We’re only a few weeks away from the Queen’s Speech, yet there’s one significant piece of legislation from this session which has yet to be resolved. It has already caused one big row, and will certainly cause another one when it is published. The Snooper’s Charter, better known to the ministers as the Communications Data Bill, was supposed to be published before this session ended, but it’s looking like the government is going to have to re-announce it in the Queen’s Speech instead.
Theresa May told the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill in October 2012 that ‘I am expecting it to come in to this session’, and those involved in the discussions on both the political and lobbying side about the re-draft also still expect to get a proposal from the Home Office before prorogation. But I understand that the new legislation is now unlikely to be published before the Queen’s Speech.
Whenever it is published – and the delay is really a symptom of the struggle the Home Office is having to satisfy all groups involved in the negotiations – the Bill presents a very big awkward problem: two awkward problems, in fact. The first is that Nick Clegg has not changed his position on vetoing it. He will still slap down the legislation, as he did in December with the first draft, if it doesn’t answer the significant concerns raised by the Joint Committee. A senior Lib Dem source tells me:
‘Nick has made it clear in the past that if it does not meet these same issues that need to be looked at, which is a high hurdle, I accept, then he can’t support the Bill.’
From a Lib Dem party management point of view, there is no way the leadership can appear to give any ground on the Communications Data Bill when it so angered its activists by refusing to give them what they demanded on the Justice and Security Bill.
One condition is that further public consultation be carried out on the legislation. If that doesn’t appear to have taken place when it does come out, the Bill will be dead in the water. And if there aren’t other fundamental changes, there are those in the Tory party who are equally unhappy with the legislation. Backbencher Dominic Raab, who has been pressing the Home Office repeatedly on this, says:
‘This irresponsible bill remains on life support. There are fundamental questions about the scope and basic viability which remain unanswered. It’s very difficult to see how this could get through Parliament.’