Theresa May and Nick Clegg at war over 'snooper's charter'

Home Secretary stands firm as critics line up to denounce snooping powers for police and MI5

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:40 ON Tue 11 Dec 2012

HOME Secretary Theresa May is in open conflict this morning with her cabinet colleague Nick Clegg and facing a humiliating retreat over her Communications Data bill which would allow the police and MI5 to use "dangerous" new powers to snoop on ordinary citizens.

The deputy prime minister called for her to "go back to the drawing board" and produce a new bill after a cross-party pre-legislative committee reported that the current bill is far too powerful. It would allow the police and the security services - and possibly also local councils – to discover who we have been phoning and sending emails to, and what websites we have been looking at.  

Julian Huppert, a Lib Dem member of the joint committee, said: "We have heard discussion it might be used for speeding offences, fly tipping offences, for anything in the economic interests of the UK. That is a very dangerous power. That is why we have said it cannot go ahead as it is."

May hit back in The Sun (which takes the view that she's only trying to crack down on "paedos and terrorists") by accusing critics - she means Nick Clegg - of putting "politics before peoples' lives".

But Clegg isn't the only one opposed to the bill. David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, will throw his weight behind the deputy PM when he appears at a press conference this morning for Big Brother Watch, a campaign mounted against the legislation.

Davis will be joined by other prominent speakers, including Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, Lord MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, and Sir Chris Fox, former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Yet May still wants to press ahead with the bill on the basis that she'll offer concessions before it is introduced in Parliament. "The people who say they are against the bill need to look at victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they're not prepared to give the police the powers they need to protect the public," she said. "Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people's lives."

She sent her security minister, James Brokenshire, in to bat for her on the Today programme this morning. He denied the bill would give powers in the first instance to local authorities, saying it could only do so after further changes approved by Parliament.

Brokenshire added: "We  accept the substance of the joint committee's criticism. We have already started work on making changes." He also insisted it would not break the back of the coalition.

However, BBC deputy political editor James Landale said May was being "optimistic" in hoping she could press ahead with the legislation in the spring after a bit of tinkering. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has also come down against the legislation this morning, making it far more difficult for May to secure cross-party backing without ditching it and starting again. ·