The Digital Economy Bill has been causing controversy for some time now because of its proposals to change online copyright legislation, but now lawyers and human rights groups are warning that it signals an even greater problem - a serious weakness in the way government policy is formulated.
Critics say the government is ignoring input from both the public and parliament in its eagerness to pass the Bill, and that once it is passed the country will be left to deal with a number of undemocratic laws.
Many members of the House of Lords wanted to make changes to the Bill in the final reading last week. Their main focus was on Clause 18, which was put forward by Liberal Democrat members but then subsequently rejected by their own party after it came out that the changes were authored by powerful lobbyists.
The Bill, which was finally passed by the Lords unchanged on Monday, is now back with the House of Commons, which is unlikely to give the Bill further scrutiny as it is now under pressure to pass legislation.
"The real problem is that the other House also will not be able to come to any conclusion about this issue; its members will get only a Second Reading. They will not have a chance to put amendments forward on behalf of their constituents to make the Bill better balanced,” said Liberal Democrat Baroness Sue Miller.
The controversial clause the Lords tried to change was Clause 18, which they inserted in a previous sitting to give copyright holders the right to demand ISPs restrict certain web sites from their users. But during Monday's debate, their amendments were shot down by Lord Anthony Young, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The House of Lords may have had more luck changing the clause in an earlier debate but public outrage over the restriction of web sites only peaked after the Open Rights Group revealed Clause 18 came directly from the music industry association, BPI, which holds considerable lobbying power in the copyright debate.
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