What do SE Cambs parliamentary candidates think about the DE Bill?

April 21, 2010

Warning: this is a longish post. If you care about the DE Act it will probably be interesting. If you kind-of care about the DE Act, and live in SE Cambs, you might want to skip to the summary.

I’ve been agitated about the Digital Economy Bill. I e-mailed my MP (James Paice, Con) a few of weeks ago asking him to vote against it going into the pre-election wash-up, and again a day before the bill went through, asking him whether he went to hear the second reading and asking him to vote against the bill at the 3rd. He hadn’t turned up for either reading, and didn’t vote either way. He did reply to my e-mail (after the bill passed) though: –

Dear Mr Downing,
Thank you for your further email about the Digital Economy Bill which has now become law. My Party took the decision to seek to remove those clauses of the Bill that we did not support or feel received proper legislative scrutiny, while supporting the Bill as a whole. Rejecting the Bill would have been an unacceptable set-back for the important measures it contains.
You may still be concerned about Clause 18 which attempts to tackle online copyright infringement. This is an extremely serious issue that costs the creative industries hundreds of millions of pounds each year. I want to make sure that Britain has the most favourable intellectual property framework in the world for innovators, digital content creators and high tech businesses and so I support the efforts of the Bill to do this.
The measures in the Bill aimed at tackling online copyright infringement received robust scrutiny in the House of Lords. My Party was concerned about the lack of parliamentary oversight of the original clauses and as such the Bill now has a super-affirmative resolution in it. This means Parliament will debate any order that the Secretary of State lays that would allow people to be disconnected. These measures can also not be introduced for 12 months after the Bill becomes law. This means that we are by no means rushing in to these decisions and that the next Parliament will be able to consider them beforehand.
The measures in the Bill designed to tackle illegal peer to peer file sharing set up a proportionate regime that would, only following public consultation, repeated warnings and due process, lead to people having their internet connection temporarily suspended. It will not, as many have suggested, lead to people being disconnected without an appeal. Even if people are disconnected they will be able to sign up to another ISP immediately without penalty.
While I have no doubt that these measures could have been improved if the Government had allocated time for this Bill to be debated in Committee, blocking these measures in their entirety would have risked hundreds of thousands of jobs in the TV, film, music and sports industries and was therefore not something we were willing to do.
Yours sincerely,

James Paice MP

Well, a partyperson’s entitled to their views. I’m really not entirely sure what to read into this and would welcome any explanation or expansion. It seems to me that it doesn’t answer why we need a due process outside the courts. It also seems protectionist, which I’m not keen on, and it implicitly includes the BPI in a list that starts with “innovators”, which isn’t somewhere I’d put them. I’m also mystified by this ability of the disconnected to immediately reconnect with a different provider. Won’t that will just lead to more customer churn and higher ISP charges for everyone? I’m also unconvinced that the creative industry, which employs an estimated 1M people, is in imminent danger of >10% contraction without the DE Act (if it is, in fact, in any danger at all).

So that’s the Tory view, what about the rest?

Since we in the UK have a rare opportunity to feign democracy next month, and this issue is an important one to me, I thought I’d do a bit of inverse canvassing, and find out what all of the potential election candidates for SE Cambs thought of the DE bill. I’m publishing it here because it’s quite probably an important issue for others too (a large proportion of the “silicon fen” workers live and vote in SE Cambs).

I sent:

Dear Mr [],
As a voter in SE Cambs, I’m keen to know your stance on the recently passed Digital Economy Bill. Will the bill, and / or IP reform feature in your election manifesto?
Best regards,

Not like for like with my interaction with Mr Paice, I grant you, but I feel it fairly reflects the contrast between the unelecteds’ capacity to make vague promises and the elected’s capacity to disappoint, which is what makes elections so much fun. The responses (in order of my receiving them): –

David (on behalf of Daniel Bell) Christian Peoples Alliance

Dear Jim

From our website you will see that the CPA favours new responsibilities being placed on ISPs over what they ‘allow’ as traffic to peoples’ homes.

Were there are issues you wanted addressed?


CPA Team

Went to check their website, found stuff about making ISPs responsible for censorship of ‘nasty’ content (e.g. suicide sites) and paedophiles grooming children (in the sense of “stopping”, not “ensuring”…). Not much about copyright materials. Not encouraging, and worth discussing at another time, but let’s stick to our theme. I didn’t particularly want to draw out attitudes to individual issues – I’d really like a representative in parliament who knows what’s important without me having to write to them every verse end. I thought I’d cut the chap some slack though, since the reply had been so prompt.

