Digital Economy Bill nears endgame

UPDATE (07/04/10):

The Digital Economy Bill passed its second reading yesterday afternoon, despite a rearguard action from the likes of Tom Watson, John Redwood and Don Foster. Here are more details of the second reading of DEB (via BBC).  Of particular interest is Harriet Harman’s claim that the controversial measures in DEB will be subject to further scrutiny in the next Parliament.

The government will now take steps to get DEB through the final legislative stages on the way to Royal Assent in the next couple of days. Expect another update shortly…


The Digital Economy Bill is nearing its endgame, with the BBC reporting that its second reading will start this afternoon amid wide predictions that the government will try to rush the Bill into law before Parliament is adjourned on Thursday 8 April 2010 for the forthcoming general election. As we’ve written about before, the Digital Economy Bill is likely to have a great impact on the games industry (indeed, all creative industries) if/when it becomes law.

Where are we now?

The Bill has passed the House of Lords and is due to go before the House of Commons for its first detailed debate (the ‘second reading’) this afternoon.  After a bill’s second reading, there is usually a committee and report stage where the bill is gone through with a fine-tooth comb.  Then there is a (less substantive) third reading and finally the Bill will have to go back to the House of Lords – where it started – so that the Lords can review the changes proposed by the Commons.  The Lords can either then accept the changes, or reject them – which can lead to a sort of legislative ping pong between the two Houses (though ultimately the House of Commons will have the final legal say).

But, this process is being severely curtailed due to the very short timeframe left in which to pass the Digital Economy Bill – literally a matter of days now.  As a result, the government’s strategy has been to hold the second reading in the shortest possible time (i.e. a few hours) and then try to deal with all the other legislative stages in one go.  As a result, it is not clear (at least, not to me) whether the committee/report stage will happen at all, or will be given the shortest possible time (again, a few hours) in which to carry out their work.

This has proven increasingly contentious to say the least, with pro-DEB groups supporting the plan while anti-DEB groups have continued to attack both the Bill’s proposals itself as well now as the accelerated timeframe for their passage into law.  Last week, for example, Tom Watson MP vociferously attacked the Bill and described the government’s strategy for making it into law this term as “potentially a constitutional impropriety“.  As he pointed out, laws made quickly generally turn into bad laws.  (On the other hand, in fairness, Ed Vaizey from the Tories and Don Foster from the Lib Dems both argued the Bill had already been adequately debated).

More recently, the BBC reports that one of the major opposition groups to the DEB, the Open Rights Group, has urged people to write to their MPs expressing concern over the DEB and has taken out a full page advert in the Guardian and Times newspapers, headlined “20,684 of us demand a proper debate on the Digital Economy Bill”.

What next?

Watch this space.  The government is under heavy pressure from both sides, both to delay and to accelerate the Digital Economy Bill’s passage into law.  How the government behaves at the second reading in Parliament today will give a good indication as to in which direction it is now leaning. 

[image author: Andrew Dunn, obtained via Wikipedia]

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