March 26th, 2010

djm4: (Default)
Friday, March 26th, 2010 06:41 am
Update: I did David Heath a disservice, and I apologise - he did indeed raise the question of the Digital Economy Bill on 11 March which was even in advance of its being debated at Conference. I'm keeping the post below for historical reasons, but I'm pretty much mollified, and feeling somewhat foolish for not spotting his contribution. My only defence is that AFAICT, no-one else did, but it's a poor one given that I'm quite used to trawling Hansard.

So, once upon a time there was a Digital Economy Bill. Which, while it did many good things, also did this:

"...imposes obligations on internet service providers to reduce online copyright infringement, and allows the Secretary of State to amend copyright legislation to the same end."

There have been many good things written about why this is a bad idea - here's one of Cory Doctrow's. I won't rehash them here.

Now, fast forward to a month or so ago, when the Bill hit the Lords. Allegedly, two Lib Dem Peers tried to have the web blocking clause removed, but when they realised that they couldn't get cross-party support for just deleting it, they tabled a replacement amendment. It's only the fact that they tried to get it removed altogether that's in doubt, by the way; the amendment was real and is Amendment 120A here. For comparison, the amendment that the British Phonographic Industry wanted to table was leaked on the Open Rights Group web site.

It is perfectly in order for Liberal Democrat Peers to push the vested interests of the BPI, naturally, but I wish they'd be open about it. I like to know who's doing the policy writing for my party.

There was much discussion of this in Lib Dem circles - here's a reasonable sample, and for once I would encourage you to read the comments. Two of our PPCs, Bridget Fox and Julian Huppert - who are both awesome and if there's any justice will be MPs after the next election - led a movement to get an emergency motion discussed at the Lib Dem Conference a couple of weeks ago. The motion was discussed - I even made my maiden speech to Conference on it; that's an extract of the podcast of the full debate - and it was passed near unanimously.

It's now Lib Dem party policy. That's supposed to be how we write them in my party.

There was much rejoicing and optimism. There was even a UK Lib Dems Save the Net Facebook group (about which my tweet said it all), so people knew we were a serious campaign.

The next day, the Digital Economy Bill returned to the Lords. I have heard conflicting reports about what happened there - including that amendment 120A was dropped and the original clause 17 reinstated - but on looking at both the current Bill with the newly-renumbered clause 18 and the Hansard text of the Third Reading in the Lords, that appears not to be the case. Various amendments were proposed and withdrawn, but 120A, drafted by the BPI and introduced by the Lib Dems, remains.

Yesterday, Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, gave the Business of the House, including announcing the Second Reading of the Digital Economy Bill on April 6. As you'll see from reading the link (it goes on for a couple of pages), Liberal Democrat David Heath spoke early in that debate. But not on the Digital Economy Bill. No, that discussion was left to Neil Gerrard, Tom Watson and John Grogan (Labour) - I saw reports of a Conservative MP also raising concerns but can't find them in Hansard.

The first point to make about this is that it is widely believed that Gordon Brown will seek to dissolve Parliament on April 6. This means that the Digital Economy Bill will go through on 'wash-up', a system by which bills which have passed through one part of Parliament can be nodded through by agreement between the whips of the main parties after Parliament has formally risen for the election. This procedure does not allow for debate of issues; the only changes that can be made to bills are deletions. It is certainly possible that the Lib Dem whips could at this point try to get Clause 18 of the bill (and possibly others) deleted. It's also possible that they'd succeed; apparently a lot of 'horse-trading' goes on during wash-up, and it's quite usual for entire sections of bills to get a line drawn through them.

It's also, of course, possible that they'll make a show of objecting and then let clause 18 through in order to get concessions elsewhere. The word at conference was that the whips' office was pleased with our emergency motion; I don't have to be too cynical to think that that might have been because they knew it would give them a bargaining chip during wash-up. "Supporting this won't play well with our party, so you'll have to give us something substantial in return." I guess we'll know soon enough which it is.

Not having any MPs speak against the Digital Economy Bill yesterday sent a signal, though, and not a good one. To me, it said the following:

It said that I can't rely on Liberal Democrat MPs to speak up for Liberal principles, even when they're party policy.

It said that as a party member I can do all the right things, jump through the hoops set for me to get my voice heard, and it won't make any difference.

It said that Nick Clegg's claims of about being anti-establishment, and of us being the party of real change, were empty rhetoric.

I'll still vote Lib Dem. I'll still campaign like mad over the next month, and I'll remain a member. I recognise that my reaction to this is partly one of pique, at something I've invested a lot in over the past month being ignored. But I think it's more than that. I think it's a worrying omen for how we'll behave as a party in the increasingly-likely event of a hung Parliament, and I think I, and others, will campaign with that bit less fire in our bellies as a result.
djm4: (Default)
Friday, March 26th, 2010 08:04 pm
I have an apology to make to the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party in general, and to David Heath in particular. I'm sorry I wrote what I did this morning about the supposed poor response to the Digital Economy Bill. I pulled together a lot of links for that post; in fact, one of my main motivations was pulling together a set of links that showed what state the Bill was at, because I hadn't found anyone else who'd done that in the way I wanted.

It turns out I missed a couple of important ones. For which I'm kicking myself - I mean, really, how hard would it have been for me to Google '"David Heath" "Digital Economy" Hansard'?

Here is David Heath on 18 March, asking about the Digital Economy Bill and doing exactly what I criticised him for not doing yesterday. Perhaps more impressively, here he is doing the same thing on 11 March, while we were still putting the finishing touches to our Emergency Motion to Conference.

I realise neither of those is a stinging criticism of the Bill, but such criticism would have been out-of-place in the largely procedural Business of the House session. I am reassured (by this and *stop press* the letter Bridget Fox discusses here) that Lib Dem opposition to the disconnection clauses in the Bill is anything but token and very much alive.

I'm sorry about the earlier post, and I'll try to research more thoroughly next time.