In a clear abuse of the parliamentary process and a travesty of democracy, the Digital Economy Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday, a process which now allows the final passage of the bill to be pushed through “wash-up”. The reason this is a travesty is that the wash-up process is supposed to be for bills with cross-party support and few concerns about the detailed provisions needing further parliamentary scrutiny, to avoid clogging up the post-election parliamentary timetable with uncontroversial matters getting in the way of (supposedly) the new governments’ manifesto commitments. Neither of these is truly the case for the Digital Economy Bill. While the Conservative and Labour Front Benches may have whipped sufficient of their MPs into line this did not have all-party support. It was not (and is not) uncontroversial. Claims that it had received significant debate in the Lords ignores the constant cries from the current government about how undemocratic our Upper Chamber is. When the Lords blocks something the government doesn’t like, it’s undemocratic, but when it serves as a mechanism for the near-dictator Lord Mandelson to push through a piece of captured legislation then it’s sufficient democratic scrutiny for a major bill. The Digital Economy is incredibly important to the UK and a bill to support and develop it needed to be put through the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and crafted with balance on all sides of the discussions. Ramming something through with Henry VIII powers, a lop-sided set of proposals which run the risk of destroying significant chunks of internet access and business through chilling effects if not legal action, all because Lord Mandelson got his ear bent by a rich representative of a dinosaur industry, is not democracy, it’s corruption and abuse of power.

Larry Lessig changed his tack in the US from lobbying for more sensible copyright (and related rights) laws to the issue of corruption in US politics and the capture of the law-making process by small groups with large amounts of money. After the DEBill fiasco in the UK, it’s easy to see why he felt that move necessary.