I beg to move amendment 3, page 6, line 41, at end insert
“and is subject to a reporting requirement as set out in subsection (1A).
(1A) The Commissioner for the Interception of Communications must report on the operation of this Act six months following commencement of this Act, followed by subsequent reports every six months.”
With this it will be convenient to take the following:
Amendment 4, page 7, line 1, leave out “5” and insert
“(Half-yearly reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner)”.
Amendment 5, page 7, line 2, leave out “5” and insert
“(Half-yearly reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner)”.
Government amendment 7.
Amendment 2, page 7, line 2, leave out “2016” and insert “2014”.
Clause 6 stand part.
Government new clause 7—Review of investigatory powers and their regulation.
New clause 1—Review of the powers, regulation, proportionality and oversight for communications and interception—
(2) The Secretary of State must arrange—
(a) for the operation and future of the powers, regulation, proportionality and oversight for data retention, access and interception to be reviewed, and
(b) for a report on the outcome of the review to be produced and published.
(3) Subsection (1) does not prevent the review from also dealing with other matters relating to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Intelligence Services Act 1994, oversight of the intelligence agencies and data privacy.
(4) The arrangements made by the Secretary of State must provide for the review to begin as soon as practicable, be carried out by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and include public consultation.
New clause 2—Oversight by the Interception of Communications Commissioner—
(1) The Interception of Communications Commissioner must report on the operation of sections 1 to 5 of this Act within six months of this Act coming into force and on six-monthly intervals thereafter.”
New clause 6—Half-yearly reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner—
(1) Section 58 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner) is amended as follows.
(2 In subsection (4) (annual reports) after “calendar year” insert “and after the end of the period of six months beginning with the end of each calendar year”.
(3) In subsection (6) (duty to lay annual reports before Parliament) after “annual report” insert “, and every half-yearly report,”.
(4) In subsection (6A) (duty to send annual reports to the First Minister) after “annual report” insert “, and every half-yearly report,”.
(5) In subsection (7) (power to exclude matter from annual reports) after “annual report” insert “, or half-yearly report,”.”
Amendment 6, in Title, line 7, after “Act;” insert
“to make provision about additional reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner;”.
Government amendment 8.
This goes to the heart of the key amendments that the Opposition seek to impress on the Government to improve the Bill. The Minister will know that we have supported the Bill to date at Second Reading and in the discussions we have had so far, but we have had, and continue to have, some concerns over the need for two aspects in particular. The first is to ensure that there is in place a mechanism for a review of the role of the Act that may or may not be passed ultimately by this House and by the other place shortly. That review lies with the interception commissioner for communications, who could look at the Act and see whether the intention of the House was being met and whether there were developments or amendments that needed to be brought to the attention of the Government.
“The Commissioner for the Interception of Communications must report on the operation of this Act six months following commencement of this Act, followed by subsequent reports every six months.”
That was intended to ensure an element of review to meet some of the genuine concerns raised by hon. Members of all parties. You will also see, Mr Hood, that we tabled new clause 2, which is a variation on the same theme. We did so to ensure parliamentary debate, given that we were not sure at that stage what amending provisions would be selected. The new clause effectively provides for the same activity.
We have helpfully tabled new clause 6, too, which provides for half-yearly reports by the interception of communications commissioner. It is linked to amendment 6 and to amendments 4 and 5, but all have the same purpose in life: they are all designed to ensure that the communications regulator is able to review the Act and has a statutory responsibility to do so, not just in six months’ time, following Royal Assent—given the Government’s timetable, that could be as early as Thursday this week—but formally. That would enable the commissioner to examine some of the concerns raised across the House, including by my hon. Friend Mr Watson.
There is a menu of options for the Government to look at and for the Minister to comment on. I would be happy if he supported any of those amendments; I have tabled three options for him to examine in detail and to establish whether any of them meet his particular obligations. He has an opportunity to give a commitment to establishing that one or all of them would be appropriate.
The second aspect relates to new clause 1, which I tabled this morning with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. Friends. It would establish a “review of the powers, regulation, proportionality and oversight” and other issues that have been of concern to Members of all parties. Members were troubled about a number of longer-term issues, which need to be resolved before any action by a future Government on the storing of data and proportionality. We wanted to ensure that arrangements would be in place as soon as practicable for a review to be carried out by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson. It should include public consultation, and we need to ensure that the full terms of reference are published in consultation with not just Mr Anderson but the relevant Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament. That means the involvement of, for example, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz and the Home Affairs Committee and, indeed, that of Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the Intelligence and Security Committee, which could contribute to the discussion.
Since we tabled that new clause this morning, the Government have helpfully examined it and tabled their own new clause 7, which covers many of the long-term issues that I feel are necessary for us to consider. Crucially, it covers areas that my right hon. Friends and I are concerned about, particularly the point that the independent reviewer of terrorism must review the operation and regulation of investigatory powers and take current and future threats into account. We accept that there are current threats and there will be future threats. We need to examine our ability to deal with those threats, and, crucially, to think about how we can safeguard our privacy, given the challenges of new technologies.
I have been in the House for—dare I say it?—22 and a bit years, and when I was first here, we did not even have mobile phones. Now, time and pressure are moving on. I arrived late at Twitter, which I took up after the 2010 election, and I arrived at Facebook even later. There may be other technologies out there which I am not yet aware of.
