(14) (a) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
(16) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(17) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(18) The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with
(19) (a) Sub-paragraph (b) applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(b) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
(20) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(21) (a) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at 7.00pm, 4.00pm or 2.00pm (as the case may be) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day.
(22) At the sitting of the House on Thursday 17th July, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until–
(a) any Message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at the sitting has reported; and
(b) the Speaker has reported the Royal Assent to any Act agreed upon by both Houses.
I will be brief, as I want to leave as much time as possible for the substantive debate on the matters before the House today. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members appreciate the urgency of the issues contained in the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in her oral statement last week, it is crucial that we act now to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the tools they need to keep us safe.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained the situation clearly in her statement last week. The judgment was made in April and we have sought clarity on it. Indeed, the pressure brought to bear by other legal challenges and the industry itself has made it necessary to clarify these essential measures and tools relating to the ability of our law enforcement and security services to assure us of our national security and to combat crime. I am sure we will get into those issues in the substantive debate, so I do not want to detain the House too much on them.
I support the principle of what the Government are trying to do, but, like many people, I would try to avoid pushing Bills through in one day. Why was this Bill delayed? Did the Liberals delay it?
My hon. Friend will know that proposed legislation is always given due consideration. No Government embark on fast-track legislation lightly. There is a pressing and urgent need to bring into force the Bill’s measures, to ensure that capabilities that are used day in, day out are maintained and that there is no risk to what are essential facilities for our policing and other enforcement agencies.
We have engaged on the purpose and nature of the Bill and there have been discussions across the House. Clearly, there will be an opportunity this afternoon to talk through the issues and consider the Bill. I hope there will be a consensus across the House about the importance of the issues and the need to ensure that we have the legislative framework—the back-up—so that our police and law enforcement agencies can continue to do the job they do today in the way that they have hitherto done it.
My hon. Friend needs to recognise—I am sure he does—the sensitivity and importance of communications data and how they are used for the prosecution of offences, and of interception and how we have reached a tipping point, which is why there is a need for urgent legal certainty and clarification in the light of the European Court judgment. We face two serious and urgent problems relating to both communications data and interception: first, the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice has called into question the legal basis on which we require communications service providers in the UK to retain communications data; and, secondly, the increasingly pressing need to clarify the application of our laws on interception, so that communications service providers that provide services to people in the UK are in no doubt that they are covered by the laws, irrespective of where they are based.
There is a risk in relation to co-operation on the use of the powers; indeed, there may be legal challenge. The House must face up to the prospect that the powers we use—they are constantly used by our law enforcement agencies—are at potential risk, and we are seeking to address that risk through the Bill this afternoon.
That is why the Government have decided that a fast-track process is appropriate. We have not done so lightly; we would not consider the Bill in this way unless we thought that there is a real risk to such capabilities. We believe that the issues have reached a dangerous tipping point, and that we must act now. If we do not enact the Bill before the summer recess, we face the real prospect of a serious degradation in the ability of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to investigate crime, preserve national security and protect the public. That is why the Bill requires a fast-track approach.
The motion provides for some nine hours of debate on the Bill. If the House approves the motion, we will move directly to the debate on Second Reading, which will take us to no later than 5 pm. The Committee of the whole House will follow until 9 pm, with the debate on Third Reading concluding no later than 10 pm. The motion also provides for programming of the later stages of the Bill in this House on consideration of Lords amendments.
I fully appreciate the restrictions that today’s timetable imposes. However, given the very specific issue that the House is being asked to consider, we are satisfied that the House—and, in due course, the House of Lords—will have sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill properly. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the Bill does no more than maintain the status quo, and that it contains a termination provision, meaning that it will lapse at the end of 2016. I welcome Opposition Front Benchers’ continued support for expediting the Bill.
