Snap election could put major digital policies and legislation on ‘uncertain footing’

Written by Rebecca Hill on 20 April 2017 in News
News

Westminster and Whitehall face scramble to pass legislation and policies before parliament dissolves in two weeks, says Institute for Government

Parliament is under pressure to pass legislation before it dissolves - Photo credit: PA

The snap general election, approved yesterday by MPs, could put major pieces of legislation in jeopardy - and the government could be forced to make compromises to make sure certain bills pass through parliament before it dissolves.

Among those bills currently making their way through parliament is the Digital Economy Bill, which includes provisions for increased data-sharing across Whitehall, restrictions on access to online pornography and sets minimum broadband speeds.

The bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords on 5 April, and it was expected that there would be some light ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons, with some of the amendments, for instance on broadband speed, batted back to the peers.

However, with the prime minister Theresa May’s decision to call a general election, parliament is due to dissolve on 3 May - which means the next two weeks, known as ‘wash up’, will see a rush to pass major pieces of legislation and policies.


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According to the Institute for Government’s programme director Emma Norris, most of the major bills will make it through to the statute book in some form, although the level of negotiation will vary.

For instance, The Times today reported that the government was planning to cut out students from the immigration totals, in a bid to get the Higher Education and Research Bill through parliament.

The Digital Economy Bill - due to be discussed in the Commons next Wednesday - is likely to require less compromise, but will have to fit in around other business - Louise Haigh, shadow minister for the digital economy, said on Twitter this morning that negotiations were underway but that there was “lots of parliamentary business to get through”.

However, the Finance (No2) Bill, which includes provisions for the digital tax reforms, only had its second reading in the House of Commons last night.

Norris said that the government would want to make sure that key provisions get through, to ensure continuity of tax collection - but that “it would be poor process for its 700 pages-plus of complex provisions to be passed in wash-up – with even less scrutiny than finance bills usually get. How much gets through will depend on what the Opposition is prepared to let go”.  

Meanwhile, major policies are also likely to be affected, with purdah - the period before an election when the government’s work is restricted - due to start on Saturday 22 April.

One of the policies under pressure will be the government’s Industrial Strategy - which contains plans to boost data infrastructure and increase spending on various technologies.

The consultation on the strategy documents ended last week, on 17 April, and Norris said “it is unclear whether the Government will have time to make progress before purdah kicks in”.

Meanwhile, other government services will be under renewed pressure, including the Register to Vote website, which yesterday received the third highest numbers of applications in a single day since the EU referendum was announced. 

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