My daughters tell me that I should get involved in Instagram, but it is a foreign country to me at the moment.
The point that I am making—perhaps in a jocular way—is that new clause 7 refers to “changing technologies”, which include technologies that we would not have envisaged even a few years ago, and others that may be coming down the line over the next few years. Those are the technologies that the independent reviewer should be considering.
I am warming to new clause 7. It also refers to “proportionality” in relation to
“the effectiveness of existing legislation”, and requires the independent reviewer to make a case
“for new or amending legislation.”
Helpfully, the new clause requires the independent reviewer to report to the House by
Let me say, in summary, that there are two issues that I want the Committee to examine. First, may we have a regular review of this Act? There are many options, and I hope that the Minister will respond positively to one of them shortly. If we can agree on that, we shall have taken a major step towards meeting some of the concerns that have been expressed by people outside the House who have contacted us today.
The second issue relates to the longer-term review. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled new clause 1, and the Home Secretary has tabled new clause 7. My warm feeling towards new clause 7 suggests that the Minister could persuade me to support it. All that remains is amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East, which would shorten the life of the Act by changing the welcome sunset clause date of 2016 to 2014. I do not want to say too much at this stage, because my hon. Friend has not yet spoken, but I will make one point that I think deserves consideration and a response from him.
We are engaging in what is admittedly a very speedy procedure, involving a day and a half of debate, and the House of Lords will do the same when it debates the Bill over the next two days. My hon. Friend is proposing that the sunset date should be, effectively, December this year. That means that we would go through this procedure again in December, and in January and February next year, after only a short period during which the new arrangements will have been in place.
I suggest to my hon. Friend that the amendment that we have tabled, in three forms, proposing a formal review by the independent reviewer in December and every six months thereafter, would meet the concerns about the legislation and any flaws and faults that we see in it. I accept that my hon. Friend may not take the same view, but I am making him that offer. I think that there is a mechanism that can enable a report to say, in six months’ time, “This has worked well”, or “This it has worked badly”, and to suggest tweaks that can be made.
The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 was also subject to a six-monthly review, but it went on for 10 years having six-monthly reviews before eventually being replaced by the Terrorism Act 2000, so that did not actually end the Act at all.
My hon. Friend has done long service in this House and will have been through many debates on that topic, but I say to him again that there is currently a sunset clause in the Bill until 2016. The two amendments and new clauses that I have tabled give a review in December 2014 and a six-monthly review after that on this legislation. If the Government are minded to move new clause 7—they must be as they have tabled it—we will have a wide review of the legislation to report by
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East that the effective impact of his amendment 2 would be to bring the sunset clause forward to December of this year, but that would not give sufficient opportunity for us to consider the impact of this legislation or the implications of the very difficult issues the Government face. Although he may not heed me, despite the fact that we went to the same university and have known each other for a long time, I urge him—[Interruption.] I am just trying my best on this. I urge him at least to consider whether the two measures we have brought forward would meet his objections. At least he can say I have tried, if nothing else!
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and to take part in this debate and speak to amendment 2, which has been tabled by about 25 MPs across the House, representing seven different parties.
We have been told that there is a legal emergency and this Bill needs to be passed through both Houses of Parliament in three days. This huge Government steamroller has revved up the engine and driven into town with my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson in the back seat and Liberal Democrat Members in the passenger seat, and we have been told we have very little choice. It has been hard to have time to consider this Bill, to pass amendments and to have proper debate and scrutiny, yet a curious thing will happen when this Bill is finally steamrollered through on Thursday or Friday, which is that the Government will take out the keys of the steamroller and say, “Relax, this legal emergency will only last for two and a half years.” That seems peculiar to me.
A little earlier the shadow Minister, who went to the same university as me, but many years before—I will not share the rumours about him that were passed down for many years—said he was new to social media and that his metadata footprint was smaller than those of many other citizens in this country, but many people are deeply concerned about their data being held in this way and they are following this debate. What they might not know is that if we do not complete this debate by 9 pm, even on the timetable we have, the amendments we are discussing now will fall, so I cannot speak for too long without jeopardising an amendment that has been supported by MPs representing seven different parties and a significant minority in this House.
What our amendment does is say to the Government: “Okay, we’ve not seen what you’ve seen; we will compromise with you. We will let you say you have a legal emergency and give you these powers for the summer.” That would allow the time for proper debate and scrutiny in the normal way that this House debates legislation. Earlier my good and hon. Friend Chris Bryant made a powerful case for why we have the systems we do in this House—proper Bill Committees that can scrutinise, pre-legislative scrutiny, Select Committee scrutiny, Second Reading followed by a period in which people can reflect on the debate, a decent time for people to table amendments, Third Reading, and the like. A six-month sunset clause would allow for that.
A six-month sunset clause might also allow for a little bit of research to be done over the summer and for civic society to engage in a public debate. The shadow Home Secretary declared that this was the start of a debate in the country about the lines that could be drawn between privacy and liberty, and security. For me, six months is a long time for us to do that.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. What our constituents really want is proper scrutiny of legislation in this place. Having scrutinised the Bill properly, we may find ourselves in disagreement with our constituents, but at least we would have the opportunity to exercise our judgment and to reflect on that exercising of judgment.
