Lord (Alex) Carlile is a powerful debater - forensic and ferocious. Luckily I'm usually on the same side as him, despite us being members of different political parties. But we have both represented Montgomeryshire in the House of Commons and are both board members of 'Living and Dying Well', a reseach body which opposes legalisation of assisted suicide, so perhaps its no great surprise. Today, in the Mail on Sunday he has turned his fire on my Coalition colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.
The instigation for Lord Carlile's ire is the obstuctions being put in the way of a new Data Communications Act by the Liberal Democrat leader. Alex Carlile was for ten years independent reviewer of terrorism legislation for the Gov't. He knows a bit about the threats. Since the shocking murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, several other noted politicians have said much the same. The UK needs a new Data Communications Act. This morning, former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson told us he considered it so important that Theresa May should resign if she cannot persuade the Gov't to introduce it before the next General Election.
Lord Carlile is clearly incensed that the draft legislatiuon has become dismissed as a 'Snooper's Charter' ("casually and incautiously labelled"). I've received hundreds of emails condemning this 'Snoopers Charter'. I could never really understand why. Alex is also clearly incensed that his own party leader, Nick Clegg vetoed a bill out of this month's Queen's Speech. He judges it to be a 'political' decision, and not one based on eveidence, or the advice of people whose advice should be taken. A few days ago (before Drummer Rigby's murder) Lord Carlile wrote to Nick Clegg warning him that his veto will come back to haunt him. Strong stuff.
At present, we do not know the full story behind the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby - or whether greater access to data communications would have been a help in preventing it happening. We do not know whether it was a 'Lone Wolf' terrorist, or part of wider group, who may have been communicating - there have been several arrests. But what we do know is that knowledge of who has been talking to whom and when and for how long they have been communicating has saved many lives, and caught many criminals in the past. Lord Carlile vehemently insists that unless our security forces have access to this information using modern means of communication, people will die, paedophiles will escape capture, planners of terrorism will be more likely to succeed.
Initially, I was sceptical about the need for a new Data Communications Act myself. My libertarian antennae were twitching. I do not approve of giving power to Gov't unless absolutely necessary. Some months back, I did discuss it over coffee with Lord Carlile as part of my consideration. I did blog on this issue soon after our meeting. In the end, and on balance, I accepted a new act was needed. Not because its played a part in the murder of Drummer Rigby (it may not have done) but because its right, sensible and proportionate. The first duty of Gov't is to protect its citizens. A new Date Communications Act is needed to do just that.