Electronic Commerce – Bill needs Tory help

The government’s electronic commerce Bill – a central plank in Peter Mandelson’s short-lived tenure as Trade and Industry secretary – may not reach the statute book.

The government failed to bring the Bill to the house in June and must now gain the opposition’s agreement to carry it over to the next parliamentary session in the autumn.

Conservative shadow trade and industry minister Angela Browning said the Bill was receiving ‘very mixed messages’ from her soundings within the IT industry. Proposals to set up a government agency that would hold a register of encryption keys were dropped from the legislation after an industry campaign.

Peter Howarth, head of tax investigation at Cheshire-based firm Lathams, was concerned that the Bill would widen the scope for government departments to share information.

‘We know we can be frank and open with the Inland Revenue in most matters because they do not pass information on,’ said Howarth.

Disclosures to the Revenue might dry up if, for example, company directors found that details were passed on to the trade department.

As a result, the Revenue would need to mount even more full investigations, reducing the number of cases handled each year, he concluded. The DTI would not confirm the exact contents of the Bill until it is presented to parliament. If the Tories turn against it, the Bill might not even get that far.

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