I completely agree. It has been mentioned that there have been few MPs in the Chamber for some of the debate—Dr Huppert, who has been in his place all day, reflected on that. The honest truth is this: are we really surprised at that, when Back-Bench MPs have been treated in this way by the Executive, when MPs did not even know that this Bill would be published until last Thursday and when they had 47 minutes to table amendments when the business motion was passed last night? Thankfully the Speaker has said that he would accept manuscript amendments today, under these unusual circumstances. If it is baffling for Back Benchers, how on earth can our constituents have any comprehension or faith in today’s process?
What our amendment would do is simple. It does not ask for a report—I know that the shadow Minister has said we can have a report, but that is not the same as discussing clauses in Committee and allowing elected representatives to tease out the issues. He knows what this is: it is a fudge, and it is an unacceptable one. What I am saying is that we should give the Government the benefit of the doubt tonight with a six-month sunset clause, which would give us plenty of time to discuss a Bill in the proper way.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and to follow Mr Watson. I hugely admired his stance on the Digital Economy Act 2010, just before I became an MP, when I watched as he stood alone against his own Government, who were trying to ram a piece of legislation through the House in something like an hour or 90 minutes—he will, I am sure, remember the exact time. He had Liberal Democrat support, but we lost every vote on that occasion. I hugely admire him, and I saw his articles in The Guardian on that occasion and his frustration at not getting responses to letters from his own Front Bench, although that is perhaps an issue for him.
I have to tell the Committee that I am tempted by what the hon. Gentleman said about looking back in six months’ time. It sounds quite attractive—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Hood.
What the hon. Member for West Bromwich East set out is very tempting. I hear what he said and he made a strong case. However, although I have huge respect for why he is trying to achieve that, I am worried about what it would actually mean, because to get a new piece of legislation through in time it would, essentially, have to start now. I looked up the Identity Documents Act 2010—the first Act passed by this Government—which got rid of identity cards, something I am very proud of. It was obviously much easier to deal with, because it was getting rid of something, rather than creating something, so less scrutiny was necessary—we know what it is like not to have something. That was introduced in May and was not passed until December. It was very short—14 clauses, so only slightly longer than this one will be once we have added a couple of clauses. It took quite a long time to get it through the House, so if we were to get a replacement Act through in time, we would have to start now.
I agree that it could take six months, which is shorter than the normal time scale, but it still means that we would have to start very soon. I passionately want to see—I think the hon. Gentleman and I agree completely on most of the issues around this space—something better than what we have with RIPA and with lawful intercept. I am clear about that. I have outlined on other occasions where I would like to see substantial improvements, some of which we have secured now but the vast majority of which we have not. But I do not think that that work can be done in time. Even if we were to wait until after the summer, we would still have a very short period to get a Bill through on the normal timetable. That is my big concern. I do not think that we could have the review that the Royal United Services Institute is doing at the Deputy Prime Minister’s request. I do not think that we can have the review that we all want to see from David Anderson QC, who has done such a great job. We would not be able to have that done in time. What we would find—I know that this is not what the hon. Gentleman wants to see—is that it will be exactly the same Bill being taken through again at a slightly slower pace.
The hon. Gentleman is trying very hard on this. I am stuck with the very basic point of why, if he and other Members can vote through something in three days, we could not possibly wait six months at least to improve it substantially this side of a general election. Is that not what his constituents and mine would expect of us doing our day-to-day job in this House?
As I have said, I would be very happy to stay longer and have a less rushed Bill. We need to get this passed properly, with enough time to get the review going before the summer. I am happy to stay here next week; I have said that quite publicly and I have said it in this place. I take my hon. Friend’s point on that issue.
Let me make a little more progress. The type of change that I want to see is fundamental to how RIPA works. I wish to have a system that retains communications data for a very short period—a week or a month—so that we can find out, say, what happened just before somebody died yesterday. It should not be available for any longer unless a preservation order is applied for. That sort of system would massively reduce the amount of evidence that is kept on people, but allows it to be available for those very serious cases that all of us want to see investigated. That is the sort of system that I would like to see, but that is not an easy thing to write down. It would take many, many months of work to try to write that into a form that we can make work.
There is another problem, which runs right at the base of this. It is what I hope to talk about when we get on to the next collection of amendments, my new clauses 3 and 4. The Home Office simply does not have evidence on how this information is used and for what purposes. As I understand it—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the only information on how communications data are used is based on a two-week snapshot survey of police forces. What sort of crime is it? We know that data are used and we know of many examples. It is only that small survey that tells us exactly what sort of things they are used for. We need to have that data to make a sensible decision. The more data we retain, the more things we can do to combat crime, but the more invasive it is. We cannot set a sensible balance without that data. The Home Office urgently needs to collect that data but it will not have it in the next couple of months.
I worry—I have seriously considered and agonised over this—that what is being suggested would not put us in a better place. The alternative to having a Bill that started almost straight away would be to wait a bit longer—until November—and have a new Bill. We could use that time to get a bit of information for a review, but then we would again be forced to fast-track the legislation. We would go through exactly the same process, with not that many Members here debating it, and we would have exactly the same problems. That would not help and would not take us to where I want to be, because I am passionate about getting rid of the awful system that we have and coming up with something better. As I said earlier, we can have more security, more civil liberties and more protection, which is something that I have debated on many occasions.