I am sure that we will have plenty of opportunity to discuss the issues of timing and of why we judge it appropriate that the sunset or termination clause is until 2016. We will get to that debate, but simply seeking a limited period would pressurise the House into making substantive decisions without knowing the impact or import of the review that we have asked David Anderson, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, to inform. The House will have the time and space to consider the issues properly, given that the Bill is simply to maintain the position—the status quo ante—in respect of capabilities for the retention of communications data and interception powers.
I hope that the whole House understands the need for fast-tracking the Bill and will therefore support the motion.
It is a pleasure to speak at the start of what will be a long day’s debate on this important piece of legislation.
I understand why the Minister has tabled the programme motion, but I, like my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, share some of the concerns about the fact that this problem and challenge first came to light in April, as has been mentioned, when the European Court of Justice struck down the Data Retention (EU Directive) Regulations 2009. I know from my time serving in government that that may not necessarily have come as a surprise to the Government—they may have anticipated such a challenge before April—so since the challenge in April, they have had a considerable time both to prepare a Bill and to introduce one for us to consider in dealing with what I accept is an emergency. In my view, there are good reasons why the legislation must now be passed very quickly, but it is incumbent on the Minister at least to recognise that he could have prepared legislation for the eventuality of the regulations being struck down in the European Court of Justice, and that he could have brought in legislation post-April.
From the new clauses and amendments that we have tabled, the Minister will know that we have some concerns and require some changes. First, we must ensure that provision for a wider review of the Investigation of Regulatory Powers Act 2000 is added to the statute book, with a guarantee that the whole House can understand. Secondly, we must have a regular examination every six months of the operation of any legislation that this House and the other place pass this week. I want to get on to those matters before the day is out, because we will have an opportunity to deal with them today. I am disappointed with the time scales, but the programme motion effectively gives us one and a half days of legislative time to consider such matters. As the Minister said, it is important to get on to discuss those matters.
On the six-month period, I understand that Opposition Front Benchers have accepted the Government’s argument that the Bill will do no more than clarify the previous situation and will not extend the Government’s powers in any way. If we pass the legislation and subsequently have doubts about whether powers have been extended, will it be possible for the six-month review to look at the legislation, or are we stuck with it once we have it? What are Opposition Front Benchers trying to achieve?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which is important on two fronts. We have tabled new clause 2 to provide a six-month review, which would be some time in December this year or in January next year. It would look at how the Act passed by this House and the other place had operated up to that time, as well as at other factors that the Minister may have examined following the European Court of Justice’s consideration and the lapsing of the current legislation.
We will then be into a general election campaign, and my hon. Friend will know that in the event of our being elected to government, we will look at some of the wider issues as a matter of course. I hope that we can accept the Government’s understanding of the emergency and help them to cover that emergency, while also leaving scope for looking at how the Act operates in practice. If other new clauses are agreed to today, we would also then be able to consider the wider issues about which I know right hon. and hon. Members have concerns.
Bluntly, investigations into online child sex abuse, major investigations into terrorism and into organised crime, the prevention of young people from travelling to Syria and many issues relating to attempted terrorist activity have depended on and will continue to depend on the type of access that we need through the Bill.
Will the right hon. Gentleman provide some clarification? In the event of a Labour Government —it is very hard to predict what will happen—will he assure us that if the review recommends changes to provide more privacy and civil liberties safeguards, he will want to implement them?
We are currently discussing the programme motion and the allocation of time, and I am trying to indicate to the House—including the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, Ministers—that we will support the motion, even though we are disappointed that there was not an earlier and more thorough examination of the Bill.
We recognise that, in the interests of fighting terrorism, child abuse and serious organised crime, the Government are seeking powers to meet their current obligations in the light of the judgment in April. On this occasion, the Government will have our support, and we hope that there will be an opportunity later today to consider in detail some of the new clauses that we have tabled.
Order. There is no time limit on speeches but, before I call the next speaker, I urge colleagues to bear in mind the interest of other colleagues in speaking in this debate on the business of the House motion and to reflect on the merits of getting on, without undue delay, to the central issues, which may be fully aired on Second Reading until 5 o’clock.
