Friday, 31 January 2014

Narrow defeat in the Lords: The Fight goes on

Thank you for taking the time last weekend to use our campaign website, to contact a peer and encourage them to support Baroness Howe’s amendment to the government’s Children and Families Bill.  Lady Howe’s amendment required all ISPs and mobile phone operators to provide their customers a service free of adult content unless they opted in to receive it and made provision for robust age verification to guard against abuse of the system.

So many of you responded that we estimate every peer received at least one email of encouragement.

Sadly the amendment was not carried with 118 peers voting for it with 153 voting against.

We always knew that an early vote would be crucial to the success of the amendment and unfortunately this was scuppered by two last minute developments.  Firstly, the Commons decided to send the Lobbying Bill back to the Lords, which lost a good hour and a half and secondly there was much debate on an extremely controversial sex education amendment which took a long time to debate.

In the event Lady Howe did not start speaking until 7.39 pm and the result of the vote came out one hour later.

A number of peers who know about these things tell me that, had the vote been earlier, the amendment would have been carried comfortably.  It is deeply frustrating that, at the end of the day this should come down to something as capricious as timing rather than the quality of arguments.

Although disappointing I feel that we should also take encouragement from the result.  In her summing up Lady Howe said:

“We have debated these issues on many occasions and need to come to some resolution. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House.”

The closeness of the vote indeed shows the opinion of the House.  The peers who voted for the amendment included Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats and cross-benchers.  Clearly this is an issue which transcends party boundaries and shows the strength of feeling on this issue.  The government will have noted this and are likely to be watching very closely.  As one expert told me this week ‘it would only take another Tesco [which Mediawatch-UK recently discovered was not filtering content on their mobile service despite tacit assurances it was] and they would have to legislate’.

Thank you once again for your support which, had timings been different, would have carried the day.  All is not yet over and I look forward to being able to write to you with the good news of statutory protection in the not too distant future.

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