I do not wish to be unkind, but the hon. Gentleman is confusing me. He says that he would sit until next week to ensure that we considered the Bill properly. I agree with that, but it will not happen. However, what is the difference between that and having a six-month sunset clause? That would give us six months in which to hold a consultation and a debate. The Government would then have the opportunity to bring forward legislation in the light of the responses received during the consultation.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s point is that we simply do not have the time to make that happen. We cannot take account of the detailed reviews that are necessary. I totally accept that we could do a bit more, but it would not fundamentally change where we are. It would not allow for the data collection and information gathering to work up much better proposals, which is what we need to make progress.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is already a significant amount of criticism from people north of the border about the purpose of this place. If the Bill goes through in the time scale suggested, other people will say, “What is the purpose of that place down there when they do not even have time to scrutinise the legislation?”
That delves into subjects that I am unable to get too involved in. It is a shame that the matter is being dealt with so late. I raised this issue with the Home Secretary on the day that European Court of Justice ruling came out. I questioned her and challenged her on the time scale then. All of us were surprised by the announcement and I wish that we had been able to start sooner. I worry that those within the Conservative and Labour parties who have made it clear that they continue to want to have the measures in the draft Communications Data Bill will bring that back instead of introducing something that some of us would prefer. I wish I could believe that there was a liberal majority in this House—both with a capital L and a small l—but I am not sure that that is the case.
On the other amendments, I am glad that we seem to have reached an agreement on wording. I hope that the Government clause to write the details of the review into legislation will be supported by Members on both sides of the House. I very much want that to happen and for us to reach a place where we can improve. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that at least one version of the oversight clause will be adopted, because it would be a useful addition. I think that having it on the face of the Bill was always intended, which can only be a good thing.
Some of us have been trying to get a proper review of RIPA and all the associated legislation, such as the Telecommunications Act 1984, for many years. We have that chance now. I want a proper review, proper pre-legislative scrutiny and a Bill that will be properly debated in the House. The question is how best to get there.
I will deal first with the point made by Dr Huppert and others about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. I was the Minister responsible for RIPA. It was a carefully constructed Act that was preceded in 1999 by a lengthy consultation process. Everybody recognised at the time that it was a major improvement on the legislative regime for intercepting communications, data retention and other matters. As I said earlier—and I introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill on this basis—its purpose was to make the intrusive powers of the state compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force more than two year later on
I also accept, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said eloquently in her speech, that even if we accept the need for emergency legislation, as we do, it would have been far better for our consideration to have been extended over two or three days in the Commons rather than just one. Indeed, if we had not been up against the buffers of the summer recess that might easily have been possible and we would have avoided the process of manuscript amendments.
My hon. Friend Mr Watson—who, parenthetically, is not that much younger than my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, as he is in his fifth decade and my right hon. Friend is in his sixth—asked rhetorically whether we were surprised that relatively few Members had taken part in the debates today. He then tried to provide an answer, but I must say that it was not that convincing. He said that the reason was the pressure of time. I have been present in the Chamber when debates on Bills or other subjects have been subject to time pressures, and when they have been very controversial this place has been packed and Ministers have had a hard time. I would suggest that the more convincing explanation for the fact that not many Members have been present for all or any part of the debates today is that most are convinced by the arguments that are being made by the Government, with the support of the Opposition; that the measure clarifies the law in the light of the ECJ judgment; and, in so far as it changes RIPA, that it does so in one respect only—through clause 3, which has the effect, which I hope would be supported by every Member, of restricting the basis on which warrants can be made in relation to economic well-being and qualifies that with reference to national security.
Let me turn to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East, which would repeal the Bill by the end of this year rather than by the end of 2016, as the final clause of the Bill proposes. My hon. Friend said by way of justification for his amendment, in a very delphic comment, that we had not seen what the Government had seen. By definition, we have not seen that which the Government have not shown us and that might be secret or classified, but in justifying this measure the Government have not come along and told us that there are plenty of reasons for it but that they cannot let us in on them.
My right hon. Friend Mr Howarth made a very witty speech earlier in which he spoke of the Disqualifications Act 2000. That measure changed the basis for the disqualification of Members to allow members of Sinn Fein to sit in the Dáil, the Northern Ireland Assembly and this place. My right hon. Friend was not allowed to explain that, so that really was a situation in which Members of the House had not seen what the Government had seen. That is not the case here. We have seen what the Government have seen. The hon. Member for Cambridge referred to it—it is the ECJ judgment and everybody can read it and understand its consequences. That is the basis for this Bill. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East that I do not accept what the hon. Member for Cambridge is suggesting, which is that we can only have legislation either in a day or in six months. If this House wanted to, it could consider legislation over a two-week period and that would be preferable in this case.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we have all seen what the Government have seen of what is behind the Bill. One thing continually cited about the extraterritorial extensions is that companies have said that they want such provision so that they are in a clearer position, but there have been questions about that. Does the right hon. Gentleman know who these companies are? Which companies have said that they need or want such things to be covered? Which companies would, as the Government are telling us, act outside this provision and act in defiance? We have been told about that several times today, but we have not been given any details.
I do not know in precise detail. I used to know when I was responsible for these matters as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. Even when I was Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary, when there were fewer telecommunications providers, the ones that were wholly UK-based inevitably had a different and closer relationship than those based overseas but which were providing telecommunications services in this country. The latter were, for reasons one understood, much less willing to enter into voluntary arrangements than those based in the UK.
