The Investigatory Powers Bill has its second reading in the Commons this afternoon, with Labour planning to abstain and make its support for the timing of the legislation conditional on the Home Secretary satisfying a number of concerns that the party has.
Separately, I understand that Tory MPs such as Liam Fox are pushing for a generous timetable for the legislation, including committee stage taking place on the floor of the Commons. Fox points out that ‘there’s not much other legislation about’, though this has never stopped ministers giving controversial pieces of legislation very tight timetables for debate. So far, though, Theresa May has been in a very consensual mood while drawing up the legislation.
Labour’s position on the Bill is politically interesting, as Andy Burnham is quite clearly more supportive of its principles than his leader Jeremy Corbyn. When I interviewed David Hanson, one of the Labour members of the joint committee scrutinising the draft bill, on Week in Westminster recently, he ended up admitting that he couldn’t speak for his leader on this matter, but that he thought most MPs in his party would end up supporting the legislation. Burnham has to balance the scepticism of the leadership and the party membership with Labour voters’ concerns about national security. His quote on the legislation hints at this difficult balance:
‘On the left of politics, there are deeply-held concerns that, in our country’s past, investigatory powers have been misused against trades unionists and ordinary people who are campaigning for justice. This is why the Government will have to work hard to earn our support.’
Some Labour MPs have been worried that even abstaining on the legislation at second reading would send the wrong signal to their voters about how the party approaches security. But there is unlikely to be a rebellion from Labourites today. Instead, watch out for speeches in which a number of them sound far more supportive of the Bill than the party’s frontbench.