokesman on education, a member of the Shadow Cabinet as the Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. Currently, he is the Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport having held that position since 2003.


Don Foster took part in this debate[1] on the 28th October 2010 on privacy on the internet.

IP rights on databases

Don Foster MP organised a parliamentary debate on 17 May 2006 on the Gowers review into intellectual property policy. As part of his speech he said

The Gowers review has to consider numerous different issues. It will, I hope, listen to the strong arguments for altering the IP rights on databases. The rules introduced 10 years ago across the European Union appear to grant excessively restrictive copyrights over collections of non-copyrightable material. The 2005 study by the European Commission suggested that the restrictive copyrights had led the European database industry to become less productive than the American database industry, where no such rights exist. There is, I believe, a strong case for change.

File Swapping

The Register reported in Suing grannies for MP3 swapping – will it start in the UK? on the 15th January 2004

Don Foster told the BPI to "target pirates, not grannies," and said the music industry should "raise its game."

Identity cards

Voted against ID cards.

Early Day Motions

Signed Early Day Motion 263 Identity Cards 06 June 2005

That this House believes that a convincing case for the introduction of compulsory biometric identity cards and a national database has not been made, that the risks involved far outweigh any discernible benefit, that the introduction of identity cards will fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state, diminish personal privacy and threaten civil liberties, that the present proposals do not provide properly costed, proportionate or effective solutions to the problems they are claimed to solve; and calls upon the Government to shelve plans for their introduction.

Signed Early Day Motion 845 Freedom of Information 06 Febuary 2007

That this House expresses concern that the proposed new fees regulations under the Freedom of Information Act would allow authorities to refuse on cost grounds a high proportion of requests which they are currently required to answer; notes that the Government's consultation document recognises that this will have a greater impact on journalists, hon. Members, campaign groups and researchers than on private individuals; considers that such changes would undermine the Act's contribution to increased discussion of public affairs, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities; and calls on the Government not to proceed with the proposals.

Signed Early Day Motion 2699 Freedom of Information 10 December 2006

That this House welcomes the finding of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (HC991) that the Freedom of Information Act has `already brought about the release of significant new information and....this information is being used in a constructive and positive way' and the committee's conclusion that it sees `no need to change' the Act's charging arrangements; views with concern reports that the Government is considering changing these arrangements to permit an application fee to be charged for all requests or to allow authorities to refuse, on cost grounds, a significant proportion of requests which they currently must answer; and considers that such changes could undermine the Act's benefits of increased openness, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities.

Signed Early Day Motion 179 Software in Schools 21 November 2006

That this House congratulates the Open University and other schools, colleges and universities for utilising free and open source software to deliver cost-effective educational benefit not just for their own institutions but also the wider community; and expresses concern that Becta and the Department for Education and Skills, through the use of outdated purchasing frameworks, are effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source software and the value and experience small and medium ICT companies could bring to the schools market.


Fair dealing

Don Foster MP organised a parliamentary debate on 17 May 2006 on the Gowers review into intellectual property policy. As part of his speech he said

The review will also need to consider calls for the updating of the so-called fair dealing exemptions in copyright law, especially in respect of the statutory right to private copying. No such rights exist and that is perhaps the clearest example of a law that is out of touch with the modern world. Only last week, it was reported that 55 per cent. of Britons break the law by copying music that they have purchased on to different devices, such as iPods.

Written answers 21 June 2006 Trade and Industry - Music Copyright Don Foster

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many prosecutions there have been for the illegal copying of music for personal use under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; and if he will make a statement.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry)

It is a matter for copyright owners or their representatives to pursue those who infringe copyright in music by private copying. I understand that the BPI, the British music industry's trade association, has not sued anyone who has merely copied music for personal use.

