Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg has blasted claims his party were putting children’s lives at risk as a ‘new low in Coalition relations’.
Home Secretary Therasa May suggested the Liberal Democrats were putting children at risk by opposing the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ in her address to the Conservative party conference.
Mr Clegg described the comments as ‘absolutely appalling’ and said he was demanding an apology in a heated talk on his weekly radio phone-in.
He said: “Really this a new low point in Coalition relations, her suggestion that the fact that the Liberal Democrats had said no to the Snoopers’ Charter – which you’ll remember was the proposal from Theresa May that the state should be able to store every website you ever visit over a year – was putting children at risk.
“When of course the facts turned out to be the case – quite, quite different – that the reason the National Crime Agency (NCA) had to drop some of these cases was because IP addresses were not properly matched to individual mobile devices.
“If we go back to your archives you will discover that I have been saying for months that that is a problem we should deal with and guess who has been dragging their feet to do something about it? The Home Office.
“So I think I am entitled to feel a little bit aggrieved to hear a Conservative Home Secretary somehow claim that my party is putting children at risk when it’s their inactivity which is doing just that.”
The Lib Dem leader in turn accused the Home Office of putting children’s lives at risk through inactivity and said it was remarkable for a colleague in the Cabinet to make such a public attack.
He said he tried to be ‘discreet’ about disagreements that happened in Government.
But he added: “I think to say about another politician, particularly someone you’re governing with, ‘you are putting children at risk’ when it’s not true is a level of outrageous misinformation that I have to say I have not witnesses in four and a half years I’ve been in this Government.”
Mrs May’s speech to the Tory Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday she discussed the Communications Data Bill, which was opposed by the Lib Dems last year.
Mrs May said state access to communications data had “played a significant role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation in the last decade” but was being undermined as people increasingly move online.
The Home Secretary said over a six-month period, the NCA estimated it dropped at least 20 cases due to missing communications data, adding that 13 were “threat-to-life cases in which a child was judged to be at risk of imminent harm”.
“The solution to this crisis of national security was the Communications Data Bill. But two years ago, it was torpedoed by the Liberal Democrats,” Mrs May said.
“I’m told that the Lib Dems now tell the newspapers that ‘they might have to give ground on surveillance powers in a future coalition agreement’. But they also say that they have ‘no intention of allowing changes before the general election’.
“This is outrageously irresponsible, because innocent people are in danger right now.
“If we do not act, we risk sleepwalking into a society in which crime can no longer be investigated and terrorists can plot their murderous schemes undisrupted. We have to give the police and the security services the powers they need to keep us safe.
“And that is what the next Conservative government will do.”