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Tories to veto key clauses in Digital Economy Bill - but not anti-piracy measures

The Tories will veto Clauses 1, 29 and 43 of the controversial Digital Economy Bill when it comes to a third reading in the House of Commons later today, Wednesday 7 April.

Shadow culture minister Jeremy Hunt said the Conservatives would not pass Clause 43, which deals with "orphan works", nor Clause 1, which deals with the expansion of Ofcom's duties with respect to encouraging investment in the communications sectors. This role was already covered in other legislation, he said.

Shadow business and innovation minister Adam Afriyie said Tories were unhappy with other clauses - notably 29 - that they would veto in the bill's third reading.

The Conservatives did not like many aspects of the bill, particularly the way it had arrived at the Commons, he said. Still, the party would act in the interests of the country, the creative industries and artists when haggling over the bill.

Afriyie felt leaving the bill entirely to the next parliament was an option, but it was more important to get it into committee as soon as possible so that it could be improved, he said.

MPs will have about one hour to amend the bill in committee before it is put to a vote on the third reading.

The Digital Economy Bill is the government's attempt to rebase the economy on "creative industries" such as music, film and broadcasting, which contribute some £50bn a year, about 6.5%, to GDP.

However, measures to protect the intellectual property created by the sector against online piracy have proved controversial.

"We wanted an iPod and we got an Amstrad," Hunt said in reply to the government's proposals.

There appeared to be a cross-party consensus that the timing of the bill and its progress through parliament has been unfortunate. Several Labour MPs said the bill should have started in the Commons rather than the Lords, while others said the government was "discourteous" in denying them time to scrutinise the bill properly.

"We cannot do our job - but this fight is not over yet," said Labour's John Grogan. Grogan added he could find no precedent since 1987 for the Commons to see such a controversial and sweeping law after a General Election had been called.

Several MPs warned that hasty agreements negotiated in the wash-up before parliament rises for the next election were likely to lead to "unintended consequences" and the need to revise parts of the law in the next parliament.

Some said the haste and public lack of confidence in the process meant that the act would lack legitimacy.

Labour MP David Cairns said one of his constituents believed the government was following the ayatollahs of Iran and paranoid ministers of China in trying to lock down the internet.

Summing up for the government, finance secretary Stephen Timms said the creative industries were losing up to £400m a year to online piracy and something had to be done. If it wasn't done now, it would be a month at least and perhaps much longer before Britain acted against online pirates.

He said the creative industries had to do more to develop new business models attuned to the needs of the internet, to educate the public why piracy was bad, and to offer legitimate ways for people to get what they wanted easily at a reasonable price.

"They will have to worker harder for less reward than in the past," Timms said. But it would be wrong for them to compete against people who did not have to pay for the content they sold, he added.


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