Digital Economy Bill could be law by April

The Digital Economy Bill could be made law by early April, as it it likely to be pushed through before the election.

The Bill, which is currently being thrashed out on its third reading in the House of Lords is expected to be turned to the House of Commons in a fortnight. However if it is on its second reading in the House of Commons when parliament is expected to be dissolved at the start of April, due to the general election it could enter straight into the statute book.

This would mean that it could enter the ‘wash up’, where legislation that has not finished its passage through parliament is pushed through. At this stage the government can only get measures through with opposition support and bills, or clauses of bills, that are opposed will almost certainly be dropped.

Today a Talk Talk spokesperson told TechEye that it felt that this was looking more and more likely to happen saying that this kind of “wash up” happens “all the time”.

“Of course this all depends on the timing of the elections,” Talk Talk’s spokesperson told us. “We have concerns, especially after yesterday’s changes to clause 17 that essentially profound changes are being made to the Bill at the last minute and with very little scrutiny.” Talk Talk is concerned that these “fundamental changes” will then be pushed through the wash up after the election.

A Conservative party spokeswoman who spoke to us (why do they never want to be named?) said that the Tories were keen to push the bill through as quickly as possible. However the party has a problem with the plan to show regional news only on ITV1. Its spokesperson told TechEye that if the government wished to pass the law quickly it would have to bow to their wishes.

“We have been clear that we want the bill to go through as quickly as possible and it has always been the intention to pass it through at this time [before the election],” said the spokeswoman. “It hasn’t yet been brought to the House of Commons, because the government brought out the bill so late.

“We are keen to get this passed and have therefore tried to speed up the bill by being clear over the clause we would like changed. This will hopefully decrease time spent on debate and further amendments and help the bill get passed.”

Yesterday Andrew Heaney, executive director of strategy and regulation at TalkTalk expressed concern over the changes to Clause 17 saying: “We are concerned that this new amendment is being put through at the last minute without any proper debate or scrutiny. Given the potentially profound impact it would have, we think this is unacceptable”.

Yesterday over 25 Liberal Democrat MPs send an open letter to their party in which the new clause was labelled “draconian and unworkable”.

“We are proud of the record of Liberal Democrat peers in taking swift action, including working across party lines, to defeat some of the worst legislation to come out of this Labour government,” the letter read.

“We applaud the intention to give parties accused of copyright infringement the protection of the courts rather than subjecting them to the political whim of the Secretary of State. But in practice these amendments would still lead to a situation that is incompatible with our principles of freedom and fairness.”

Today another open letter was sent back to these MPs in what was described on the Liberal Democrat Voice as a “very big olive branch” explaining that there was agreement on all sides of the party that the Government’s original proposals were wrong.

Derek Wyatt, Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, seemed dismayed when TechEye caught up with him, stating, “We certainly don’t want it to go to wash up.”

“It is my belief that if we cannot agree on the clauses and if we don’t get everything sorted out then the Bill will be shelved for at least 18 months.” He said: “I think that they will not visit the Digital Economy Bill until after a second election, especially if we have a hung parliament.

“It is such a shame that all this work has gone into [the Digital Economy Bill] and it looks like it won’t happen and filesharing stays.”