MPs back laws to allow e-mail and phone snooping

MPs have overwhelmingly backed new laws intended to maintain the police and security services’ powers to track communications data.

Opponents of the bill have accused ministers of making a mockery of parliamentary democracy. Picture: PA

The House of Commons voted 498 to 31 to agree a second reading for the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, which was rushed through parliament yesterday.

Opponents of the bill have accused ministers of making a mockery of parliamentary democracy in pushing ahead with the bill.

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Home Secretary Theresa May has insisted the bill is vital to stop police investigations “going dark” and terror plots going undetected – potentially placing lives at risk.

The front benches of all three main parties have endorsed the bill, announced at a rare joint press conference by David Cameron and Nick Clegg last week, and it is expected to pass by a wide margin.

Last night the government 
accepted a Labour amendment to enforce six-monthly reviews on how the new laws work. In return, Labour supported a new clause proposed by Mrs May which commits the government to a review of investigatory powers and their regulation before next year’s general election.

The review will be carried 
out by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson. He will consider issues including current and future threats to the UK 
and the challenges of changing technologies.

But an amendment by Labour MP Tom Watson which is backed by MPs on both sides, and would bring forward the 
expiry date of the bill from 2016 to the end of this year, was 
defeated by 454 votes to 56.

At the start of the day’s proceedings, amid angry exchanges, Mr Watson said parliament had been insulted, adding the moves were “democratic banditry resonant of a rogue state”.

Veteran Labour MP David Winnick, a member of the home affairs select committee, said more time should be given to the bill as he questioned if there had been a “mockery of parliamentary democracy”.

Tory former leadership candidate David Davis said the delay between the European Court 
of Justice ruling in April and 
the measures being brought 
forward now was down to disagreements between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative halves of the coalition.

But Mrs May told the Commons: “If we delay, we face the appalling prospect police operations will go dark, that trails will go cold, that terrorist plots will go undetected. If that happens, innocent lives may be lost.”

The bill was prompted by a European Court of Justice ruling which raised the prospect that telephone and internet firms could start deleting details of e-mails and phone calls that could be used at a later date to tackle terrorists and serious criminals.

Tory MP Sir Bill Cash said that he was “deeply concerned” about the “assertion of the 
supremacy of European law”, adding: “The bottom line is that we are not at the moment able to ensure that this bill will be effective against any European court judgments.”