New Clause 10 - Account monitoring orders

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:45 am ar 18 Hydref 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

‘Schedule (Account monitoring orders) makes provision for account monitoring orders’.—(Tom Tugendhat.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Ceidwadwyr, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to consider Government new schedule 3—Account monitoring orders.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I turn to new clause 10 and schedule 3—

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My apologies; I meant new schedule 3. New clause 10 and new schedule 3 provide for account monitoring orders for certain investigations into state threats. Police need to be able to obtain information relating to accounts held by a suspect in real time in order to identify and act on disruptive opportunities related to state threats activity. An account monitoring order will require a financial institution to provide specified information in relation to an account—for example, details of all transactions passing through the account—for a specified period not exceeding 90 days.

The information will normally be provided in the form of a bank statement at regular intervals, which could be every few hours. That provides police with real-time information that can be used to react quickly and intervene if necessary, potentially stopping the state threats activity from taking place.

For example, if police were investigating an individual for foreign power threat activity and had intelligence to suggest that the suspect was being paid by a foreign power to conduct the activity, the account monitoring order would be a key investigative tool for police to monitor if and when the money had been transferred by the foreign power. That would provide key evidence regarding whether the foreign power condition had been met for use in a future prosecution of the suspect, but it would also provide police with the real-time intelligence to suggest that the activity might be imminent, which would identify the need for disruption.

As well as payments from a foreign power, account monitoring orders might identify other activities of concern, such as a person purchasing a travel ticket, which might require immediate intervention. In the absence of an account monitoring order, the police would need to rely on other powers, such as a production order under schedule 2. That could require a financial institution to hand over the financial records it has in its possession, for example a monthly statement. However, that could mean a significant delay in police identifying and being able to respond to an activity of concern.

The process for applying for an account monitoring order will broadly follow that used in terrorism cases and investigations under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That means that applications are subject to judicial approval and only available where the judge is satisfied that the order will enhance the effectiveness of an investigation into foreign power threat activity. Police have stated that this order is a critical tool required to successfully investigate offences within the National Security Bill, and that account monitoring orders may assist investigators in preventing harmful activity from occurring.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:00, 18 Hydref 2022

In our debates on new schedules 1 and 2, we have been through arguments similar to those that apply to new schedule 3. Once again, CT Policing states that these account monitoring orders will provide:

“investigators with real-time information that can be used to react quickly and intervene if necessary, potentially stopping the state threat activity from taking place.”

Of course, that is enormously welcome. I draw the Minister’s attention to one small matter, concerning the use of the word “constable”. For account monitoring orders, new schedule 3 stipulates that an appropriate officer is a constable or an officer of the NCA under paragraph 1(3). When we get to interpretation, paragraph 7(2) states:

“‘Appropriate officer’ has the meaning given by paragraph 1(3)”,

which refers us back to the word “constable” with no stipulation about rank whatsoever. That is very different from the requirements in new schedules 1 and 2, which stipulate that the officer needs to be a senior officer, meaning a superintendent or above. Is this an oversight? Should the officer be a senior officer, in line with new schedules 1 and 2, or can a police officer of any rank apply for an account monitoring order?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

These are sensible proposals to give our law enforcement agencies the powers they require, but I would like clarification about definitions. The Minister referred to a bank, and it is clear that this is about monitoring bank accounts. The explanatory statement, expansive as it is—I think it is one line—says:

“These orders may require financial institutions to provide specified information relating to accounts.”

I want to clarify the definition of financial institution. If we go back 20 or 30 years, it was quite clear: we had bank accounts and financial products. Today, though, there is a complex environment of organisations that work and deal with financial accounts. For example, Bitcoin is now traded between organisations, some of which are covered by the Financial Conduct Authority and others not. I am trying to get some understanding of how widely this will go.

The other issue is about bank accounts that are not in the UK. I am particularly thinking about bank accounts in the overseas territories, and what happens there. We need clarification about the remit. The measure might work very simply with banks and other financial institutions, but in an ever-changing world we have a lot of organisations that deal with people’s “accounts” where they are not regulated.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Member for Halifax asks again about the term “constable”. She is right to ask, but that is not an oversight; it is accurate. There are different levels at which different officers are allowed to warrant things. As she rightly identifies, “constable” is the generic term, and then at various points different ranks of officer are required for different levels of authority. That is in line with the TACT powers. This area of authorisation is considered less intrusive, and that is why a lower-ranking officer is allowed to ask for it.

On financial institutions, the right hon. Member for North Durham identified that banking has changed somewhat since he and I had post office accounts in the early—I will leave that there. Schedule 3 uses the same definition as that used in paragraph 6 of schedule 6 of the Terrorism Act 2000; it is designed to align. The definition of financial institution in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 can be found in paragraph 1 of schedule 9. Account monitoring orders can be used as part of a broader set of purposes, such as civil recovery, and they are applicable to a broader range of financial institutions. Such breadth is unnecessary in respect of state threats, which is why that is slightly narrower, but the definition is there.

Obviously, these powers cannot be used to compel institutions overseas, so we are asking for co-operation from police forces.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

I appreciate that in terms of overseas bank accounts, but there has been a lot of controversy about individual using overseas territories. If the Minister does not know the answer, he can write to the Committee to clarify the point. I just want to see how far these orders could go in terms of their effect.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that overseas territories come under slightly different jurisdictions, whether they are Crown dependencies or overseas territories. It depends on the jurisdiction, but I will be happy to write to him.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 10 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.