Controversial UK laws rushed through as election looms

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Controversial UK laws rushed through as election looms

Digital Economy Bill in, 50p phone line tax out.

The Digital Economy Bill has passed its second reading in the UK House of Commons and looks likely to be enacted into law before the forthcoming election.

The Bill received a last-minute show of support from the Conservative Party during a sparsely attended debate.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the legislation is flawed but should be passed.

The Liberal Democrats opposed the Bill and were joined by many MPs, including Labour's Tom Watson and the Conservative Party's Roger Gale.

While the huge campaign to stop the Bill has suffered a setback, the government has made some limited concessions.

Harriet Harman, leader of the House of Commons, promised that the legislation would be amended after the election in light of several key concerns.

These include the controversial plans to cut off internet users accused of piracy and a requirement for ISPs to disconnect sites believed to be providing pirated material.

The Bill will now go to the committee stage, and then a third reading tomorrow afternoon before being passed into law.

The Bill is likely to be one of the last to be made into law before the election. There are eight outstanding bills, and sufficient time to pass just one or two.

Phone line tax bites the dust

Government plans for a 50p (82 cent) landline tax to fund the rapid expansion of superfast broadband are being killed off in the 'wash-up' of legislation being rushed through UK parliament before it is dissolved for the general election on 6 May.

Angry rows about the way the telephone tax is being treated broke out in the Commons late on Tuesday.

Treasury financial secretary Stephen Timms launched a bitter attack on the Tories for holding up the provision of faster broadband in rural areas, and warned that cash from the BBC licence fee which the Tories plan to use instead will not be available for another three years.

Timms accused the Tories of "a disastrous betrayal of rural business, of young people and schools in rural areas and people living in rural areas who want to work from home".

The 'wash-up'

Earlier this week, the leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman announced that the Digital Economy Bill, the Finance Bill and the Crime and Security Bill would go into a process called the wash-up.

This process sees the bills rushed through parliament over the next three days as the government tries to make them law before it is dissolved prior to the general election to be held on May 6.

The Digital Economy Bill was debated today. It is arguably the most controversial of the bills mentioned, and still contains Clause 120a as added by Liberal Democrat Peers Lords Razzall and Clement-Jones. The clause defends traditional copyright law and could see internet users cut off for file sharing.

The Finance Bill, also debated today, contains a similarly controversial element, that of the 50p (82c) phone tax which the government hopes will raise funds for high speed broadband rollout. Opposition to this clause had come from the Tories who argued that the high-speed broadband rollout would be best left to market forces.

Finally, the Crime and Security Bill will be presented to the commons on Thursday [08/04/10] and contains a clause that will allow the police to retain DNA on its database for as long as six years, both the Liberal Democrats and Tories will oppose this.

The next few days will see furious horsetrading between party whips as they attempt to push the bills through in a form that is acceptable to their parties.

(Additional reporting by Nicola Brittain of

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