UK MP'S discuss Gaming Industry before General Elections
The two-hour question and answer session, chaired by Matt Warnam, consumer technology editor of the Daily Telegraph, saw Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East sharing a panel with Ed Vaizey, Conservative shadow minister for culture, and Don Foster, Liberal Democrat shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport. All three tackled questions from senior game industry figures.
As the session opened, all three politicians were keen to underscore their praise. Foster pledged the Liberal Democrats’ support for the game industry, suggesting that videogames were rapidly becoming "as important as the financial services" in their value to the UK economy. Watson stated that the industry may be new, but was rapidly maturing, and heralded the industry’s successful lobbying for both the tax credit outlined in last week’s budget and the acceptance of the PEGI content rating system by the UK government as major landmarks in the medium’s political history. Vaizey, meanwhile, readily admitted that he "knew nothing about the industry" when he took on the position of shadow minister for culture, and that what he has discovered has been a ‘revelation’ to him.
While all three panellists expressed broad support for tax breaks for the industry, Vaizey was hesitant to confirm if the Conservatives fully supported the figures amounting to £90 million relief over two financial years outlined in last week’s budget, suggesting that he would not fully debate the specifics of the proposals until they had passed through the European Commission.
When asked how best to ensure the industry can protect itself from the criticisms of uninformed politicians and the popular press, the panellists were unable to escape a broad consensus. Watson suggested that there was a "generational issue" responsible for the ignorance of many MPs, and called upon the industry to "be bold" in its rebuttals to ignorant comment. Don Foster echoed the suggestion that the industry could be more effective in its lobbying, suggesting that developers which qualified as small businesses should target their constituency MP with game related issues. Vaizey praised the "rapid rebuttal operation" that was already in place, and all three politicians were keen to assure those present that there were enough educated individuals in parliament to ensure that members such as Keith Vaz did not go unquestioned. Vaz, the panellists stressed, has rethought some of his more controversial positions due to criticisms from fellow MPs. "He was getting kicked to death in the tea-room," Watson joked.
The panellists also agreed on the need for parents to take responsibility for the content their children have access to, with appropriate industry guidance.
Responding to a question put forward by Ian Livingstone on the need for the UK to produce more skilled mathematics and computer science graduates, Vaizey described the game industry as "the answer to politicians' prayers", and suggested that careers in games should be used to promote such courses to potential students. Foster underlined the need for more accredited courses, a concern shared by Watson, who suggested that the skills agenda was a ‘more important issue’ than the hard-fought-for tax break. In response to Livingstone’s concerns as to who would train the teachers, Vaizey raised the possibility of attracting computer science graduates who might otherwise follow more lucrative career paths into teaching through paying them a premium rate.
When directly asked how a single-issue voter could differentiate between their parties, the gloves temporarily came off. Vaizey criticised the Labour government’s failure to adequately support the game industry for the past 13 years, and highlighted his own tabling of questions on the exodus of developers to the more fiscally inviting Canada as an example of Conservative support. Foster suggested that a voter should consider each party’s position on the economy overall, and highlighted the Liberal Democrats plans to support small business as beneficial to the videogame sector. Watson stated that he felt the government’s recent track record, culminating in last week’s Budget, showed Labour’s support.
The question of piracy, and the Digital Economy Bill currently making its way through parliament, drew the strongest response. Watson, who stressed he was expressing a personal view, condemned the bill as "futile, ignorant and inept", expressing fears that its content will be rushed through parliament in the run up to the election without adequate time for debate. Watson suggested that a "wholesale look at copyright reform in the digital age" was the only necessary way to tackle issues addressed by the bill. While Vaizey did not deny the bill was being passed at a faster rate than ideal, he stated it was necessary to pass the bill now before it was delayed by the new parliament. Foster rejected claims that the bill was being rushed, stating that the most controversial aspects of the bill – the potential punishments for copyright infringers, such as bandwidth shaping and disconnection – will not be confirmed until an analysis by the new parliament has taken place.
In an evening mostly defined by agreement on all sides, the tensions over the Digital Economy Bill were indicative of the strong feelings which exist on both sides of the debate. Irrespective of the validity of its proposals, with the second reading of the bill tabled for April 6, the day that Gordon Brown is widely expected to call the general election, it seems increasingly unlikely that it’s a debate that's going to be fully heard.
This report is from Craig Owens on
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