What happens in wash up – and what will happen to the Digital Economy Bill?

The concept of “wash up” has become subject of greater attention just before the last few general elections, but it’s not nearly as special as descriptions make it sound. What happens is that just before Parliament is dissolved for a general election various pieces of legislation are rushed through rather than be lost and have to start again from scratch after the election. There are no special Parliamentary rules to allow this speedy legislation. Instead, Parliament just has to vote for speedy processes as it can at any other time in the Parliamentary cycle. If you have the votes, you can have the speed.

With no one party having an overall majority in the House of Lords, the process therefore requires a degree of cross-party agreement and the attitude from both Labour and Conservatives is very much that this means Labour and Tories have to agree. But there is no formal requirement for cross-party agreement; all that is required is a majority of one in votes.

Although Labour has a majority in the Commons, and with Lib Dems and others can have a majority in the Lords, it is accommodation with the Conservatives that Labour has been seeking in the preliminary chatter about how wash up may operate this time round.

The proposed referendum on AV is almost certainly going to die a death as Labour does not seem to be up for pushing it and other constitutional reform through. Matters are more complicated on the Digital Economy Bill.

In the Commons, Labour has enough votes on its own, in theory, to get the Bill through with all the controversial clauses intact. There may be sufficient Labour rebels to force some changes,but it will be hard to have a successful rebellion when so many MPs would rather be campaigning in their constituencies and when the Conservatives have said they back the Bill, including its controversial elements.

Some amendments are certain to be made in the Commons, as there are changes the Government wants to (un)make to the Bill. That will then require those parts of the Bill to go back again to the House of Lords.

Labour is likely to get its way in the Lords also as the Conservatives in the Lords back the Digital Economy Bill and its controversial elements. In addition, Conservative peers have been very reluctant to face down the House of Commons. When controversial legislation has gone back and forth between Commons and Lords in the past, even when the Conservatives are solidly opposed to it they have reasonably quickly pulled back from opposition on the basis that they do not want the Lords to usurp the Commons.

Therefore even if the Tories decide to back some further changes to the Digital Economy Bill, unless there are sufficient Labour rebels to win a vote in the Commons, it is very unlikely that Conservative peers will see the matter through and insist on those changes.

What does this all mean overall? It’s that the real power over the Digital Economy Bill rests with David Cameron and the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. If they decide to oppose the Bill – and to oppose it on the principle that controversial, complicated legislation should not be rushed through – then that will be sufficient to win the votes in the Lords and to provide a decent reason for the Lords to stand its ground. The Lords would not be usurping the Commons; it would just be insisting the Commons should have proper debates.

The likely Liberal Democrat votes against in both Commons and Lords, whilst welcome, will not in themselves be sufficient.

A final thought about the timing: many MPs will face a tough choice between being in their constituencies, talking to constituents in advance of the election, or being in Westminster, voting on the Bill. When legislation is properly timetabled, MPs can balance those choices appropriately. When it is rushed through, it is much harder to balance those conflicting demands on finite time. The real blame for MPs missing votes on the Digital Economy Bill will be Labour’s decision to push ahead with it in the dying days of the Parliament.

When Labour and the Tories called a snap sudden vote on freedom of information over MPs’ expenses, some campaigners subsequently blamed MPs who were absent from the vote rather than the Labour and Tory whips who forced a sudden vote. Wiser campaigners this time round should not blame those who should be their allies but instead put blame where it is deserved: on those who insist on badly timed votes.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in General Election and News.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url http://ldv.org.uk/18721 for Twitter and emails.


  • yeah – had ORG and alike focused their efforts on lobbying the Tories then perhaps they would have been more successful in their rather lacklustre campaign against the Bill!

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Apr '10 - 5:48pm

    Don Foster’s position in the house is not a faithful representation of the emergency motion on this issue. I am unimpressed.

  • Very unimpressed with our front bench after all the hard work done by campaigners such as Bridget Fox and the emergency motion at conference. Why do we bother?

  • Voted Lib Dem in the past two general elections, shan’t be doing so this time after yesterday’s performance.

    That was pitiful. One inarticulate LD MP was all we got from the party which was supposed to be on our side – even the conservatives did better than that. I don’t believe any LD supporter could listen to that debate and not feel ashamed of the party that was supposed to be speaking for us.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarAlex Macfie 25th May - 6:23pm
    @TCO: We DID win seats from Labour in 2005. For historical reasons there were far fewer Labour/Lib Dem marginals than Tory/Lib Dem ones. Despite this,...
  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 25th May - 6:23pm
    I want EU citizens to be allowed to vote on it, but not 16 and 17 year olds. The referendum needs to be respected by...
  • User AvatarManfarang 25th May - 6:21pm
    Never mind empathy, all British citizens should be able to vote where ever they are.
  • User AvatarSimon Gilbert 25th May - 6:09pm
    Dear Eddie, with a place to live and the work of your body and mind you always have hope. I would prefer people hold shares,...
  • User AvatarR Rossim 25th May - 5:34pm
    nvelope2003 It is really not the only thing the Liberal Democrats are "worrying about". There is a lot else being discussed around here, and I...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 25th May - 5:18pm
    Each candidate will need to give a view on the large number of citizens who do not choose to register to vote. For some of...
Mon 25th May 2015
Tue 26th May 2015
Wed 27th May 2015
Thu 28th May 2015
Fri 29th May 2015
Sat 30th May 2015
Sun 31st May 2015
Mon 1st Jun 2015
Wed 3rd Jun 2015
Thu 4th Jun 2015
Sat 6th Jun 2015
Wed 10th Jun 2015
Thu 11th Jun 2015
Fri 12th Jun 2015
Sat 13th Jun 2015
Wed 17th Jun 2015
Thu 18th Jun 2015
Sat 20th Jun 2015
Sun 21st Jun 2015