Amendment 43

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 3:52 pm ar 13 Rhagfyr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord West of Spithead:

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

43: Clause 21, page 41, line 29, leave out “is unavailable to decide whether to give approval under subsection (2)” and insert with “is unable to decide whether to give approval under subsection (2), due to incapacity or inability to access secure communications”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would specify that the only exceptional circumstances in which the Prime Minister would be permitted the use of a designate is when he or she is unable to make a decision due to incapacity (ill-health) or lack of access to secure communications.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Llafur

My Lords, this is the first of three amendments I have tabled to Clause 21 relating to the so-called triple lock for targeted interception and targeted examination of communications relating to Members of the relevant legislatures. These changes are replicated in the three amendments which I have laid to Clause 22, which we will come to later, which relate to the triple lock around the targeted equipment interference warrants.

The communications of Members of the relevant legislatures, including noble Lords in this House, should not be intercepted and read unless it is absolutely essential to do so in the most serious of circumstances. That is why Parliament added a third layer of safeguards to approve of any such warrant in the IPA, ensuring that these warrants will not only be issued by a Secretary of State and reviewed by a judicial commissioner but approved by the Prime Minister personally. This is a robust and necessary oversight mechanism, and it is important that any changes as a result of this Bill do not undermine the central three layers of approval.

Nevertheless, the ISC recognises that, on occasion, the requirement that a warrant be approved by the Prime Minister personally may disproportionately affect the operation of the intelligence agencies, where they are seeking a targeted interference or equipment interference warrant that is very time sensitive. We therefore support the intention to provide some resilience, whereby in truly exceptional circumstances, an appropriately empowered Secretary of State may temporarily deputise for the Prime Minister on these matters. However, the clauses before us go too far.

My three amendments seek to ensure that decisions are delegated only in the most exceptional circumstances, that the decision may be designated only to a limited number of Secretaries of State who are already responsible for authorising relevant warrants, and that the Prime Minister retains oversight of all warrants which have been authorised in their name through a retrospective review of the decision.

The first of those relates to the circumstances in which a decision may be delegated by the Prime Minister to a Secretary of State. This should be clearly defined and limited only to situations where the Prime Minister is genuinely unable to take a decision. My amendment specifies that the Prime Minister must be “unable”, rather than simply “unavailable”—which is a rather subjective test—to decide whether to give the necessary approvals. It sets out that the only situations in which this applies are due to incapacity or inability to access secure communications—for example, if the Prime Minister is extremely ill or is abroad and unable to securely access the relevant classified documentation. This provides what the agencies require, but, when combined with the requirement that there is an urgent need for the decision, also provides the necessary assurance to Parliament that the Prime Minister’s responsibility will be deputised only in specified exceptional circumstances, and ensures that the use of a delegate does not become routine.

My second amendment to Clause 21 is to specify those Secretaries of State who can act as a designate for the Prime Minister in these circumstances. As currently drafted, the Bill includes all Secretaries of State as potential designates for the Prime Minister in relation to triple-lock warrantry. However, only a limited number of Secretaries of State have any statutory responsibility for warrantry for investigatory powers: for example, the Secretaries of State for the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Given that the authorising of a warrant that relates to a Member of the relevant legislature must be taken seriously, it is both sensible and desirable that any Secretary of State deputising for the Prime Minister on these matters should already be familiar with the process and framework for targeted interception and targeted equipment interference warrants as part of their routine responsibilities, as those are the warrants we are talking about.

This amendment therefore limits the Prime Minister to up to two designated Secretaries of State and specifies that they should be Secretaries of State who are already required in their routine duty to issue warrants under Sections 19 or 102 of the IPA. I note that my noble friend Lord Coaker has tabled a similar amendment, which would list a number of specific Secretaries of State who could be designated as deputies to the Prime Minister. We wholeheartedly support the intention behind this amendment, and our amendment seeks to achieve a similar outcome. However, I note the possible scenario whereby the evolution of departmental names, seen relatively recently with the renaming and restructuring of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, may sow confusion as to which Secretaries of State are included under Clause 21. My amendment seeks to avoid any such confusion by linking the role to existing statutory responsibilities for warrantry in the original Investigatory Powers Act. In this way, it should achieve a very similar outcome to that which was wisely proposed by my noble friend Lord Coaker.

My third amendment to Clause 21 would ensure that the Prime Minister retains ultimate responsibility for any targeted interception and targeted examination warrants which involve communications to or from Members of the relevant legislature. As I outlined earlier, the Intelligence and Security Committee considers it essential that the three planks of the triple lock not be weakened by any changes made by the Bill. Therefore, we must ensure that the Prime Minister’s overall oversight of and involvement in these warrants is retained, even if, in designated cases, it could be retrospective. I have therefore tabled an amendment to provide that the Prime Minister review the decision taken by a designated Secretary of State on their behalf as soon as the circumstances have passed which prevented the Prime Minister approving the warrantry in the first place.

