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Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 6th June 2016.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 9:15 pm, 6th June 2016

I rise to speak to my amendment 1, which is, in clause 24, page 19, line 8, at the end to insert where the subject of the snooping, frankly, is a Member of the House of Commons, that snooping must also involve a consultation with the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Member’s explanatory statement helpfully says:

“This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult the Speaker before deciding to issue a warrant that applied to an MP’s communications.”

This is a small, but I believe important amendment. It is of course perfectly proper and pertinent that, as we all agree, the Secretary of State consults the Prime Minister before deciding to issue a targeted interception or examination warrant regarding an MP’s communication with a constituent or somebody else. We all understand that, and it is not controversial. However, the Prime Minister is the Queen’s chief Minister of Government and is, by its very nature, a political office holder. It goes without saying that we have complete confidence in the present Prime Minister that no such thing would happen, but we must not make permanent laws based on impermanent situations. Our conscientious Prime Minister, who I am sure is both aware of and respectful of parliamentary privilege, may be succeeded, somewhere down the line, by a man or woman who does not esteem the dearly won privileges of this House. They are not our privileges: they are not for us; they are for the protection of our democracy and of our constituents.

It may be that a future Prime Minister would be under intolerable pressure during a time of national crisis. It is not difficult to imagine that circumstances may come into play in which a future Prime Minister authorises a politically sensitive or even a politically motivated interception against an Opposition Member, or indeed against a Government Member if that Member of Parliament is opposed to the Prime Minister’s policies. We need only think of the intense debates that took place during the Vietnam war and the Iraq war. We remember that the present Leader of the Opposition had strong views about the importance of communicating with Sinn Féin at a time when that was considered intensely controversial—indeed, some at the time would have argued that it was a threat to national security. I am not defending the actions of the present Leader of the Opposition, or making any comment on them one way or another, but one can surely imagine that there may be future situations when there is intense debate on a matter of national security and a Prime Minister may be politically motivated to intercept communications between a constituent and a Member of Parliament.

I believe that it is important to uphold the exclusive cognisance of this House to regulate its own internal affairs, apart from the Government. This House is not the Government but the scrutineer of Government. To reply directly to the point the Solicitor General made, the amendment does not put MPs above the law—far from it. Our conduct is completely within the jurisdiction of normal criminal courts, and the criminal law applies to us as to anyone else. But it is vital that communications relating to our role—only to our role and to no other part of our life—as democratically elected representatives of the people, in a free country, under the Crown, be protected from Government observation and interference, just as it is vital to remove any temptation to politicise the work of the police.

Amendment 1 would solve that problem, by invoking the importance of the Speaker, an impartial office holder not beholden to any political party or indeed to the Government. You will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the office of Speaker is among the most important in the land. It ranks above all non-royal people in this realm, excepting the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President of the Council. The Speaker is endowed with his or her office by the trust placed in him by fellow Members of Parliament, and his impartiality is central to the proper functioning of Parliament. Once he has held the office of Speaker, never again can he re-enter politics—that is a clear convention of this House. He is utterly and completely impartial.