I do not think the list should be too prescriptive. It will clearly be flexible. From my understanding of the list and what I know about the existing lists, they do have flexibility and can be added to and subtracted from. They are the day-to-day operational purposes for examining bulk data. That is what should be there. At the moment, it is something of an informal process; there is no suggestion that it is not being followed properly, but I think it needs to be formalised a bit more, which is what the amendments are intended to do. Amendment 11 states:
“The list of operational purposes…must be reviewed at least annually by the Prime Minister.”
Amendment 12, which has caused the Government greater—and understandable—difficulty, would put in place the following requirement:
“The Investigatory Powers Commissioner and Intelligence and Security Committee”— that is us—
“will be kept informed of any changes to the list of Operational Purposes in a timely manner.”
I always stress that the Committee is not there to monitor the activities of the intelligence agencies in real time; it is outside our remit to do so, as the Executive has to get on with its decision making, but we have the power to look at virtually everything we want—unless the Prime Minister denies us access, which has never happened in my time as Chairman—and the right to ask for material and to be briefed on what has happened in the past.
My impression is that the Government have no great objection to letting us see, on an annual basis, how the list has been reviewed, but we took the view that “timely” meant a bit more frequently than that. To make our position clear to the Minister and the Treasury Bench, we think that we ought to be kept informed of any changes not necessarily the day after they happen but certainly within a reasonable timeframe so that we might follow the changes that take place. The merit is that because we can, if necessary, call an evidence session and ask the head of an agency to come and explain to us what has been going on, we could provide reassurance to the House that the system was being operated correctly. I want to emphasise that that is the purpose of the amendment.
I do not expect the Minister to give me a completely positive response to amendment 12 today—he has kindly intervened already—but I would like him to provide an assurance that the Government will give this careful consideration and come up with a solution that enables the ISC to do its job. If he cannot, I might have to press the amendment to a vote, which I do not particularly want to do