That amendment would provide reassurance that the Prime Minister has sight of and input into all warrantry concerning the communications of members of relevant legislatures, even if that warrant has been authorised by a nominated Secretary of State in the first instance. It therefore upholds the original three layers of the triple lock which was enshrined by Parliament in the original legislation.

Amendments 51 and 52 are consequential on the decisions on those two, so I shall say no more on those. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge 4:00, 13 Rhagfyr 2023

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 44 and 51A, which are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and I have added our names. They very neatly follow on from Amendment 43, which has just been moved by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, and are based on a recommendation in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in which he says at paragraph 8.20:

“I recommend the use of a deputy to be permitted for the purposes of the triple lock when the Prime Minister is unable”—

I stress the word “unable”—

“to approve a warrant to the required timescale (in particular through incapacity, conflict of interest or inability to communicate securely)”.

These amendments are prompted by the fact that, instead of the word “unable”, which was that chosen by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for the recommendation in his report, and which is also used in Amendment 43, the word that appears in Clause 21 for condition A in the new subsection (3) of Section 26 is “unavailable”. The same point arises with the wording of the triple lock in relation to equipment interference which Clause 22 seeks to introduce, under Section 111 of the 2016 Act. The word “unavailable” would be replaced with the word “unable” in both places by the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.

This is all about the meaning of words. The aim must surely be to find the right word to use for describing the situation in which the Prime Minister’s function of giving the necessary approval must be passed to another individual, other than the Secretary of State who has applied for the warrant. This is, of course, a very sensitive matter, and that in itself indicates the importance of choosing the right word.

The question is whether the phrase

“unavailable to decide whether to give approval” covers all possible situations. The word “unable” includes “unavailable”, but “unavailable” does not always mean the same as “unable”. The word “unavailable” sets too low a bar. The Prime Minister could be unavailable simply because he or she is doing something else—whatever it might be—that is occupying their mind or demanding their attention elsewhere.

On 11 December 2023, the Minister sent a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, in response to points raised on this Bill by the Constitution Committee, which gave examples of prime ministerial unavailability. Attached to that letter was a commentary on the proposed amendments to Sections 26 and 111, in which the point is made that the word “unavailable” should be understood to mean situations—of which two examples are given— in which the Prime Minister is “genuinely unavailable” to consider the application. The introduction of the word “genuinely” demonstrates the problem with the word “unavailable” on its own, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, draws attention: it needs to be narrowed down and clarified. That is what the word “genuinely” does, but it is not in the Bill.

It is worth noting that, in each of the two examples given in the commentary, “unable” is used to describe situations Prime Ministers may find themselves in which they cannot perform the function to which the statute refers:

“5.1 The Prime Minister is overseas in a location where they are unable to receive the warrant application due to the security requirements and classification of the documents.

5.2. The Prime Minister is medically incapacitated and therefore unable to consider the warrant.”

The fact that “unable” is used here suggests that the word the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, used in his report really is the right one for the situations referred to in these two sections.

There is a further point that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, would make: “unavailable” does not cover the situation in which there may be a conflict of interest. This surely is a reason why a Prime Minister, although available, should not exercise the power. Here especially, the greater clarity that the word “unable” brings to the situation really is needed.

I know that the Minister has discussed this issue of the wording with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, perhaps several times and will, no doubt, refer to the position he and his Bill team have adopted so far during these discussions when he replies. But I hope he will feel able, especially in view of the points I have made about the commentary attached to his letter of 11 December, to agree to another meeting with the noble Lord, and possibly myself, before the Bill reaches Report. I hope that, when he comes to reply, he will be able to respond to that request.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord West and, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. They have raised some important questions for the Committee to consider and for the Minister to respond to.

It may be helpful to remind the Committee and others present that Clauses 21 and 22 amend the section of the IPA that deals with targeted interception and examination warrants regarding Members of both Houses of Parliament and the devolved legislatures. These are clearly very important pieces of legislation. The safeguard on such warrants is referred to as the triple lock. As with other warrants in the IPA, the Secretary of State and the judicial commissioner must approve the warrant. But with respect to this issue, the Prime Minister must also approve warrants for the communications of Members of UK Parliaments, hence the difficulty that my noble friend, the noble and learned Lord and others have referred to. What happens with the triple lock if the Prime Minister is not available to authorise that warrant with respect to the communications of parliamentarians, not only in Westminster but the devolved legislatures?

One can see the seriousness of this problem. The Government have rightly felt it necessary to bring this measure forward, given the unfortunate situation when the Prime Minister was dangerously ill in hospital with Covid; thankfully, he recovered. This is clearly a very important issue which we need to consider.

