Scope of Warrants

Orders of the Day — Interception of Communications Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 2nd April 1985.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 7:45 pm, 2nd April 1985

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in page 2, line 32, leave out from 'from' to end of line 35.

Photo of Mr John Forrester Mr John Forrester , Stoke-on-Trent North

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 22, in page 2, line 36, leave out 'person' and insert 'individual'.

No. 23, in page 2, line 37, leave out from 'warrant' to `and' in line 39.

No. 24, in page 2, line 39, leave out from 'described' to end of line 42.

No. 41, in clause 5, page 4, leave out lines 15 to 17.

No. 43, in clause 5, page 4, line 21, leave out subsection (2).

No. 77, in clause 7, page 6, line 27, leave out from `warrant' to end of line 37.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Clause 3 is too broad. Tighter control is needed to stop the invasion of privacy and abuses that could develop. This cluster of amendments seeks to do that. The amendments are concerned with the scope and modifications of warrants. Amendment No. 77 deals with what the tribunal can examine in relation to a "relevant" warrant.

The central theme of the amendments is the need to ensure that warrants relate specifically to one person. If there is not one warrant for one individual, there will not be proper political control. If there is not proper accountability, the system is open to abuse.

The Home Secretary has been asked about the number of warrants he has signed. Often the figure looks small—about 500—but, in fact, the conversations of a vast number of people are tapped. Hon. Members are given no indication of the true number. If there were one warrant for one individual, a much clearer picture of the extent of tapping would be available. That would he a better system.

The Government are trying to apply warrants to many addresses. That is wrong, because it is a means of obtaining spurious and irrelevant data.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South 8:30 pm, 2nd April 1985

Does my hon. Friend agree that if, for example, the person being tapped and against whom the warrant is issued is a limited company, it may well have hundreds, if not thousands, of employees? There should be a right of remedy for those employees who are caught in the tapping morass as a result of the single warrant.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

I agree. It brings me to amendment No. 22. It seems a little absurd to say leave out 'person' and insert 'individual'. A person can be a legal person or a corporate body or partnership or something of that nature. We should make the point clear and say that the warrant relates to an individual.

Amendment No. 23 relates to the tapping of premises. The warrant should relate to individuals. There should not be a warrant for a number of addresses because that is how surplus, irrelevant material is obtained. That provision provides blanket coverage. The provision could apply to the offices of the National Council for Civil Liberties—perhaps that is what it has been applied to in the past—the CND, NUM headquarters, Labour party headquarters or even to the telephones in the House. The Government might have a legitimate reason to tap the telephone of a Member. They would then have the right to issue a warrant to tap the telephones of the House. Warrants should be addressed to individuals, not to premises. The provision is open to abuse. People's privacy would be invaded without any remedy being provided.

Clause 3 refers to "other communications" as well as the main communications being tapped according to the warrant, "as it is necessary". That is too broad. It takes the power away from the Secretary of State. It becomes an administrative power. Someone can implement a tap on a person "as it is necessary". That is not as the Secretary of State deems necessary in his signed warrant. It is an administrative decision. That is inappropriate and creates too much opportunity for abuse.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 relate to modifications. The Secretary of State can modify a warrant by adding an address or taking some away. Warrants should not be addresses to premises. They should relate to individuals. There is a danger that by adding an address to an existing warrant there could be an "after-the-event" cover-up. That is inappropriate.

Amendment No. 77 relates to the tribunal's consideration of a warrant and of complaints about the issue of a warrant and compensation arrangements. That is important. Clause 7(9) is important. It defines a "relevant warrant" that can have the tribunal's consideration. It should be sufficient to specify the applicant in the warrant. That is the purpose of the amendment. The specified person should be allowed to complain to the tribunal. A person's address or an address with which he might be associated should not come into the question whether that person has a right to complain to the tribunal and whether the tribunal can consider the complaint.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Amendment No. 21 has the effect of leaving out from the warrant addresses likely to be used by the person named in the warrant. Paragraph 10 of the White Paper issued in April 1980 made it clear that where a target of interception used or operated from more than one address or telephone number all the addresses or telephone numbers might be covered in one warrant. That has been the long-standing practice of successive Governments to which clause 3(1) (a) gives effect. The Government are not therefore seeking more powers than they and their predecessors have exercised in the past. We are following the previous practice precisely.

