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Brian Paddick writes on efforts to protect our civil liberties

November 17, 2016 10:34 AM
By Brian Paddick in Liberal Democrat Voice

On Wednesday the Investigatory Powers Bill overcame its final Parliamentary hurdle before becoming law. In the end the issue that held it up for a while was press regulation, not the powers of the state to intrude into our privacy.

In line with party policy, agreed at Lib Dem conference, we tabled dozens of amendments on significant issues that went to the very heart of the bill - while trivial Labour and Government amendments simply tinkered around the edges. Despite the Government's best efforts to close down the debate, we fought hard and achieved close and careful line-by-line scrutiny of the bill in the House of Lords - something we were not given the opportunity to do in the Commons.

We were faced with an uphill struggle from day one, when Andy Burnham, Labour's then shadow Home Secretary, declared that the Labour party would not oppose the Bill, including some of the most intrusive measures ever proposed by a western democracy. After that, it was obvious that the Bill would eventually pass but not before we had made the Liberal Democrat position crystal clear.

Whilst we were unable to achieve substantial change because of Labour's capitulation, we were able improve the bill by insisting on consistency of approach, clarity of oversight and preventing broad drafting that has enabled previous legislation to be used in ways parliament never intended.

Some of the measures we fought tooth and nail to have removed from the Bill, such as requiring Internet Service Providers to keep a record of everyone's web histories for 12 months so they can be handed over to the police on request without a warrant. The Security Services, our primary defence against terrorist attack, said that they did not need these so-called 'Internet Connection Records' but still neither the Conservative Government nor the Labour Party would help us protect our civil liberties. We came under sustained attack from all sides for opposing this and other unnecessary and disproportionate intrusions into innocent people's privacy, attacks from people who, to be quite frank, clearly demonstrated that they did not understand what was a technologically complex Bill.

As I said in the chamber, I am a lousy politician. I cannot stand up and say things that I do not believe just because they are party policy. If I honestly thought this Bill was the best way to keep us safe as a country, I would have backed it and I know the party would to, but the simple fact is, some of it will not work and other parts will be counter-productive.

This Act leaves us less free and in some ways, less safe, playing into the hands of the terrorists who despise our freedom and want to take it from us. We forced the Tories and Labour to vote, to make it clear that only the Liberal Democrats were prepared to defend our civil liberties. We forced the Government to state, on the record, what their intentions were and therefore what Parliament's intentions were, in passing this legislation. This might not seem like much now but it will be key when these laws are challenged in the Courts, as no doubt they will.

In the newspapers, the newly appointed Labour Shadow Home Secretary called the Bill "draconian" and vowed to amend it. Meanwhile in the House of Lords, the Labour frontbench supported the government and Labour peers followed the Tories through the division lobbies to prevent our necessary and important amendments. Is it any wonder people are saying that it is the Liberal Democrats who are the real opposition to this Tory Government and its dreadful legislation?

* Brian Paddick was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013.