I shall abide by your request, Mr Speaker, and make just two brief comments on the points that have been raised.
First, Members needs to take it into account that the House is presented with emergency legislation in two sets of circumstances. The first is when a Government seek to extend their powers in some area. In such circumstances, the House has every reason to be very sceptical and concerned that it is being done through the medium of emergency legislation. There would have to be really exceptional circumstances to justify new powers of a kind that had not been used before.
We are told today—the House must make a judgment about this—that this is a different kind of emergency legislation, which has been seen in the past. Following a legal judgment, something that was thought to be lawful has potentially ceased to be lawful. The legislation is therefore necessary in order to continue with the status quo. That is, of course, a very different matter.
The second point that I want to make, very briefly, is about the concern over why the legislation was not prepared two or three months ago. It is obvious that there are two reasons. First, there are regulations that were made under the European directive. There is now uncertainty over whether those regulations might be successfully challenged. We therefore need clarification right away. Secondly, it is desirable to have all-party support if possible, particularly because it is emergency legislation. That takes time in the real world, particularly given that the Opposition have, quite reasonably, asked for additional announcements to be made in this area that are not specific to the legislation, but are relevant to it. Those factors point to why this process is not as unreasonable as it might otherwise sound.
Order. Sir Malcolm Rifkind has just offered a tutorial in succinctness. I hope that he had a significant number of attentive students.
I consider this to be an outright abuse of parliamentary procedure. I will certainly vote against the motion, and I hope that a number of hon. Members will do so as well.
Even if one is in favour of what the Home Secretary intends to do, to do it in this manner—to pass all the stages in one day—surely makes a farce of our responsibilities as Members of Parliament. When one considers the issues that are involved, how can one justify saying that the Bill must pass every stage by 10 o’clock? Does that meet our duty and responsibility to our constituents?
We must bear it in mind that, as has been said, the European Court of Justice made the decision in April. It is now July. The theatre of last Thursday—the Cabinet meeting at 8 o’clock, the television conference and the statement by the Home Secretary—was all well staged.
There has been no pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committees—none at all. This is the sort of issue that the Home Affairs Committee and other Select Committees that consider human rights should look at in detail. None of that has been done.
Today, we should try to persuade the Government to provide more parliamentary time, whether by extending this sitting or postponing other business, so that we can go through the stages. One thing is absolutely certain: every Member of this House must consider very carefully, if they are in favour of the measure or not, whether it is right and justified to go through all the stages in one day. Is that not a mockery of parliamentary democracy?
To follow on from my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, I think that we are looking at a third category: a piece of legislation that is being renewed, but that has fallen into disrepute over the years in which it has been used. That is why this Bill is more important than a simple renewal.
There is an emergency—a legal emergency—but it started on
“without doubt the most privacy invasive instrument ever adopted by the EU”.
Data retention has been struck down in Germany and Romania, and there have been difficulties in other countries. The two requests to the European Court of Justice came not from bogus organisations, but from the Irish High Court and the Constitutional Court of Austria. Those were therefore serious revisions and it was entirely probable that we would find ourselves in the situation that we are in today.
Why has it taken three months? Why was the legislation not pre-prepared? Why was the deal with the Labour party not struck in advance? My understanding is that there was an argument inside the Government between the two halves of the coalition. That argument has gone on for three months. What the coalition could not decide in three months, this House has to decide in one day. That seems to me entirely improper.
No, I am going to be very fast and finish on this point.
Parliament has three roles: to scrutinise legislation, to prevent unintended consequences and to defend the freedom and liberty of our constituents. The motion undermines all three and we should oppose it.
In the brief time that we have, I think that I should put it on the record that MPs had only 47 minutes to submit unstarred amendments to the Bill yesterday. Most reasonable people will conclude that Parliament has been insulted by the cavalier way in which a secret deal has been used to ensure that elected representatives are curtailed in their ability to consider, scrutinise, debate and amend the Bill. It is democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed.