My noble friend Lord West outlined an issue, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that I will speak briefly to. I say respectfully to all noble Lords that the points the noble and learned Lord made are not dancing on the head of a pin: they are very real questions for the Minister about the difference between “unavailable” and “unable” and what that means. The Government need to clarify that for us. My noble friend Lord West’s amendment and my Amendment 47, on which Amendment 45 is consequential, question the wide scope the Government have within the legislation, whereby it almost seems as if any Secretary of State will be able to deputise for the Prime Minister. My noble friend Lord Murphy made the point at Second Reading, which my noble friend Lord West has just made again, that it would surely be better if that scope were narrowed to Secretaries of State with experience of dealing with warrants. My and my noble friend Lord West’s amendments seek to narrow that scope to Secretaries of State who have that experience.

I take the point of my noble friend Lord West. His amendment as it stands is probing. Maybe drafting improvements could be made. The thrust of what he and others said, however, is that we need to do something to deal with the issue.

I have just a couple of questions before I move on to Amendment 55A. Who decides whether the Prime Minister is available or unavailable, or if indeed we have the Bill amended? Who decides that the Prime Minister is unable to take the decision for that triple lock? What is the process by which the decision is made that this is the case?

On Amendment 45, it is unclear to me who the senior officials are that could also make the decision. We have other Secretaries of State who could take the decision if the Prime Minister is “unavailable” or “unable”—if an amendment is passed—to take the decision. Then we have senior officials who might be allowed to take this decision. It is not dancing on the head of pin to ask “What does a “senior official” mean?” and “Who are the officials?”, hence my probing Amendment 45 on who they are and in what circumstances they could take these permissions.

In preparing for Committee, I asked about what sorts of situations might arise. Of course we can think of different situations, and the Government, in the code of practice that they publish, outline a couple of scenarios that may require urgent warrants and the Prime Minister to be involved and so on. In 2011, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, apparently did a helpful piece of work on Prime Ministerial powers. He talked of what happens if the Prime Minister is unable to take a decision with respect to shooting down a hijacked aircraft or an unidentified civil aircraft. What happens in those circumstances? Is that the sort of circumstance that the Bill seeks to deal with as well? What we are discussing is obviously also really important because this may involve the authorisation of the use of nuclear weapons. The Minister will be limited in what he can say about that.

I do not want to create a TV drama-type situation, but these are really important questions and the Government are right to address the situation of a Prime Minister being unavailable or unable to take these decisions in some of these circumstances. Again, this gives us the opportunity to think about what areas of national security the Bill would cover.

As is said in the explanatory statement, Amendment 55A

“is designed to probe the extent to which powers in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 have been used in relation to Members of Parliament”.

As I have mentioned, I was particularly disturbed that, under Section 230 of the Investigatory Powers Act, the Prime Minister can deal directly with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to keep under review the discharge of the functions of the Armed Forces with regard to intelligence activities. Can the Minister say what the role of Defence Intelligence is in all this? The reason that I raise the matter in this debate on parliamentary communications is due to the report in the Mail on Sunday on 25 November, which spoke of Defence Intelligence being involved in in the Government’s response to Covid. It was involved in looking at communications—and, according to the report in the Mail on Sunday, some of the communications involved parliamentarians.

I found that quite surprising—that is one word for it. The Mail on Sunday quotes the government spokes- person as saying:

“Online disinformation is a serious threat to the UK, which is why during the pandemic we brought together expertise from across government to monitor disinformation about Covid. These units used publicly available data, including material shared on social media platforms, to assess UK disinformation trends and narratives”.

The Bill would get over that because it would say that these individuals have a low or no expectation of privacy, but how on earth is Defence Intelligence involved in this? As far as I am aware, Defence Intelligence is not referred to in the Bill, although MI5, GCHQ et cetera are. Can the Minister explain the report in the Mail on Sunday of Defence Intelligence being used to look at activities around Covid and disinformation? According to the report, it appears that certain information submitted by parliamentarians was looked at by Defence Intelligence, hence my probing Amendment 55A.

I repeat: we support the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord West, and I have said—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and others will say the same—we are seeking some clarification and certainty on some of its provisions so that it is fit for purpose and delivers what we all want it to.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business) 4:15, 13 Rhagfyr 2023

My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments in my name in this group. First, I shall make some brief and broadly supportive comments regarding the amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Coaker.

As we have heard, all these amendments are designed to tighten up or clarify the triple lock and the changes introduced in the Bill. As your Lordships know, the triple lock relates to circumstances where UKIC and law enforcement may obtain and read the communications of MPs, et cetera; we will talk about the “et cetera” in a minute. Currently, the usual double lock is supplemented by an unqualified requirement that the Secretary of State may not issue the warrant without the Prime Minister’s approval.

