NICK Clegg was under pressure last night over his decision to stop new laws giving police and security services powers to monitor internet and e-mail activity.
The Deputy Prime Minister blocked the so-called “snooper’s charter” earlier this month, but demands for the legislation to be introduced have heightened in the wake of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. Among the fiercest critics was one of Mr Clegg’s peers, who accused the Liberal Democrat leader of bringing the Communications Data Bill to a halt for “purely political” reasons.
Lord Carlile suggested the reforms it contains might have prevented the soldier’s death if they had been introduced two years ago and were “very likely” to stop future attacks.
Home Secretary Theresa May indicated earlier yesterday that the plans would be revived and appeared to be gearing up for a fight with Lib Dems.
Former Conservative leader Michael Howard suggested the party should join forces with Labour to get new laws passed if Lib Dems continue to prevent reform – a move that Labour’s Ed Miliband has previously indicated he is open to.
“If the Liberal Democrats maintain their opposition to it, I think there’s a case for the Conservative Party passing that legislation with support from the Labour Party,” Lord Howard said.
“The Prime Minister’s got to act in the national interest to give the protection to people of this country that they need and deserve from horrible attacks of this kind, and I think the Communications Data Bill could be an important element in that.”
Labour former home secretary Alan Johnson said yesterday he supported reforms and suggested it was a resigning issue for Mrs May if she could not get the changes into law by 2015.
Asked whether she would quit over the matter, Mrs May said: “We are now working through across the government what action we can take but I’m clear, the law enforcement agencies, the intelligence agencies need access to communications data and that is essential to them doing their job. I have always been clear that access to communications data is essential for law enforcement agencies.”
Lord Carlile, who until 2011 was the independent reviewer of government anti-terror laws, said in a newspaper article yesterday that just days before Drummer Rigby was killed he had written to Mr Clegg warning: “I fear that this may come to haunt you and the party if any terrorism event occurs which could otherwise have been avoided”.
A spokesman for Mr Clegg warned against “leaping to conclusions”. He added: “Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have cautioned against knee-jerk responses. There is currently no suggestion that the proposals in the draft Communications Data Bill would have had any relevance to the sickening events. There are already substantial powers in place to track the communications of criminals and terrorists.”