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The Digital Economy Act has nothing to do with UK politicians

Feature The three major parties blame each other
Mon Apr 19 2010, 15:26
The Houses of Parliament in London

NOW THAT THE DRACONIAN Digital Economy Act has been passed into UK law, it seems none of the main political parties want to have much to do with it, even though they were all happy enough to vote it through earlier in April.

The Act, which contains the controversial 'three strikes' policy to cut off the Internet access of suspected illegal downloaders, was high on the agenda today as the UK's three major political parties took part in an online audio debate to discuss issues important to voters.

Climate change secretary Ed Miliband, Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrats' chief of staff, and shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt were questioned on the fairness of the Digital Economy Act, and all did their best to blame each other for it.

Speaking on behalf of the Tories, Hunt came out firmly against the Act, agreeing it was rushed through and pointing to a "light timetable for the last six months" in which it could have been properly debated. He also cited the absence of a proper House of Commons scrutiny stage, allowing a small group of MPs to thoroughly dissect the proposals.

Hunt referred to the most contentious parts of the act - blocking access to certain websites and cutting off the Internet access of those accused of illegal downloading - as areas of significant change that merited further scrutiny.

"I think it was an absolute disgrace," he said. "I think it could have really done with that extra debate."

Some might feel this is an example of the Tories being hypocrites, as it was their support that helped get the bill passed into law. Hunt attempted to justify this by stating they were put in an "invidious position" of either striking down a bill that contained some aspects they supported, such as the video games certification, or letting the whole thing go through.

It was then the Liberal Democrats' turn to distance themselves from the Act. "We pushed to strike out the provisions on piracy and those that let Internet users be cut off," Alexander said. "We'd want to repeal that."

Alexander also played down Hunt's accusations that Lib Dem peers could have blocked the bill during the wash-up, and that the piracy provisions were a Lib Dem amendment.

"They were put forward by [Lib Dem peer Lord] Tim Clement-Jones in an effort to improve a rotten bill," Alexander said.

As Labour was the key instigator of the Act, Miliband was on weaker ground than the other two and apparently decided that the best approach would be to evade the question of fairness altogether. He instead focused on repeating the need for a balance between Internet freedoms and funding for the creativity of the music, video and software industries.

Miliband's only response to the concerns raised by the public and rights groups was that there would be another chance to debate the issues, and that either the Tories or the Lib Dems could have previously blocked the Act.

The online audio debate, which was presented by the Guardian and the grassroots campaign group 38 Degrees, was designed to engender proper debate away from the TV cameras between the three main political parties on the most important issues, as voted for by the people. µ




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