As we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the report from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, explores the circumstances in 2020 when the Prime Minister was hospitalised and the triple lock was therefore rendered unavailable. The noble Lord recommends the use of a deputy for the purposes of the triple lock when the Prime Minister in unable to approve a warrant in the required timescale, particularly through incapacity, conflict of interest or an inability to communicate securely. As we heard from the noble and learned Lord, “unable” has been substituted with “unavailable” in the Bill. I really am not sure why—perhaps the Minister can explain why—but that is a different context. In his normal, forensic way, the noble and learned Lord explained the difference between those words; that is why I was happy to sign Amendment 51A, which reverts back to the originally recommended “unable”.

The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord West, are more probing but interesting. We will be interested to hear how the Minister responds to them; I look forward to that.

Amendment 47 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seeks to limit the number of Secretaries of State who can be designated in that deputy role. This seems a reasonable suggestion. Others may want to change the list, but a senior group of Ministers should be listed; surely having three or four of them on that list should be sufficient to deal with the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, spoke to Amendment 55A. There are elements of reporting there that are reflected in my Amendment 55, which I will come to shortly.

I will now speak to Amendments 50, 54 and 55 in my name. Amendments 50 and 54

“would require that members of a relevant legislation who are targets of interception are notified after the fact, as long as it does not compromise any ongoing investigation”.

Amendment 55 seeks to ensure that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner reports annually on the operation of surveillance warrants and safeguards in relation to parliamentarians. This should include records in the annual report of the number of warrants authorised each year to permit surveillance of the Members of relevant domestic legislatures. This would ensure transparency, at least over the rate at which the power is being used.

Before talking a little more about this, it is worth recapping the history of political wiretap legislation. I am sure there are others who know it better than I, but it was helpful for me to understand the context. As we have heard, the IPA permits the interception or hacking of parliamentarians or the Members of other domestic legislative bodies via this triple-lock system, whereby the Secretary of State can issue a warrant with the approval of the Prime Minister, as per Sections 26(2) and 111(3). Until October 2015, it was widely understood that the communications of MPs were protected from interception by the so-called Wilson doctrine. This protection extended to Members of the House of Lords in 1966, and was repeated in unequivocal terms by successive Prime Ministers. Tony Blair clarified in 1997 that the policy

“applies in relation to telephone interception and to the use of electronic surveillance by any of the three security and intelligence agencies”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/1997; col. 321W.]

Despite this clear and unambiguous statement that MPs and Peers would not be placed under electronic surveillance, an October 2015 decision by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal held that the doctrine had been unilaterally rescinded by the Executive. We pick up from there, so it is an interesting evolving power and we are part of that evolution in this Bill.

This evolution has also coincided with the meteoric rise in electronic communication that now offers the possibility of vastly more information being unearthed than was the case with a simple wiretap back in the Wilson days. First, there are clearly times when this sort of interception is necessary, and that is why the triple lock is such an important safeguard. But I have a couple of modest suggestions contained in these amendments. I must say now that I am in a state of deep trepidation, as not only has the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, given me notice that she is on my case but she has actually moved five Benches closer than she was on Monday, so my boots are shaking.

These amendments would introduce a post-notification procedure to inform parliamentarians where they have been affected by targeted surveillance powers, but only if it does not compromise any ongoing investigation. Clearly, they would have to be deemed innocent or beyond suspicion for that notification to happen. I agree that it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if, for example, the announcement of any investigation revealed confidential sources that led to the initial investigation. I had hoped that my wording implied that, but I will be very happy to work with the noble Baroness on improving the wording on Report if she deems it necessary.

We got to the fourth group of amendments to the Bill without my raising the European Convention on Human Rights. Now is the time. Happily, I am sure that the Minister has been reading up on this for other reasons, and he will no doubt be familiar with this important bastion of freedom. I refer in particular, in this case, to Article 8: the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. I feel sure that most surveillance interventions would meet the terms of Article 8, which are summarised as:

“There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

As I say, it is unlikely that the activities we have been describing will break that.

In the unlikely event that they do and there is a misstep, in order to bring a case under the Article 8 right it is necessary for a person to know that their privacy was breached in the first place, hence Amendments 50 and 54. I refer the Minister to two Article 8 rights cases heard by the European Court of Human Rights: Klass v Germany in 1978, which was reiterated in Weber and Saravia v Germany in 2006.

Amendment 55 is a bit simpler. It would ensure that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s annual report provides information about the operation of safeguards in relation to surveillance of Members of Parliament et cetera, as is already required for journalists. It would mandate that

“information in particular about warrants … considered or approved” that are targeted at MPs et cetera is included, further to the requirement to provide information on general targeted interception and hacking warrants. I believe that is not a controversial ask, and I hope the Minister agrees.

I would like to use these amendments to do some probing as well as changing words, by confirming the “et cetera” part of MPs et cetera. My understanding, which I am sure is correct, is that as things stand that includes Lords and elected Members of the devolved authorities. But our democratic system is changing and evolving as we go. We now have very powerful elected mayors with very large electorates—much larger than any MP’s. I wonder whether there is an argument that they too should be included within the triple-lock umbrella going forward. I have one additional question in this vein. Once out of office, do all these individuals no longer attract triple-lock protection? Are ex-First Ministers, ex-MPs and ex-Prime Ministers all no longer subject to the triple-lock safeguards?

