Digital Economy Bill Shouldn’t be Rushed


Thursday, March 25th, 2010. 12:19am


Digital Economy Bill

The Digital Economy Bill has been returned to the Commons for a second reading; a date has not yet been set.

I’ve written to Cambridge’s MP David Howarth (copying the Leader of the House) urging him not to allow the Digital Economy Bill to be rushed through Parliament:

Dear Mr Howarth MP,

I am writing to ask you to do all you can to prevent the Digital Economy Bill being rushed through, without proper scrutiny by the House of Commons, in the last few weeks of this Parliament.

As you are no doubt aware the bill contains provisions which would allow the state to disconnect people from the internet without due legal process, introduces a regime of collective punishments and establishes an infrastructure for state censorship of the web and wider internet. Clause 18 (Preventing access to specified online locations for the prevention of online copyright infringement) is particularly badly drafted and I would hope the potential for abuse is clear. If there is to be state censorship, and I don’t think there ought be following an allegation of copyright etc. infringement, there are a lack of safeguards to ensure openness and transparency over how those powers have been applied;

As drafted the disconnection provisions do not just potentially affect domestic users but commercial operations too. If companies cannot be assured the UK state won’t arbitrarily disconnect them from the resources they need to operate then the country will become a less attractive place to invest and we may lose the knowledge based digital industries which have the potential be a major force enabling the UK to trade its way out of its currently dire economic situation.

I am concerned that many aspects of this Bill, particularly the increase in maximum penalties for copyright etc. infringement have come about in an attempt to preserve the profits of certain businesses; I am concerned the big picture has been missed as a result of a focus on specific special interest groups.

On another area affected by the bill, domain registration, while I believe there ought be more democratic influence over the running of the .uk registry to ensure it operates in the national interest the powers in clause 19 of the bill amount to giving a minister the ability to take over and nationalise a registry without justification. The circumstances in which a takeover could take place are ludicrously widely drawn.

Also; the provisions relating to the switch off for digital radio, like many of this Bill’s provisions, take key decisions away from MPs.

Taken together I think that all these points show that this Bill needs to be allowed to fall, giving the next Parliament the chance to find a balanced response, in the national interest, to the matters being raised. It is too complex, too important, and the current state of the Bill to badly drafted for it to be dealt with in the time left.

Richard Taylor

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8 comments/updates on “Digital Economy Bill Shouldn’t be Rushed

  1. Julian Huppert

    Hi Richard – someone pointed out to me you were commenting on this.

    As you may know, I and other Lib Dems have been very active on this – we passed an emergency motion on this topic at the Lib Dem conference, which was passed nem con and so now forms official Lib Dem policy – see http://bit.ly/d1OiGi

    I’m also a signatory to a public letter in the Guardian making essentially the same point as you – see http://bit.ly/al9Whl

    I’m hopeful that we can stop the worst bits of the DE bill sneaking into law – but the government has too much power over the Commons and can get it through if they insist.

    Julian

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    I was about to comment complaining that Huppert’s motion didn’t actually call for the decision to be properly debated – but while it’s not in the motion that’s exactly what the Guardian letter he has signed says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/mar/19/digital-britain-file-sharing

    The broad provision in Huppert’s original motion of:

    All publicly-funded publications to be freely accessible under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence.

    Has been taken out.

    While the principle’s the right one; it did appear a bit incongruous.

    There’s a photo of Huppert speaking at the Lib Dem conference asking for his motion to be considered, at :
    http://twitpic.com/1853uq

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Only one Lib Dem bothers to turn up to debate the Digital Economy Bill in the Commons

    Only one Lib Dem bothers to turn up to debate the Digital Economy Bill in the Commons. No sign of Cambridge’s David Howarth.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Julian Huppert has responded to me on Twitter to point out David Howarth was present at 16.05 and spoke against dealing with the Digital Economy Bill during wash-up during “business questions” which preceded the debate.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    I couldn't spot any Lib Dems supporting their spokesman during the Digital Economy Bill Debate

    I couldn’t spot any Lib Dems supporting their spokesman during the Digital Economy Bill Debate. Perhaps their absence is deliberate and a prelude to an abstention on the bill?

    @julianhuppert is still arguing against me on Twitter, he’s making a valiant effort to defend the indefensible but it is clear that the Lib Dems, including Cambridge’s MP David Howarth were absent from the debate itself.

    If he really can’t tell the difference between Business Questions and the debate itself then he’s not qualified to be Cambridge’s MP. On this, as with many other matters (such as tuition fees), its his party allegiance which appears to be letting him down.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    I spoke to Julian Huppert at the Cycling Campaign hustings event last night. While the event itsself was, strictly, on transport related matters Huppert’s discussions before and after related to the Digital Economy Bill.

    Huppert accepted that Howarth wasn’t present for the debate, but made his contribution before hand.

    David Howarth’s question is now available at:
    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2010-04-06a.827.3

    May I ask the Leader of the House about the Digital Economy Bill? The proposal appears to be to take the Second Reading today and all the remaining stages tomorrow. Given that there are a number of highly controversial proposals in the Bill, especially that about web blocking, surely now that we are in the wash-up, the most appropriate thing for the Government and the Leader of the House to do at this stage is to say that the Government will not proceed with those controversial parts of the Bill. That will save us all a lot of time and trouble over the next two or three days.

    In response the leader of the House, Harriet Harman described the scrutiny the bill has already had, outlined a special procedure for allowing Parliament to confirm the disconnection procedures, and said “the Bill will make progress in the wash-up only on the basis of consensus.”

    Speaking before the cycling campaign hustings Julian Huppert said that it was a myth that only items on which there was consensus were dealt with during wash-up, he said the government could still push things through.

    Explaining Howarth, and the other Liberal Democrat’s absence he said most were campaigning in their constituencies and David Howarth had been appointed as the Lib Dem’s lead negotiator with respect to the “wash-up” so would be very busy in Parliament but not in the commons. Huppert complained about the fact MPs are not allowed to read email in the chamber and said that was a key reason they few were typically present there. He suggested there ought be an area of the House of Commons where MPs could take their computers and work but still listen in to debates.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    The bill was pushed through, the vote was:

    189 in favour 47 against

    Our antiquated system means we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see who voted which way.

    Most MPs didn’t turn up or abstained.

    The Lords now have an opportunity to reject the bill and let the next Parliament deal with it.

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