I do not know whether Mark Durkan was in the Chamber when I drew attention to the fact that this provision is genuinely a clarification of the extraterritorial application of the RIPA Act and not an extension of it. I refer him, for example, to a definition of a telecommunications system in section 2:
“any system … which exists (whether wholly or partly in the United Kingdom or elsewhere)”.
The clear intention of that Act was that it extended extraterritorially. The legal advice is that the wording has not worked quite as intended and that overseas telecommunications providers particularly want more clarification.
If we are to believe that that is the only effect of clause 6, and that companies have said that they want such provision, should we not be told which companies have said that?
If I started discussing the importance of the party system, I think Mr Hood would pull me up short. My hon. Friend knows that the party system is fundamental to the way our democracy operates. I was elected not as J. Straw, an individual of obvious talent, or not, but because I was a member of the Labour party. In doing that, I accepted and signed up for, among other things, the standing orders of the parliamentary Labour party and the whipping system, and the authority system that we have. Of course, there is loads of scope for going against that. I am sitting next to my hon. Friend John McDonnell, who has voted against his party probably more often than he has voted with it—and a very fine constituency member he is, too, if I may say so. I have voted against my party once—
Apologies; as a relatively new Member, I was misled by my hon. Friend.
I come back to the point of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East. I wish that we had had more extended debates on the Bill, stretching over a number of days, but that has not been available. There is some strength in the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge. Let us say that the legislation was repealed in December. What additional information would we have on its operation after it had been in force for only a matter of months? What prospect would there have been of gaining additional information about how the Act was operating? I suspect that, whether we spent a day, a week or a month on the replacement for the Bill—that would have to start in the middle of October—to allow proper legislative time, we would simply be repeating the contents of this Bill. It is far better to have the extended period with a clear sunset in 2016, plus the reviews, to which my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson has referred, as a way of carefully considering the future of this kind of legislation and then making sober decisions at some length after the election.
I started out today very much in the same place as my hon. Friend Mr Watson, but I am beginning to wonder whether this is not a matter of a short period of review that leads us straight back into an argument for another similar piece of emergency legislation, versus a longer period of review where we could get the matter right for once.
My hon. Friend puts it much better than I did. That is the truth. We have a compressed programme and there will be complaints again about that, but the House usually rises in the middle of December, and if the Bill were to be repealed at the end of December and the House wanted proper time to consider this legislation, we would need to start on it in early November at least, which is only a few months away. I cannot see that we would be in any better position at that stage than we are now.
Apart from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman cannot count his months, I make the serious point that it would make a difference in the sense that during the summer we could be having the public debate. The public care about the Bill. They could be speaking to their MPs about it. They have been left out of the process. If we started in October, we would still have three months—two and a half months—in this place to have a proper debate.
Of course I accept that the public are concerned, but from my long experience they have a clear view of how to balance the interests of liberty and their own personal security—that is what this is about, not the security of the state—and they implicitly acknowledge that, although the systems that we have built up during the past 30 years may not be perfect, they do provide that balance. They provide a level of control over Ministers and the intelligence, security and police services, which is pretty unparalleled in most other countries.
Let us consider the abuses that take place in Europe. I think of what has happened in France in recent years, where one Minister intercepted the telephone calls of another Minister—all kinds of abuses by Ministers and the judiciary. That has never happened here and it could never happen here under our system—[Interruption.] Yes, it used to happen. It is right that trade unions were wire-tapped. Many others, thousands of people, were subject to intrusive surveillance. I know that to be the case because an officer of the Security Service told me that and showed me my file. I know that to be the case in respect of my family as well. But that was under a system where there was no statutory regulation whatsoever of telephone intercept, or data retention, which was available then, and when the very existence of the security and intelligence agencies was itself denied. That has rightly changed to take account of our duties and public concerns. It is not perfect, but we are much closer to a system that properly balances those things.
I hope that the Committee will not accept, for the reasons I have suggested, what my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East suggests, which will lead to a truncated, abbreviated review that will not work, and that instead we will have the longer review, proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, and sober consideration of a new Act to replace this one and RIPA before the end of 2016.
I rise to support amendment 2, tabled by Mr Watson. This really is a ridiculous way to transact legislation in this place—to sit here and listen to a lot of nonsense from some quite respectable people. The idea that we should put something so important and worthwhile through in a day just takes the biscuit.
I am sure that there is a huge amount of worthy content in the Bill, and I am sure that it is extraordinarily important that business is transacted as quickly as possible, but we have a duty of scrutiny and reflection in this Chamber. We represent 65 million people. This is not simply a rubber-stamping process. The idea that doing this in a day is somehow no worse than revisiting it in December just does not hold water. That argument will have no resonance out there with our electorate.
There is a slight undertone in the debate that those in the Chamber who express concern about the way business is being done today are somehow complicit in putting the nation’s safety at risk. That really is the last hiding place of scoundrels. I do not mean that anyone in this place starts from that basis, but we have a moral duty here to scrutinise legislation. I totally and honestly agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich East that we need to revisit this sooner, rather than later.
