The above is a link to a particularly pernicious bill currently seeking passage through the House of Commons. The apparent purpose of this bill is to pass as many unpopular and controversial laws as possible under the benign sounding auspices of reforming rules on inquiries.
There are two clauses in this bill which are of particular concern to those of us who value liberty (there are in fact a lot of clauses in this bill which will concern people, I am picking out two of the most outrageous). Firstly, clause 58 of the bill seeks to curtail freedom of speech. This clause would repeal the part of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (an anti free speech law) which protects the freedom to voice legitimate criticism of homosexuality. Whatever one's views are on the subject of homosexuality, or the criticism of it, there can be no excuse for trampling underfoot the ancient freedom of the British people to express their views freely.
Incitement to commit a crime has been a criminal offence in itself from time immemorial, but incitement to hatred - however well meaning - is no more than a thought crime. Since the 2006 Act this thought crime has been a part of life in the UK, but a Lords amendment, very sensibly introduced, prevented this Act from silencing the legitimate criticism of homosexuality. Now of course the Lords amendment did not go far enough - legitimate criticism of anything should be perfectly legal, whether we agree with the critic or the criticised - but it was a step in the right direction, a bastion of freedom standing against a tide of totalitarianism. But now the government, who have despised this amendment from the start, are seeking to abolish it in a very underhand fashion - this is the first serious flaw in the legislation. Dominic Grieve, who put in an excellent performance at the second reading on Monday 26 January said, quite pertinently, that "this would not be a new Labour justice Bill without some attempt to curtail freedom of speech". Of course that is exactly what this provision is. It turned the stomach to see Conservative maverick John Bercow give an apology for this piece of New Labour 1984ism in the second reading debate on Monday.
The second, and more deeply worrying aspect of this bill is clause 152. This draconian data sharing provision strikes at the heart of the Data Protection Principle, codified in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998, that data gathered for one purpose must not be used for another purpose without the consent of the data subject. That principle is a major roadblock to creating a police state and, while it is important not to exaggerate the seriousness of any draconian Labour law, one must wonder why they insist on laying the foundations for a police state.
There is plenty more that could be written, but the post is assuming dissertation proportions already so I will have to cut it short. Will the Bill be passed? It will be tight. I think that unless there are substantial amendments the Bill will be opposed by the Conservatives and LibDems, but this still leaves us hoping for a sizeable Labour rebellion. Nevertheless, the Bill may have difficulty in passing through the Lords, and we can always hope that this draconian, deceitful, liberty attacking provision will not be passed onto the statute books.