Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill
Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat)
Just in case those on the Conservative Benches have another rush of blood to the head, if a Division is called, we shall support the Government. But before those on the Government Benches become too ecstatic, I should say also that if the Government's reply to this debate is not suitably constructive, we shall consider pressing this matter very firmly indeed on Report.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has put his finger on the central dilemma that we have in dealing with this Bill. As I believe I said on Second Reading, it is quite clearly a pantomime horse of a Bill. It is a regulatory Bill dealing with old post and telecommunications legislation and it is a regulatory Bill to deal with the new world of e-commerce. The e-commerce part of the Bill is extremely difficult for Parliament to deal with.
Mr John Norton thinks that we are "boobies" dealing with this matter. Again, at the beginning of our proceedings, I said that it might have been better had we resolved into a Standing Committee which could take evidence from the experts. It is very clear that many of the matters which we are discussing and the powers for which the Government are asking need "future-proofing" so that we do not pass legislation which is almost immediately out of date because of changes in technology.
I must say, too, that I am rather worried about the Home Office assuming regulatory powers over business in that way. Again, one's suspicion is that it was too hot for the DTI to handle and the good old Home Office, fulfilling its Lord Mayor's Show role, comes along to sweep up this matter.
Certainly, the Home Secretary has become extremely tetchy with business. Not only has he fired off letters to the Financial Times, but there have been extensive and detailed briefings about how much industry is over-egging the pudding and exaggerating the costs and burdens. If the Home Secretary has friends in the e-commerce industry who are genuinely expert on the implications of the Bill and who agree with him that the costs and burdens are reasonable, those friends had better speak up fairly quickly because the array of informed business opinion against the Home Secretary is considerable. This House should seriously take account of that.
Also, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and Ministers in the other place have promised that they are in listening mode. Again, my advice to them, before we reach Report, is to get alongside the industry--those in the industry have a number of reputable umbrella bodies to which they can talk--and to get the industry to say what are reasonable burdens, because then the criticisms of these Benches in relation to cost will melt away.
However, I do not think it is enough for the noble Lord, Lord Bach, simply to look irritated from a sedentary position when every informed source in e-commerce says that the burdens are too much and that they will have long-term damaging effects on our hope of becoming a world centre for e-commerce. That is a serious charge which the Government must treat seriously and answer if they are not to find that this House lacks confidence in this legislation.
The suggestion of a technical approvals board has considerable merit. For the same reasons, I am extremely worried about the Home Office taking on judgments without proper and expert help, not least because, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, we are trying to deal with a rapidly changing, highly technical industry. The technical approvals board is a reasonable and practicable suggestion for "future proofing" the legislation.
Today, we on these Benches are in listening mode. However, we hope that the Ministers and the Home Office take seriously our belief that in this matter there is a case to answer.