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 8:00 pm ar 25 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Ceidwadwyr, Chipping Barnet 8:00, 25 Mawrth 2024

I rise to speak to amendments 15, 20 and 22, and Government amendments 3 and 6. I highlight that the investments declared in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests include a data company.

The intelligence services carry out vital work in keeping us safe in a dangerous world, as we have heard from many colleagues this evening. The secrecy that surrounds what the agencies do inevitably means that the majority of people who work for them will never receive public praise or recognition, so I take this opportunity to thank them for their brave and dedicated efforts on our behalf. This Bill provides important updates to the law to enable them to operate effectively and to adapt to fast-moving technological change and innovation. This kind of update to legislation will be essential again and again in years to come to enable our intelligence services to keep ahead of those who would seek to do us harm. For example—this is at the heart of what we are doing today—it makes no sense to require, as the current law does, that the intelligence services undertake the full range of actions designed for holding sensitive, confidential and private information when dealing with datasets that are readily available to the public or to commercial users and over which there is little or no expectation of privacy.

I welcome the Bill, and my purpose this evening is just to seek to ensure that the extension of powers that the Government propose to give to the intelligence services is accompanied by the appropriate extension of scrutiny. We have one of the most rigorous and comprehensive legal frameworks in the world to provide democratic control and oversight of intelligence work, including, as we have heard, a significant role for the ISC, of which I am a member. That Committee has expressed a number of concerns about the Bill, and I welcome the changes that have been made in the other place and this evening by the Minister to respond to the concerns expressed by members of the ISC.

For instance, it is good to see that Government amendments 3 and 6 provide additional certainty on which organisations will be able to use new intrusive powers and how they will be constrained in their use. Controversial examples of past local authority deployment of such powers were debated at length in relation to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. It would have been worrying for this Bill to reach the statute book without further clarity on that point.

I welcome the tightening up of the provisions in the Bill on the triple lock, which determines the very rare circumstances when the communications of a legislator can be intercepted. That includes amendments in the other place specifying that only five designated Secretaries of State may sign off on these warrants in place of the Prime Minister, and only when the Prime Minister is unable to do so because of incapacity or an inability to access secure communications.

Like others, including Dame Angela Eagle, whom I am privileged to follow in this debate, I think the Government still have some work to do on the matters raised in amendments 21 and 22, which were tabled by my colleagues on the ISC, to provide confidence that this highly sensitive task will be carried out responsibly and lawfully. We need to ensure that the designated Secretary of State is someone whose routine duties include signing warrants or who has relevant operational experience of doing so. As someone who scrutinised and signed intercept warrants for nearly four years as Northern Ireland Secretary, I know how important that practical understanding and awareness is. Having said that, I very much welcome the statements that have been made on how the code of practice will operate in this area and on ensuring that the Prime Minister is notified of any warrants agreed on his behalf.

Lastly, I want to consider amendment 15 on internet connection records. The current rules mean that to lawfully access an internet connection record, the intelligence services must know the precise service accessed and the time it was accessed. Clause 16 would extend that power to identify individuals using one or more specified internet services for a specified period. In the Bill, there is simply no limit on the number of services or the length of period specified. There is nothing in clause 15 to confine the new power to sites that are inherently suspicious. The intelligence services, for example, might reasonably want to collect information on access to uncontroversial, widely used sites by people who are of concern to them, but the disadvantage of that is that it means routine online activity by many entirely innocent people could also be scooped up.

I acknowledge that we are talking about only communications data—that is, the who, when, where of online activity—and not the content of the communication. I also concede that the general needs on necessity and proportionality provide an important constraint, as will the commitment to delete data collected relating to people not of interest to the security services. However, as my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright said on Second Reading, the fact that data is not retained does not mean that it is not intrusive to collect it. I think that there is a credible case for inserting a requirement to seek the permission of a judicial commissioner, rather than letting decisions be made internally by the intelligence agencies.

This is an important Bill, which I very much hope the House will pass this evening, but there remain real concerns about clause 15 and the width of intrusion that it would involve. I therefore urge the Minister once more to consider additional safeguards to govern the exercise of these new powers to access internet connection records, so that we guarantee proper scrutiny and public confidence and ensure that the regulation of our intelligence services continues to be world leading.