Democracy Inaction

Well, the Digital Economy Bill got passed tonight, with 189 of the 236 MPs present voting for it, 184 of them Labour MPs. 23 Labour MPs ignored the three line whip to vote against the Bill. The Tories split their vote with 5 MPs voting for, 5 against. 16 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the Bill. About 40 MPs were present for the reading, some wandering in late (and allegedly drunk) for the last few minutes of the debate. “Debate” is too strong a word for the two hours which saw less than half the clauses discussed and most rushed through without any scrutiny.

The best performances came from a group of Labour back benchers, including Tom Watson who spoke spontaneously and passionately. He said he felt “physically sick” after having voted against his party for the first time. He has a deeper understanding of the issues than most who spoke in the debate and was prepared to stand up and voice his concerns about both the text of the Bill and the manner in which it has been progressed. Kudos. Some back bench Tories were good too, particularly William Cash. (John Redwood, who spoke very intelligently on the subject in the second reading, wasn’t there for the third and didn’t vote either. Neither was SNP MP Pete Wishart who spoke against the Bill in the second reading.) Don Foster represented the promised LibDem opposition to the Bill. It was good to hear MPs who had created video games and written software speaking up in opposition too, including a BPI member! All said that the Bill had not been subject to proper scrutiny and should be left for the next Government to deal with. It wasn’t and the Government got the result it wanted thanks to support from some Conservatives, whose formal objections melted away following negotiations with the Government to remove some clauses over the proceeding 24 hours.

If I were using this Bill to decide my vote in the election, how would I react? Our incumbent is a Liberal Democrat. Whilst they did what they could in the Commons, my MP, Sandra Gidley, was absent so couldn’t support her party or represent me. More than half of all MPs were already out on the campaign trail, not representing their constituents in Parliament. If all the LibDem MPs had been present and voted against the Bill, it would have been tied. But of course the Labour whips would have ensured that more Labour MPs stuck around for the vote if they had seen the Liberal MPs around Westminster. A “West Wing” style subterfuge of hiding MPs in offices might have worked, but clearly real life isn’t that exciting. If I was in the constituency for the back benchers who were vocal in their objections to the speed with which the Bill was rushed through, I would give them credit for it. I will certainly be paying close attention to the statements of the PPCs in the area and their view on the issue.

This is the first time that I’ve played really close attention to the progress of a Bill through Parliament. I’ve watched the debates in the Lords and the second and third readings in the Commons. The arcane rituals of the House are confusing – apparently the second reading of a Bill is traditionally passed without objection. I had no idea what a probing amendment is. I was saddened by the front benches using the debate to score party political points and the boorish behaviour of some Members ribbing each other. I kept saying to myself “Take this seriously – this is important!” I think everyone in the country should watch a Commons debate on a subject about which they are knowledgeable – shipbuilding, finance, medicine, whatever. They will, I suspect, be shocked at the attitude of Members and the apparent levity with which some treat the laws they are debating. It is no wonder that people don’t understand the process by which laws are made and have no confidence in it when most of the MPs who voted last night had not even heard the arguments and just voted the way the whips wanted them to.

A bad Bill has been passed with the vague promise that it will be fixed later. If you are concerned, then find out what you can do by visiting the Open Rights Group website.

UPDATE: Rewritten some sections and clarified some of the voting details.

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    2 Responses to Democracy Inaction

    1. Pobice says:

      Put it this way after seeing the past 2 sessions I am minded to not support either labour or tory and ensure who ever gets my vote will try to ensure law is put in place to prevent this kind of rush job in the future.

    2. Hugo Mills says:

      It’s said that there are three things you should never seen being made: Laws, standards, and sausages. The reasons are similar in all three cases. Having been a member of the OGF standards body in the past, and seeing this, I don’t think I ever want to see sausages being made…

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