“Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.”
So said Otto von Bismarck, the first German Chancellor. He had a point. As I’ve discovered, the process of coaxing Bills through Parliament and onto the statute book can be pretty messy. Even bloody at times, as party politics intervene.
But over the last week I’ve seen something different, something which made me proud of our parliamentary democracy. Labour and Conservative MPs have put aside their differences and come together in the national interest to forge world-leading legislation that I believe will help keep our country safe.
I am talking of course about the Investigatory Powers Bill. Ok, so probably not the top topic of conversation in the Norwood Arms or Montpellier Wine Bar. But it is nonetheless arguably the most important piece of legislation in a decade.
It’s fundamentally about protecting our citizens – the first duty of any Government. This Bill gives our intelligence agencies the tools they need to get on even terms with terrorists and serious criminals, enabling them to foil plots before they cause carnage. It’s vital because the current tools available to our agencies are confusing and out of date. They are analogue provisions in a digital age.
But as I’ve said repeatedly, we cannot allow our need for security to erode individual liberties. We live in a free society. It must stay that way. That’s why I had criticisms of the Bill in its early stages. It put too much power in the hands of one person, the Home Secretary, to decide on whether to authorise intrusive measures like equipment interference warrants. I wanted to see independent judges involved in the process.
The Government listened. Now there is a vital ‘double-lock’ mechanism, which means that warrants issued by Theresa May will have to be reviewed by independent judicial commissioners, who can assess if they are fair. If not, they will be struck down. It’s a vital safeguard for our liberty.
Here in Cheltenham of all places it is worth remembering this: we owe it those in our intelligence agencies who work tirelessly to keep us safe, to provide legislation which helps them do their job, but which also strikes the right balance between liberty and security. They are entitled to the reassurance that such measures enjoy cross-party support and public confidence.
I’m proud that here in Britain, our democratic process is delivering that.