Once the Secretary of State has decided that it is necessary that a person should be targeted, it would be odd if one warrant did not cover more than one telephone. If there are two telephones in the same room that the target is expected to use, it is obviously appropriate that one warrant should apply to both. It would be extremely curious if that were not the result. The telephones may be different, but the considerations leading to the warrant and the use of the telephones are part and parcel of the same matter.

The provision which the amendment seeks to remove does not allow the Secretary of State any improper degree of flexibility. The address specified on the warrant, whether or not there is more than one, has to be likely to be used for the transmission of communications to or from the target.

There is a further serious objection to the amendment. It leaves the form of the clause 3(1) warrant open and the address is at large. A warrant is a requirement to intercept. As such, it must be precise in its effect. It is not something that the recipient can decide to obey in part or about which he can be left in any doubt as to what is to be done.

The warrant provides protection from the offence. Its extent must be carefully defined. It is difficult to see how it could be carefully defined if there was not included in the warrant the address to which the person to whom the warrant was addressed had to address his attention. There are a great many addresses there.

The Post Office and public telecommunication operators are fully entitled to know where they stand. If the amendment were carried, that position would be lost. The warrant would then name, for example, John Brown — whoever he may be—but no more. How on earth can the recipient translate that into action? Which telephone? Which address? Does it mean any telephone that John Brown happens to use or might use one day? The position would be nonsensical. For those reasons, I could not recommend the acceptance of the amendment to the Committee.

Amendment No. 22 substitutes in clause 3 "individual" for "person". The Government have repeatedly made it clear that they seek no powers other than those which have been previously exercised. That principle applies in respect of the provisions which are the subject of this amendment, as it does elsewhere. Paragraph 10 of the 1980 White Paper made it clear that a warrant might be directed against a person or an organisation and hence the definition of "person" in clause 10. That is essential in the interests of national security and the fight against serious crime.

I shall give an example, which I do not believe is fanciful. A group of terrorists might be known to be operating and to be planning a major attack. It would be essential to take urgent steps to prevent that attack and the serious loss of life which could result. It could be that, although the group of terrorists had a name, its members were unknown. It would be manifestly absurd if it was impossible to undertake an interception of the group's communications simply because it had not yet been possible to put names to the members. Such considerations have also to be borne in mind.

The effect of amendment No. 23 would be to prevent the targeting of premises as distinct from the targeting of persons. In the Government's view, it is vital to retain that second capacity to target premises. A clause 3(1) warrant would—

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Perhaps the Minister can help to reassure some of us who are worried about the targeting of premises, because it is a broad concept. We would be reassured if the Government or the Secretary of State said that, where targeting of a premises or complex was necessary, even greater care would be taken to limit the area to be targeted within the confines and parameters of national security.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

It is not possible to talk in terms of greater care. Of course, the machinery can never come into motion unless the Secretary of State has satisfied himself that it is necessary to target premises. Therefore, as a result of the restrictions that the Bill places on the circumstances in which he can issue a warrant in the first place, he must have regard to all those considerations and be satisfied that it is really necessary to issue a warrant targeting premises.

Naturally, a clause 3(1) warrant would normally be directed against a known person. It might be someone engaged in serious crime or a threat to national security, but sometimes the name or identity of the suspected person might not be known. That would be rare but it could happen. When it did, the successful pursuit of investigations might be of paramount importance.

Let me give an example which, again, I do not think is entirely fanciful. Information might be received that a terrorist as yet unidentified was in the country and preparing to assassinate a public figure. It might be known that he had arranged to receive communications at a particular place, but that might be all that was known. It could be that the interception of those communications was the only means of establishing precisely who the terrorist was, and the only means of identifying his associates and ensuring that the attack was prevented.

In those circumstances, the direction of a warrant against the premises in question would be the only means to achieve those ends. A warrant should certainly not be directed gratuitously against, for example, the person who happened to be the landlord of the premises. Therefore, the effect of the amendment is to remove a vital capacity from those whose task it is to respond to such threats. The capacity to direct a warrant in that way is not new, but has been used by successive Governments in appropriate circumstances. It does not in any way represent a loosening of controls in the Bill. The Secretary of State must still consider that the interception is necessary on one of the specified statutory criteria. All the other conditions governing the warrant and all the safeguards apply with equal force.

Amendment No. 24 would remove clause 3(1)(b). One purpose of the warrant is to give protection to those who execute it and who, but for it, would commit the offence of interception. In the Government's view, there must be absolutely no doubt about that protection. Nobody can be asked to do something that could in any circumstances place him in jeopardy of committing the serious criminal offence that is established in clause 1.

