Conservative-LibDem coalition agreement: implications for IP, IT and communications

An update on the IP, IT and communications aspects of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties' coalition agreement. (Free access.)

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The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have published an initial coalition agreement covering a range of issues ...show full speedread

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have published an initial coalition agreement covering a range of issues. The document includes a section on civil liberties and sets out common policies on matters such as the proposal for a Freedom or Great Repeal Act, the abolition of the ID card scheme and a review of current libel laws. However, a number of issues are noticeable by their absence; for example, the agreement makes no reference to any possible review of the Digital Economy Act 2010 or to plans for funding the roll-out of super-fast broadband.

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Facts

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have published an initial coalition agreement. The document highlights agreement in 11 key areas, including a section on civil liberties. The coalition parties have stated that this initial agreement will be followed by a final coalition agreement that will cover the full range of government policy.

Civil liberties

The penultimate section of the coalition agreement (section 10) sets out the parties' plans to "implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion". These measures include:

  • The introduction of a Freedom or Great Repeal Bill (to cover a number of the issues listed below).

  • The abolition of the ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to provide greater transparency.

  • The adoption of the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

  • The introduction of safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

  • An increase in the regulation of CCTV.

  • The termination of the storage of internet and e-mail records "without good reason".

Culture, media and sport

It is notable that the coalition agreement does not include any reference to agreed policies in the areas of culture, media or technology. (For details of the main political parties' general election manifestos for IP, IT and communications issues, see Legal update, General election 2010: implications for IP, IT and communications (www.practicallaw.com/0-502-0111)). In particular, the agreement does not address any possible review of the Digital Economy Act 2010 (see Legal update, Digital Economy Act 2010: summary of main provisions (www.practicallaw.com/9-502-0116)). In the lead up to the general election, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, had recommended the repeal of the Act, and the Conservatives had pledged to amend any flawed aspects of the legislation. It remains to be seen how or when the Act will reassessed by the new government.

Other topics not addressed by the coalition agreement include a review of media ownership laws, the future of the BBC (including the role of the BBC Trust and a review of the licence fee) and proposals for funding the roll-out of next-generation access (super-fast broadband) across the UK. In April 2010 the former Labour government dropped its proposed 50 pence-per-month duty on landlines to help fund super-fast broadband, which had been opposed by the Conservatives, who proposed to divert funds from the BBC licence fee if the market failed to meet broadband targets.

Despite the lack of agreed policy in the culture and media arenas, the new coalition government has announced the extension of the scope of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport so as to include the 2012 London Olympics in the department's portfolio. The former shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, has been appointed as Secretary of State for the extended department.

 

Comment

The positive response of civil liberties' groups to the coalition agreement has been matched by the disappointment of opponents of the Digital Economy Act, who are frustrated by the lack of any reference to the future of the Act. However, as highlighted by the new government, this coalition agreement is only an interim statement of intention. The legislative programme for the government will not become clear until the publication of the final and more detailed coalition agreement, and ultimately the Queen's Speech on 25 May 2010.

Source: Conservative Party news, Coalition Agreement, 11 May 2010.

 
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