He also asked about private copying here

Term Extension

Don Foster MP organised a parliamentary debate on 17 May 2006 on the Gowers review into intellectual property policy. As part of his speech he said

At present, copyright on sound recordings lasts about 50 years. Many bodies, such as British Phonographic Industries Ltd., and individuals, such as Sir Cliff Richard, have called for that 50 years to be extended unconditionally to 95 years. They cite many examples to justify such an extension.
First, they argue that it would harmonise our law with that of the United States where, as a result of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 1998, sound copyright exists for 95 years. After all, UK companies argue, they are valued in part according to the number and length of copyrights held and therefore lose out to US recording companies. Secondly, they argue that revenue streams from back catalogue sales provide the funding for new ventures and to promote new talent: increase the length of copyright, they say, and there will be more money for such new ventures. Thirdly, leading performers, such as Sir Cliff, and session musicians argue that they need the revenues that flow from copyright payments on their old recordings as a sort of pension fund. They are particularly concerned because some of their early recordings may soon go out of copyright. Fourthly, many proponents of an extension see the lapsing of works into the public domain as a danger to their preservation and availability.
The arguments against a blanket extension are also powerful, and should be heard. When the United States extended its copyright, it was said that that was necessary in order to
"Harmonise...US copyright law to that of the European Union, while ensuring fair compensation for American creators who deserve to benefit fully from the exploitation of their works."
So the United States extended its copyright to align with us, and now we have proposals to harmonise with it. There is a danger that constant leapfrogging will extend copyright indefinitely. There are now calls in the United States from, among others, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the American Federation of Musicians, for the liberalisation of sound copyright laws.
Britain has a wonderful music history, but a blanket extension could render much of our musical heritage inaccessible to the public for a very long time. After all, the extension of copyright in the United States does not appear to have guaranteed the re-releasing of old recordings. A study for the Library of Congress found that only 14 per cent. of back catalogue material had ever been reissued. The older that material gets, the less likely it is to be re-released—indeed, less than 2 per cent. of the oldest material is re-released. Thus, those opposing blanket extension here argue that we risk locking Britain's rich cultural music past away so that it is enjoyed by nobody and of value to no one.
Opponents also challenge the idea that back catalogue revenues provide investment for new ventures and to support new artists. Peter Jameson of the BPI argued in The Guardian on 24 April that such investment had contributed to a boom in new British music, citing artists such as Arctic Monkeys, James Blunt and Kaiser Chiefs. However, Arctic Monkeys are with Domino Records, which was founded in 1993 and rarely re-releases records that pre-date itself, and James Blunt was signed by the US label Custard Records, which was set up only in 2004 and so has little back catalogue material to release; the same is true of Kaiser Chiefs, who are signed to B-Unique, which was also founded in 2004. Those are hardly good examples of recording companies that rely on significant revenue from the back catalogue profits that would be under threat if we were to stick at the 50-year copyright term.
As for Sir Cliff's campaign for hard-up musicians, copyright was never meant to be a pension fund. More importantly, if old recordings are rarely re-released, there will be little income stream either from the copyright or from airplay revenues. The real problem facing old musicians is that their works are rarely commercially available. The argument that demonises public domain is countered by the evidence that public domain has allowed Britain to be at the forefront of historical music research and has led to a boom in low-cost classical music akin to the boom in low-cost classical literature such as Penguin Classics. Public domain also benefits other musicians, film-makers and artists who use old recordings in new pieces of work, so it can be a good incentive for new ventures.
The Gowers review will need to find a way forward that takes account of all those claims and counter-claims. I have a proposal that will benefit creators, rights holders, consumers and our culture as a whole: conditional extension, which would allow rights holders to take out a 45-year extension to the existing 50-year copyright term. However, with increased rights accompanying extended copyright would come increased responsibilities.
First, to re-register a rights holder would have to pay a nominal extension fee that, while not prohibitive, would prevent record companies from extending copyright as a formality. It would also encourage commercial re-releasing of back catalogue material to help to offset the fee. Meanwhile, the fee would help to cover the administration costs of the new system.
Secondly, the proposal involves specific provision for compulsory licensing. A rights holder who did not make commercial use of a recording would be required to license the rights to any interested party. The fees payable by the interested party would be based on a fees structure set by a body authorised by the Government for the purpose. Essentially, it means that the rights holder has a "use it or lose it" responsibility. Such an approach would encourage record companies to re-release their back catalogue material, but if they did not do so it would enable niche companies and small businesses to demand the right to re-release recordings themselves. As a result, consumers would benefit, as it would help to ensure that copyright term extension did not restrict the choice of music available to them; indeed, it would lead to greater choice of back catalogue releases.
Thirdly, the caveat for archival responsibility would require that work be held in good archived condition in accordance with prevailing technological standards. Sadly, it seems that in the past back catalogue material has sometimes been damaged or misplaced, especially when companies merge, move or shut down. In one such example, Decca, a major British recording company, was taken over by Polygram in 1979 and all the metal masters of the company's pre-1950s 78 rpm recordings were destroyed. Similar things have happened elsewhere: for example, in the 1960s a United States company, King Records, used all its metal masters as infill for a car park for its new office block. Our proposal would mean that many more recordings would survive and be kept tracked centrally. That would have the added benefit of reducing the number of recordings of so-called orphan works, where copyright ownership is unknown.
Such an archival responsibility should place no significant extra administrative burden on the recording companies. After all, they have to submit detailed information on their records to rights collection societies, such as the Performing Right Society and Phonographic Performances Ltd. The extra burden is in ensuring that an original sound recording is treated as an historical artefact and exercising appropriate curatorial responsibilities to ensure the protection of our cultural heritage.
Those three proposals for conditional extension of copyright to 95 years will, I believe, allow recording companies to be valued in a way that allows them to compete with US companies. It will also help the musicians being championed by Sir Cliff Richard and others, because their older recordings are more likely to be commercially exploited, rather than left to languish in obscurity.

