Yesterday I spent much of my afternoon and evening watching BBC Parliament. It’s not a regular pass-time I assure you, but like many people of my ilk I was there for the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill. This was the crucial moment when we would find out if the bill, which contains some rather dangerous thinking surrounding web censorship and internet disconnection, would disappear into the murky process of wash-up. Wash-up, which sounds much more quaint than it is, is where parliament attempts to pass through all the legislation that is suddenly left hanging when a new election begins. It happens behind closed doors and is debated by the party whips, leaving your elected officials out of the loop. The second reading was cleverly placed right on the day that Gordon Brown dissolved parliament, leaving the house of commons with little choice other than to pass the bill into wash-up, or abandon it until the new government was formed.
Well I shall inform you now that it will go into wash-up. Harriet Harman interrupted the commons proceedings around 4pm to announce the various bills that would be going through to wash-up. During the second reading of the digital economy bill, Conservative MP and shadow culture secretary gave the bill his approval, despite having reservations. Though not necessary for the passing of the bill, the Lib Dems also supported the bill. After these statements much of the debate seemed moot, as the proper vote to pass the bill to wash up will take place today. The debates themselves were interesting however with much consensus in the room being that it was poorly written, scandalously handled from beginning to end, and a mockery to the house… but that they would pass it anyway. Consensus of course by no means meant majority: when debates started there were perhaps 40 members present, within an hour the number had drastically plummeted to around 15. With all the camapaigning occuring to get the MPs to demand the right to debate the bill, when the opportunity for debate arose, few of them bothered. If you wrote to your MP about your concerns with the Digital economy Bill, there’s a pretty good chance that they didn’t care enough to hang around.
A few highlights from the evening include…
MP Austin Mitchell stating that he doesn’t understand the issues at all and that he doesn’t think anyone else in the room does either. What he does understand is that there are a lot of young people that understand better than any of them, and the young people are very worried… perhaps we should listen to them? Mitchell suggested leaving the bill till after the election where it could receive proper debate. Mitchell won a lot of internets with that.
MP Tom Watson who has been against the bill from the start, and garnered much love from open rights and pirate types. Essentially every moment he spoke was a highlight simply because he seemed to be the only person talking about the social implications where where everyone else was talking economics.
On the other end of the scale there was Sion Simon’s patronising tale of how Tom Watson was ‘Luke’, how Clay Shirky was ‘Obi-Wan’, how Peter Mandelson was ‘Darth Vader’ and that apparently this meant that Steven Spielberg was ‘Emperor Palpatine’. This is apparently how us ORG Pirate types see the world and apparently its ridiculous. Well I think I’d have to agree that it is ridiculous. Andrew Robinson of PPUK considered the possibility that Sion Simon was intoxicated; validation of that is yet to be confirmed.
A highlight in itself was the banding around of massive numbers whenever piracy was mentioned. These statistics regarding the cost of piracy, the likely unemployment caused by piracy, the amount of piracy and the probability that piracy caused cancer (maybe not the last one) were so erroneous that I hallucinated big ‘citation needed!’ banners floating around the room.
Finally my possibly favourite moment is when MP Michael Connarty stated that Richard Falkvinge, the leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, was actually in jail. Andrew Robinson found this confusing as at the time Skype was telling him Falkvinge was online. The low down dirty criminal soon afterwards used Twitter to express that tales of his incarceration had been greatly exaggerated, stating… “I would strongly debunk the rumor that I would be in jail..”
So where does this leave us? Well although it will pass into wash-up as many of your representatives felt no need to listen to the thousands of letters and emails sent by their constituents… all is not lost. The fuss raised by the public has made the parliament edgy, and although the Tories gave their support, it was grudgingly with the caveat that if they gained power they would rip the thing apart and do it properly. The Lib Dems also had many alterations they wanted to make during the wash-up process and beyond.
However this silver lining is still surrounding a pretty big cloud. All that fuss about the bill was made, and the disgustingly few MPs that did turn up recognised it. They also recognised that the bill had a rather shady history, and that they should be given the opportunity to debate it. They recognised it had deep flaws and dangerous wording and that they may not truly understand the implications of what they were doing. They recognised all of these things, and they still passed it.
The Third reading of the bill is tonight, with the vote scheduled for approximately 9pm. With both Tory and Lib Dem support it is unlikely that the bill will be thrown out in this final reading.