The Lib Dems must not accept the snoopers' charter

If the bill increases interference in our everyday lives, the party must walk away.

Seeing as it's only seven short days since the worst set of election results since, well, last year, it’s been a pretty good week for the Lib Dems, thanks to a Queen's speech that’s not so much yellow-tinged as basking in an all-encompassing golden hue.

And while Conservative commentators may not like it much, there is an apparent acceptance that for the next year at least, we will see a programme in government very much driven by a Lib Dem agenda.

Which is why so many Lib Dems are feeling quite chipper, already embracing the prospect of the 2015 general election campaign, now that the Daily Mail has written our campaign  poster for us. And as a Lib Dem activist who has called for a distinction to be drawn between the separate policies of the two parties in government from day one – I never wanted us to be seen as "Tory Lite" – I can be nothing but delighted about this.

But can I wave a warning flag?

Over all others, there is one very obviously Tory bill in The Queen's speech. It’s the Communications Capability Development Programme (CCPD) - or the snoopers' charter to you and me.

It’s only a draft bill rather than a full bill because of the almighty fuss Lib Dem activists made when this first came up. And I can’t say that I hate the proposals as they stand – because I’m told they haven’t even been re-written yet. But I’m also told that when we see them in draft form, we’ll most likely detest them.

Which is why, led by the inestimable Julian Huppert, we’ll fight them, amend them, twist them, change them and turn what’s likely to be RIPA Double Plus on first publication into RIPA lite by the time we’ve finished.

At which point we’ll need to make a decision.

This is exactly the process we went through with tuition fees and the NHS reforms. And we made bad proposals better. By which time we were to seen to own them, and thus got the blame for some pretty unpopular policies – that truth be told, we still didn’t like, but for some reason felt we had to support. If it wasn’t for the omnishambles Budget hitting Conservative support, the local election results this year would not have been noticeably different to last year, with NHS reforms playing the role of tuition fees and the Tories sailing blithely on.

So I’m not going through that again. This time we’ll fight, amend and twist the CCPD proposals. And when we’re done we must take a step back. And if the legislation rolls back interference in our everyday lives, then we’ll pass it with a glad heart. And if it doesn’t, regardless of how many hoops we’ve jumped through, we must walk away.

I don’t need a snoopers' charter hung round my neck.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Will Clegg fight the bill? Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Workers' rights after Brexit? It's radio silence from the Tories

Theresa May promised to protect workers after leaving the EU. 

In her speech on Tuesday, Theresa May repeated her promise to “ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained".  It left me somewhat confused.

Last Friday, my bill to protect workers’ rights after Brexit was due to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons. Instead I sat and watched several Tory MPs speak about radios for more than four hours.

The Prime Minister and her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, have both previously made a clear promise in their speeches at Conservative Party conference to maintain all existing workers’ rights after Britain has left the European Union. Mr Davis even accused those who warned that workers’ rights may be put at risk of “scaremongering". 

My Bill would simply put the Prime Minister’s promise into law. Despite this fact, Conservative MPs showed their true colours and blocked a vote on it through filibustering - speaking for so long that the time runs out.

This included the following vital pieces of information being shared:

David Nuttall is on his second digital radio, because the first one unfortunately broke; Rebecca Pow really likes elephant garlic (whatever that is); Jo Churchill keeps her radio on a high shelf in the kitchen; and Seema Kennedy likes radio so much, she didn’t even own a television for a long time. The bill they were debating wasn’t opposed by Labour, so they could have stopped and called a vote at any point.

This practice isn’t new, but I was genuinely surprised that the Conservatives decided to block this bill.

There is nothing in my bill which would prevent Britain from leaving the EU.  I’ve already said that when the vote to trigger Article 50 comes to Parliament, I will vote for it. There is also nothing in the bill which would soften Brexit by keeping us tied to the EU. While I would personally like to see rights in the workplace expanded and enhanced, I limited the bill to simply maintaining what is currently in place, in order to make it as agreeable as possible.

So how can Theresa May's words be reconciled with the actions of her backbenchers on Friday? Well, just like when Lionel Hutz explains to Marge in the Simpsons that "there's the truth, and the truth", there are varying degrees to which the government can "protect workers' rights".

Brexit poses three immediate risks:

First, if the government were to repeal the European Communities Act without replacing it, all rights introduced to the UK through that piece of legislation would fall away, including parental leave, the working time directive, and equal rights for part-time and agency workers. The government’s Great Repeal Bill will prevent this from happening, so in that sense they will be "protecting workers’ rights".

However, the House of Commons Library has said that the Great Repeal Bill will leave those rights in secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation. While Britain is a member of the EU, there is only ever scope to enhance and extend rights over and above what had been agreed at a European level. After Brexit, without the floor of minimum rights currently provided by the EU, any future government could easily chip away at these protections, without even the need for a vote in Parliament, through what’s called a "statutory instrument". It will leave workers’ rights hanging by a thread.

The final change that could occur after we have left the EU is European Court rulings no longer applying in this country. There are a huge number of rulings which have furthered rights and increased wages for British workers - from care workers who do sleep-in shifts being paid for the full shift, not just the hours they’re awake; to mobile workers being granted the right to be paid for their travel time. These rulings may no longer have legal basis in Britain after we’ve left. 

My bill would have protected rights against all three of these risks. The government have thus far only said how they will protect against the first.

We know that May opposed the introduction of many of these rights as a backbencher and shadow minister; and that several of her Cabinet ministers have spoken about their desire to reduce employment protections, one even calling for them to be halved last year. The government has even announced it is looking at removing the right to strike from transport workers, which would contradict their May’s promise to protect workers’ rights before we’ve even left the EU.

The reality is that the Conservatives have spent the last six years reducing people’s rights at work - from introducing employment tribunal fees which are a barrier to justice for many, to their attack on workers’ ability to organise in the Trade Union Act. A few lines in May’s speech doesn’t undo the scepticism working people have about the Tories' intentions in this area. Until she puts her money where her mouth is, nor should they. 

Melanie Onn is the Labour MP for Great Grimsby.