New Clause 1 - Report on the Prime Minister’s engagement with the Intelligence and Security Committee

Part of Investigatory Powers (Amendment)Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons am 7:30 pm ar 25 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East 7:30, 25 Mawrth 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Jeremy Wright, and to take part in what has already been a very thoughtful debate. We also had a very constructive Committee stage, so the amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend Owen Thompson are designed first to pose some further questions to the Minister, particularly in relation to the offence of unlawfully obtaining communications data, which we discussed in Committee. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, we again seek to remedy some of the serious concerns that we continue to have about the Bill extending powers beyond what we regard as necessary and proportionate, and the absence of sufficient judicial oversight where such judicial oversight is really required.

First, and briefly, our amendment 13 builds on the discussion in Committee about the offence created by the 2016 Act that will be amended by clause 12. We argued in Committee that the so-called example of “lawful authority” for obtaining communications data in proposed new subsection (3A)(e) of the 2016 Act was an extension of the power rather than a restatement of it. The Minister countered that he was actually seeking only to put existing codes of practice into statute. There is obviously a line of argument that codes of practice do not always necessarily comply with the law, but having gone away to look at the codes of practice it seems that there is a difference between what is currently in the codes of practice and what is currently in the Bill. The wording of amendment 13 reflects the code; the wording of proposed new paragraph (e) seems potentially broader than that. The question for the Minister is why the wording is so different, and whether he can assure us that it is not meant to be interpreted any more broadly than the existing exception in the codes of practice.

The remaining amendments set out our more fundamental concerns with the Bill. In particular, there are three areas where we question the strength of the oversight regime: in relation to bulk personal datasets, internet connection records, and Government notices to companies under clause 21. We regard advanced judicial oversight as important and reassuring not just for members of the public but for those who are exercising the powers. Clause 2 on bulk personal datasets is the first example of where we believe that oversight is being unnecessarily watered down. We are told that the system of advanced judicial authorisation is causing delays and stifling operational flexibility, but to us the answer is to fix those logjams in the oversight system, not to water that system of oversight down. The case for a lighter-touch system of category authorisations has not been made to our satisfaction. That is why we tabled amendment 7, which would take out clause 2.

At the very minimum, why not strengthen the ex post facto oversight beyond annual reviews and reports? Amendment 11 highlights one way to do that, so that the judicial commissioners are reviewing whether what is being done under category authorisations is lawful, cancelling authorisations where that is not found to be the case, and ensuring therefore that we have a clear picture of how the new powers are being used. I noted with interest what the Minister said about the role of IPCO, which we absolutely regard as helpful. However, it would be insufficient, and certainly less robust than our proposal in amendment 11.