Lib Dems to fight Digital Economy Bill over 'wash-up'

The party has told the government it will not support the bill as drafted, as MPs do not have enough time before the election to scrutinise it in detail

The Liberal Democrats will try to block the Digital Economy Bill from being fast-tracked into law before the election.

On Tuesday afternoon, the party's chief whip Paul Burstow tweeted that he had told the government the Liberal Democrats will not support the bill as it is drafted because there is "not enough time for MPs to examine it in detail".

The bill is expected to be become part of 'wash-up', a brief period at the end of a sitting parliament when outstanding legislation becomes the subject of back-room deals between the main two parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

Although the Digital Economy Bill has gone through full scrutiny in the House of Lords, its passage through the Commons is being severely truncated. It will receive a second reading before MPs on 6 April — the day on which the general election is expected to be announced — and it is unlikely to enter into committee stage before its brief third reading, just before parliament dissolves.

Labour MP Tom Watson has suggested that the third reading of the bill in the Commons could take as little as an hour or two. Committee stage usually takes dozens of hours, in which MPs closely scrutinise the wording of legislation.

At their recent party conference, the Liberal Democrats almost unanimously passed a motion on internet freedom, which is an issue closely associated with the bill due to its sections on penalising people for unlawfully file-sharing copyrighted material. These penalties could include temporary account disconnection, which campaigners say is unfair on those who share their connection with the suspected file-sharer.

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