I hope that my hon. Friend Mr Watson has formally requested a vote on amendment 2. If he has not, I would like to do so. I will deal quickly with some of the points that have been made. I think that the House is open to derision in putting such important legislation through in this time scale. The argument that the time is limited because we are abutting the summer recess and MPs are about to go on holiday opens us up to even more derision, so we will be held in contempt yet again. I say to Dr Huppert, for whom I have a lot of affection, no matter how infuriating he can be at times, that the argument that a piece of legislation that could be undertaken in the next five months is somehow not as good as one that we will put forward in 24 hours simply does not hold water.
The point is that we are appealing to the Government today to give us the opportunity not only to have a thorough debate in this House, but to go back to our constituencies, as Caroline Lucas said, and consult the people who put us here. With such a technical piece of legislation, I want to ensure that I consult my constituents and all those voluntary organisations and experts in the field. That includes taking expert legal advice on its exact meaning, because I no longer accept the argument—it has become confused today—about there being no new powers. I think that there are new powers, but I would like that to be verified by external advice. We have had no chance to do that. We have received, at best, a couple of briefings and a curtailed Select Committee hearing. My hon. Friend Dr Francis, who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, appealed to the Government and said that all we need is the original judgment from the European Court of Justice and the points it raised, matched with the legislation and with clarification on which points the legislation addressed. We do not even have that.
Furthermore, we have the draft legislation before us, but not the guidance, which is the really meaningful part. It will specify who will be included and how it will be implemented in detail. That is still to come, so we are passing this legislation virtually in the dark. On the argument that there will be review after review, the Government’s new clause 7 simply means that a report of the review will be sent to the Prime Minister, but if it
“appears to the Prime Minister that the publication of any matter in a report under subsection (4) would be contrary to the public interest”— not just prejudicial to national security—the Prime Minister can ensure that it is not given to this House. The definition of the public interest can be as wide as the Prime Minister determines. That is unacceptable. That is not open or transparent.
We have all been in this House long enough to know that having review after review is almost meaningless unless, at the end of the day, the Government decide to legislate or change legislation. A review process is usually used to put something on the back burner so that we can all ignore it as though it has gone away. The reason for a sunset clause is to give the whole exercise of reviews some bite. Without that bite, I am afraid that Governments do not act. The idea of having some bite at a distant point at the end of the following year means that this country will labour and languor under what I think will be an unjust piece of legislation for a long period, which could result in miscarriages of justice and an imposition on our freedoms. It is too long to wait. That is why the short curtailment of the sunset clause is critical to ensure that we give the matter serious attention; otherwise, it will drift further away.
The next five months give us the opportunity for full consultation, proper advice and full display of information, particularly on the Government’s statutory code. We could then come back after the recess and examine new legislation in detail, which may address some of the points that have been raised about the operation of RIPA. As Mr Walker has said, this is no way to legislate and create laws that could have significant consequences for our constituents.
I have raised the issue of the secrecy of professional advice, which was provided for in the European judgment. That is supposed to be covered by the code of practice, but we have yet to see it. That advice could relate not just to lawyers, but to the operations of journalists who wish to expose matters of public interest and to trade unionists and others. This is a risk to civil liberties that I am not willing to support. That is why I support amendment 2.
Having made a brief intervention earlier that was largely helpful to Members on both Front Benches, I will now rectify the balance by saying that, however one looks at this debate in terms of whether or not enough time has been made available for those who want to speak to have their say, the overall impression that has been given to the public has been unfortunate, to put it mildly. My understanding is that this Bill has been made necessary because of an ECJ judgment that was arrived at in April. It is now mid-July. Why on earth has it taken so long to get from that judgment all those weeks ago to the position now, whereby it appears to the public that we have to make what I believe to be very necessary changes in a terrible rush? They are under the impression—in the context, it must be said, of the paranoia over the Edward Snowden affair—that we are doing this in a desperately swift and ill-considered way.
Personally, I accept that there is some strength in the argument that the time the Government have made available at this very late stage is probably enough for most of the people who are likely to contribute to the debate in the Chamber to do so; but not enough time has been given to those in the country who want to develop the wider public argument. One would not like to give the impression that one was trying to get this Bill through in a rush before a suitable momentum of public concern had the opportunity to build up, but, if that was not the reason for the delay, then what was?
My hon. Friend says, quite properly, that there is time for those of us who are concerned to make our points, but there is no time for us to research those points. There are significant legal and practical issues involved, and some of the issues are difficult to research because most of them are secret. One weekend is a ridiculous time scale in which to consider something that goes to the heart of the fundamental relationship between the state and the citizen.
I hope my right hon. Friend accepts that the nub of my short contribution is to say that we should not have found ourselves in this position. When the ECJ judgment was made we should immediately have swung into action so as to give people reasonable warning that this debate was going to take place, and then they could have done the degree of research necessary to avoid the impression that things were being rushed through in unseemly haste.
If we are all trying to be open and straight with people, why do we not just own up to the fact that this problem is of the coalition Government’s making? They could not get to the point where they agreed on a Bill, so we now have to consider a bit of bounced legislation as an emergency because of the coalition’s problems.
I always love it when an Opposition Member precisely anticipates my final point. My love, affection and esteem for coalition politics are legendary. I want Ministers to give me the explanation—so far, we have been denied it—that there is indeed a rational alternative to the paranoid belief currently abroad that all this is being rushed through because we wanted to stifle debate, were afraid what the public would say and feared the context of all the revelations of secrets.
