Overview of Act

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 12 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 9:25, 12 Ebrill 2016

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

Our starting position is that in the aftermath of attacks such as those we have recently seen in Brussels, which are only the latest in a series of similar attacks, there can be no doubt that the security and intelligence services and law enforcement agencies need all the powers that are necessary and proportionate to deal with serious threats. That is the starting position on the Bill, so far as the Labour party is concerned.

As the Minister has said, it is a good thing that the powers that had previously been exercised by the security and intelligence services are now avowed on the face of the Bill. That is welcome, but those powers also need to be justified, clearly defined and limited, and there must be proper safeguards. The Opposition’s proper role in the process we are about to undertake is to robustly challenge the Bill’s provisions where they do not meet those criteria and to push back and probe. Through that process, we hopefully will improve the final product so that the Bill achieves what it needs to achieve, but goes no further than what is necessary and proportionate.

On justification, as the Minister no doubt knows, the shadow Home Secretary wrote to the Home Secretary on 4 April making a number of points, one of which was the need for a better assessment of the operational case and, in particular, an independent assessment of bulk powers. He said:

“Whilst I accept the broad argument advanced by the authorities that powers to extract information in bulk form may provide the only way of identifying those who pose a risk to the public, the operational case for bulk powers which accompanied the Bill’s publication has significant gaps. This was clear from contributions made at Second Reading from both sides of the House.”

Anyone who reads the operational cases will see that they are slim indeed, and more than half the printed case is introductory matter.

The shadow Home Secretary suggests in the letter that

“the simplest way to proceed would be, firstly, to produce a more detailed operational case and, secondly, to accept the recommendation of the Joint Committee and commission an independent review of all the bulk powers.”

The Labour party suggests that that review should conclude in time to inform Report and Third Reading. Obviously the Minister will probably not want to deal with the matter here and now, but I ask that a reply to the letter be prepared as soon as possible so that we can move forward on that issue.

The letter also deals with concerns about internet connection records, which we will deal with when we come to the appropriate clauses, but it particularly highlights the problems of definition in clause 54 and the question of the threshold for accessing internet connection records along with other comms data.

The letter also talks about the

“definitions of ‘national security’ and ‘economic well-being’”,

which we will probably start to debate today. The letter also raises meaningful judicial authorisation and oversight and the need for an overarching criminal offence of deliberate misuse and for effective protections for sensitive professions. Can a reply to the letter be prepared as soon as possible so that we can move forward, particularly on the operational case? If there is more work to be done, the sooner it starts the better. With luck it can then be finished in time for the next stage, which is Third Reading. Will the Minister ensure that there is a speedy response to that letter?

On the question of privacy provision, I listened carefully to what the Minister said. The recommendation of the Intelligence and Security Committee was that there should be general safeguards on privacy. Clause 1 does not provide that. The Minister says that the safeguards run through the Bill. I will make the cheap point, but I will make it quickly. The only amendment to part 1 in response to the Intelligence and Security Committee was the insertion of the word “privacy” in the title. It used to say “General protections”, and it now says “General privacy protections”. However, clause 1 in itself is clearly not enough. It is true that there are safeguards in the Bill, but there is also considerable inconsistency, and that is where overarching principles would play their part.

I will flag up for the Committee three examples of that inconsistency. It is the sort of inconsistency that an overarching provision would deal with. The first is in the draft code of practice on the interception of communications that is before the Committee, which we will consider further this morning. There is a strong proposition in paragraph 4.7 of the draft code, under the heading:

“Is the investigatory power under consideration appropriate in the specific circumstances?”

It states:

“No interference with privacy should be considered proportionate if the information which is sought could reasonably be obtained by other less intrusive means.”

So there is a clear proposition on necessity; it is not necessary if information can be obtained by other less intrusive means.

It is welcome in the code of practice. It should be in the statute, but there is an inconsistency. For example, clause 17(4), which we will get to later, sets out the power of the Secretary of State to issue warrants and sets out what the Secretary of State must take into account. Clause 17(1) sets out in clear terms the necessity test and the proportionality test, but subsection 17(4) in this critical clause states:

“The matters to be taken into account in considering whether the conditions in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) are met”— the necessity of proportionality—

“include whether the information which it is considered necessary to obtain under the warrant could reasonably be obtained by other means.”

We have an inconsistency that should not be there. The code is clear: a measure cannot be necessary if information could reasonably be obtained by other less intrusive means. On the face of the statute, that is an inconsistency because the Secretary of State is told that it is a matter to take into account, but not an overarching rule. We will obviously debate that, but that is precisely why an overarching provision is needed.

I will give two other examples. The filtering clauses—clause 58 and following—set out how filtering arrangements are intended to work, but there is no reference to privacy or the weight to be given to privacy. It is similar, by way of example, in clause 67, which deals with single points of contact. I use those as examples, but the point is that it is easy to say that privacy runs through the Bill. The question is whether, in its practical application to each section, it is adequately dealt with. In our view, an overarching provision would help in each case where there is either an absence of a specific reference to privacy or in some cases inconsistency. We will table a new clause towards the end of the process, but it may be that in discussions with the Minister and others we can seek to advance this in a way that is acceptable to the whole Committee. However, the inconsistencies are there.

I would like some indication from the Minister as to how the Committee is to approach the code of practice. I say up front that we welcome the fact that the code is available. We asked for it to be available for the Committee—I do not think the Committee could do its work without the code of practice, and I appreciate that a huge amount of effort will have gone in behind the scenes to ensure that the material was available to the Committee on time.

A lot of detail is in the code of practice and the Committee does not have the ability to amend it. It will not be consulted upon until the Bill becomes law, so there is a practical problem. Where we identify a deficiency in the code of practice or suggest an amendment—it is not a formal amendment, of course—how does the Minister propose that we deal with that? To some extent, I suspect that some of my points about definition and clarity and the setting out of powers will be met by the argument that such points are in the code of practice. The problem is that we cannot amend the code of practice in Committee. When it comes to be considered after consultation, the whole of the code will be up for the vote and not the individual provisions, so there is a gap that we need to find a practical way through.

You will have noted, Ms Dorries, that many of the amendments tabled by the Scottish National party and the Labour party are identical. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and I have divided up the work on those amendments. I hope that is not objectionable in any way—it at least puts the whole of the amendments before the Committee. One of us will lead on the amendments and the other, with your permission, will follow immediately on so that we cover the whole of the amendments. Everybody will therefore know the points we are making before we proceed to the open debate. It is intended to assist the Committee and to save time, but I ask your indulgence.