This sort of legislation breeds suspicion. The two measures I propose here are sincere attempts to help tackle some of these suspicions and create sufficient transparency to allay the fears that there is widespread and extensive activity of this type—assuming, of course, that this activity is indeed a rare occurrence.

Photo of Baroness Manningham-Buller Baroness Manningham-Buller Chair, Conduct Committee, Chair, Conduct Committee

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, is quite safe; I am not going to come and hit him, but I am going to try to demolish a few of his arguments.

I will start with the word “transparency”, which appears again in some of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. The work of the security and intelligence agencies can never be transparent. It is in the interests of those agencies that as much as can safely be known of what is done in their name is known, which is why my organisation sought law in the 1980s. But there will always be things that cannot be made public because, if they are, we might as well pack up and go home.

Appealing as the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, might be on the surface, for a start, telling people that they have been subject to interception would require us to alter earlier parts of the IPA because it would be illegal. To do so would also risk sources and methods. Of course, they would not be itemised, but let us consider a speculative case of a Member of the other House who has a relationship with a young Chinese lady. Let me emphasise strongly that this is not based on any knowledge of anything. Indeed, when I was director-general of MI5, we still operated the Wilson doctrine. Somebody in that MP’s office approaches my former colleagues and raises concerns with them. A warrant is obtained, signed by the Prime Minister, and subsequently it becomes clear that the concerns of the individual in the office—the source of the information—were absolutely justified. Now, we cannot tell that individual at any stage whether he or she is acquitted of any wrongdoing or ends up care of His Majesty’s jails. We cannot at any stage tell him because it risks sources and methods.

Photo of Baroness Manningham-Buller Baroness Manningham-Buller Chair, Conduct Committee, Chair, Conduct Committee

No, this is what I want to establish. Just saying that he has been intercepted will lead that person to wonder how, so we cannot act covertly if there is any danger of sources being revealed or future operations being compromised.

Additionally, it raises the question of why Members of legislatures should have the privilege of being told that they have been subject to interception when members of the public never are. It is wrong, as it was, to treat parliamentarians as a particularly special case. Of course, such cases are highly sensitive, hence the triple lock; hence, I suggest, the rarity of this, but I think Amendments 50 and 54 are potentially damaging. I will shut up now.

Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise that I did not speak at Second Reading, but I was here. Perhaps for the same reasons, I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, has just said. It is secret that telephone interception is in place. If someone is aware, directly or indirectly, that the only way the Security Service or the police will discover a certain piece of information is by a telephone call, then it could be revealed, so it would require the law to be changed.

I have four worries about this amendment. First, at the point at which an interception is stopped, it is very difficult to predict whether the investigation will continue and/or be resumed. If the suspect is advised of the existence of the investigation, it gives them the potential to destroy evidence, which may frustrate the investigation in the long run, so I do not think it is wise to advise any suspect that they have been under investigation.

Secondly, there are two types of investigation: overt ones, where the person knows they are under investigation, and covert ones, where they do not. There is a general convention whereby if an investigation concludes without a charge, we have never told the person that they were under investigation. I am not sure why we would breach that principle merely because intrusive surveillance was in place.

Thirdly, as the noble Baroness mentioned, why would we do that only for Members of the legislature? It could be put in place, but there have to be some strong reasons. I do not think Members of a legislature can just say, “We deserve extra protection”. There has to be a stronger reason, because, otherwise, the rest of the public could rightly say, “Well, why can’t we have that protection?” For that reason alone, you would have to think very seriously about it.

Finally, sometimes Members of the legislature might be under investigation for things in their private capacity and sometimes for a mixture of the two; it might overlap into their legislative acts. Before anything like this was considered, I would take an awful lot of persuasion and I do not think the argument was made for why this needed to happen only for Members of the legislature.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Llafur

My Lords, I support the points the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, made about Amendment 50 regarding the revelation of whether someone who is in a legislature has been tapped. I do not think that is possible. I think it has all sorts of practical difficulties which she rightly outlined, and that situation is something that I could not in any way support.

I want to come back to the issue of “unable” or “unavailable” with regard to the Prime Minister. I think that it is right that it should be “unable”, because of the gravity of the business of tapping the phone of a Member of Parliament or a devolved legislature. I suspect that such a possibility is hugely remote; it might not happen for years and years. However, when it does happen, it is exceptionally serious, because you are not only depriving that Member of Parliament of liberty—you are in many ways saying that the person who has been elected by his or her constituents as a Member of Parliament or of the Senedd, or whatever it may be, is now in some doubt as a public representative. That is hugely serious, so the triple lock is important, but the word “unable” is more serious a word than “unavailable”, and I support changing the word in the Bill.

