The passage of the Digital Economy Bill has been stressful for all concerned, not least those whose livelihoods it threatened. It was a bill that had been rushed in its drafting and the Government's intention seemed to be to rush it through Parliament before dissolution.
The vast majority of the emails that I have been receiving on the Bill were regarding Clause 43 which dealt with ‘orphan works’ – images for which the legal owners ‘could not be found, through a reasonable search’.
The Liberal Democrat team were keen that some sort of orphan-works provision was written into law as the merits of this was apparent, though the Government’s proposals were not what we wanted at all. We absolutely accepted the legitimate concerns of photographers about the effect the proposals would have had on them. Our Shadow Culture, Media and Sport team were in frequent contact with photographers throughout the Bill’s passage and raised their concerns at every opportunity.
Such provisions would have needed a lot of fine-tuning, for which time is simply not available in the last days of a Parliament. As changes to our satisfaction were not possible we were prepared to withdraw our amendments and vote against the Bill in its entirety, which is how it all seemed by yesterday afternoon. In the eleventh hour and under pressure from individuals and industry groups, the Government indicated that they would delete Clause 43 completely, which they subsequently did.
In regards to proposals for site-blocking, we had always been sceptical of its efficacy and concerned about the implications such measures would have on civil liberties and data protection. We recognised the significant damage to the creative industries of downloading from illegal websites and initially sought measures to address this. However, there was limited time for consultation and even less time before final decisions were made. We did not believe that measures to address site blocking could reasonably have been included in the Bill and did not support any such measures.
We had been pressing the music, film and video-gaming industries to work more urgently to develop easy and affordable ways to legally access their products in the hope that, combined with “soft measures” and an effective education campaign, disconnection will never be required.
Overall, the Bill was an opportunity to deal with important areas such as improving our radio and broadband infrastructure, acting against copyright infringement and implementing unified regulation of video games, to name but a few. These issues are unlikely to be a priority for a new government so it was extremely important that the Bill was given adequate debate and deliberation for it to fulfil its potential, and not be rushed through as the Government seemed so intent on doing.
I had been making representations to the Government raising your many concerns about the Bill over the last few months, as well as feeding back these concerns to my colleagues in the Shadow team.
There were no votes expected on Tuesday at the Second Reading and I returned to London on Wednesday to vote. The Bill was passed, despite strong opposition from me and my colleagues. Some people are wondering why I am not listed as having attended the vote- my name will not be showing up in a list of Members who voted as I was a Teller counting the votes - but I certainly did vote - against the Bill.
You can see a video of the proceedings of the Bill by clicking the image above. I am in about 2:05:37 in presenting the results of the vote.
Full details of which members voted can be found here.