Digital Economy Bill: In the Wash

March 16, 2010

The Digital Economy Bill has passed one further stage in its passage through Parliament. On Third Reading (available in Hansard here), the areas permitted for debate were somewhat limited, with the ‘usual channels’ having come to a range of agreements. The essential agreement appears to be that the Bill will be passed quickly through its stages in the House of Commons and become law before the election. The contentious clauses (and it should be remembered that this is a wide-ranging Bill not merely a vehicle for ‘three-strikes’) will be subject to the ‘wash-up’ – a process where legislative amendment is agreed between the political party managers prior to an impending election so that the main provisions of a Bill can be passed into law.  

The nature of those compromises can only be guessed at, but there are hints and ‘sincere commitments’ at Third Reading that they include some further limitations on the powers contained in the controversial clause 17, special provision to protect search engines and more. The final terms of these contentious provisions are not likely to be publicly available until a few days before the Bill receives Royal Assent. 

The Earl of Errol bemoaned the process in these words:

‘The real trouble with the Bill is that it is highly unusual. We should not pass legislation in this way. The Bill is entirely a product of your Lordships’ House. It will go to another place [ie the House of Commons] and will receive a Second Reading. One is told that no amendments will be permitted to it. Many Members of the other place are extremely annoyed about that and are very upset that the Bill cannot be amended at all. The form in which the Bill leaves this place is that in which it will pass into law. Therefore, our rules at Third Reading should be much less rigid considering that this is the last time that amendments can be put down. It is a very dangerous way in which to pass legislation; in fact, it is unethical. As I have said before, if we were directors of a company we would probably be locked up for failing to undertake proper governance. Parliament should not behave in this way.’ 

SCL members, particularly the unscrupulous ones, may be particularly engaged by one contribution from Lord Whitty where he claimed that ‘[c]losing down a significant number of subscribers does not mean that any money whatever goes to the creative artists. The only people who will immediately benefit from it are perhaps a few well-heeled organisations and their rather unscrupulous lawyers’.