I would have thought that our fundamental duty was to protect the freedom of the individual. As it happens, I support the Bill. However, if I may say so politely to the Minister, he owes us a bit more of an explanation when he sums up.
It is fair enough if the Liberal party, with its traditions, has objected to many parts of the Bill. There should have been long arguments and objections. Why can we not just be told about them?
I will finish my point.
If it takes three months to agree to something in the coalition, the Government should come back to us honestly and say, “It has taken all this time. We have finally come to an agreement. Here it is.” What is the urgency? It seems extraordinary that, on a matter as fundamental as the freedom of the individual, we are rushing things so much.
I am very concerned about this rush to legislate because, as we all know, if one legislates in haste, one may well repent at leisure. We are told that there is some urgency. While accepting that at face value, I do not think that limiting our debating time in such a savage way is appropriate.
The Minister, with support from Sir Malcolm Rifkind, said that the Bill is a continuation of the status quo. It is not. Even on a cursory glance, I found two reasons why that is inaccurate. First, at present, public authorities and public bodies are able to gain access to data for a broad range of reasons. Section 37 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 requires judicial authorisation before local authorities can access communications data. That requirement is absent from the Bill.
Secondly, clause 5 extends the definition of a “telecommunications service”. The explanatory notes to the Bill state that the new definition covers companies that provide
“internet-based services, such as webmail”.
That means that internet service providers—even those based overseas and, hence, outside the UK’s jurisdiction—will be compelled to grant access to data. That is unprecedented. I have no doubt that there will be other examples when we have all had something like an adequate opportunity to look at the draft legislation.
In all honesty, I am appalled at the way in which Parliament is being ridden over roughshod. I repeat the point that I made earlier: the Minister could have come to the minority parties on Privy Council terms and included us in the discussions. It is all very well waving a hand and saying, “It is extremely urgent—security demands it,” but I do not accept that for one minute. I am in this place to scrutinise legislation, not just to listen and be rolled over by it.
Order. Notwithstanding what has been said about the truncated time that has been available for the tabling of amendments, I reiterate what I said yesterday afternoon in response to a point of order from Chris Bryant, which is that Members will be free to table manuscript amendments for some time to come. If Members wish to do so, I am happy that that should happen, in recognition of the constraints under which they are operating. I hope that that is clear.
I intend to speak only briefly. I think that there is an urgency to passing this legislation, and I have spoken to a number of organisations and companies involved, who confirm there is a problem. I do not think, however, that that case was made by the Minister or by the Home Secretary yesterday at the Home Affairs Committee, and I hope that when summing up the debate they will give us something more to go on so that people can be persuaded that there is an emergency, not just that that is said to be the case.
A couple of comments have suggested that there may have been disagreement in the coalition about how to deal with this issue, and for the record and the interest of the House, I confirm that there is a disagreement. The Home Secretary was clear in her statement that she would like to bring forward the draft Communications Data Bill, which we managed to kill off. There is clear disagreement on that, and I am sure we will continue to explore that matter.
I accept all the concerns about the shortage of time, and I for one would be happy to stay longer into the recess to discuss the Bill. It is worth recognising, however, that when the data retention regulations were brought through this place, a total of no minutes were allocated for debate in this Chamber, and a total of 62 minutes were allocated for debate in Committee. That is what happened when the regulations were originally brought in many years ago, and it is interesting to note who voted for them on that occasion, but now thinks that they are heinous.
I support the timetable motion and will briefly set out why. I have been in the position of having to bring forward emergency legislation. It is never easy, and I am ready to give the benefit of the doubt to the Home Secretary, because she would not have done this without good justification, and neither would my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary remotely have agreed to it without the closest scrutiny of what is being proposed.
