UK Digital Bill Enters ‘Wash Up’ Despite Protest

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Harriet Harman has dismissed any further debate on the Digital Economy Bill, meaning it is likely to be swallowed up in the “wash up” process

Despite protests over the controversial Digital Economy Bill – which will allow the disconnection of alleged illegal file-sharers – the UK government has reiterated its determination to push the Bill through parliament before the General Election using an abbreviated process with very limited debate.

The Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, today dismissed objections from Tory and Labour MPs to the restrictions on debate of the bill – which was passed by the House of Lords last week and which will have a second reading in the House of Commons on 6 April. The bill is currently at risk of being pushed through prematurely as part of the “wash up” process, which is designed to get uncontroversial legislation passed quickly at the end of a Parliament.

Protesters demand democratic debate

MP John Grogan protests the Digital Economy Bill outside Parliament, photo by Loz Flowers
MP John Grogan protests the Digital Economy Bill outside Parliament, photo by Loz Flowers

During the questions about House of Commons business, MPs Tom Watson (Labour), Douglas Hogg (Conservative) and John Grogan (Labour) all asked for a full debate on the bill, because it is controversial – particularly in its provisions to deal with illegal file-sharing. As the bill started in the House of Lords, it has not been debated in the Commons which means, as Douglas Hogg said, that the wash up process should not be used on it.

“Over 17,000 letters have been sent objecting to this Bill being rushed through,” said Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group, which organised a protest outside Parliament yesterday (24 March), attended by at least 100 people.  “This Bill will restrict individual rights and freedoms and punish innocent people by disconnecting them.”

The bill proposes to cut off those accused of piracy – a move which has been criticised by service providers and rights groups on several grounds, including the difficulty of identifying wrongdoers and the assumption of guilt. In the House of Lords one controversial clause was replaced by another which would allow copyright owners to issue an injunction to close down sites hosting their content illegally. “This needs democratic debate, it cannot simply be pushed through during ‘wash up’,” said Killock.

MPs Tom Watson and John Grogan both spoke at the protest outside Parliament, along with Bridget Fox (LibDem MP), writer and activist Cory Doctorow, and several members of the Pirate Party, which is planning to contest two Westminster seats, and whose pro-sharing election manifesto was published yesterday.

>”The demo was a great event – not only gaining some media attention, but because many protesters also went to see their MP afterwards.” said Killock. “But the hundreds of protesters have been joined by nearly 17,000 others in opposing this undemocratic process, whereby all three main parties seem willing to push the Bill through without democratic scrutiny.”

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