DRIP: Parliament in disrepute?

I watched and listened to the parliamentary debate on the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill (DRIP) with a kind of grim fascination. The outcome was always inevitable – I knew that, as, I think did all opponents of the bill – but the debate itself seemed to me to be worth paying attention to. Not really in terms of the result, but in terms of the process, and in terms of the way in which parliament was engaging with the issues. There were, it has to be said, some quite wonderful speeches in opposition to the bill, and from many different directions. MPs like John McDonnell, Dominic Raab, Caroline Lucas, Diane Abbott, Pete Wishart, David Winnick, Duncan Hames, Clive Betts, Charles Walker, Dennis Skinner and of course Tom Watson and David Davis were all excellent. Indeed, as someone said at the time, the opponents didn’t lose the debate, they lost the vote.

Therein lies the problem – what was the point of the debate? The chamber was all-but empty for most of it. In the middle of the debate, I got so angry I tweeted a picture of the chamber – with a comment attached. The tweet went a bit wild…. retweeted 870 times at the last count, and included by Liberty in their summary of the debate.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 07.32.41

I did, however, also get some serious criticism for the tweet. Some suggested I had faked it, because I missed out the caption at the bottom. Fair enough – I was too angry to get the screen capture right, but I don’t fake things. I satirise and parody, tease and joke – but I don’t fake. For avoidance of doubt, I took another soon after, this time with the caption:

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 16.36.42

Another criticism I received, quite aggressively, was that it was misleading to tweet the picture, and that most of the MPs were likely to be in their offices or their committee rooms, working hard, but following and listening to the debate as it was being broadcast throughout the house. That may well be true – and in no way was I suggesting that MPs don’t work hard. They do – well, a great many of them do – but at this particular moment, and on this particular issue, their attention was elsewhere, as was their physical presence.

I don’t blame the MPs for that part of it. Of course their attention was elsewhere – after all, they’d had this emergency debate foisted upon them at the last minute, and they already have busy lives and huge amounts of work to do, particularly with the parliamentary recess coming up, and with a reshuffle happening at that very moment. Naturally, MPs are distracted by the reshuffle – coalition MPs because their jobs are on the line, Labour MPs because they have to be ready to respond to the reshuffle. Naturally their jobs, their careers, their responsibilities come first.

That, though, is really where my tweet comes in. I said ‘This is how seriously our MPs take our privacy’. I meant it. They showed disrespect to the issue not just by not listening to the debate, but by accepting a process that meant that they only had a few hours of debate to listen to, and almost nothing to read or discuss about it. They accepted an unnecessary fast-tracking, effectively on trust – because they don’t really take our privacy seriously.

Frankly, I’m not convinced that they were listening to the debate – but if they were, that makes their voting even worse. If they listened to the debate and still voted the way they did, in a way that’s even more depressing than the more natural assumption that they were largely ignoring the debate and voting according to the whip. It would mean that they either didn’t understand the strong arguments against the bill, both analytical and impassioned – or they dismissed them as unimportant. Either way, it suggests they didn’t take our privacy seriously. At least, not seriously enough to think it needed proper, lengthy, public debate bringing in expert opinions and analysis. I’m a legal academic, specialising in internet privacy. I’ve written a book on the subject, and I’m one of the signatories of this open letter concerning DRIP – and frankly I haven’t had nearly enough time to properly analyse and understand this bill and its implications. We’ve only had a chance for the most basic of analyses – and if I can’t, how much understanding can MPs have of it?

As David Winnick, a veteran MP and member of the Home Affairs Select Committee put it:

“I consider this to be an outright abuse of parliamentary procedure. Even if one is in favour of what the home secretary intends to do, to do so in the manner in which it is intended, to pass all stages in one go, surely makes a farce of our responsibilities as MPs”

He’s right. It does. It brings parliament into disrepute. MPs should be ashamed of themselves.

8 thoughts on “DRIP: Parliament in disrepute?

  1. I am aware & in agreement with your concerns about DRIP & its method introduction along with so few a band of brothers , but not many others . However the real problem is I believe , what can we the people do to bring about real change & improvement within this ancient heraldic machinery of a corruption & inefficient Government system ?
    I am aware of certain current knee jerk clean up activities within “The Establishment”
    Maybe you should keep your sword in it’s scabbard until you uncover the silent sacred villains ?
    This internet world is not a safe place for secrets.

  2. While I’m disappointed by the way this legislation was rushed through without any meaningful debate, I can’t say I’m that surprised. Apart from a few brave MPs who listened to the arguments & voted with their conscience (such as the Green MP, Caroline Lucas), the result never seemed to be in doubt due to a stitch up by the 3 main parties. To me this is yet another example of how the UK government often implements controversial legislation that is guided by political considerations, rather than an informed, objective look at the available evidence. A similar process happened earlier this year when the Metropolitan Police were given permission to purchase 3 water cannon, despite overwhelming opposition during the public consultation from human rights groups, academics, and some senior police officers. See my blog below for more details about the issue & a link to a report I wrote raising the concerns I had about the introduction of water cannon into British policing;

    http://dontpaniccorrectingmythsaboutthecrowd.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/metropolitan-police-given-authority-to.html

  3. Am not surprise by the lack of MP’s at yesterday’s debate. Though part of the reason they may not have been there was because this law was been rushed through. If I am correct the War On Welfare debate in Parliament earlier this year only attract a similar number of politicians into the House of Commons, despite them been given prior notice. Hopefully this trend does not continue any longer. Yet been as cynical as I am, I’ve a feeling it will

  4. I’m disgusted with this law and can only say that I am deeply ashamed of the opposition.
    This will not bode well with the EU and Cameron knows this.
    Will we come out of the EU – I don’t know but taking away our human rights also means that anyone in any high position has theirs taken away as well.
    It needn’t have got this far if the sheeple of the UK had got of their lazy erses and got rid of this unelected coalition. In fact, this government would probably not been in at all if the lazy people had gotten off their erses and voted in the 2010 election.

  5. Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    We let this happen, never mind that it was rushed through – by not voting in the 2010 election we have give this government carte blanche to do anything they want. We just sit back and take it!

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