Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Coalition should withdraw its sinister Annoyance Bill

Great news from the House of Lords this evening. The government has suffered a massive defeat over its plans to bring in injunctions against 'annoying' behaviour. Peers defeated the clause that would have introduced IPNAs - Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance - by 306 votes to 178.

Alex Stevenson on quotes some of the speeches made against the proposal, including Patrick Cormack:
"I find it difficult to accept a Conservative-led government is prepared to introduce this lower threshold in the bill," Tory backbencher Patrick Cormack said. 
"We are sinking to a lower threshold and in the process many people may have their civil liberties taken away from them."
And I find it difficult accept that a government of which the Liberal Democrats are a part is prepared to introduce it.

For years, when asked to explain what we stand for or even to justify our existence as a separate party, we Lib Dems have said that civil liberties are at the heart of what we believe. Yet, given a taste of government, we appear happy to make things worse in this area.

This measure also marks a retreat from the original Coalition agreement, which promised:
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.
And on a more personal level, I spent years writing columns for Liberal Democrat News pouring scorn on New Labour's contempt for civil liberties.

It wasn't just the party's promotion of the concept of 'antisocial behaviour', which had the paradoxical effect of making the police feel they could turn their backs on some crimes, it was the extraordinary pettiness of their concerns.

The post Berlin Wall, pre 9/11 years of the 1990s, with their growing economy, now seem close to a political Shangri La, but that was not how New Labour saw them at the time. They were concerned about aggressive begging. They were concerned about noisy fireworks. Many of their backbenchers were obsessed with leylandii hedges.

Back in 2014, this bill is made worse by the fact that it is being piloted by one of my favourite Lib Dem MPs, Norman Baker. He has tried to justify IPNAs both on Lib Dem Voice and on his own website.

I do not find these articles reassuring, if only because - as Caron Lindsay points out - it is not going to be Norman Baker making the decisions on how this legislation will be used. I dread to think what uses it will be put to in the hands of Labour councils.

Caron also reminds us of the words of Nick Clegg to Henry Porter:
You shouldn’t trust any Government, actually including this one, full stop. The natural inclination of Government is to hoard power and information, to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.
The headline on Porter's article is:
Why we should believe Nick Clegg when he promises to restore liberties stolen by Labour
I do hope this will not be another case of Nick wooing an interest group with almost exaggerated language, only to let them down when given a chance to do something about that issue.

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