I say to my hon. Friend Mr Watson, with the usual respect, that I have often thought that there is an inverse relationship between the extravagance of language used, and the strength—or otherwise—of the argument he has made. He was very pretty in his soundbites, but no case has been made as to why this legislation should not be dealt with today; nor have there been arguments in the briefings that suggest substantively for a second why and how the legislation goes beyond what everybody assumed to be the state of the law before the European Court of Justice judgment.
The ECJ judgment took place on
I was the Minister who brought forward the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which was supported across the House. Why? I did so because it strengthened parliamentary and legal scrutiny over the extensive surveillance powers of the state, not the reverse. Secondly, without this emergency legislation, those of us who are concerned to deal with sexual predators and other serious criminals and terrorists—as I know my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East is, along with many others—will see a degradation in the ability of the police and other security agencies to deal with those threats. That is what is at issue. I do not like emergency legislation any more than anybody else, but I prefer it to allowing serious criminals and terrorists to go undetected.
I want to ask a question. It seemed to me that Mr Hanson made a perfectly responsible and reasonable speech, and I want to ask the Minister when he sums up the debate whether the Government are minded to make concessions. The Opposition have set out a number of concessions that they would like the Government to consider. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government are minded, during the course of the day, to be prepared to make concessions? If so, perhaps we could move on to Second Reading when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will set out in some detail what concessions we are willing to make to the Opposition, so that the House can debate the detail of the Bill and emerge with the best possible Bill conceivable in the time available.
I want to speak to the timetable motion rather than to the content of the Bill, because it is an insult to the intelligence of the House. The whole House will know that guillotine motions are always undesirable, although increasingly common in recent decades, but to ram through legislation of this significance in a day must be wrong. We have had a Session with a light legislative programme, and for Ministers to come to the House and say, “We’ve only got a day to debate it”, when weeks have passed when we could have given it ample time is, I repeat, an insult to the intelligence of MPs.
The other point that I am afraid is not very pleasant about the way Ministers are handling this matter is them bringing the Bill forward a week before the Session ends. They know perfectly well that the Lords will be disinclined to keep sending it back if it means extending the Session when they will have made their own arrangements, and I believe—I hate to say this because they are all nice people—that those on the Opposition Front Bench have been rolled. All Ministers had to do was to raise in front of them the spectre of being an irresponsible Opposition, and that children will die if they do not vote for the Bill on this timetable, and they succumbed.
As for the Lib Dems—I do not want to sound naive, but their brand has always been that they are the defenders of the nation’s liberties, yet they are colluding with the Government on this guillotine motion. Whatever we think of the content of the Bill, the timetable motion has no justification after an exceptionally light Session and must bring the legislation into disrepute with the wider public, so I will be voting against it this afternoon.
The subject of the Bill is of profound importance to members of the public who care about such matters, and no wonder because it is the paradigmatic example of the conflict between the rights of the individual and the power of the state as enabled by technology. The Bill can be understood only in the context of the very worst crimes that our country and society face, but it is not hysterical for those who flatly oppose these kinds of measures to do so. The very worst crimes in all human history were perpetrated by states against their citizens, and we must be extremely careful about how we allow technology to infringe on our rights. If anybody wishes to see just how important that is, I recommend that they look at the transcript of the trial of Albert Speer at Nuremberg, which I put online with Big Brother Watch some time ago.
In any event, if somebody supports this Bill as an emergency measure, the key problem is that the timetabling will undermine the public’s confidence. Many people across the country think that the state is advancing too far and too fast in putting everybody under surveillance, and banging through this measure so quickly will undermine their confidence further. The Government will have more work to do to win them back, and I very much wish that they had given us far more time to discuss this measure.
