Call for real debate as MPs examine Digital Economy Bill


The controversial Digital Economy Bill will be put in front of MPs today, but many expect it will be rushed through ahead of the election.

The bill has already been through parliament once, and has faced the House of Lords three times. It includes provisions to cut off persistent file sharers as well as take down websites hosting copyright protected material.

Normally a bill of this scale would be debated extensively by MPs, but the looming election means it will likely be pushed through in the so-called "washup phase", which lets bills be passed if they've been through parliament at least once.

Come back at 3.30 this afternoon for our live blog of the Digital Economy Bill debate in parliament.

Jim Killock, head of the Open Rights Group, said the bill was "one of the worst lobbying scandals of this Parliament."

"Parliamentary scrutiny must be applied. The sheer level of interference from lobbyists demands MPs do their job or drop the controversial clauses," he said in a statement.

ORG has worked with digital campaign group 38 Degrees to raise 20,000 to run adverts in major newspapers today to encourage MPs to "do their jobs" and properly debate the bill.

"Over 20,000 voters have written to MPs and raised funds for adverts, because we know disconnection of families for allegations of copyright infringement is a draconian punishment, and need to be fully debated, not rammed through at the last minute," Killock said.

While some argue the bill must wait, others believe it must be passed quickly.

The Creative Coalition Campaign has run its own newspaper adverts, "urging all MPs to support the Digital Economy Bill's Second Reading in the House of Commons."

And Brendan Barber, chief executive of union TUC, wrote in the Telegraph today that online piracy will "get much, much worse" if the bill isn't passed.

"The Bill's measures to counter online copyright infringement, now estimated to cost the UK's creative industries more than a billion pounds in retail revenue, will play a major role in preventing job losses throughout the sector and ensuring continued investment," he said.

"Ideally, we would like MPs to have the opportunity to give the bill the same degree of scrutiny as that given by the Lords," he argued. "But as the election approaches, the options are limited," he added.

"The choice is not between these provisions or more carefully scrutinised ones. It is between these provisions or a continuation of the status quo under which the digital pirates are allowed the freedom to plunder at will across cyberspace."

The issue of piracy is set to be a major election issue, and the way the Labour government handles this bill is likely to crop up in rival campaigns. The debate is set to kick off today at 3.30pm.