The Digital Economy Bill was rushed through parliament last night to complete its controversial passage into law.
Although clauses 43 and 18, relating to photography orphan rights and website blocking respectively were both dropped, it passed through the ‘wash-up' process in just over two hours, as opponents claimed that little debate was given to the full reading.
At just after midnight, the Guardian reported that despite opposition from the Liberal Democrats and Labour MPs who spoke up against measures contained in the bill and put down a number of proposed amendments, the government easily won two votes to determine the content of the bill and its passage through the committee stage without making any changes it had not already agreed.
Among those who voted against the bill was Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, who asked about the 20,000 people who had emailed their MPs about the bill, mostly in protest against it, previous to the reading. His vote against it had taken it to a third reading however the government won the vote by 189 votes to 47.
He commented on his Twitter page that most amendments on the bill were coming from John Grogan (Labour MP for Selby) and him, some Liberal Democrats but not a single Tory amendment. He said: “So much for their grave concerns.” He had earlier called for the removal of clauses 11-18, but admitted that with the time constraints the amendments were the only way forward.
He later said: “If you push a vote it takes 20 minutes. I'd have lost all of them so using limited time to make points instead. Big vote coming up though.” An hour later he simply said: "Lost. One more big vote on Third Reading. Very upsetting."
The Guardian reported that the government removed the proposed clause 18, which could have given it powers to block websites, but replaced it with an amendment that allows the Secretary of State for Business to order the blocking of ‘a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright'.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: “This is an utter disgrace. This is an attack on everyone's right to communicate, work and gain an education. Politicians have shown themselves to be incompetent and completely out of touch with an entire generation's values.
“There are now thousands of activists working with ORG planning to show up in hustings, demand answers from candidates, and who are willing to punish those who voted for this at the ballot box.”The protest site stop43.org.uk welcomed the dropping of clause 43 with a declaration of ‘you think you own your own photographs? You still do'.
It said: “The UK government wanted to introduce a law to allow anyone to use your photographs commercially, or in ways you might not like, without asking you first. They have failed. Heartfelt thanks to all who have helped make this result possible.”