New laws giving powers to police and security services to examine the records of telecoms and internet companies were being rushed through the Commons this evening.
Although the principle of the legislation was backed by an overwhelming majority of MPs, critics expressed fury at the haste with which the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill had been introduced.
The veteran Labour MP David Winnick said the speed of the moves made a “mockery of parliamentary democracy”, while the former shadow Cabinet member Tom Watson denounced “democratic banditry resonant of a rogue state”.
The Bill received a second reading by a margin of 498 votes to 31 and was going through its remaining Commons stages tonight. It heads to the House of Lords tomorrow.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told MPs: “If we delay we face the appalling prospect police operations will go dark, that trails will go cold, that terrorist plots will go undetected. If that happens, innocent lives may be lost.”
The Bill had been prompted by a European Court of Justice ruling in April which raised the prospect of companies starting to delete details of numbers rung and websites visited.
The Coalition, backed by the Labour leadership, argues the power is essential to keep track of terrorists, major criminals and paedophile rings.
But its decision to delay the necessary legislation to the final week before the Commons rises for its summer recess was criticised by the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper.
“This is not the way this kind of legislation should be done. The last-minute nature of it does undermine trust in the Government's intentions but also in the vital work the police and agencies need to do,” Ms Cooper said.
“But I also have no doubt this legislation is needed and that we cannot delay it until the autumn.”
The senior Tory David Davis, who voted against the second reading, argued that “crashing this Bill through the Commons in a single day” left the Government vulnerable to a legal challenge.