Bastions of Democracy

April 7, 2010

It was bit like Balaclava in the House of Commons on Tuesday night. The brave cavalry rode into the guns of government indifference – it was magnificent but it was not law.

OK – I admit ‘magnificent’ is stretching it a long way. There was some half decent argument on both sides from a number of MPs in the debate on the Second Reading about the Digital Economy Bill and some MPs come out of it with great credit. I was not phased by the low numbers of MPs engaged (peaking at 36 out of 646) – indeed I was pleasantly surprised by the number who had something worthwhile to say. I found myself spending longer reading Hansard than I intended and you could do worse than go to {the online record:} but, like me, you might come away with a deep sense of frustration.

Whatever the arguments, we had the unpalatable experience of our democratic representatives discussing a Bill when all acknowledged that their contributions were on the edge of irrelevance. The deals have probably now been done and the form of the Digital Economy Act 2010, as it soon will be, has been set without any real reference to those arguments.

The individual MPs who did contribute intelligently deserve some credit. Their parties come out of this very badly. Most people will take the view that Labour and Lord Mandelson are most at fault for rushing through the Bill without any real debate by the country’s elected representatives – it is generally acknowledged as the most important Bill to receive a Second Reading after the calling of an election in decades. The Conservatives complained but they hardly get credit for a position which is nonsensical (to me at least) – rather than forcing the government to remove the more controversial aspects (as they could) they promise an opportunity for the Commons to ‘review’ these provisions in the next Parliament but with no credible indication that the review will include a real opportunity to see change. The Liberal Democrats made such a mess of their House of Lords amendments that they found themselves opposing their own changes and lacked credibility as a result.

Those in the IT community who have been following the progress of the Bill have been appalled – and that includes many who support the Bill’s more controversial elements. Faith in the democratic process takes yet another bashing. I would like to comfort them with a rising cry of ‘don’t let the bastions grind you down’. But, frankly, they have and they will.