He also asked about the extension of the term for sound copyright on the 11 November 2005


Has written to the chairman of BT asking him to explain his firm's secret trial of Phorm's advertising technology last summer.


Don Foster argues that the exception for material published for educational purposes will discourage those who write informative texts from publishing them, educational works need more protection in terms of copyright.

[1] Reference


Communications Data Bill

Don Foster was contacted by a constituent and replied with this message:

Thanks for your e-mail.

I hope the following addresses your concerns but also explains how Liberal Democrat scepticism about the initial proposals has led to major changes in the way the issue will be handled; stopping the plans to "rush through" legislation and insisting, even at the outset, on some major changes. Even so. more changes – as set out below – are needed. For example, Clause 1 of the Draft Bill gives inappropriate sweeping powers to the Secretary of State.

It's important to note that what we now have is a DRAFT Bill. It is a first version, not a final text. and one which will be given the time and proper processes to change. It's hard to over-emphasise how different the procedure to have a draft Bill is to the usual Parliamentary process.

A special Select Committee will go through the issues raised in the Bill, and make suggestions on how to improve it and between now and November will be asking experts and members of the public to comment on it, and suggest where it needs to be changed.

It's thanks to Lib Dem pressure that we now have a vital opportunity to get this right. If left to itself, the Home Office would simply have announced this Bill— or something worse —- as a fait accompli, and whipped people to support it. Nick Clegg intervened to stop that from happening. And already the Draft Bill is better than the one the Home Office originally proposed. There are more safeguards than there were going to be — but we are not there yet.

Without pre-judging the outcome of the Consultation, Lib Dems have always been clear that we want to see robust safeguards in place. Of course I accept that those who keep us safe from crime and terrorism have to keep pace with the technology of the criminals and the terrorists (which is the answer to your first question). If it's already right - subject to safeguards (ones we want to significantly tighten) - to look at certain telephone calls or letters, then we should at least consider the same for modern means of communication such as e-mails, Facebook and Skype.

But as the Government knows, the proposals in the draft Bill in this form would be unacceptable to me and the Liberal Democrats.

I look forward to significant changes being made during the scrutiny process to provide better safeguards for the preservation of our liberties.

We oppose giving Ministers or anyone else broad disproportionate powers to snoop on the public and we need to tighten the controls on how communications data that has been collected can be accessed.

If we do this right, we can have a Bill that is better than the current situation. Already the existing law (RIPA) is an awful Act, and far too lax. If RIPA had been subject to the process we have for the new proposals (as we demanded at the time) we might not be in this mess in the first place. As always, Liberal Democrats have a tough battle on our hands. But, this time, it is a battle that will be fought out in the open. and we have the time. knowledge and power to get it right.

For the first time we will have a proper debate about the legitimate scope of state interference, how technology affects our society. and how we can legislate to strike the right balance between freedom and surveillance.

Over the following months the Government will be forced to justify any new powers it wants. That is exactly what making legislation should always have been about. I‘m confident that Liberal Democrats will make the most of the opportunity we now have.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Don Foster MP

A second response from Don Foster

I understand and share your concerns about the draft Communications Data Bill, and I welcome the report from the Joint Committee that has been looking into the proposals. Liberal Democrats have been wary of the proposals in this Bill for some time. That’s why Nick Clegg took the step back in April to insist that the measures related to communications data were separated from the Crime and Courts Bill, and instead introduced as a separate Draft Bill to enable the maximum possible scrutiny in Parliament.

