Clause 22 - Border security

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 14 Gorffennaf 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Under schedule 3 to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, counter-terrorism police have the power to stop, question and, if necessary, detain and search individuals travelling through the UK border. As part of a schedule 3 examination, counter-terrorism police are able to retain protected materials by following a lengthy authorisation process. Protected materials include confidential business and journalistic material, as well as legally privileged material. The powers are a vital tool for counter-terrorism police and form part of a range of national security checks that enable the determination of whether a person at a UK port or border area has current or previous involvement in hostile state activity.

The use of protected materials in investigations, particularly confidential business material, can be a helpful insight into a person’s involvement in hostile state activity, whether it be espionage or a disinformation campaign. To use protected materials seized during a schedule 3 examination, an examining officer must currently seek authorisation from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who is a serving or retired High Court judge. In most cases, the material must not be examined or used for investigations until authorisation has been granted. Currently, that can take up to six weeks.

Clause 22 will remove the definition of confidential business material—material defined as acquired in the course of trade—from the definition of protected material under schedule 3. This will remove the requirement for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to authorise the retention of copies of confidential business material. The Bill will replace that authorisation process with a new safeguard: the requirement for a counter-terrorism police officer of at least the rank of superintendent to authorise access to such material.

The clause will bring the schedule 3 safeguards for confidential material into line with those that apply to schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000. It will mean that police do not face lengthy and unnecessary delays to examining material in a schedule 3 stop.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

I have some sympathy with this clause; the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has a big job on their hands anyway. I wonder whether the Minister could say whether he has given any thought to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner not just looking at the material and giving it authorisation but having retrospective powers to dip in and see whether things have been done correctly.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I will take that idea away and consider it. We do not want to enable somebody at the border to say that something is confidential material so that the police cannot look at it for up to six weeks. That would just be the easiest defence. We are dealing with incredibly sophisticated experts and they will know what to say to ensure that the material will be held in abeyance.

The Government are only amending the safeguards for confidential business material and will not change the authorisation safeguard for other material within the definition of protected material or confidential journalistic material, for which judicial authorisation is a proportionate safeguard. I am sure Members agree that it is only right that the security services should be able to use critical information in real time during a schedule 3 examination to address live national security risks posed to the UK. I assure Members that this essential amendment to schedule 3 to the 2019 Act will strengthen and streamline state threats investigations to disrupt and deter hostile state activity.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The drafting of clause 22 is complicated and I have had to speak to a number of experts to try to unravel it. It amends schedule 3 to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, as the Minister outlined. In essence, it allows examining officers a right to confidential material that would currently require the authorisation of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. I am grateful to the commissioner, Sir Brian Leveson, in his capacity as the independent reviewer of schedule 3, and his office for their insight on the clause.

If I have understood it correctly—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I have not—the clause amends schedule 3 to the 2019 Act to reflect the position of schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Schedule 3 subjects are far more likely to possess confidential business records than those stopped under schedule 7. That means the requirement for judicial approval is engaged in the majority of schedule 3 stops. It is therefore important to assess whether the requirement for a judicial authorisation in such cases is necessary and proportionate, taking into account both the sensitivity of the category of protected material and the purpose of the statute specifically to counter hostile state activity.

The Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office said

“We are not aware of any other statute that requires judicial authorisation for the retention of confidential business records acquired direct from a person in a public setting such as a port”.

The closest is perhaps schedule 1 to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, commonly known as PACE, although this is restricted to material on private premises. There is no requirement in PACE to seek judicial authorisation to seize or retain confidential business material found during the search of a person in a public place, or if such material is unexpectedly encountered on private premises.

Confidential business records are protected in PACE as “special procedure material” because they have a degree of special sensitivity that Parliament has decided merits certain access requirements in the context of criminal investigations. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 does not include any similar requirement for judicial authorisation to acquire confidential business records using covert investigatory powers. The sensitivity of this category of material is not the same as that of legally privileged or journalistic material, the safeguards for which will not be affected by the proposed amendment to schedule 3—I hope the Minister can confirm that that is the case.

The statutory purposes in schedule 3 go well beyond criminal investigations and include national security or protecting life and limb. On that basis, it seems unlikely that the interests of the business, trade or profession would outweigh the interests of national security in any circumstances, or that judicial authorisation should be necessary for the retention and use of confidential business records in circumstances that might prevent death or serious injury.

Having considered those points in the round, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has concluded that the Home Office’s proposals to replace judicial authorisation for confidential business records with one of internal authorisation from a senior officer strike the right balance and align the definition of confidential material with that of the 2016 Act. Inevitably, that view has very much shaped our judgement on clause 22, but I suggest that it is another area where keeping the provisions under review to mitigate any unintended consequences is the responsible thing to do.

Let me turn to who has the powers to make and retain copies of confidential material. Page 35 of the explanatory notes outline that “examining officers” have that power. However, schedule 7 to the 2000 Act defines an examining officer as a constable, immigration officer or a customs officer. In paragraph (j) of the policy background section of the explanatory notes, it states that part 1 amends schedule 3 to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019

“to allow counter-terrorism police officers to retain copies of confidential business material…without the authorisation of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. This will allow counter-terrorism police to progress operations and investigations into state threats…at the required pace and reflects the position in schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000”.

Paragraph 17 of schedule 3 to the 2019 Act, on the power to make and retain copies, confirms that the examining officer, only when they are “a constable”, can retain copies when necessary and potentially needed as evidence in criminal proceedings. The references to various different roles in the different supporting documents to the Bill make it a bit of a mess. I was listening carefully to the Minister, but I would like further clarity about who has the powers. Given that we have references to examining officers—who can have different roles—to counter-terrorism police specifically and to an examining officer who can be a constable, I wonder whether the Minister can tidy it up for us on the record and be explicit about who has the powers at the border.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My understanding is that the amendment of the authorisation safeguards to access confidential business material in schedule 3 brings it completely into line with other policing powers. It is not likely that access to confidential business material would be subject to a higher level of safeguarding where there is already consistent precedent set by PACE 1984, the IPA 2016 and schedule 7 to the 2000 Act. As we have said, it does not affect legal, profession or journalistic material, and the provisions are reviewed by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as part of their statutory function. Only trained counter-terrorism officers will be able to use the powers. I hope that provides the clarity that the hon. Lady requires.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.