Amendments Nos. 41, 43 and 77 are all consequential amendments; I do not think that I need trouble the Committee with them. They deal with the provisions of clause 5, as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) said, and the modification of warrants by the insertion or deletion of any address. However, we will be able to debate the power of modification later. At this stage we are dealing only with the issue whether there should be individuals or persons and whether there should be addresses. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I am discourteous if I treat the amendments as consequential.

In those circumstances, I cannot recommend any of the amendments to the Committee.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 8:45 pm, 2nd April 1985

I beg to move amendment No. 26 in page 3, line 1, leave out subsections (2) to (5).

Photo of Mr John Forrester Mr John Forrester , Stoke-on-Trent North

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 71, in clause 7, page 6, line 7, leave out from 'material' to end of line 8.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

In a way, this is an exploratory amendment. We are puzzled by the fact that in clause 3(1) there is a fairly clear definition of the circumstances in which the interception will gain a warrant, but when we come to subsections (2) and (3), there seems to be a much more open, catch-all provision. Amendment No. 26 seeks to limit that power.

I am puzzled as to why subsections (2) to (5) are in the Bill unless they are directed entirely at terrorism. I have looked at the notes on clauses helpfully provided by the Government. I notice that a clause 3(2) warrant cannot be used for the purpose of intercepting communications to or from a particular address in the British Islands, except where 3(3)(a) applies. Clause 3(3)(a) relates to terrorism. I can envisage situations in which it may be necessary to intercept communications outside the United Kingdom or indeed to an address in the United Kingdom if, for example, there was an attempt to purchase arms to be used for a paramilitary activity within the United Kingdom. I can understand that. However, I am not sure why the provision has been drafted so widely. Clause 3(2)(a) (ii) contains the phrase such other communications (if any) as it is necessary to intercept". I am troubled by that wording. What are we talking about when we say "other communications (if any)"? That seems to be a wide interpretation, which I do not quite understand. At this stage, I am asking the Government to explain why, having defined things fairly tightly in clause 3(1), they go on to open the whole thing up.

If I am right in assuming that the concept of terrorism and espionage is very much in the Government's mind, I should like to ask them to bear in mind that clause 3(3)(a) would relate only to detection of acts of terrorism. To the best of my knowledge an act of terrorism is still defined only in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. As we all know, that Act is supposed to be temporary. I wonder whether it would be assumed that the provision would come out of the Bill, when it became an Act, when the Prevention of Terrorism Act lapsed. Would that also imply that the whole of subsections (2) and (3) would come out? That is why I am having difficulty in understanding what the Government are trying to achieve. Perhaps they have a wider purpose in mind, such as espionage. However, I suspect that the main concept in the Government's mind is terrorism. I can understand that, but we should like the Government's purpose spelled out. I understand the notes on clauses provided by the Minister, but they do not fully explain why the Government have chosen to include subsections (2) and (3), which open up the area that has been fairly tightly defined in clause 3(1).

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

I make no complaint about the grouping of amendment No. 71 with amendment No. 26, but there is a different point to be made.

Amendment No. 71 relates specifically to the material intercepted. There seems to be a non sequitur in this respect. Clause 7 (5) (b) refers to the destruction of copies of the intercepted material or, as the case may be, so much of it as is certified by the relevant certificate". It seems strange that there is power to direct the destruction only of the material certified in the certificate and not of material not so specified. In other words, material relating to crime, subversion or whatever, must be destroyed, but innocuous material can apparently be kept for ever. Amendment No. 71 seeks to ensure that whatever else is destroyed the innocuous material is destroyed as well. I am sure that the position that I have described was not intended, but I see no other possible interpretation of the Bill as drafted.

Amendment No. 26 causes me some concern. Earlier I declared an interest as a sponsored Member for the National Communications Union. As an elected representative speaking in the Mother of Parliaments — in the bosom of representative Western democracy — it gives me no pleasure to consider the consequences of that provision. One can imagine a totalitarian regime intercepting all overseas communications as a matter of course.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

I have news for my hon. Friend. The Americans not only do it but process the material so intercepted. The idea of that happening here gives me no pleasure. Such fishing expeditions are despicable. One might expect such practices to emanate from the Kremlin or from the worst type of South American dictatorship but they have no place in a free Western democracy.