I also very much agree with the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Coaker, about the nature of the Secretaries of State who should be the substitute for the Prime Minister if the Prime Minister was unable to perform his or her duty with regard to tapping the phone of a parliamentarian. I tapped phones for three or four years almost every day, except at weekends—occasionally at the weekend, but mainly on weekdays—and I took it very seriously. I knew that I was depriving someone of their liberty and privacy; generally speaking, they deserved to be deprived of their liberty because of the horrible things that they might do. Sometimes, although very rarely, I would not sign them, because I was not convinced of the argument put to me.

Someone who has the experience over the years of dealing with warrants has an idea of the nature of the act of signing the warrant and how important it is. It is not simply about reading it and putting your name at the bottom—you have to think about it very seriously. Your experience develops as time goes by. In fact, when I was unable or, more likely, unavailable to sign warrants as Northern Ireland Secretary—if I was on the beach somewhere in the Vendée, as I occasionally was—somebody else would sign the warrants that I would normally have signed. It was generally the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who was then the Home Secretary—and when he went on holiday somewhere, I signed his. The point about that was that, technically, almost every member of the Cabinet—because by then nearly every member was a Secretary of State—could have signed. But I knew, when the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, signed mine, that he knew what he was doing—and vice versa, I hope. Therefore, there should be some way in which we designate Secretaries of State who are used to signing warrants to be a substitute for the Prime Minister.

The other issue, on which I shall conclude, is that the debate so far is evidence of why it is so important that the Intelligence and Security Committee puts its views to this House, through the noble Lord, Lord West, and that the committee should look carefully at these matters.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which was fascinating. I shall start by addressing the amendments and points raised on the circumstances in which the alternative approvals process would be used—that is, for urgent warrants when the Prime Minister is not available. First, it is worth reminding noble Lords that we have set out a non-exhaustive list of such circumstances in the draft excerpt of the relevant code of practice published last week. I shall come back to that in a moment.

I start with Amendments 44 and 51A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which seek to widen the situations in which the alternative approvals process could be used to include situations where the Prime Minister is “unable” to consider a warrant—not only when they are “unavailable”. As the noble and learned Lord indicated, the amendments would extend the circumstances where the alternative approvals process could be utilised to expressly include instances where the Prime Minister has a conflict of interest in considering a warrant application.

I remind noble Lords that the Prime Minister, like all Ministers, is expected to maintain conduct in line with the Nolan principles in public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. When a Prime Minister has a conflict of interest in approving a warrant, due to any personal or professional connection to the subject of the warrant, they are expected to continue to act in the public interest. Therefore, in these situations, the Government consider that the alternative approvals process is not required.

When drafting the Bill, the Government considered at some length whether to make further provision for conflict of interest, along the lines of the noble Lord’s amendment, and concluded that they should not. The primary reason is that, in order for a conflict of interest provision to function, a Secretary of State or unelected official involved in the warrantry process would have to be granted the ability, in certain situations, to take from the Prime Minister a personal power given to them alone by Parliament. Unlike the provisions in Clause 21, which permit the Prime Minister to delegate their power to approve these warrants if they are unavailable, this would require a subjective decision to be made on whether the Prime Minister could, in theory, be judged able to approve the warrant. A conflict of interest provision would also have significant implications for Cabinet hierarchy and the constitution. This is because a Secretary of State or an unelected official would have to determine that the Prime Minister had a conflict in approving the warrant and was therefore “unable” to be made aware of the warrant request. It is for these reasons that the Government decided that a conflict of interest provision should not be included in the Bill.

I have referred to the draft code of practice, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, referred to my letter. I can confirm that many of the words in that letter appear to have reappeared in the code. Paragraphs 5, 5.1 and 5.2 state that:

“Prime Ministerial unavailability should be understood to mean situations in which the Prime Minister is genuinely unavailable to consider the application. For example (non-exhaustive) … The Prime Minister is overseas in a location where they are unable to receive the warrant application due to the security requirements and classification of the documents … The Prime Minister is medically incapacitated and therefore unable to consider the warrant”.

I am very happy to share the code of practice further with all noble Lords, if they would like to see a copy.

I have noted that this conflict of interest provision is specifically not included in the similar Amendments 43 and 51, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord West, which seek to limit the circumstances in which the alternative approvals process can be used due to

“incapacity (ill-health) or lack of access to secure communications”.

As the code of practice sets out, these are two of the key scenarios for which the measure is required, but an amendment of this nature would not cater for unforeseeable events and would leave an unacceptable level of vulnerability in the system. Given that the aim is to increase the resilience of the process, these amendments feel opposite in intent. The moment that a circumstance arises in which the Prime Minister is unable, for a reason other than the two given, to authorise an urgent warrant application, the system would provide a blocker to the intelligence agencies being able to conduct their vital work, which is of course keeping parliamentarians and the public at large safe and secure. I therefore ask noble Lords not to press their amendments. However, I note the views expressed today and am very happy to continue discussions and to meet the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, again to discuss this further.

