Richard Younger-Ross MP (LibDem) on the Digital Economy Bill

Given that the much-reviled Digital Economy Bill has been forced through Parliament into law, I thought I'd share the very long and very thoughtful email I received from my MP Richard Younger-Ross after I wrote to him in protest of some measures included in this proposed legislation (particularly odious is making the account-holder responsible for whatever allegedly happens through their connection, a plan that will likely wipe out wifi sharing in this country). Ross doesn't seem to have turned up to vote on the bill, but I don't hold much of a grudge against him for that: scheduling a vote this important during "wash up" and forcing weeks of consideration into the space of a few hours is a despicable mockery of democracy. (Evan Harris MP certainly thought so, and issued a roaring attack on the whole affair.)

Can we just vote not to let anyone back into Commons in a months' time? Then maybe we could replace the whole Palace of Westminster with a sculpture shaped like this, which seems an accurate reflection of the relationship we have with our own elected representatives.

Anyway, there are a few good eggs. Here's Ross:

Dear Mr Swain

Thank you for contacting me about the Digital Economy Bill.

I have received a great many letters about this Bill, which covers a wide range of issues. This Bill has seen several developments in recent weeks and will appear for its second reading on the 6th April.

The Digital Economy Bill is wide ranging and covers 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 as well as the issue of illegal downloading and file sharing. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I support the creative industries and believe that many aspects of this Bill are vitally important to the continuing success of our radio, television and content industries. We understand, however, that the proposals relating to website blocking and file sharing are controversial. I appreciate the concerns of many people who 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. Please be assured that my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will not support these sections of the Bill without this process taking place.

We are also concerned about the financial implications of illegal downloading of copyright material and recognise the importance of protecting intellectual property. 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 this matter, Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC (Trades Union Congress), 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."

The Liberal Democrats do believe that some action is needed and must form part of the Digital Economy Bill; however, we have opposed - and helped defeat - government proposals (contained in Clause 17 of the original Digital Economy Bill) to give itself almost unfettered powers to act against copyright infringement.

In addition, as a result of debates instigated and amendments passed by the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, the government's original proposals relating to illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing have been significantly improved. As a result, no action to introduce "technical measures" (whether temporary account suspension, bandwidth throttling or whatever) can be introduced until the following conditions have been satisfied:

1. soft measures (letter writing) have been used;

2. an evaluation of their effectiveness has been undertaken;

3. an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been undertaken;

4. further consultation has taken place;

5. proposed legislation is brought before parliament for decision; and

6. there is an explicit assumption of innocence until proved guilty.

The Liberal Democrats remain concerned by some aspects of the system for tackling peer-to-peer file-sharing being introduced in the Bill and will take further action in the Commons to scrutinise and improve the legislation. In particular, we are concerned that there will not be enough time for in-depth consultation on the initial code that Ofcom will draw up. We also feel that there is currently inadequate protection in the Bill for schools, libraries, universities and other businesses offering internet access to the public.

We are also unconvinced of the merits of the various technical measures that have been proposed, including bandwidth shaping and temporary account suspension. For this reason we have amended the Bill to ensure that any such measures cannot be introduced without proper consultation and not until evidence has been produced to prove that this is the best available option. We are further seeking to ensure that any measures brought before parliament will be subject to maximum scrutiny in both Houses and that it will be possible for changes to be made to them before a final decision is made.

We are urging the creative music, film and video games industries to work more vigorously to develop new business models which will make it easier and more affordable for people to legally access their products. We hope that this combined with "soft measures" and an effective education campaign will mean that further action will not be required.

The Liberal Democrats 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 early stages of the implementation of the legislation in the digital economy Bill.

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. In other words action should only be taken if it is appropriate, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

There are some who believe that no action should be taken to address the problems caused by copyright infringements on the internet. While we believe that these issues must be addressed following adequate consultation, we would also maintain that the initial proposals from the government and the much later proposals in respect of website blocking have gone too far.

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I believe that many of the measures in the Bill that do not relate to illegal file sharing are important. However, in respect of those that do relate to illegal file sharing we will not support them in the Commons if we are not satisfied that the procedures in place are fair and allow for full consultation and scrutiny before their introduction in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to make me aware of your concerns. Please be assured that the Liberal Democrats will do everything in our power to prevent this Bill being passed as law without having been properly considered and evaluated through Parliamentary debate.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Younger-Ross MP

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Ah, yes -- the "quarter million jobs" angle. IIRC it was Michael Geist who tracked that one down. What's amazing is that it keep going around and despite all of the debunking it's gotten over the years politicians still treat it as unquestioned truth.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 08 Apr 2010 #permalink

Am I missing something? You describe it as the words of Phil Willis, but you've also said it's from Richard Younger-Ross, who has signed it. Has Willis written a standard response that Lib Dem MPs are using?

@Thomas
Agh, that's what I get for trying to do too many things at once. Apologies, my MP is definitely Richard Younger-Ross!

(although I've no idea if it's a standard response drafted at LibDem HQ, it might well be.)

It's nice to have an MP who actually acts in the best interest of the people who elected him, and I'll vote for him to be allowed back in when the time comes.

I live in Evan Harris' constituency though...

rufus- you are lucky- i live next door in vaizeys constituency. he is the tory git who told us that we would have to wait until it was profitable to get fast broadband. i live in a village of 15 houses!