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Even a limited snooping bill is causing the Home Office trouble

3 June 2013

David Cameron is giving a statement in the Commons this afternoon on, among other things, the Woolwich killing. He may well find himself answering questions afterwards about whether the government is planning to resurrect the Communications Data Bill, after a fierce debate in recess over whether it would have made any difference to the security and police services ability to stop the attack or to the investigation in the aftermath. The Lib Dem line remains that the party will not allow this legislation, and will only consider the very narrow issue of IP addresses.

But there have been some interesting negotiations taking place behind the scenes, I hear. One is that the Home Office is struggling to find a way of getting the data it needs from mobile phone browsers. This is a complicated process involving something called port address translation which needs to be applied with split-second timing. That timing is so sensitive that a millisecond can mean the difference between arresting the wrong person. Those working on the proposals are struggling to work out how they can access the data without, in the words of one close to the discussions, ‘rewiring how mobile phones work’. So even this limited snooping bill will cause the Home Office some trouble.

Amusingly, I also hear that at one point before the bill was killed by Nick Clegg, the Home Office had changed its name to Communications (Safeguarding) Bill. But a bill by any other name would have the same fate.

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Show comments
  • Glenn Church

    Why don’t they just scrap this bill
    if it is causing them that much trouble?

  • Tom Tom

    “Rewiring how mobile phones work” ? Welcome Huawei provider of British telephone infrastructure

  • Alex

    So they are still working on this, then? So the costs of “over £400 million” that May admitted to a few weeks ago is no doubt nearer half a billion by now.
    Still, it’s not like the country’s short of money or anything.

    • Tom Tom

      Mark Carney’s here with Fred Karno’s Printer

  • Simon Semere

    I know this is off topic, but what’s the point of the House of Lords if the ‘parliamentary act’ can be pulled up whenever the Lords discern poisonous bills, very silly.

    • Denis_Cooper

      Under the Parliament Acts the Lords can delay a Bill for up to 13 months, except for a Money Bill where the maximum permitted delay is 1 month.

      13 months delay gives more time for public debate, which is good in some cases, or it may even kill a Bill if it’s too late in a Parliament, which may not be so good; but in this case there’s plenty of time before the next general election, and I suppose some might say that there’s already been more than enough public debate on this matter …

      There’s one kind of Bill for which the Lords still retain an absolute veto, and that’s any Bill to prolong the life of Parliament. In theory that’s a useful safeguard against MPs deciding to avoid the nuisance of a general election when they might lose their seats, but of course its value as a constitutional safeguard does depend on the type of people you have in the Lords.

      During both world wars general elections which would normally have taken place were postponed, but with the consent of both Houses of Parliament.

      • Simon Semere

        Hello Denis! I’m pretty sure this act allows bills to be passed without the approval of the House of Lords, Tony Blair has used it and it looks as though Cameron is about to (not for snooper’s bill). Sounds like a bad act to me, seems like it comes shooting in at all the wrong times.

        • Denis_Cooper

          Yes, it does allow that, under the conditions I described.

          Agreeing to it in 1911 was the only way that the Lords could head off the threat that the King would swamp them with new Liberal peers to neutralise the Conservative majority.

          Then the post-war Labour government used the 1911 Act to get a Bill passed to shorten the maximum delay allowed to the Lords, over their opposition, a procedure which was unsuccessfully challenged in the courts over the ban on foxhunting.

          There’s a useful House of Commons Standard Note here:

          There’s uncertainty how far the Commons could go in using the Parliaments Acts to force through further amendments to themselves, for example to further reduce the allowable period of delay.

          • Tom Tom

            The 1911 Act was a disaster but it also reduced the Commons term from 7 years to 5. The preamble to the Act is interesting as it is one of the few Acts to have one, and reflects Lord Grey’s desire for an elected upper house

            • Simon Semere

              Yes it sounds like a disaster, especially with the bill being used to prune the delay the Lords have, much like a slippery slope..

            • Denis_Cooper

              It did.

              Once upon a time it was annual Parliaments, then that was changed to seven year Parliaments, and then in 1911 it brought down to five year Parliaments.

              I wouldn’t say that it was a disaster, far from it, but in any case the Conservative peers brought it on themselves.

              • Tom Tom

                Triennial Act

                • Denis_Cooper

                  Yes, I missed that out, the Meeting of Parliament Act 1694.

              • Tom Tom

                Why do you think that ? They marked the last attempt to restrain Government spending which subsequently ran out of control and had the country insolvent within 7 years

                • Denis_Cooper

                  Maybe, but at least we’ve avoided violent revolution, and on the whole I think democracy leading to government spending which many think is too high is better than revolution.

    • Tom Tom

      Should not be used except on Manifesto Issues. Funny to use a 1911 and 1949 Anti-Democratic Enabling Act to ram through such a measure…….maybe Britons should be like Turks and start to ask for the overthrow of the Moron

  • Chris Coulson

    Here’s an idea – why don’t they rename the bill to “Interception Modernisation Programme”? Oh, wait…..

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