When Theresa May made the decision to call an election, few gave a thought to what would happen to the Bills going through Parliament. We did, as the Digital Economy Bill is one that we had been involved in and would have an impact on our business.
Mrs. May’s decision to hold a general election shocked most people. From our perspective our thoughts turned to what this meant for the Bill.
When a Prime Minister makes such a call, there will often be a number of Bills that haven’t yet finished going through Parliament. That is the situation we faced with the Digital Economy Bill.
The Government has a number of options in these circumstances. It can:
- Drop Bills – this might be the case if Parliament has only just started to consider it or if it really isn’t a priority or could be quite controversial in an election period.
- ‘Streamline’ Bills – to ensure that some of the rougher political edges are knocked off in an effort to get them through.
- Steamroller Bills – simply pushing ahead with getting them through.
Under all these circumstances, the Government does have to find the Parliamentary time to get all its business completed. So there can be discussions with the opposition parties in Parliament and the eventual compromises emerge from these discussions.
As you may recall from my previous blogs, we had engaged members of the House of Lords during the debates on the Bill. In particular, we opposed the proposed changes to the way that rents are agreed for wireless infrastructure. This would have shifted valuing land away from a market-based system to a ‘no scheme’ valuation.
However, after putting our arguments forward, the Government introduced its own amendments to the Bill making it clear that landowners should be paid appropriately for allowing code operators to use their land in order to strike a balance between property rights and the public benefit.
With the Digital Economy Bill, all that was left to do was for the Commons to consider the amendments which the Lords had made to the Bill. As the Bill contained a number of key government policies around online security for children and reform of the BBC the Government was committed to getting it through. So time was found to conclude the Bill’s proceedings.
But looking at other Bills, such as the Finance Bill, shows that some of its contents were removed. That does not always mean that those aspects cannot come back in the future in some other form in a different Bill.
Once a bill has completed all the parliamentary stages in both Houses, it is ready to receive Royal Assent. This is when the Queen formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament (law). When Royal Assent has been given, an announcement is made in both Houses – by the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons. At Prorogation (the formal end to a parliamentary session), Black Rod interrupts the proceedings of the Commons and summons MPs to the Lords chamber to hear the Lords commissioners announce Royal Assent for the bills passed. This is known as the Royal Commission.
The Digital Economy Bill will become an Act on that day (Thursday 27 April) and the work that we put into the engagement will become a reality.
Tom Evans, Senior Vice President