This afternoon saw the second reading debate of the highly-controversial Digital Economy Bill in the House of Commons. This was the first opportunity for our current elected officials to have their say and yet took place within hours of the government announcing the general election.The wash-up process, which gives extremely limited time for scrutiny and debate, is supposed to be used solely for non-contentious legislation. The Digital Economy Bill, with over 20,000 letters sent to MPs, over 35,000 signatures to a petition against it, ISP campaigns against it, business coalitions opposing the Bill, and government back-benchers opposing the provisions in the Bill, is not non-contentious. Fiona Mactaggart, Labour MP, describes the parliament as "utterly feeble in so many ways", including the assignment of just two hours for committee, report, and third reading and failing to properly scrutinise the Bill. The two hours left for the Commons to consider amendments to the Bill comes at the end of over 50 hours of debating in the House of Lords, after which many Lords were still unhappy with the result. This is an important issue that will shape the entire future of technological and artistic progress, and this bill clearly defines Britain's position as a technological laggard.
Despite all the opposition to this Bill from without and within Parliament, barely a handful of MPs turned up and spoke in the debate (at one point, fewer than 15 members were sitting). At its peak, around 40 members were in the house - just 5% of our so-called representatives. Prior to Second Reading, the Conservative Party confirmed their support for the bill, and debated broadly in favour during the discussion and, despite pledging to oppose the Bill, the Liberal Democrats were only represented by one MP who stated that they would support all but one clause of the Bill, demonstrating that, as predicted by the Pirate Party, none of the front benches has the will to oppose this Bill or the wholly undemocratic process by which it is being forced through.
As expected, the arguments for the Bill consisted of the combination of misleading terminology (such as stating that copyright infringement is theft), dubious statistics that seemed to vary depending on who was speaking, dismissal of the opposition as deluded students and freedom fighters and with one citizen being labelled as "bonkers" simply for challenging the misconceptions of the failing branches of the publishing industries. It was even claimed that the new business models that the government should be encouraging (rather than trying to support the old ones) cannot succeed with the current rates of piracy; something clearly contradicted by the many, highly successful, innovative content distribution systems such as iTunes, Hulu (in the United States of America) and Steam/Stardock.
Graeme Lambert, parliamentary candidate for Bury North commented on some of the inaccurate notions held even by the ministers.
Under EU legislation, ISPs are not under any obligations to monitor what their customers are doing. As we discovered at the Counter2010 conference, which no other political party attended, Deep Packet Inspection would not allow ISPs to differentiate between purchased content, CC licensed content or pirated content. What the Digital Economy Bill proposes for ISPs to have to do is not practical for the large ISPs, let alone the smaller ISPs with limited funds available.
He went on to say:
The 3-strikes legislation was introduced in France in late 2009 and since then there has been a rise in the amount of people downloading pirated content. Why does our government insist on using legislation in our country that has failed miserably in others?
Stephen Timms MP stated that as new technology is invented there will be the need for new legislation to be brought through to continue to combat piracy. That statement right there proves that the government does not want innovation and does not want to encourage advances in technology. The creative industries should adapt their business models to use advances in technology to their financial benefit.
Economic rights of the publishing industries should not take precedence over human rights of the consumers. Protecting the profits of the monopoly companies over protecting my right to privacy is wrong in every single way and I will fight for my privacy and everybody else's during and after my election campaign.
The Pirate Party takes strong concern with Michael Connarty's statement, on the public record, that our Swedish Collegue, Rickard Falkvinge, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, is incarcerated. "The rumours of me being in jail and therefore unable to communicate are greatly exaggerated!" states Mr Falkvinge. With this glaring and obvious error by the Labour Representative for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, it brings to light the obvious lack of knowledge and disregard for facts by current members of the government.
The debate also highlighted the importance of the Internet to the democratic process - which is being treated so trivially by some. During the course of the day nearly 18,000 tweets were made about the Bill (#debill), some from within the chamber. It is impressive to see this level of interaction between the public and their elected representatives, even if some of the more established members seemed more interested in the comments on their clothing rather than the Bill and the wash-up process.
Andrew Robinson, leader of the Pirate Party and parliamentary candidate for Worcester, noted that "when John Redwood and Austin Mitchell both agree on something, its obviously time for the front benches to take notice." He continued:
The government are still sticking to the ridiculous idea that writing letters will change attitudes to sharing online. The public will ignore the letters, in exactly the same way MPs have ignored thousands of requests for proper debate.
It's absolutely scandalous that the massive file sharing communities have not just been ignored, but actively demonised. MPs need to be reminded that file sharers have votes too.
The Pirate Party strongly criticises both the content of the Bill and the manner in which it is being rushed through Parliament and encourages all individuals to request that their MP vote against the majority of the Bill during tomorrow's final debates. It is unacceptable that Parliament attempts to push dangerous legislation through in this way, and now on 6th May the public will have the chance to vote for candidates that believe in true debate and democracy, by voting Pirate.