The Committee has made a number of very serious criticisms of the proposals concerning their scope, proportionality, cost, checks and balances and the need for much wider consultation, and I accept and agree with all of them. My Liberal Democrat colleagues, Julian Huppert and Paul Strasberger, who served on the Committee, and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have been united in the view that this Bill cannot proceed in its current form. I agree with them, and I agree with you that the Government needs to go back to the drawing board.

The current proposals are clearly not up to scratch. They have virtually no safeguards, are incredibly expensive and are based on flawed figures. The Joint Committee described the Home Office’s estimated net benefit figure as “fanciful and misleading”, whilst the Home Office’s own estimate of the cost of introducing these proposals is a staggering £1.8 billion. I strongly believe there are more effective ways we can spend this money in the fight against crime. I think we now all need to reflect properly on the criticisms made by the Committee, and also ensure that there is a much wider consultation with businesses and other interested groups.

I do recognise, however, that the Committee has been clear that there is a problem that must be addressed to give law enforcement agencies the powers they need to fight crime. I agree with them, but I firmly believe it must be done in a proportionate way that gets the balance between security and liberty right. Any modernisation of powers, including possible new legislation, must meet the Joint Committee’s concerns by having the best possible safeguards and keeping costs under control.

Liberal Democrats will continue to approach this issue with the same determination we have always shown to protect our civil liberties from being eroded further, as they were under the previous government. I am clear that I will not back any proposal that is not necessary and proportionate.

Best wishes,


Surveillance Response

In response to a constituent's letter on surveillance, 2014-02-11:

Thank you very much for contacting me with regard to data collection and GCHQ.

I agree that it is vitally important that there is proper oversight of the work and actions of_our intelligence and security services, particularly in light of the revelations about the role of GCIIQ in the PRISM spy operation. A lot more needs to be done to make this a reality, but I believe that we are taking major steps in the right direction.

Liberal Democrats in Government passed legislation in 2012 to transform the powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). a cross-party committee in the House of Commons that has oversight of the intelligence services. including GCHQ. The Bill gave the ISC new powers to call for evidence from the intelligence services, hold them to account. and to select the membership of the committee themselves. rather than being appointed by the Prime Minister.

Last year’s intelligence and security committee hearing at which the Heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ gave evidence established a principle that open debate over security is possible and necessary. This sort of public scrutiny is exactly what we need to restore confidence in our intelligence service, whose work keeps us safe.

Furthermore, Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Dcmocrats, announced in January proposals that would set clear limits and guidelines on state surveillance for the first time through compulsory annual reports by security agencies and a wholesale review of how we scrutinise them currently.

I agree that we must continue to make sure that data is not being collected arbitrarily, while ensuring that the intelligence and security services are able protect Britain and I believe that the Lib Dems are leading the way in striking the right balance between these two aims. I hope that this is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance on this or any other matter.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