Let us get to the heart of it: if the truth is that it took this long for the Conservatives and the Liberals to agree what they wanted to introduce, there is nothing to be ashamed of in saying so; it is a natural downside of coalition politics. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister, who does these things with such panache and dependability, to put his head above the parapet and simply say that this was one of the many disadvantages of coalition politics—which Conservative Members and Labour Members look forward to seeing the back of in a few months’ time.
Surely the issue is simply this: Parliament is here to scrutinise what the Executive do and to try to represent public opinion. We need to take advice from the public, organisations, lobby groups and so on, but all I have managed to find was an interesting and quite useful briefing from Liberty that came in yesterday—all credit to Liberty for getting a reasonable briefing together in a very short time—and a series of articles in The Guardian and one or two other newspapers.
But this Bill has massive implications in relation to the ability of the state to dip in and out of people’s telephone and e-mail accounts. Because it takes on itself a global reach, it has huge implications all around the world. If we are to take the global reach to dip into e-mail accounts all around the world, what are we to do, as Mr Davis said in an intervention, when an unpalatable regime decides to do the same and pitches up in a British court and says, “Well, you’ve taken these rights unto yourself. Why shouldn’t we do exactly the same?”? The implications of the Bill go a very long way indeed.
I am always suspicious when the House is summoned in an emergency and told, “This is an absolutely overriding, desperate emergency, so we’ve got to get this thing through all its stages in one day,” and Front Benchers from both sides of the House get together and agree that there is a huge national emergency. I am sorry, but what is the emergency?
There was a court decision some months ago, about which the Government have since done very little and made very few statements. There has apparently been an interesting debate between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party in the coalition. In the interests of public scrutiny, we should be given the minutes of the discussion between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, and of all the sofa discussions that have no doubt taken place. I thought that sofa politics ended with new Labour, but apparently it still goes on in Downing street. We need to know the nature of that debate.
What is the objection to a sunset clause that would bring the—to me—very unpalatable Bill to a conclusion in six months’ time? Such a clause would at least give lawyers an opportunity to make a detailed case, and the Government an opportunity to explain their case a bit better. It would give the Home Affairs Committee a chance to discuss it, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights a chance to examine it, which we as Members of Parliament would also be able to do.
In an age of social media, it is interesting to see the numbers of people following the debate online and live. They are interested in social media, privacy and communication, and they all have views and opinions. I have no idea what all their views and opinions are. All I know is that as an individual Member of Parliament, I, like all colleagues in the Chamber, must vote on this piece of legislation without having the chance to reflect or consult.
This is not a good day for Parliament. It is not a good advertisement for Parliament. It is not a good advertisement for democracy. The very least that we can do is to agree that this wrong-headed piece of legislation will expire by the end of this year and force the Government to come up with something more palatable, more carefully thought out and more sensible in respect of the protection of privacy and civil rights for all. That is why we were elected to Parliament. We should be given the opportunity to do our job, and should not have to lie down in front of a steamroller and accept something that we know in our hearts to be ill thought out and wrong.
As we have all said, this issue is of huge importance. Almost no issue that we deal with affects people as directly as their personal communications, and, therefore, is as sensitive. That is why it is so negative that we have given the impression that we simply do not care what people think. The public are pretty disengaged from MPs and Parliament, and do not have much respect for what goes on in this place. Today was an opportunity to begin to build bridges with them and to demonstrate that we can take these issues and their concerns seriously, and I feel so sad about the fact that Parliament seems to have flunked it. We have decided not to build bridges and have given the public the impression that we do not take ourselves seriously, so why should they take what we do in this place seriously?
Many arguments have been advanced on why it is not necessary to pass the Bill in such a short time. There is no serious argument that this is an emergency. If there were, it would have been dealt with three months ago. People can see through that. Their concerns and disillusionment with this Parliament will be redoubled by this process, instead of being addressed by it.
One reason why I support amendment 2 to the sunset clause is that it would rescue something from this unhappy state. If we at least said that over the coming months, we will do this piece of work properly and a review will happen, we could build some confidence among the public. As it is, I regret to say that we have lost yet more public confidence today, at a time when we can least afford to do so.
I will speak to Government amendments 7 and 8 and new clause 7, which were tabled by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I will also address the provisions that have been tabled by Opposition Front Benchers before turning to the issues with the timetable and the sunset clause.
The Government amendments provide for a review of the powers and capabilities. I am grateful to Mr Hanson for his comments about Opposition new clause 1, which relates to the same topic and sets out the terms of a review of the legislation. There is no difference of principle here. [Interruption.]
Order. I can hear murmuring. I have a wee bit of industrial deafness from a previous life, but even I can hear it. I notice that a lot of conversations are taking place. We have had a long debate. The Minister is summing it up and I hope that Members will give him the best of order.
Thank you, Mr Hood.
New clause 1 shows that there is overlapping ground on the review. There is no difference of principle in that regard. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in her statement last week that we would review the interception and communications data powers that we need, as well as the way in which those powers and capabilities are regulated, in the full context of the threats that we face. I am pleased that the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, QC, has agreed to conduct the first phase of that work. Our amendments give that work proper statutory footing, and set out the issues that the review will need to cover. It will deal with the powers that are required in light of the threats we face and how they are regulated, and it will require the independent reviewer to report before the next election. Crucially, it will require the review to take account not only of the threats we face, but also of the safeguards required to protect privacy, and the impact of changing technology on the work of the agencies to keep us safe.
