An update on the IP, IT and communications aspects of the Government's coalition agreement. (Free access.)
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition has published its programme for government. The programme covers the full range of government policy, although most of the proposals on civil liberties were set out in the parties' initial agreement issued on 11 May 2010. The programme includes measures to enable the rapid roll-out of super-fast broadband across the UK, including in remote areas, and it is proposed that this will be funded, if necessary, from the part of the TV licence fee that is supporting the digital switchover. Opponents of the Digital Economy Act will be disappointed by the lack of any reference to the future of the Act. However, the document emphasises that the deficit reduction programme will take precedence over all other measures.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties reached an initial agreement to form a coalition government on 11 May 2010.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition has published its programme for government. The document, which includes a comprehensive foreword signed by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, covers 31 policy areas, although the document emphasises that the deficit reduction programme will take precedence over all other measures.
Section 3 of the document sets out the government's proposals on civil liberties. These are as set out in the initial agreement (see Legal update, Conservative-LibDem coalition agreement: implications for IP, IT and communications (www.practicallaw.com/3-502-2793)), but with the following additional measures:
A proposal to establish a Commission to consider a British Bill of Rights. It is proposed that this will incorporate and build on the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
A ban on the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by local authorities, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime (this appears in section 4 of the programme on communities and local government).
The Bill of Rights proposal can be seen as a move away from the Conservative's manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, although the Conservatives did not suggest withdrawing from the Convention.
The initial agreement did not include any specific reference to agreed policies in the areas of culture, media or technology. Measures set out in the government's programme (section 7) include:
Measures to enable the rapid roll-out of super-fast broadband across the UK including in remote areas, including measures to ensure that British Telecommunications and other infrastructure providers allow the use of their assets to deliver such broadband. If necessary, the part of the TV licence fee that is supporting the digital switchover will be used to fund broadband in areas that the market will not reach.
Maintaining the independence of the BBC, and giving the National Audit Office full access to the BBC's accounts to ensure transparency.
Enabling partnerships between local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote a strong and diverse local media industry.
Rules to prevent unfair competition by local-authority newspapers (set out in section 4).
Cutting red tape to encourage the performance of live music. This was under consideration in the last government and was part of the Liberal Democrats' manifesto (see Legal updates, DCMS consults on exempting small live music events from Licensing Act 2003 requirements (www.practicallaw.com/2-501-1422) and Live Music Bill falls on dissolution of Parliament (www.practicallaw.com/5-501-9997)).
The Liberal Democrats have been fierce supporters of an independent BBC and the government's programme appears to support this. However, there is no mention of the BBC's governance or of the future of the BBC Trust.
The government's programme includes the following measures (section 16):
Steps to open up government procurement and reduce costs; government IT contracts to be published online.
A level playing field for open-source software and large government IT projects to be split into smaller components.
The creation of a new "right to data" so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and published at regular intervals.
All data published by public bodies to be published in an open and standardised format, so that it can be used easily and with minimal cost by third parties.
These measures were included in the Conservative Party manifesto.
Opponents of the Digital Economy Act will be disappointed by the lack of any reference to the future of the Act. As the final coalition agreement warns, the deficit reduction programme will take precedence over all other measures, and it remains unclear whether there will be sufficient funding for the government's broadband proposals.