I challenge the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box and explain why, as a matter of course, the Government wish to do this.

Nor do I absolve previous Governments, as the agreement with the Americans was made years ago. American National Security Agency computers actually analyse most of the raw material obtained from these fishing expeditions. I challenge the Home Secretary to tell us how the democracy of which we are so proud can exist when all citizens, innocent or otherwise, can be spied upon in this way if they dare to make an international telephone call to or from this country. The Home Secretary has a serious point to answer.

I do not wish to do anything that will interfere with our ability to detect international terrorism, but there is a matter of principle involved. Democratic Governments do not spy on their citizens as a matter of course. Authoritarian Governments do. It is up to the Home Secretary to tell us today whether he intends to stop the systematic interception of international communications once and for all and to show that this is a free democracy, where interception is directed only against individuals or premises when there is reasonable cause to believe that this is necessary. Will he do that, or will he try to dodge the issue and thus deny the freedom and democracy that we expect from British Governments of whatever political colour? I do not condone what has happened in the past. I accept that previous Labour and Conservative Governments have indulged in the same practice, but I find it entirely distasteful and it is time that it was stopped.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I tabled an amendment in exactly the same terms as amendment No. 26, as I was unaware at the time that that amendment had been tabled, for reasons very similar to those adduced by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).

Photo of Mr John Forrester Mr John Forrester , Stoke-on-Trent North

It is not quite the same. The hon. Gentleman's amendment did not go quite so far.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Its purpose was broadly similar — to elucidate the intentions behind subsections (2) to (5) of clause 3. This is an extremely opaque series of subsections. I am not sure whether that is deliberate. At any rate, this debate gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to explain the purpose of what on the face of it seems to be an all-embracing power which largely nullifies the restrictions in subsection (1).

It seems clear that the certificate procedure is not intended to be used in all circumstances. If it were, there would be no need for subsection (1). At this stage, I merely wish to show my interest in the Minister's explanation so that he will not be taken by surprise if I find it necessary to intervene again, should his comments not be sufficiently clear. I am sure, however, that he will provide a clear explanation.

9 pm

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

I will do my best to respond to that challenge to clarity. The amendment was tabled in order to seek elucidation of the purpose of subsections (2) to (5) of clause 3. It is true that the subsections derive historically from provisions that have been on the statute book and used for some time. However, as in the case of a number of other provisions in the Bill, the provisions narrow down and provide safeguards against the abuse of a power that is, I concede, wide when compared with anything that has previously existed. The provisions introduced important new safeguards into the interception of external communications. They represent a significant improvement.

Special arrangements have existed for many years governing the interception of international telecommunications. Section 4 of the Official Secrets Act 1920 provides for the Secretary of State power to require production of overseas telegrams sent to or from the United Kingdom if it appears to him that such a course is expedient in the public interest". We believe that that power is cast in an unnecessarily wide form for today's conditions. It is fair to say, if one considers the history of the matter, that the Radcliffe report stated in 1967 that the powers under the 1920 Act had been regularly exercised since they came into force. I know that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) will understand that I can neither confirm nor deny the manner in which the powers have been exercised over the years. It is significant that, in the White Paper presented to Parliament in June 1967, the then Prime Minister, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, said in referring to the powers that the activities involved no element of prying into the private affairs of citizens. Such activities are in fact carefully controlled and confined. Lord Wilson refuted any notion that the Government might use the powers improperly.

In spite of that, the Government think that the language of section 4 of the 1920 Act is too wide, and that is why we have limited it in this legislation.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

It may help the right hon. and learned Gentleman if I state categorically that the powers granted under the 1920 Act and other legislation have meant that as a matter of course all international telegrams, telexes and telephonic communications have been intercepted since that time. If the Home Secretary is telling us that the clause as drafted will curb that systematic interception, I for one will be heartily pleased.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

I do not propose to comment on the hon. Gentleman's statement in terms of fact, but I shall happily explain what the Bill does.

There are significant differences between the real safeguards surrounding interception in the present Bill and the wide powers granted under the 1920 Act. I will explain them. Through clause 11(5) of the Bill, section 4 of the 1920 Act is repealed. The Government believe that the interception of external communications should be subject to the same rigorous standards as other interception authorised under the terms of the Bill, and it is the purpose of clause 3(2) to (5) to achieve this aim.