I turn to Amendments 48 and 53, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord West. These would introduce a review by the Prime Minister of warrants authorised via the alternative approvals process for interception and equipment interference. Clauses 21 and 22 are set up in such a way that the Prime Minister’s power is afforded to the Secretary of State for the purposes of triple-locked warrantry in specific circumstances; in effect, they are acting as the Prime Minister for the purposes of the Act, not as a deputy. As such, including a requirement for the Prime Minister to review the decision after the fact would not provide additional meaningful oversight beyond that which is provided by the alternative approver on their behalf. The decisions made by the initial Secretary of State and the alternative approver would still be subject to review by the judicial commissioner, so would have already been subject to significant scrutiny. The Government therefore cannot support these amendments.

I turn to the issue of to whom the Prime Minister can delegate this process. Amendments 47 and 49, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and Amendments 46 and 52, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord West, all seek to limit the Secretaries of State whom the Prime Minister can designate as alternative approvers. Directing the actions of the current and any future Prime Minister by limiting the Secretaries of State to only those mentioned in statute is short-sighted, in that it does not consider potential changes to the machinery of government, as the noble Lord, Lord West, noted.

Furthermore, I invite noble Lords to consider the scenario where, for example, the Home Secretary has provided the initial approval for the application before it is considered as part of the alternative approvals process. The Home Secretary should not then consider the application on behalf of the Prime Minister; this is because it would remove a stage of scrutiny in the triple lock process. Additionally, given the potential for there to be concurrent overseas travel of the Prime Minister and at least one other relevant Secretary of State, limiting the process in this way could fail to provide the necessary resilience. While there should not be an unlimited number of designates, it is important that there are enough alternative approvers to be prepared for these scenarios.

There may also be a compelling reason for another Secretary of State to be considered as an appropriate designate outside of those proposed by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. For example, they may have previously acted, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, did, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland but been moved to another Secretary of State post as a result of a reshuffle. They would therefore have a good understanding of the warrantry process but might not currently be a Secretary of State for a warrant-granting department.

The code of practice is also quite clear on designation, and I will read paragraph 6.1:

“When designating Secretaries of State, the Prime Minister should have due regard to whether a designee would have the necessary operational awareness of the warrantry process in order to carry out the role. There should also be consideration given to the number of Secretaries of State designated to ensure that there would be enough individuals to allow for a Secretary of State unavailability. This is because the Secretary of State who provided the initial authorisation could not also act on behalf of the Prime Minister as the alternative approver”.

The code of practice is statutory guidance to which the Prime Minister would need to have due regard. I hope that my explanation and the information set out in the draft code provide reassurance on these various issues.

Amendment 45, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seeks to restrict the senior officials in the determination of the urgency of an application. We do not believe that this would be appropriate or effective. Due to unavailability of the relevant Secretary of State, a separate Secretary of State to the one associated with the warrantry team in the warrant-granting government department may occasionally need to authorise an application. For example, a warrant which would ordinarily be handled by the Home Secretary may be handled by the Secretary of State for Defence in the absence of the Home Secretary. However, it would still be Home Office officials who would brief the Defence Secretary and provide the information necessary for them to consider the application. The same is true of applications going through the triple lock process.

Furthermore, senior officials in more than one department are likely to be involved in administering the process of the warrant, including within the warrant-requesting agency, the warrant-granting department and the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for obtaining Prime Ministerial approval for triple-locked warrants. It is therefore impractical to specify that the senior official must be serving in the same department as the authorising Secretary of State. The wording at Section 30(4) of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 provides for the signing of a warrant by a senior official and is not specific as to which department the senior official must be serving in, only that they must be designated by the Secretary of State for that purpose. The same applies to these clauses, because there is no reason to adopt a different position here.

Turning to Amendments 50 and 54, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I must join the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller—I thank her for a very eloquent speech on this—and the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, in setting out the serious challenges that these amendments would pose to the effective work of the intelligence agencies, which is of course to keep us all safe. On the specific cases the noble Lord mentioned under Article 8, I am not familiar with them, so I will look them up and endeavour to write. I would of course note that Article 8 is a qualified article, as the noble Lord has acknowledged.

These amendments would mean that the intelligence agencies could not operate secretly, impacting on their ability to carry out their statutory functions in this area. I understand that the noble Lord has suggested that the notification would take place once the investigation has been concluded, or once a judicial commissioner concludes that it is acceptable to do so, but these suggestions in and of themselves are inherently problematic.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 sets out the extent to which certain investigatory powers may be used to interfere with privacy. These powers are exercised covertly, and it is for this reason that warrants for interception and equipment interference can be issued only by a Secretary of State, with the approval of a judicial commissioner. The triple lock provides an extra level of political accountability by ensuring that the Prime Minister, or, subject to the successful passage of this Bill, their designated deputies, have additionally approved the warrant. There is a duty not to make unauthorised disclosures at Section 57 of the IPA, and Section 58 sets out the limited circumstances in which an excepted disclosure can be made.