> From our website you will see that the CPA favours new responsibilities being placed on ISPs over what they ‘allow’ as traffic to peoples’ homes.

Could you send me a link? I can’t find anything that particularly pertains to copyright materials, which is what the contentious parts of the DE bill cover.

> Were there are issues you wanted addressed?

I don’t think so – I’m particularly concerned that the DE bill erodes civil liberties by moving the remedy for a particular civil crime (copyright violation) out of existing process (the courts) and into the hands of some government body. I’m also concerned that the bill represents a protectionist measure and will consequently repress innovation. Furthermore, clause 17 allows the home secretary to extend the scope of bill without due process – hardly democratic!

Came the reply:


To do with blocking worst aspects of pornography. But what you say about the illiberal measures and the assumption of guilt until the consumer proves innocence are ones we share. We’ll need to look closer. Thanks for pointing this out.



… which is about what I expected.

Jonathan Chatfield, Liberal Democrats


Thank you for your email on the Digital Economy Bill.

I believe the Liberal Democrats have the most up-to-date and liberal policy on freedom, creativity and the internet of any of the parties (see our Spring conference emergency motion). That led to our vocal opposition to the web-blocking provisions of the Bill and our MPs voting against the whole Bill at 3rd reading.

Our party’s position is not 100% against everything in the Bill, but we have more concerns than the other parties, and our MPs were the only ones whipped against the Bill at 3rd reading. All the other parties voted for the Bill (even if a few of their rebels did not) and the Lib Dems voted against the Bill.

In my view it is important thing to get as many Lib Dem MPs as possible in the next Parliament because they are web-users’ best safeguard against Labour introducing arbitrary disconnection powers. We are also the only party committed to reforming the voting system and the parliamentary process so that Labour’s railroading of this Bill can never happen again.

With best wishes,

Again, pretty much what I expected.

John Cowan, Labour

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your email.

Many of the measures of the Digital Economy Bill I welcome most of the measures but am concerned that the penalities against file sharers are a heavy handed.

John Cowan

Heavy-handed? This government? Surely some mistake?

Andy Monk, UKIP

I strongly believe that the Bill should not have been rushed through Parliament during the wash up period before Parliamemnt dissolves. There should have been a proper detailed debate about the bill’s consequences on the British public. Piracy is obviously a crime but the bill goes far further than just trying to address this issue, important though it is.

It is another example of central government bowing to the ever more poweful lobbying of the music/film industry. I don’t believe that the british public will realise that they will be personally responsible for protecting their home computer from hackers etc and can have their web access cutoff. It is a very draconian bill that needs much wider media coverage to address the consequences of the bill.

I believe that only around 5% of MP’s were present at its second reading. That is hardly democracy. If I had been an MP at the time I would have ensured wider press coverage and sought to delay the bill so that it could have been properly debated in a democratic way.


Andy Monk

The rest

I received no reply from the Green PPC. Since I sent these e-mails I’ve become aware of an independent candidate who I’ll e-mail similarly in due course. I’ll update this post as and when any more info arrives.

In summary

Seems to me that if you want to use your vote for someone who will stand against the bits of the DE bill that have resulted from a mixture of lobbying and total technical ignorance, you should vote for Jonathan Chatfield (Liberal) or Andy Monk (UKIP).

4 Responses to “What do SE Cambs parliamentary candidates think about the DE Bill?”

  1. I wrote to you today, Jim, as follows:

    Thanks for writing, Jim!

    My election leaflet has already gone out and there wasn’t room for everything. And I readily admit that I have not studied the Digital Economy Bill. You might want to look at my blog or my YouTube sites, however.

    Yours sincerely,

    Geoffrey Woollard.
    Independent Parliamentary Candidate, South East Cambridgeshire.

  2. jimdowning Says:

    Thanks, Geoffrey, I hadn’t got around to updating the post.

  3. Edmund Says:

    Hi Jim,

    I had a similair experience is South Cambridgeshire (currently Conservative). My MP, a certain Mr Andrew Langsley, did not care to respond to my two emails or phone call to his office on the DEB, nor did he see fit to actually vote on it. I shall probably return the favour to him.

