After Nick Clegg and Labour rejected the draft Communications Data Bill, Home Office minister James Brokenshire appeared on the Today programme to explain that while the Home Office accepts the ‘substance’ of the joint committee’s report, he believes it won’t take too long to redraft it. He said:
‘We believe that the changes that meet the substance of these recommendations can be met in a reasonably short order, but in saying that what I am clear is that we know that we need to work this through with the coalition.’
He pointed out, rightly, that the committee was clear that there was a need for the legislation, but that there were concerns about the balance between collecting data and individual privacy. This is the point that Nick Clegg made, but there is a distinction between the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement that ‘we cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board’ and Brokenshire’s assertion that the Home Office can make changes to the legislation. The latter sounds far less radical than the return to the drawing board that Clegg envisages.
How the two parties play this out will be an instructive health check on the coalition and how good their respective ministers are at communicating with one another. The Tories and Lib Dems are hardly going to part ways over the draft Communications Data Bill, but it could well be that the Deputy Prime Minister remains unhappy with the legislation once ministers have made the changes that they think are necessary. Jeremy Browne is the Liberal Democrats’ man at the Home Office: how he communicates with his departmental colleagues will also be integral to keeping rifts from finding their way onto the floor of the House of Commons.