Informing an individual that their communications have been intercepted would up-end this principle and cause potential risks to live and future operations, even if the initial investigation had concluded. The noble Lord has suggested that, to avoid potential risks to ongoing operations, the judicial commissioner could decide to postpone the notification until they judge that the risks of revealing the existence of the warrant have been mitigated against. This would inappropriately afford the judicial commissioners an operational decision-making power.

There are existing accountability routes that allow any individual, whether or not they are a Member of a relevant legislature, to challenge the activities of the intelligence services. Foremost among these is the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which provides a cost-free right of redress to anyone who believes that they have been the victim of unlawful action by a public authority using covert investigative techniques. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not pursue these amendments.

I turn to Amendment 55, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, which would require information on surveillance of parliamentarians to be included in the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s annual report. Including information about the use of the triple lock in the IPC’s annual report would risk exposing some of the most sensitive operations and damage the work of the intelligence agencies in protecting democracy and those who engage with the UK’s democratic institutions. Given the limited number of Members of relevant legislatures—which is defined in Section 26 of the current Act, and covers Members of both Houses of Parliament and Members of the devolved legislatures, including the Scottish Parliament—providing statistics on the use of the triple lock may lead to uninformed accusations against Members, and also allow inferences to be drawn on the identity of those who have been subject to such measures. This could impact on ongoing or future investigations, and it would simply not be appropriate to include this type of highly sensitive information in the annual report.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has also proposed Amendment 55A, which seeks a dedicated report on the use of interception and equipment interference powers in respect of communications of Members of Parliament since the passage of the original Act. As we have discussed, to provide further detail which reveals how the powers have been used would risk revealing sensitive information about investigations and could jeopardise important national security or serious crime operations. The law applies equally to everybody, and this includes Members of Parliament. However, in light of the Wilson doctrine, to which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred, the triple lock provides the necessary additional safeguards for when these powers are used in relation to Members of Parliament. Furthermore, the already produces an annual report on the use of investigatory powers, which he sends to the Prime Minister. The Government therefore cannot accept this amendment, because it is unnecessary and potentially detrimental to national security and serious crime operations.

Before I conclude, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me a specific question about a Mail on Sunday story about the Defence Intelligence situation. The Ministry of Defence did provide some analytical capability to augment capacity in government departments during the pandemic. This was done through established government processes: military aid to the civilian authorities—MACA—which allows for military support to government departments in exceptional circumstances, such as the pandemic. My noble friends in both DSIT and the MoD would be happy to follow up on any further questions on that.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business) 4:45, 13 Rhagfyr 2023

I am anticipating the Minister sitting down shortly. I remind the Minister that I asked a specific question on directly elected regional mayors, their rise, and the role that they play in democracy, which is so different to when the IPA was originally conceived. The Minister may not have an answer now, but a written answer would be very helpful.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to acknowledge that the noble Lord is right: their powers have expanded, as have their influence and celebrity over the years. I do not have an answer now, but I will come back to the noble Lord on that.

The objective of these clauses is to provide greater resilience in the process. It is critical that we do not undermine this from the off. I therefore hope noble Lords feel reassured by the explanations given, and the information set out in the draft code of practice, which is the appropriate place to set out the detail of this alternative process.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

May I say to the noble Lord that the answer he gave to me with respect to the Mail on Sunday story was a really good answer? I am seeking transparency, which we will come on to in the next set of amendments, where Ministers can provide it without compromising operational security, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, rightly pointed out. The Minister went as far as he could to say that the story needs to be looked at, it raises particular issues and I can pursue those outside of the Chamber. That was an extremely helpful comment and shows what I am trying to get at with respect to transparency—rather than just dismissing it and saying we cannot talk about it. I am very grateful for the response and thought it was very helpful.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Llafur

My Lords, I absolutely support what my noble friend has said. I was about to leap up and say that this should not be discussed in this forum because some of it is so sensitive. The Minister handled it extremely well, but we are getting quite close to the margins.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank both noble Lords for their thanks. I have forgotten where I was, but I had pretty much finished.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Llafur

I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 43 withdrawn.

Amendments 44 to 49 not moved.

Clause 21 agreed.

Amendment 50 not moved.

Clause 22: Equipment interference: Members of Parliament etc

Amendments 51 to 53 not moved.

Clause 22 agreed.

Amendments 54 to 55A not moved.

Clauses 23 to 25 agreed.

Clause 26: Exclusion of matters from legal proceedings etc: exceptions