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 John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings 7:30, 25 Mawrth 2024

As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, and as other Members have made reference to, I was the Minister who took the original Bill, which this Bill amends, through the House—indeed, it became the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

The purpose of that legislation was both to draw together a number of the capabilities of the agencies necessary for them to keep us safe, and to put in place a series of mechanisms to ensure that there was proper scrutiny and accountability for those powers. We introduced the principle of a double lock, whereby both politicians and judicial commissioners were necessary to authorise some of those very powers. They matter because of the threats we face. Those threats are, as has been said by a number of contributors, metamorphosising. They were bound to do so, and we anticipated that when the original Act was considered in this place.

I accept the argument used by the shadow Minister, Dan Jarvis, that that does not end here tonight. Those threats will continue to change, and it will be necessary to update the legislation to reflect those changes, for our security services and police need two things to do the job that we expect them to do on our behalf: capacity—namely, skills and resources—and capability, which includes legislative powers.

What they face is extraordinary, both in its degree and its character. It is the kind of evil that none of us is likely to encounter head-on in the way in which they are bound to do because of their job, but we could, we might, and, indeed, our former colleagues Jo Cox and David Amess did face that kind of evil. Tolerance of evil is evil itself—I think Thomas Mann said that—because if we were to, in any sense, give quarter to those who seek to do us harm, in the interests of being fair minded and open, as we are in our society, and if consequently we undermine the forces of law, we do no service to the British people because we jeopardise their safety.

I welcome the spirit in which the provisions that we are considering have been debated so far by both sides of the House and by members of the ISC. Like my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright, I do not wish to add unduly to that consideration, except to say two or three things. The first is that the Minister has engaged with the ISC formally and with members of the ISC informally in an effort to improve the legislation. It is right that he should do that—it has always been the spirit in which these kinds of measures have been considered—and I did so myself when in his shoes, I worked closely with my then shadow, who now, as Leader of the Opposition, aspires to be Prime Minister, and built a relationship with him accordingly, based on trust and a shared determination to do right by the right intelligence and security services and the police, because we wanted to do right by the British people.

The second thing is that I must press the Minister to go further in five particular ways. Well, actually, four, because he has already satisfied one of my requirements in response to Mr Jones, whom I thank for his contribution and his generous remarks. [Interruption.] He has come back into the Chamber to hear my appreciation I see. We work closely together on the Committee, on which we both serve. It is serious, and sometimes onerous, work, but it is enjoyable because we know that it is important. In this place, what could be better than that?

So, there are perhaps four matters on which I would like to press the Minister. I am hopeful that, given what I just said about him, we may be able to make progress. The first is the matter of the extension of what has become known as the triple lock. The right hon. Member for North Durham referred to it, as did the former Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam.

In considering delegating prime ministerial authority to other Ministers, we have had discussion at length. It seemed sensible to me that, in doing so, we might say that other Ministers could perform the role of Prime Minister in respect of authorisations if they had operational experience or responsibility. That would be a reasonable way of narrowing the number of Ministers involved to people who had salient understanding and experience. That marriage of either being responsible or having been responsible would perhaps be the best way forward, although I appreciate that the Minister has made a case that the number of Ministers involved needs to be broadened because the Prime Minister may be incapacitated in some way or another. There is a case for what the Government are trying to do, with the caveat I have introduced.

Turning to communications data and the way that will be dealt with, and the additional bodies that will have access to some powers that have previously only been in the hands of a very few, could the Minister clarify that in respect of local authorities, this will not be a permissive power? There are times when local government in its regulatory role will be working with the police, dealing with very serious and organised crime—I am thinking of licensing, trading standards and so on, for example. Where serious criminals can be involved in matters that pertain to the functions of local authorities, I accept that there are some cases in which they should have those quite extensive powers, but one would not want to think that every parish council in the land would enjoy the same legal powers as the SIS or MI5.