pp. Rt Hon Don Foster MP


2008-07-24 - Liberal Democrats - Internet deal is step forward but legal downloads must be promoted more
Author: Don Foster
Summary: Commenting on today's deal between ISPs and the music industry on how to clamp down on illegal file downloading, Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Don Foster said:"This is a welcome step forward in dealing with piracy, which is having a serious impact on the British music industry. But we have to accept that there is no single solution to solving this problem."
2008-07-04 - Liberal Democrats - Google ruling very worrying for UK consumers
Author: Don Foster
Summary: Commenting on the US court ruling that Google must hand over all its YouTube user data to Viacom, Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Don Foster said: "This ruling sets a very worrying precedent for the future of the internet, with internet users' personal details being passed around different corporations without consent."
2008-03-28 - The Register - MPs pile pressure on ISPs over Phorm
Author: Chris Williams
Summary: Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has written to the chairman of BT asking him to explain his firm's secret trial of Phorm's advertising technology last summer.
2008-02-22 - Liberal Democrats - Illegal file sharing plans must not undermine civil liberties
Author: Don Foster MP
Summary: Commenting ahead of the expected publication tomorrow of the Government’s plans to crack down on illegal file sharing, Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Don Foster said "Illegal file sharing is a serious threat to the British music industry, but the Government must ensure that the right to privacy remains an absolute priority. We will resist any new laws which undermine the principles behind existing data protection laws." "We need to find a balance which allows rights holders to target the criminals raking in huge profits from this crime without threatening basic civil liberties or dramatically changing the relationship between internet service providers and users." "Self-regulation would be preferable and it is now up to the internet service providers to demonstrate this will work."
2007-04-30 - Liberal Democrats - BBC trust must ensure iPlayer competition
Author: Don Foster MP
Summary: Responding to today's BBC Trust announcement giving final approval for the iPlayer, the corporation's proposed online seven-day catch-up TV service, Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Don Foster MP said: "We welcome this announcement but questions remain as to why such scrutiny wasn't similarly applied to last week's decision to launch 'Freesat'." "Given that the 'Public Value Test' is designed to provide transparency and build confidence in the independence of the BBC Trust, it would be wise to apply these new rules consistently." "The Trust must ensure that Microsoft is not allowed to hold a monopoly over the iPlayer and encourage the BBC executive to allow greater access for people using different software." "However, its indication that it is willing to address this as part of its efforts to act independently should be supported."
2006-07-20 - BBC - Transmission breakdown
Summary: Wish you could listen to your MP3 player while driving? Plans are afoot to overturn a law which currently bans mini devices that broadcast to your car stereo. But do they work? Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture and media spokesman, who is a strong supporter of reforming the current law. Mr Foster has assured him that community radio fans will not face similar problems here as the gadgets' transmission range will be so short.
2006-07-14 - BBC - MP3 gadget set for legalisation
Summary: Gadgets which transmit MP3 players' output so they can be heard on FM radios may become legal in the UK. Liberal Democrat culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster said "I am delighted Ofcom have ended this ludicrous ban, based on 1940s legislation... which threatened two years imprisonment to music lovers using iTrips." "This decision... will not only regulate a booming black market and provide the country with valuable tax revenue, but also enable the iPod generation to enjoy their music using the latest gadgets"
2006-07-09 - BBC - Future of the BBC 7 min 13 sec interview
Summary: Interview about BBC expanding into the web and new media. Don Foster wants an independent monitor to check how much the BBC will distort the market.
2005-06-16 - The Register - eBayers banned for wrecking Live 8 ticket auctions
Author: Tim Richardson
Summary: Elsewhere, Lib Dem MP Don Foster MP has jumped on the Live 8 bandwagon and called on eBay to introduce a charity auction site. "eBay's climb down on Live 8 mustn't obscure the way in which bogus charitable auctioneers have profited in the past and will do so again unless eBay acts now," he said. "The public's fury at the sick profiteering over Live 8 shows that eBay can no longer afford to ignore its social responsibility in this area. "eBay already has a charitable auction site in the United States. Four months ago I was told by eBay in this country that it hoped to introduce a similar site 'soon'. They should wait no longer."
2004-03-20 - BBC - Delegates back p0rn age reduction
Summary: Censorship. Mr Foster made the case for allowing 16-year-olds to view p0rnography during a censorship and freedom of expression debate.While he had worried the proposals would encourage p0rnography into schools, "the reality is sexually explicit material is already readily available to 16 and 17-year-olds on the internet", he said."Our current policy on censorship and freedom of expression is not only out-of-date, it's inconsistent and it's confusing," Mr Foster said. "We still do not allow 16-year-olds to watch $ex, despite the fact they can currently have $ex, lawfully marry and indeed, a woman may choose to have a baby at 16." "This certainly seems out of date given that as Liberal Democrats, we would extend to 16-year-olds full political and social rights ..." "The proposals are intellectually sound - 16 and 17-year-olds in this country are living in a twilight zone between childhood and adulthood, having lost their children's rights, yet only gaining adult rights in a piecemeal fashion, some at 16, some at 17, some at 18." "This motion merely proposes consistency on the suitable age for obtaining adult rights in line with the well-established Liberal Democrat policy on 16 as the common age of majority."
2004-01-15 - The Register - Suing grannies for MP3 swapping – will it start in the UK?
Author: John Lettice
Summary: Yeates' remarks have triggered the predictable backlash, with Liberal culture spokesman Don Foster telling the BPI to "target pirates, not grannies," and saying the music industry should "raise its game." Meanwhile BPI spokespeople have been stressing that although the likelihood of legal action has been increasing, the people making money out of music piracy remain the primary targets.