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Coffee House

Is cross-party agreement on surveillance legislation a good thing?

10 July 2014

12:01 PM

10 July 2014

12:01 PM

So all three party leaders agree that it’s worth rushing through emergency surveillance legislation. While David Cameron and Nick Clegg were holding their rare joint press conference, Ed Miliband released a joint letter with Yvette Cooper in which he said ‘we have been guided by our firm conviction that it is essential to maintain the security of our citizens and also ensure people’s privacy is protected’.

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister both needed to make the case for the emergency legislation today but Nick Clegg also needed to make the case for his support for it, given he had rejected the full Communications Data Bill. He supports the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (which helpfully abbreviates to DRIP) because it has ‘nothing to do with the so-called Snooper’s Charter’ and he feels this emergency legislation will lead to a proper debate about surveillance in this country.

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Theresa May is currently speaking in the House of Commons on the laws. Parliament will get very little say in this, and given all three party leaders agree, there will be little debate in the Commons about it.

This is not necessarily a good thing. Often when all three parties agree on something without debate or scrutiny, Parliament makes poor decisions which it comes to regret or revise. The most recent example is the regulation of the press, which whisked so quickly through parliament that many MPs only realised what had happened a few weeks later. MPs today are trying to work out whether this really is an extension of powers or, as the leaders are arguing, not. But even if they conclude that it is the former, they’ll only be able to complain about, rather than revise, this legislation.

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