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Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 19:26 UK

Ministers make concessions to pass laws before election

Chamber of House of Commons
MPs and peers have up to four days to decide what bills should become law

The government has dropped key proposals from its constitutional reform legislation in an effort to get it passed before the general election.

With 6 May confirmed as the poll date, Parliament must deal with current bills before it is dissolved on 12 April.

With so little time left for debate, plans for a referendum on the voting system are among those to be ditched.

Labour said it would seek to get its controversial Digital Economy Bill into law while giving assurances on it.

The Lib Dems say they will oppose any plans to rush the proposed legislation into law, saying plans to cut off persistent net pirates and grant courts powers to block access to some sites are draconian.

Commons leader Harriet Harman said the bill would be considered in full, but sought to assure MPs that it would not be driven through without sufficient debate.

She said the most contentious measures could be subject to further scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament after the election, as well as a 60-day public consultation, before being enacted.

However, MPs from all parties have expressed concern about whether this will actually happen.

Following the formal announcement of the general election date, Parliament must conclude its business - and decide the fate of outstanding legislation - by the end of Thursday before its formal dissolution on Monday.

In this so-called "wash-up" period, the parties negotiate over what should be approved or dropped in the time remaining, and the opposition seek to secure significant concessions.

'Constructive dialogue'

Lord Bassam, Labour's chief whip in the Lords, said measures committing Labour to a referendum on the alternative vote (AV) system in the next Parliament and to phasing out the remaining hereditary peers in the House of Lords would be removed from the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill now before Parliament.

Both measures are opposed by the Conservatives, and their inclusion could have scuppered the entire bill, whose other commitments include banning anyone not pay UK tax on all their earnings - so-called "non-doms" - from sitting in Parliament.

Should Labour win the election, Gordon Brown has pledged to hold a referendum on the current first-past-the post system, while proposals to elect the House of Lords are set to be one of the centrepieces of Labour's election manifesto.

A so-called "democracy day" would be organised within 18 months, Labour sources suggest, with the public given the chance to vote on both issues at the same time.

Outlining what business would be considered in the short time remaining, Ms Harman said she hoped to see most proposed laws - including bills on crime and security, schools reform, energy, flood defence, bribery and debt relief protection for poor countries - become law.

The Conservatives said the opposition would seek a "constructive dialogue", balancing the need to properly scrutinise legislation while getting important measures onto the statute book.

Digital opposition

Several of the bills command wide cross-party support, but others are more contentious and there could be substantial horse-trading between government and opposition whips as ministers fight to protect the most-cherished aspects and sacrifice less important elements.

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Howarth urged the government not to press ahead with the "most controversial" aspects of the Digital Economy Bill, saying they were not worth the "time and the trouble".

And former Labour minister Tom Watson urged Ms Harman "even at this late stage, to consider making representations to remove these controversial proposals from the draft bill".

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said there were certain parts of the bill that he strongly supported, but that he reserved the right to review it in its entirety should the Conservatives win power.

In 2005, 13 bills were approved during the "wash-up" period, while one was carried over and 11 were dropped.

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