Wednesday, 7 April 2010

White 'wash-up' - democracy and the Digital Economy Bill? Part 2

The following is the response I received from Harriet Harman, after I contacted my MP, David Miliband:
Dear Robert,
Thank you for contacting me about the Digital Economy Bill and its progress through Parliament before the election. You will not be surprised to learn that I have received many emails on this topic in recent days and I understand why you are concerned by reports that the Bill could be passed into law without being properly debated in the Commons.
As far as the Digital Economy Bill is concerned there will be a full Second Reading debate this, so it will have a normal Second Reading debate. It has had considerable scrutiny already in the House of Lords: it had seven days in Committee, which is more than any other Bill in the programme, and three days on Report, whereas every other Bill in the programme had only one day. However, I know that people want it to be scrutinised in the House of Commons too, and there will be a further chance for scrutiny at the time of making the regulations to give powers to the courts to block access to internet sites in relation to copyright infringement. As that element of the Bill has generated much debate, those regulations will be subject to a super-affirmative procedure, which will operate in the following way.
There will be a public consultation on the draft regulations prior to their being laid in Parliament and they will be laid in draft in the House of Commons with an explanation of why they satisfy the necessary thresholds required to make the regulations. Those thresholds are set out in the Bill. At the same time, the public consultation response will be published. Draft regulations will sit in the House for 60 days and, at the same time, Committees of both Houses will consider them. That is the critical part of the super-affirmative procedure. It allows Committees, including Members of this House, to consider the provisions even though there will not be Committee stage in the normal way. Final regulations that take into account the recommendations of the Committees will be laid in Parliament and will be subject to the normal affirmative procedure. Of course, the Bill will make progress in the wash-up only on the basis of consensus.
Best wishes,
I'm afraid that the claim that this Bill has had enough scrutiny is simply unacceptable given its diversity and the implications it contains.  To also compare the length of time the Bill has been considered against the other Bills that are up for debate is duplicitous and a false argument.  It is irrelevant to compare this Bill to any of the others in the 'wash-up' process as they are simply not as contentious and potentially damaging to civic freedoms as this one.  To claim enough has been done is to construct a straw man argument.

There have been a number of people trying to foster and harness a groundswell of support for action.  Write to your MP (or even call them with this tool!) now and ask them to get behind the Early Day Motion EDM1223, proposed by one of the few MPs in Parliament last night, Austin Mitchell (Labour).  Not a single Liberal Democrat MP has signed it at the time of writing.  Also, you can ask to have your name added to this Open Letter

If you want to know if your MP showed up for the debate last night, the click this link (a nice Guardian powered tool), enter your postcode and find out.  If they didn't, call them and ask them why not.

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