Digital Economy Bill expected to be made law tonight as yesterday's debate sees MPs call for a rewrite under a new government

News by Dan Raywood

The Digital Economy Bill is expected to be passed through parliament in a 'wash up' of outstanding legislation late tonight.

The Digital Economy Bill is expected to be passed through parliament in a ‘wash up' of outstanding legislation late tonight.

An initial debate was held yesterday for around six hours, after which the second reading was passed with a single ‘no', while Commons leader Harriet Harman has said that controversial elements of the Digital Economy Bill will face further scrutiny even if the bill is passed later today.

In yesterday's debate, shadow leader of the house Sir George Young said that it ‘seems to be extraordinary that backbench committee is not on the list as a few members are opposing measures'.

Harman said: “It has received considerable scrutiny in the House of Lords and had received three days at committee stage and I know members want scrutiny today as the element of the bill has created debate.”

Roger Gale, Conservative MP for Thanet North, claimed that it should not be debated at all and left to a future government

In the debate, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Ben Bradshaw claimed that the timing of the bill was unusual, and its substance is in how to protect and build on British success stories.

He said: “Digital economies have grown in the last ten years, and this is matched by the speed of technical change. We have devices that we cannot have imagined five years ago and us and our children are consuming music and the digital revolution has brought rapid change, but also challenges.”

He further commented that if the bill gets on to the statute, it will be with cooperation with the Tories and hopefully with the Lib Dems, so that it enjoys cross party support.

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, who spoke at the recent demonstration against the bill organised by the Open Rights Group, asked Bradshaw if he agreed that a deal might be done with the front benches, but asked about 20,000 people who emailed their MPs about the bill, mostly in protest against it."

Bradshaw said: “I am aware of the emails that MPs have been inundated with, not least with the Open Rights Group and unions who feel that it is important that the work that they do is not devalued. It needs legislation now as people here have referred to.

“It is not true to say that provisions been part of true discussions, and many contained in the Digital Britain whitepaper – subject to full public consultation, and passed through the ‘other place', which is why it took a month longer. For 12 days, 50 hours and during which some 700 amendments were made, there was more debating in the other place than any other.”

Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, commented that it would be good to have debate on the lack of scrutiny of the bill, while Alun Michael, Labour and Co-operative Party Member of Parliament for Cardiff South and Penarth, said that what is important is putting framework into place.

Bradshaw responded that during its passage through parliament some 700 amendments were made and the bill ‘arrived here in better shape'. He said: “I can feel the frustration by my colleagues of not getting their teeth into it, but I hope house will back a second reading.”

John Robertson, Labour MP for Glasgow North West, commented that his great fear was turning children into criminals and there was nothing to protect the child in this case. Bradshaw commented that there was such measures in case of subscribers, but the three strikes rule does not involve permanent disconnection.

He commented that the new clause 18, which proposed site blocking, would require the approval of both houses.

In response, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt said that with the election being called time was being called on a ‘weak dithering government' and a ‘weak dithering attempt' at a bill.

He said: “What we have is a digital disappointment of colossal proportions, it is a catalogue of ducked decisions.” He asked why this was being pushed through at such a late stage when some of the contents had been requested for many years.

Gale commented that it was not satisfactory to be rewritten in super fast, so why would it not be rewritten under a new government, a proposal also backed by John Redwood, Conservative MP for Wokingham, who asked why Hunt did not offer a rewrite on the pledge of a victory?

Hunt commented that there were important measures in it, so it was not possible to reject it in its entirety.

He said: “What should have it contained? What needs to be done to stimulate investment in digital companies? We wanted an iPod, we got an Amstrad and it is time to reboot Britain.”


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