Some provision is necessary. External threats to our society have greatly increased both in scope and in sophistication. It is widely and correctly understood that threats such as terrorism and espionage are organised at the international level. So is drug trafficking. Intercepting communications into and out of our country may offer the only means of identifying those involverd. The powers under the 1920 Act have helped to offer protection against such people and have produced secret intelligence necessary to defend our national security at the international level.

I believe that in a suitable form the powers are as necessary now as they have been in the past. The proposal therefore is a carefully formulated provision subject to all the safeguards in the Bill so that the interception of external telecommunications for limited purposes may continue in a fashion which is appropriate.

The effect of clause 3(2) is to secure the personal control of the Secretary of State over the interception of external telecommunications in a detailed fashion. This must he done differently from how it is done in the case of individual warrants. In addition to the warrants—this is the key to it — the Secretary of State must issue a certificate under his own hand which sets out the description of intercepted material which he considers necessary for one or more of the purposes set out in clause 2(2). In other words, whereas in the 1920 Act all that was necessary was that it had to appear to him to be expedient in the public interest — and not even necessary in the public interest — under this Bill the Secretary of State has to issue a certificate in addition to the warrant, certifying the descriptions of intercepted material, the examination of which he considers necessary. It is the warrant that permits the interception and the certificate that gives the descriptions of the intercepted material which he considers it necessary to examine. The criteria are those in clause 2(2).

Therefore, in all senses the test is much more stringent than that in the 1920 Act.

It is a further important safeguard provided by clause 3(3) that the Secretary of State may not specify an address in the British Islands in his certificate, although there is one exception. In other words, under the powers to intercept external communications, which are exercised by the warrant, there has to be, accompanying the warrant, a description of the intercepted material, the examination of which is necessary. But one limitation is that there cannot be a specific address, except in the circumstances of clause 3(3), which is, of course, the exception in the case of terrorism.

Terrorism poses very special dangers and the great sophistication and degree of organisation of those involved in it means that those responsible for preventing and detecting such outrages must be able to use reasonable means in order to do so. Therefore, there is a distinction. Clause 3(1) says that for domestic matters, the individual warrant under subsection (1) is the appropriate one. Clause 3(2) prescribes for the interception of external communications, buttressing the warrant that is not individually targeted, except where that may happen under the provisions of clause 3(3), with the certificate that the Secretary of State has to issue certifying the descriptions of material that has to be examined.

I hope, having explained the working of clause 3, that the aim of amendment No. 71 will be more apparent.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

Perhaps I could first finish my explanation, which is related to the point made by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam). I think that I can clear that up. Clause 7 deals with the powers of the tribunal. If one thinks of it first in relation to an ordinary domestic warrant issued, say, for crime purposes, one of the powers that the tribunal has is to direct the destruction of copies of the intercepted material. It should be remembered that the situation envisaged is that the tribunal finds that a warrant has been improperly issued or, in other words, that the interception has been lawful but that the Secretary of State should not have issued the warrant. It is in those circumstances that the tribunal can direct the destruction of copies of the intercepted material, which is to say the material that has been intercepted pursuant to a warrant.

When one is talking about the exercise of the power in relation to external communications, one has to consider a situation in which there is both a warrant and a certificate and the material that is actually examined, as opposed to intercepted, is only that of a character described in the certificate. That may be less than that covered by the warrant. That is why there is reference to "so much of it"—that is, the intercepted material— as is certified by the relevant certificate". It is only the material that is certified by the relevant certificate that has been lawfully intercepted. The warrant and the certificate go hand in hand.

The job of the tribunal is to make orders in relation to lawful interception, but interception which it finds to be improper in the sense of not having been reasonably ordered by the Secretary of State. If we refer to material that has been examined which is not covered by the certificate, that is not an area for the tribunal to consider. It will not be material that is covered by clause 3(2). It will have the warrant but not the certificate applied to it.

