Now that the date of the General Election has been announced and the Prime Minister has gone to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament on the 12 April, there are only a few days of business left.
The main parties met to agree how to accelerate the completion of some of the pieces of legislation already going through Parliament, chopping out contentious clauses to speed up their passage before Parliament is adjourned on Thursday 8th. The technical term is prorogation, but after that there will be no further business until the formal dissolution on Monday 12th.
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill, the majority of the legislation that came out of the Digital Britain report published in 2009. Some sections were scrapped, including those around the creation of Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNCs) - a subject close to the heart of UTV (who are the preferred bidder as Wales Live to run the Welsh trial).
But the bill still contains many issues of which members of the public - like you and me - have concerns about: online copyright infringement, forcing ISPs disclose details of customers who
repeatedly are accused of infringing copyright (ie, download torrents), radio spectrum allocation, Digital Switchover for Radio (DAB), Broadband access and speeds, as well as the public service remit of ITV, Channel 4 and Five. Hundreds wrote to their local MPs. many receiving warm responses.
Some great lines from the debate - which I present entirely out of context.
"We wanted an iPod, but we got an Amstrad. We wanted digital switchover, but we ended up with analogue switch-off. It is time to reboot Britain, and only the Conservatives can deliver that."
"The best way to illustrate this is by means of an old-tech linear-medium metaphor. In this metaphorical world that they have constructed, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who is in his place but not paying attention, is Luke Skywalker. He is the little guy, the plucky loner fighting the machine.
Clay Shirky is Obi Wan Kenobi, the wise, broad, almost mystical guru figure. Peter Mandelson is obviously Darth Vader. Rather more counter-intuitively, however-this is where the metaphor begins to fracture-the evil Sith Chancellor Palpatine, the most evil universally bad figure of all, turns out to be Steven Spielberg.
That is who Luke Skywalker is fighting-the ultimate rights holder, the acme of creative content ownership. When Spielberg turns out to be the ultimate evil, we know that the metaphor-otherwise quite cleverly constructed by the freedom fighters-is not just flawed, but misleading, damaging and dangerous. When Spielberg is the ultimate evil, it turns out that creativity is the enemy. It is creativity that Luke and his pals are after."
During the 6 hour debate, no Northern Ireland MPs spoke, and from flicking through the footage of the session, I can see no evidence that any local MP was in the Commons during the debate. Update - Jeffrey Donaldson (see below) was quick to suggest otherwise. Broadband access, ITV's public service remit (UTV's franchise), Digital Radio - all relevant to Northern Ireland, but no representation at this stage of the bill.
Today, another bill affecting Northern Ireland was before the commons - the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill - which means that MPs or MEPs who are also MLAs will not receive an MLA salary (a step on the road towards eliminating dual-mandates) as well as permitting the Northern Ireland Assembly "to delegate the determination of salaries and allowances to an outside body" (something they plan to do after the 2011 Assembly elections).
During the 50 minutes this bill was before the Commons this afternoon - which you can watch on BBC's Democracy Live website - three Northern Ireland MPs (all of whom are also MLAs!) managed to turn up and speak: Peter Robinson (DUP), William McCrea (DUP), Mark Durkan (SDLP). When it was about money and jobs, a few managed to make it across to London to speak up.
Maybe our budding Westminster candidates will commit to better attendance in the next Parliamentary session?
Jeff Peel has some words to say on the same subject too.
Update - Jeffrey Donaldson was quickly in touch to explain:
"That is totally untrue. I was present at Westminster all day yesterday together with Peter Robinson, William McCrea, David Simpson, Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson. I attended several meetings in the House of Commons during the day and was present when the Speaker called for the vote on the Digital Economy Bill. No division occurred. As far as I know the DUP was the only local party present."
Update - The SDLP's Mark Durkan was also in the building, though not sure how much/little of the debate he sat in on. Oh, and someone turned up at the end of the third reading to vote No!