Bulk interception warrants

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 7th June 2016.

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Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage 3:30 pm, 7th June 2016

I will speak to the amendments that stand in my name, amendments 153 to 160, which would remove clauses throughout the Bill that allow for the modification of bulk warrants. I will not press them because, like the rest of my amendments, they are probing amendments designed to tease out information from Ministers and ensure that there is further debate in the other place.

As I said in yesterday’s debate, I am not a lawyer, but in my humble opinion, major modifications of a warrant have the potential to completely change the key components of that warrant. I would like to understand at what point it becomes reasonable for a new warrant to be drafted.

I listened carefully to the Minister for Security yesterday and he said clearly to the House:

“I entirely accept the point that it would be completely unacceptable to have a robust system for issuing warrants and a less robust system for modifying them. Warranting has to be consistent throughout, and there can be no back-door way of weakening the process. That is not what the Government intend and not what we would allow.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2016;
Vol. 611, c. 982.]

That is very reassuring and greatly welcome. I look forward to seeing how the robust system for modifications will be introduced as the Bill progresses. I accept that the Government have tabled a number of amendments to try to help in this area and, as I said, I will not press any of my amendments to a vote.

On a final point, I am not a particular fan of the bulk powers in the Bill. I have listened with great interest to the debates today and yesterday, and to the points that the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee has made about how bulk powers are used at the moment. In my view, surveillance should be targeted and the subjects of that activity clearly identified. That may well be naive in some senses, and I appreciate that there may be some areas where we require bulk powers, to identify the haystack, as has been said. But the carte blanche on bulk powers should not be the first resort; it should always be the last resort.

There has been a lot of talk about postbags, and whether the country is at war and so on. The debate in general has been very conciliatory and Members on all sides have tried to get a Bill that, at the start of this Parliament, was very difficult to a place where most people can stomach most elements of it. I am still not in a position where I feel I can support it, but, realistically, a lot of people now feel it has been greatly improved and there is a lot of trust in the Minister for Security and the Solicitor General because of their work in listening to people and accepting amendments.

I am also very grateful that the Home Secretary has tried to alleviate concerns and agreed to an independent review of the bulk powers in the Bill, led by David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. I look forward to his recommendations and what comes forward from them.