You rightly counsel us to be brief, Mr Speaker, and I will be of course, but it is important to challenge the timetable motion, particularly because with this Bill—perhaps above all others—process and content are absolutely connected. There is no justification for rushing through legislation without proper scrutiny and due process. Mr Straw said that he thought there was no reason not to rush it through, but my answer would be that the reason is precisely that of parliamentary sovereignty and the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. That is what we are here to do. The European Court of Justice made its judgment about data retention in the Digital Rights Ireland case three months ago. Since then, no action has been taken to address the implications of that judgment until suddenly a few days before the parliamentary recess—apart, it would seem, from some secret talks that have been basically cooked up between the three big parties to bypass due process when it comes to the fundamental rights of UK citizens.
A number of organisations wrote to the Home Secretary at the time of the ECJ judgment to express the view that the regulations no longer stood, but this elicited a response that they were still legally in force and that service providers had been advised that they should continue to observe the notice obligation set out in the data retention regulations. In other words, the Home Secretary knew this point was coming, yet appears to have turned a blind eye. That she is now seeking to fast-track such controversial legislation is deeply concerning.
I am also worried that the Bill is an attempt to circumvent other legal proceedings, namely a judicial review, happening in this very week, that challenges the legality of the Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 and could see the regulations declared unlawful by a UK court as well as by the ECJ. Any new regulations could also be subject to judicial review if they do not comply with the Digital Rights Ireland judgment.
As other hon. Members have said, it is outrageous that we have been granted one day in which to debate and scrutinise a Bill of such significance. It is even more outrageous that this is being blamed on a totally manufactured emergency and represented as doing nothing other than maintaining the status quo. That is not accurate. This is a huge power grab under false pretences. Notwithstanding the fact that the status quo has been ruled a breach of fundamental rights, the provisions in the Bill, specifically clause 4, extend the territorial reach of the laws relating to data retention. It brings overseas communication companies providing services within the UK into the scope of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The implications of this are well understood by my constituents in Brighton, who have been lobbying me since last week. As one said, we have democratic process for a reason: to prevent such Bills becoming law on the basis of a nod and a wink.
Finally, let us also not forget the ECJ judgment that the blanket retention of data is unlawful. Rushing through a Bill in one day is bad enough. To do so while inaccurately claiming that the proposals do nothing more than maintain the status quo is worse, but to do so when the contents of the Bill that do relate to the status quo have been unequivocally judged in breach of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights is nothing short of outrageous.
I recognise the seriousness of the activities covered by the Bill and I understand why the Home Secretary considers it intolerable for us to not address this matter when the House returns from the summer recess in September. However, in considering the timetable motion, we have to consider the other options available to the Government. I hope the Minister will be able to address why he has ruled those options out.
Perhaps the most straightforward way to do that is to consider what would have happened if the Cabinet had not reached agreement on this matter at its emergency meeting on Thursday last week. In that scenario, would the Home Secretary be fuming at not being able to pass the Bill until autumn, or would she have found other means to take the action she considers necessary? Would we be looking at the business of the House for next Monday?
Colleagues will be well aware that we have the traditional end of term debate next Tuesday. I am sure Members covet their speeches in that debate, but they might recognise that for matters of national security and proposed legislation that the Government consider to be an emergency, it might be appropriate to move Tuesday’s business so that we could have more time to debate the Bill. Indeed, colleagues might even consider the necessity of the House rising on Tuesday, when we need to consider the Bill.
If there was no agreement in the Cabinet last Thursday, I am absolutely certain that the Home Secretary would not have waited until September to pursue the Bill. I am sure that other decisions would have been taken to enable us to consider it next week. If it were the will of the House to have the time to scrutinise the Bill properly, then such changes could still be made. That is why the timetable motion is unnecessarily restrictive, not just in the amount of time that Members have to debate these matters, but in terms of the timetable of the various windows of opportunity for proposing alternatives to the Bill.
I hope that in responding to the debate the Minister will tell us why it is not acceptable to give Members next week to consider House of Lords amendments. Forcing them to be considered on Thursday, when they will have been made only on Wednesday, creates an even tighter window for this House. I am not advocating that we should wait until the autumn, but I believe that Ministers should think again about curtailing debate and forcing it to take place on today only, with consideration of Lords amendments on Thursday.
