Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Digital Economy Bill

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On 26 January 2010, peers continued committee stage examination of the Digital Economy Bill, focusing on clause 17, which would give the government the power to amend the copyright law without passing further primary legislation.

Highlighting the loss of revenue to media companies associated with illegal file-sharing, government spokesman Lord Young of Norwood Green argued that ministers "need to be able to respond quickly and flexibly" to changing technology.

But, for the Conservatives, Lord Howard of Rising described the powers as "dictatorial", arguing that they "are incompatible, or sit uncomfortably... with a parliamentary democracy".

"Effectively, entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State, a large amount of law can be amended - the whole of Part I of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act," he warned.

He told peers that the safeguards proposed by the government were "not as strong as might at first appear, and would not provide the restraint necessary for such wide-ranging powers".

Crossbench peer the Earl of Erroll said the clause was "totally unnecessary and may have all sorts of unintended consequences that will be very dangerous".

Lord Young denied that the powers sought were "draconian", but conceded that the government would "see what we can do" to revise clause 17 before the bill comes under further scrutiny at report stage "to ensure that there is effective parliamentary control".

The bill implements many of the proposals contained in the government's Digital Britain white paper.

The bill clamps down on online piracy by forcing internet service providers (ISPs) to warn illegal file-sharers of the possible sanctions which, for the most persistent offenders, include disconnection.

Ofcom - the UK's media watchdog - will be required to encourage the spread of next-generation broadband, and appoint and fund new independent regional news providers following ITV's proposed withdrawal from regional news production.

The bill also provides for the digital switchover of radio by 2015 and the modernisation of mobile and wireless broadband connections.

Other measures include a compulsory age rating for video games designed for those aged 12 and over and provisions for the secretary of state to amend copyright, design and patent laws.

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