This Bill is so pernicious in parts that it chillingly removes some of our most precious freedoms. Indeed, on press freedom, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 already allows for the identification of journalistic source information via a judicial process when that is required by the police. The Bill appears not only to relax, but to ride a coach and horses through the legal process, with no clear protection or processes for journalistic whistleblowers, and by extending the people who can access the information not only to police officers and constables, but to employees of the Court of Common Council of the City of London, and immigration officers.
The Bill is littered with instances of racial and other forms of discrimination, from the biased operation of serious violence reduction orders, to attacks on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities through the criminalisation of their way of life. Then there are the Bill’s provisions on our right to protest. The Home Secretary will have unfettered powers to define what constitutes “serious disruption”, and protesters who simply cause a “serious annoyance”, which is not defined, can be subject to jail sentences of up to 10 years. Worryingly, Amnesty International has said:
“The Bill also gives Ministers further enhanced powers to issue further legally binding regulations around these highly subjective and vague thresholds, which raises the prospect that the current or any future government may misuse these powers to stifle criticism and views that it might find uncomfortable.”
I will finish with a warning. History is littered with examples of democracies sliding blindly into authoritarianism. It usually happens by stealth: undermining the judiciary one day, threatening the existence of public broadcasters the next, rigging electoral rules to make it much more difficult for Opposition parties to win elections and, of course, silencing dissent by restricting the right to protest. It all sounds chillingly familiar, does it not? If the Government believe in democracy, and I truly hope they do, let them prove it tonight. Drop the Bill, otherwise I will have no option but to determine that tonight, whether intentionally or accidentally, the Government begin their stealthy descent into authoritarianism.