Despite its sponsorship by a twice-disgraced and unelected politician, despite the fact that it was transparently lobbied for by companies representing the record labels, despite it carrying disproportionate punishments for file-sharers, despite it seeking to undermine the work of content creators, despite a promise to oppose it from the Lib Dems, still the Digital Economy Bill passed through the Houses of Parliament.
In the end it became not even a matter of the content of the bill itself, but of its inclusion of in the outgoing government’s “wash-up” process that would allow it to be passed without proper scrutiny by the House. Surely a bill with so many far-reaching implications should be treated to the proper debate it deserves? But no.
Organisations such as the Open Rights Group and 38degrees have campaigned long and hard. 20,000 people wrote to their MPs asking them to demand that the Digital Economy Bill get proper scrutiny, and hundreds made phone calls. There were protests in the streets in Westminster. 38degrees asked for £10,000 to pay for advertising, so that “on the day of the vote they’ll see our opposition over their cornflakes, on their way into work and over tea in Parliament”. They raised more than double that figure in two days.
How many MPs turned up to the second hearing last night to vote on whether this crucial piece of legislation is allowed to proceed? About thirty. Tonight, for the third hearing? Maybe forty. Uses of #debill on Twitter were running above 1 a second; we were having much more of a debate than the House was.
Some good arguments were put forward by those that did see fit to turn up, raising hopes that the assembled MPs might realise how flawed the bill really is. Tom Watson deserves particular credit, but even John Redwood expressed his reservations about pushing the Digital Economy Bill through.
But in the end, that’s what it came down to. Maybe ten of the 50 clauses in the bill received any kind of debate whatsoever, the rest were blazed through in five minutes by a combination of John Bercow and some doubtless super-strength coffee. Some things went our way – particularly the loss of the controversial ‘orphan works’ clause, clause 43.
The House went off to vote on whether to accept the bill on its third reading, and though the majority of those actually present at the debate seemed in opposition to it, the final tally stood at 189 Ayes, 47 Nays. 189?! Where did they come from? Oh, right, the bar.
Just as we expected and feared, the government waited until the wash-up to put this bill before Parliament so that it would receive as little debate and as few amendments as possible before being pushed through by a horde of MPs who didn’t even care enough to sit in on the debate.
But what more could we have done? I don’t recall as great a public demonstration of opposition to a single bill since fox-hunting, and yet still we have had virtually no impact on its progress. Must we simply accept that, having voted for our MPs in an election, we can have no real effect on them for the next five years; these people who supposedly represent our views? Do they just settle in for five years of representing the views of the party Whips instead?
Well that’s that, I guess. Leave your torrent client at the door, and grab as much of Wikileaks and Rapidshare as you can before the government realises it now has the power to block them. Welcome to Mandelson and Murdoch’s Digital Economy.