I hope that that explains the ambit and rationale of clause 3. If the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) thinks it is wrong that a power which has been exercised by successive Governments since 1920 should exist, I cannot pretend that the Bill will remove it. If, however, he favours a more restrictive use of the power, limited and confined in a way that it has not been limited and confined since 1920, and supervised both by the commissioner, in terms of the general exercise of the power, and by the tribunal in dealing with particular complaints against abuse of the power, I think that as a fair-minded person he will agree that the measure we have introduced provides a limitation which no Government since 1920 have thought it proper to provide.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The powers of exposition of the Home Secretary are considerable. He has thrown some light on the meaning of subsections (2) to (5), but I remain a little puzzled. Part of the difficulty I have in comprehending this clause flows from what I believe he described as the fact that the certificate and the warrant go hand in hand. The certificate must describe what is called intercepted material. I find this confusing. The power to intercept requires the issuance of a warrant and at the same time the issuance of a certificate. If so, I do not see how the material can be referred to in the past participle as "intercepted". It is possible that a drafting improvement can be made. If I have misunderstood the point, I shall be only too delighted to be corrected. If the Secretary of State issues a warrant accompanied by a certificate, is it also the case that he must know what material it is that he is requiring to be examined? Is it in some way a fishing expedition? Subsection (2)(b) refers to a certificate certifying the descriptions of intercepted material, the examination of which he considers necessary It appears from that wording that the material is already in some way in his possession. How can that be so if the warrant and the certificate have to be issued at the same time?

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

If I have understood the Home Secretary correctly, a great limitation has been placed upon the role of section 4 of the Official Secrets Act 1920. It was a catch-all section which enabled everything to be intercepted and used. There was no limitation or regulation. If I understood the Home Secretary correctly, he said that the warrant will still exist and that international calls will still be trawled but that a limitation will be placed upon the use of interception. If it is to be used, a certificate will have to be granted setting out the nature of terrorist and other criminal activities that need to be investigated. That will be the only area in this vast field of material that it will be possible to look at. If that is so, it is a significant retreat from the 1920 position, which I and many of my hon. Friends would welcome.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks) 9:15 pm, 2nd April 1985

Again, the Committee will understand why I can neither confirm nor deny anything that is said about what has or has not been done in the past. Let me put it this way. The concept that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) had in mind is broadly correct. One is talking in terms of a warrant which is limited in that it has to be covered by the criteria in clause 2(2) which may be a broad ambit. It is not unlimited. It must be a warrant that can properly be issued having regard to clause 2(2).

The question then is that not all that material — it is perhaps easiest to think of it in terms of telegrams — need to be examined. The material, the examination of which is considered necessary, must be certified. It may be that for the purposes of issuing a warrant one can only properly specify a larger group than the narrower group that it is considered, and ought to be considered, should be examined. I hope that that explains the situation. There is no doubt that that is a tighter control than the wide one of the 1920 Act, but I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that it removes the power to intercept external communications on a substantial scale as defined by the sub-paragraphs.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

This has been a useful if short debate. I noted the Home Secretary's comments earlier when he drew attention to the restriction on what had previously been in the 1920 Act relating to the word "expedient". I have never liked the word "expedient" in such Acts, so I welcome that.

We shall have to look carefully at the record of this debate. There are important implications in respect of the 1920 Act which we shall need to think through.

There are two areas which the Home Secretary did not clear up. He may wish to say a little more now or come back to the matter on Report when we have read his comments in Hansard. I am still not clear about clause 3(2)(a) (ii) and the comment: such other communications (if any)". The other point that I raised concerns the temporary nature of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. If the Home Secretary accepts that clause 3(2)(a) applies only to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, because that is how it is defined, there is something to be said for putting in that subsection, as defined by the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, which is the only definition that we have on the statute book. That would almost automatically imply that that part of the Bill would fall when the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act was finally repealed or lapsed.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Solely) for reminding me that I failed to deal with those two particular points. Subsection (2)(a)(ii) is simply the counterpart of the external communications warrant of subsection (1)(b).

If the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act were to be found to be no longer necessary and it were to be repealed, it would be perfectly possible to retain the definition of terrorism for the purposes of that Act as being that which applies in the case of this Act which would remain on the statute book. I do not think that there would be any great difficulty in doing that if it were necessary, but that does not arise at the moment. It would simply be a question of appropriate drafting if that is what was wanted.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

My understanding is that the only definition on the statute book is that contained in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. If that Act lapses, one would still have on the statute book the reference to the prevention of terrorism as provided in this Bill. The definition used would thus be much wider than that presently contained in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

If that anxiety proved to be real, it would be possible not just to allow the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act to lapse, but to enact repeal legislation which would retain the definition for the purpose of terrorism under this Bill if that is what some future Parliament wished to do. I do not say that that is what one would do. I say merely that it is a course that readily occurs to one as being possible.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

We will consider carefully the report of the debate, including the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who made a powerful speech, and will come back if necessary on Report.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.