Wash-up scheduled for Wednesday 7th despite concerns from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs
The Digital Economy Bill, which includes controversial measures that could see Internet Service Providers forced to disconnect those accused of persistently sharing copyrighted files, is likely to pass through the House of Commons today.
Despite vocal complaints from members of all three major political parties the bill saw its second reading in the Commons late on Tuesday 6th April – after the General Election was called – and was scheduled for its final reading, shortened as part of the end-of Parliament wash-up procedure, today.
Labour MP Tom Watson told the house that “20,000 people who have taken the time to email their MPs about the bill in the past seven days are extremely upset that the bill will not receive the scrutiny that it deserves and requires”.
On the other side of the house Jeremy Hunt MP agreed that the bill “could have been massively improved had this house been able to give it proper scrutiny in committee”, and complained that “the Government could have brought this bill before Parliament ages ago”.
“We could have got an iPod, but we got an Amstrad”, he remarked.
Lib Dem MP Don Foster said it was “totally inappropriate that a bill as important as this be given so little time for debate in this house.”
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw MP, denied that the bill had not been adequately debated.
“It is not true to say”, he said, “that the provisions of the bill have not already been the subject of considerable discussion … it was debated for 12 full days on the floor of the House of Lords, during which some 700 amendments were tabled”.
Despite these objections, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats looked likely to back the bill, making it likely that it will pass into law as this issue goes to press.
Mr Hunt, who earlier called the bill “weak, dithering and incompetent” said that “legislation is urgently needed to protect jobs” in the UK’s creative industries, who are “worried that if the whole thing is killed now … their com petitive position will be eroded”.
He said that the Conservatives reserved the right to review the legislation if they win the forthcoming general election, “and we will indeed review it, if it turns out that the legislation is flawed”.
Mr Foster said that the majority of the bill, including clauses 4 to 17, which relate to illegal file sharing, would have the support of the Liberal Democrats if some amendments could be made in time.
These include an amendment to cover locations such as libraries, universities and internet cafes which have “limited control over their users”.
However he added that his party would oppose Clause 18 of the bill, which provides for the high court to prevent access to certain websites “for the prevention of crime”.
“We do not believe that it is appropriate, in the short time allowed by the wash-up, to go ahead with that clause”, he said.
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