The Digital Economy Bill 2016 has just completed its 2nd Reading in Parliament. This is the first major step in the British legislative system. The 1st Reading is largely a formality. The 2nd is where the broad principles and policies behind a measure are debated.
The Bill passed with no votes against. It now goes to Committee where it will undergo line by line scrutiny. However, it is clear from the discussion that at least in respect of the child protection aspects of the Bill, most notably the clauses introducing compulsory age verification for pornography sites, there is an extremely wide and supportive consensus.
The Government did not indicate that it had modified its position from that set out in the original draft. In other words they did not say they intended to introduce any legal compulsion to withdraw payments and other ancillary support services from non-compliant sites. Neither did they say they intended to give the proposed new regulator a power to compel access providers to block persistently non-compliant sites.
Yet many MPs from all parties urged the Government to consider doing just that and in his excellent summing up for the Government the Minister, Matt Hancock, indicated that it would be necessary to revisit these matters in Committee and that he was keen to reflect on the views which had been expressed by the House.
It’s a long road ahead. Good points were made about privacy concerns that could arise if age verification becomes compulsory but I am certain they can all be answered openly and in a way that will satisfy even the most hardened sceptic.