Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Crossbench)
My Lords, I oppose the amendment. I declare a not very relevant interest: I am an adviser to Cable & Wireless plc, which is the second largest telecoms provider in this country. On a number of occasions, we have debated the use of intercept material and the implications for national security, especially for the sources of sensitive information on which we rely in this country and on whose reliance we have found the solution to a number of major threats. The problem is that this enters a very big back door.
As a result of previous debates in this House and in the other place, the Chilcot committee was established. It is a committee of privy counsellors, appointed by the Prime Minister to look into the issues and concerns surrounding the use of intercept material. When it was appointed, it was the subject of widespread agreement. The Privy Counsellors from the three major parties and Sir John Chilcot considered the matter and established, in the final report, nine principles which the committee believed had to be addressed before intercept material could be used in our courts. The committee is now studying further those nine principles. The Home Office is engaged in a major inquiry to see how those matters can be addressed. I, and I dare say a number of other noble Lords, have been involved in that detailed consultation and there is an absolute determination to find solutions where solutions can be found.
It would be entirely wrong for this House today to take a position which in many ways would pre-empt the work of the Chilcot committee and the outcome of the issues that it is considering. I do not intend, although I could, to argue the case here about the nature of the sensitive information we are talking about and the sources which might well be closed off if this principle were to be moved forward on the basis of pre-Chilcot sensitivities because I do not think that is particularly relevant. There are those who are interested in coroners courts and a coroners Bill has been promised, but the whole issue of intercept was genuinely agreed between all the parties to be a matter for the Chilcot committee and the work that was to be done after Chilcot's nine principles were established.
To go down this road today, with whatever safeguards are thought of at this time to be sufficient, is to pre-empt the outcome of that very important matter. Knowing what I know, I believe that we enter into very dangerous territory, from this country's point of view, if we walk down this road without carefully examining all the implications. Therefore, I believe it is premature for us to vote in favour of this amendment today.