    I wrote to the Lib Dems at the time and got a pretty thorough response:

    —————–= SNIP =——————–
    Dear Dr Jackson – thanks for e-mailing me about your frustration at the Liberal Democrat approach to the Digital Economy Bill. The current position is detailed below and I would be extremely pleased to have your feedback as to whether or not this goes any way to addressing your concerns. It does (I hope) add to our clear assurance that Liberal Democrat MPs, as a party, will vote against web-blocking.

    Very best wishes –

    Sebastian Kindersley
    Liberal Democrat PPC South Cambridgeshire
    07710 467258

    The Digital Economy Bill is wide ranging and covers not just illegal file sharing and downloads from illegal websites, but issues such as a new remit for Channel 4, the classification of computer games, plans for switchover to digital radio and the future of regional news on ITV. We believe that these other parts of the Bill are extremely important and must be allowed to go into law.
    We understand, however, that the proposals relating to website blocking and file sharing are controversial. Many people have expressed fears that the Bill will be rushed into law without proper examination.
    We recognise the significant damage to the creative industries of downloading from illegal websites and initially sought measures to address this. However, there has been limited time for consultation and very little time before final decisions are made. We, therefore, do not believe that measures to address site blocking can reasonably be included in the Digital Economy Bill and we will not support any such measures.
    There has been much longer and wider debate about actions to address illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. The Liberal Democrats are unconvinced of the merits of measures such as temporary account suspension or bandwidth throttling. This is why we have amended the Bill to ensure that they cannot be introduced without proper consultation and not until evidence has been produced to prove that they are the best available option. We also want to ensure that any measures will be subject to maximum scrutiny in parliament and that it will be possible to change them before a final decision is made.
    The passing of the Bill will only be the start of a long process with many stages and many more opportunities for scrutiny. Indeed, the controversial parts of the Bill will need to be scrutinised and voted upon by the next parliament before they can be brought into law. Liberal Democrats MPs would not support these sections of the Bill without this process.
    Already we have helped ensure significant changes to the Bill so that “technical measures” such as account suspension or bandwidth reduction will never be possible unless;

    1. copyright infringers are notified by letter, without any risk of their internet connection being affected, for at least a year
    2. an evaluation of the effectiveness of such “soft measures” is undertaken
    3. an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been completed
    4. further consultation has taken place
    5. proposed legislation is brought before parliament for decision, and
    6. any process to disconnect users explicitly assumes their innocence until they are proven guilty
    We have also urged the music, film and videogames industries to work more urgently to develop easy and affordable ways to legally access their products in the hope that, combined with “soft measures” and an effective education campaign, disconnection is never required.
    Liberal Democrats have agreed at their Spring Conference to establish a working party to address these issues. With at least a year before there will be any attempt to introduce “technical measures”, this will provide an opportunity for the party to consider the outcome of research into the effectiveness of the “soft measures” (letter writing).
    However, despite the changes we have helped to achieve, we believe that there is still more to do in respect of the proposed system for tackling peer-to-peer file-sharing. We will take further action in the Commons to improve the legislation. For instance,
    We believe there is inadequate protection in the Bill for schools, libraries, universities and other businesses offering internet access to the public.
    When the Bill is passed, Ofcom will have to draw up a code regulating how the notifications system works. We do not think Ofcom will have enough time to draw up this code. If the public are to have confidence in the new system, Ofcom will need more than the six months it is given by the Bill.
    We have already opposed – and helped defeat – government proposals to give itself powers to change copyright law almost at will. We will oppose any attempt to reinstate such powers in the Commons.
    Our goal is to support the creative industries while at the same time fully acknowledging the issues of rights and freedoms for the individual that arise as internet technology advances.
    There are some who believe that no action should be taken to address the problems caused by copyright infringements on the internet. While we accept that the initial proposals from the government and the much later proposals in respect of website blocking went too far, we do not believe that the problems can be ignored.
    A report published on 17th March 2010 predicted that a quarter of a million jobs in the UK’s creative industries could be lost by 2015 if current trends in online piracy continue.
    Commenting on it, Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “The results of the study stress that the growth of unauthorised file-sharing, downloading and streaming of copyrighted works and recorded performances is a major threat to the creative industries in terms of loss of employment and revenues. The scale of the problem is truly frightening now – let alone in the future if no firm actions against illegal file-sharing are taken.”
    Our goal is to support the creative industries while at the same time fully acknowledging the issues of rights and freedoms for the individual that arise as internet technology advances. In other words action should only be taken if it is appropriate, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

    Just thought I’d share that.


  4. Joe Townsend Says:

    Just wondered what was going to happen now that John Cowan has been suspendend? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/england/8644018.stm

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