Bulk interception warrants

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 7th June 2016.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:00 pm, 7th June 2016

Obviously, I should be very interested to hear how that could be done at the outset, and I am sure that the Minister would as well.

Let me make two points to emphasise why there is such concern about bulk powers. It may well be possible, depending on the parameters that are set, to reduce the likelihood of obtaining through bulk powers material that is sensitive in one shape or form, but I do not think it is possible to eliminate it. It may well be that most of that is done at the filtering stage, rather than at the stage of the initial exercise of the bulk power. I am not seeking to explain why bulk powers inevitably capture such information, or to justify that; I am simply explaining why I think so many people are concerned about the bulk powers. That is why Labour has made it clear that, given the breadth of the powers, the operational case for them must be properly made and properly reviewed, and that is why the safeguards must be reviewed.

The issue of the safeguards may need to be revisited when the Bill is in the other place. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden knows, the Tom Watson and David Davis case is currently midway between the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Court of Appeal. Although it touches on existing legislation and retention powers, it may have implications in relation to the Bill when it is given further consideration, and will certainly be important when it comes to consideration of safeguards. Let me also, in passing, echo the concern expressed by Mr Grieve in relation to operational purposes, an issue which also arose in Committee.

As for the review, the first stage is to ask whether the operational case has been made. I referred yesterday to an exchange of letters between the Minister and me. I hope that copies of the letters have been made available; I think that they have been made available to the House, and that every Member has them. However, I want to put on record what was being asked for, and what the response was. Let me say at the outset that this was a constructive exchange, which moved a significant issue significantly further forward.

I wrote to the Minister that the review to be carried out by David Anderson should be

“supported by a security cleared barrister, a technical expert and a person with experience of covert investigations”,

that it should

“Examine the operational case for the bulk powers in the Bill, not merely in respect of the utility of the powers, but also their necessity”,

that it should

“Have access to all necessary information as is needed to undertake the review effectively, including all information provided to the Intelligence and Security Committee”,

and that it should

“Take about three months to complete and…report to the Prime Minister in time for the findings to inform Lords Committee considerations of Parts 6 and 7 of the Bill.”

The Minister’s reply is important, as Members who have had an opportunity to read it will appreciate. He wrote:

“I can confirm that the basic framework for the review will be as set out in your letter…David Anderson has hand-picked this team and we are confident that together they have the range and depth of knowledge needed to undertake a comprehensive review.”

I was very anxious that David Anderson should pick as members of his team people whom he considered to have the necessary competences to help him with the review that he has been asked to carry out independently, and I am pleased that he has done so. I have been assured by him that he is very happy with his choices, and with the skills from which he will benefit as a result of that exercise.

The Minister’s letter continues:

“In relation to your second point”— this is really important—

“it is absolutely the case that this review will be assessing the specific question of whether the bulk capabilities provided for in the Bill are necessary. The review team will critically appraise the need for bulk capabilities, which will include an assessment of whether the same result could have been achieved through alternative investigative methods.”

That goes to the heart of the issue. If that is the focus of the review, it will give comfort to the Labour team—and, no doubt, to members of the Scottish National party, notwithstanding their concerns—and to all our constituents as well.