I acknowledge your entreaties to be very brief, Mr Speaker. We would not normally be discussing timetable motions at any length at all, but this goes to the very lifeblood of what Parliament is about.
The Bill has been introduced in a big hurry. There has been no public consultation, no parliamentary scrutiny and very little public debate. It is a major piece of legislation that has global implications for what this country does. It relates to the surveillance of everybody’s telephones, internet and everything else. It is a massive intrusion into people’s lives. The Government are doing a great disservice to Parliament in insisting that we debate the whole of Second Reading by 5 pm, amendments by 9 pm and Third Reading by 10 pm, for the Bill to go to the Lords and come back here again on Thursday all done, and then have a sunset clause that goes on for two years.
This is not an appropriate way for Parliament to be treated and every MP should think very carefully. Why we are here? We have been elected to hold the Executive to account and to scrutinise legislation. This timetable motion is a travesty of what scrutiny of legislation should be about. I, for one, will oppose the timetable motion, so that we have a proper opportunity to scrutinise and debate the Bill.
I want to speak very briefly in support of the comments made by Mr Straw. I do not believe that this House has been walked over in a roughshod manner in some sort of North Korean despotic way, as some Members have implied. Honestly, I think that is foolish. I agree with my colleague from Wales, Mr Llwyd, that there could have been wider consultation on Privy Council terms with some of the smaller parties. There would still have been the same complaints raging from this place, but it should have taken place.
I saw none of the crocodile tears, righteous anger and indignation we have witnessed today when, year after year and decade after decade, four or five Members in this House debated emergency provisions relating to Northern Ireland. Hardly anyone turned up or gave a toss about what was happening, yet those provisions ran roughshod over Northern Ireland. The crocodile tears we have seen today are just that—crocodile tears. I hope we can move on to the substantive motion as quickly as possible.
I do not doubt for an instant the seriousness of the Government’s concerns about their present legislative situation. I also wholeheartedly want to ensure that the police and the prosecuting authorities have the powers they need, so long as they are proportionate, to be able to secure convictions in some cases, such as those mentioned by Ministers. However, I just say very gently to this House that the reason that we developed over centuries a process whereby every piece of legislation has to go through three readings in this House, a Committee stage and a Report stage, with gaps between each of those stages, was that people in the country had a concern about the overbearing power of the Executive over the individual citizen. The Bill is expressly about that relationship—that is all it is about—and that is why we should be very cautious about suspending and concertinaing the process.
The Home Secretary said last week that it was essential to have a fast track. Well, yes, but there are many different ways of having fast tracks. Everything does not need to be done in one day; it could be done over two days, so there could be a proper process of listening to the debate on Second Reading and then tabling amendments, rather than having to table amendments before the debate has taken place. The only reason this is in any sense an emergency is that the Government spent far too long making up their mind on what to do.
When the House of Lords considered in the previous Parliament the process of fast-track legislation, they put forward some serious and sensible suggestions. First, where there is to be fast-track legislation, the Government should, on a standard basis, publish the legal advice that they believe backs up their case. That has not happened in this case. Secondly, there should always be a sunset clause. I accept that there is a sunset clause in the Bill. The sun will take a very long time to set, but none the less that is a matter for us to debate later on. Thirdly, they made it absolutely clear that wherever possible there should be a process of pre-legislative scrutiny. I do not believe that publication of the Bill last
Friday in draft form and the Secretary of State appearing at the Home Affairs Committee yesterday was anywhere near adequate pre-legislative scrutiny of this because we are being asked to accept, on face value, the Government’s assurances that this is merely the status quo and that there is no change. We want to be able to test that, which is why I think we should always proceed very reluctantly when we concertina the standard processes that have been with us for centuries and which have stood us in good stead.
