Roll of honour: Tiny band of MPs hold out against surveillance bill

Countdown: Ministers sought to ram through the bill in a matter of hours
Countdown: Ministers sought to ram through the bill in a matter of hours
Ian Dunt By

A tiny band of MPs have done their best to hold back the government's surveillance bill, despite a concerted effort to ram it through the Commons in one day.

The government intends to get the bill through all of its three readings by 10pm tonight, when it would go to the Lords in time to be passed into law by Thursday.

They say the rapid parliamentary progress of the bill is to prevent security agencies losing access to people's call and internet communication as they pursue child abuse and terrorism cases. These, of course, are the twin evils of our time, the phantoms which put due process in the shade.

It's nonsense of course. The European court ruling which forced the government's hand was in April. It's been months that they have dawdled, waiting for the perfect moment.


Today was perfect: everyone would be distracted by the reshuffle. If the Lords opposed it, they would be extending the parliamentary session by sending it back. The secret deal between all three main parties minimised the opposition to only the most resolutely independent-minded of MPs.

The Home Office pursued this strategy while pretending the bill is a continuation of the status quo. Every independent legal analysis I've read says the precise opposite. This is a power-grab. It extends our surveillance law overseas, expands the type of communication which is included within it and hands the home secretary potentially far-reaching new powers to further expand surveillance law without going back to parliament.

But even if it were the status quo, the European court found it had breached our privacy. This ruling has been completely ignored, and the solution has been to make the violation even more severe.

But there was a smidgen of opposition, from an honourable minority of MPs. The list of those who complied with the whips is endless – the vast majority of the Commons. But a handful of decent MPs wouldn't be bullied. It was one of those days when the Commons was at its worst, and therefore its best qualities emerge from the few who still possess them. There were some cracking speeches.

Labour MP Tom Watson said:

"Most reasonable people will conclude that parliament has been insulted by the cavalier way in which a secret deal has been used to ensure that elected representatives are curtailed in their ability to consider, scrutinise, debate and amend the bill. It is democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed."

Green MP Caroline Lucas said:

"The right hon. Member for Blackburn [Jack Straw] said that he thought there was no reason not to rush it through, but my answer would be that the reason is precisely that of parliamentary sovereignty and the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. That is what we are here to do.

"The home secretary knew this point was coming, yet appears to have turned a blind eye. That she is now seeking to fast-track such controversial legislation is deeply concerning.

"As other hon. Members have said, it is outrageous that we have been granted one day in which to debate and scrutinise a Bill of such significance. It is even more outrageous that this is being blamed on a totally manufactured emergency and represented as doing nothing other than maintaining the status quo. That is not accurate. This is a huge power grab under false pretences.

"Finally, let us also not forget the ECJ [European court of justice] judgment that the blanket retention of data is unlawful. Rushing through a bill in one day is bad enough. To do so while inaccurately claiming that the proposals do nothing more than maintain the status quo is worse, but to do so when the contents of the bill that do relate to the status quo have been unequivocally judged in breach of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights is nothing short of outrageous."

Labour MP Diane Abbot said:

"I want to speak to the timetable motion rather than to the content of the bill, because it is an insult to the intelligence of the House. The whole House will know that guillotine motions are always undesirable, although increasingly common in recent decades, but to ram through legislation of this significance in a day must be wrong.

"We have had a session with a light legislative programme, and for ministers to come to the House and say, 'we’ve only got a day to debate it', when weeks have passed when we could have given it ample time is, I repeat, an insult to the intelligence of MPs.

"The other point that I am afraid is not very pleasant about the way ministers are handling this matter is them bringing the bill forward a week before the session ends. They know perfectly well that the Lords will be disinclined to keep sending it back if it means extending the session when they will have made their own arrangements, and I believe—I hate to say this because they are all nice people—that those on the opposition front bench have been rolled. All ministers had to do was to raise in front of them the spectre of being an irresponsible opposition, and that children will die if they do not vote for the bill on this timetable, and they succumbed."

Tory MP David Davis said:

"There is an emergency—a legal emergency—but it started on April 8th. It was eminently predictable because, as far back as 2010, the European data protection supervisor said that the data retention directive was 'without doubt the most privacy invasive instrument ever adopted by the EU'.

"Why has it taken three months? Why was the legislation not pre-prepared? Why was the deal with the Labour party not struck in advance? My understanding is that there was an argument inside the government between the two halves of the coalition. That argument has gone on for three months. What the coalition could not decide in three months, this House has to decide in one day. That seems to me entirely improper."

The government won the vote by 436 to 49. They debated second reading at 5pm, when the government's majority increased. They'll vote on amendments at 9pm and third reading by 10pm.

The full list of the MPs who stood up to it is copied in full below:

• Abbott, Ms Diane
• Betts, Mr Clive
• Binley, Mr Brian
• Bone, Mr Peter
• Brown, rh Mr Nicholas
• Cunningham, Mr Jim
• Davies, Philip
• Davis, rh Mr David
• de Bois, Nick
• Dorries, Nadine
• Durkan, Mark
• Edwards, Jonathan
• Flello, Robert
• Francis, Dr Hywel
• Godsiff, Mr Roger
• Hames, Duncan
• Havard, Mr Dai
• Heath, Mr David
• Hemming, John
• Hoey, Kate
• Hollobone, Mr Philip
• Hopkins, Kelvin
• Hosie, Stewart
• Lavery, Ian
• Lazarowicz, Mark
• Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn
• Long, Naomi
• Lucas, Caroline
• MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan
• McDonnell, Dr Alasdair
• McDonnell, John
• Meacher, rh Mr Michael
• Mills, Nigel
• Morris, Grahame M. (Easington)
• Mudie, Mr George
• Riordan, Mrs Linda
• Ritchie, Ms Margaret
• Robertson, Angus
• Sanders, Mr Adrian
• Skinner, Mr Dennis
• Smith, rh Mr Andrew
• Turner, Mr Andrew
• Watson, Mr Tom
• Weir, Mr Mike
• Whiteford, Dr Eilidh
• Williams, Hywel
• Wilson, Sammy
• Winnick, Mr David
• Wishart, Pete
• Jeremy Corbyn
• Steve Baker

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