On that basis the Government have tabled amendments that achieve what I believe the Opposition were seeking in their amendments on this matter. The amendments make that explicit and address the points that the right hon. Member for Delyn set out in his initial contribution. I think he said that he may be warming to new clause 7—sufficiently warmed, I hope, to withdraw new clause 1.
The periodic review of the legislation is important in assuring the House and the public that appropriate safeguards are being ensured, and that operations of communications data and lawful intercept are being conducted properly and appropriately. Should the Bill pass through the House, it will not extend the reach and remit of such measures, as some who have made earlier contributions have perhaps feared. I agree with the Opposition that while this legislation remains in statute until the sunset clause kicks in—in our view at the end of 2016, and I will come on to the specifics of that—and while reviews are being conducted, the provision of information from the interception of communications commissioner on a more frequent basis might help inform those making observations on the operation of and any deficiencies in the law on interception and communications data capabilities.
The right hon. Member for Delyn and those on the Opposition Front Bench have tabled a number of different alternatives and amendments, and the Government are happy to accept new clause 6 and related technical amendments 4 and 5, alongside amendment 6, which adds to the long title of the Bill. Indeed, I think I should also formally move those amendments to ensure that they do not fall outside any timeline we may have. As I said, the Government are content to accept those amendments, and I invite the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw new clause 2 and amendment 3, which would have dealt with the same issues.
A great part of this debate in Committee has focused on amendment 2, which would bring forward the date at which the Bill ceases to have effect to
The Prime Minister has said that he thinks that a Joint Committee should be established to take that review forward and have that additional scrutiny. We therefore have the long-stop date, which is a termination date in 2016. That does not get renewed; the legislation ends at that point to give this House and the other place appropriate time to legislate in the context of those reviews, as well as for further scrutiny or consideration by the Joint Committee.
The Minister is conflating two issues that amendment 2 seeks to deal with. First, this House has not had the time to research, consult and debate this issue. Secondly, the technology underlying the problems we face is changing. It is not mutually exclusive to address the first issue—lack of debate, consultation, research and knowledge—through, in proper, slow time, a consultative process in September and a proper Bill procedure in the autumn, and later, if he thinks it fit, to come back to the House with another review. That would at least allow the House to make its decision on a proper basis. If he allowed that, I would be happy to vote for Third Reading today. If he does not allow it, then I am afraid that this is an undemocratic process that none of us can support.
We are going back over ground addressed on Second Reading and in the programme motion debate, but it is worth restating the fact that the Bill does not extend powers that this House has already granted through RIPA. It effectively restates what is already existing law. The legislation does not, therefore, seek to create something new, but simply restates what is already being operated, giving it clear legal underpinning in the context of the ECJ decision and the pressures from industry and others in terms of challenge.
On the need to act now, I say again that no Government embark on emergency legislation lightly. No Government seek to use fast-track legislation unless they judge that it is necessary. Our real concerns are that we have reached a tipping point regarding co-operation on lawful intercept and the risk that our essential powers on communications data, which are used day in, day out by law enforcement and the security agencies that protect this country, will simply not be available. That could occur at any time between now and the long-stop date that the right hon. Gentleman and others are suggesting in relation to December 2014. That is why the Government have judged that emergency legislation is appropriate and why we think it necessary to have a review: to ensure that this House is properly informed of all the issues to legislate carefully in a sensible way by no later than
These are complicated matters. We need to act swiftly to deal with the particular challenge we currently face and to avoid the damaging loss of capability that confronts us. However, I do believe a longer-term considered approach is appropriate, hence the reason for having the review and for providing assurance in relation to the commissioner for the interception of communications and his reports on operation. There are already a number of reviews in the system. The Intelligence and Security Committee is conducting an inquiry, as is the Royal United Services Institute.
There is also the further review, which is to be led by David Anderson, of the communications data and interception powers we need, and how they are regulated in the light of the threats we face. As I have indicated, the Bill will set this out in legislation in terms, but he needs to be given some time to conduct this work. New clause 7 asks him to complete his work by
We have had a useful debate on the amendments. The Opposition had two objectives in tabling our amendments and new clauses today: first, to secure a review of this Act, if passed by this House and by the House of Lords, within six months and then every six months following that; and secondly, to put it on the record that we need to have a wider examination of the whole of the intercept evidence-data collection issue. I think we have had a meeting of minds on that issue. With that in mind, I am happy to withdraw amendment 3 and to support new clause 6, and to ask the Government to accept that as they have indicated they will. We will then give support to Government new clause 7, which meets our objectives. There are other consequential amendments but, for clarity, that is my objective. It would be helpful, given what the Minister said, if we proceeded on that basis.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: 4, page 7, line 1, leave out “5” and insert
“(Half-yearly reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner)”. —(Mr Hanson.)
On a point of order, Mr. Hood. I believe that amendment 5 is a technical amendment that may also be required. I do not know whether that will be dealt with now or later.
Amendment made: 7, page 7, line 1, after “5” insert
“and (Review of investigatory powers and their regulation)” —(James Brokenshire.)
This amendment is consequential on NC7
Amendment made: 5, page 7, line 2, leave out “5” and insert
“(Half-yearly reports by the Interception of Communications Commissioner)” —(Mr Hanson.)
Amendment proposed: 2, page 7, line 2, leave out “2016” and insert “2014”—(Mr Watson.)