Like some other hon. Members, I will be opposing the motion. This House should not be microwaving legislation on to the statute book under the confected urgency about which we have been told. We seem to have had a muddle within Government, a huddle between Government and Opposition and now an attempt to hurry and befuddle Parliament under the guise of various arguments and scares.
The Government may have arguments in favour of legislating in response to the judgment. We still have not heard a proper explanation for why that has not happened before now. The assurances offered by Ministers today that this Bill is simply a carry-on data retention measure—that it is pure continuity with no extension—are not assurances that I can accept. The nature of the Bill’s provisions seems to extend the legislation in a number of areas. Ministers will say that that is simply to clarify but, in effect, it extends the effect and the strength of the existing legislation in ways that go beyond the assurances of Ministers.
Legislation that is the subject of soft consensus without due consideration usually turns out to be poor legislation and, as legislators, we find it hard to take ownership of such legislation in the face of public concern and criticism. Credible legislators in this House should send a clear message to the Government, and offer some assurance to their electorate, that we will not as a legislature be treated in this way. We can do that very simply by voting against the motion.
What we have been asked to do today—to railroad the Bill through Parliament—is, given the sheer importance of what we have been asked to consider, nothing short of outrageous. Let us not forget that we are bringing forward emergency legislation because the European Court of Justice ruled that what the UK Government were doing was unlawful. That alone should at least take two days of debate. The Home Secretary says that this is just business as usual. It is not. There are significant and substantial new powers being added to the Bill, whether that is international ISPs being brought into the frame or whether it is, as we have heard, the inclusion of other webmail services such as Gmail. This should all be properly considered by this House.
What do the public make of this? If we are not getting an opportunity to debate this properly, the public are not getting that opportunity. They expect us to be here to debate these things properly. I do not know about any other right hon. and hon. Member but I have been besieged by members of the public this morning, asking me to come to the debate to make the points that they feel are very contentious and which should be raised. We have something like three hours to debate a Second Reading, four hours in total to debate the necessary amendments and one hour for Third Reading. It is an absolute and utter disgrace that we have been asked to do this today.
What about the stitch-up we have between all the main parties? It is not just a question of the minority parties not being consulted on this; our devolved Administrations have not even been given the courtesy of one conversation about this. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for policing, justice and even parts of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Not one conversation about the Bill has taken place with Scottish Ministers. They have had no opportunity to look and consider the Bill. It is an absolute and utter disgrace. I hope that we never, ever do this again on something that is so important, significant and substantial to the people who elect us to the House.
May I say to Pete Wishart that the Government have had discussions with the Scottish Government in respect of these provisions? What this comes down to is the assurance of security for our citizens in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government would not be legislating on a fast-track or emergency basis if we did not think that it was necessary. That underpins the approach that we have taken on the motion.
This is about maintaining the status quo. I hope that we will be able to get into that debate and hear the Home Secretary and others, and then get into the line-by-line analysis to show that that is the issue at stake. It is about ensuring that the police and our other agencies are able to do the job that they do day in, day out; using communications data and the interception powers that they have had to ensure that the public are protected.
Yes, this is about responding to a Court judgment and about responding to the uncertainty that that judgement has created, but I say clearly that that judgment did not say that the actions of the Government or of our agencies were unlawful. It was focused on the directive itself, whereas our existing law takes into account a vast array of other issues on human rights matters. We assert, and continue to assert, that the data retention regulations remain in full force and effect. However, the uncertainty and the risk that the judgment has occasioned mean that the Bill is required. Yes, as Mr Straw highlighted, it was a complex judgment. That is why I think it was right for the Government to consider these issues carefully before coming back to the House and to assess the representations made by industry on the uncertainty that the judgment has occasioned.
It is known that the House is able to bring forward fast-track legislation in circumstances where we have had adverse judgments. It is also why, in doing so, there are termination provisions, which the Bill sets out. There is a legal risk here. We believe that it is the responsibility of the Government to protect the public and to guard national security. That is why we are bringing the Bill before the House this afternoon and why we believe the fast track process is needed.