Bulk interception warrants

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 7th June 2016.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 3:45 pm, 7th June 2016

What an interesting and important debate we have had. This group of amendments addresses bulk powers. It is right that we should consider these matters in considerable detail because, as has been said by Members from across the Chamber, they are matters of profound importance and public concern. The public want to be assured that the safeguards we put in place for these vital powers are right, adequate, properly considered and properly reviewed. Many hon. Members have contributed to the debate. Tellingly, Gavin Robinson, my hon. Friend Seema Kennedy and Tom Elliott spoke with personal experience of terror.

We all know the scale and nature of the threat we face, but though we know it, that does not mean that it should not be explored again and again in this House. For to explore it is to realise what we need to counter it. That is precisely what was done in speeches by hon. Members from all sides of the House. The threat is real, imminent and unprecedented in character. Our opponents are increasingly adaptable and flexible. Although their aims may be barbarically archaic, their means are up to date. They are entirely modern. They are prepared to use every device and every kind of communications medium to go about their wicked work, which is precisely why the Bill does what it does, why bulk powers matter and why the amendments that stand in the name of Joanna Cherry, which I will deal with in a moment, are not ones I can accept—that will not come as any surprise to her, by the way.

An argument has been made that the operational case for bulk powers needs to be fleshed out more fully. Hon. Members will know that the Government did just that when they published the operational case for bulk. That informed the Committee consideration, which has been referred to several times during our short debate today, and has been a helpful way of establishing why bulk powers really count.

We are dealing with powers that have played a significant part in every major counterterrorism investigation over the past decade, including in each of the seven terror attacks disrupted since November 2014. These powers enabled over 90% of the UK’s targeted military operations during the campaign in south Afghanistan, and they have been essential to identifying 95% of the cyberattacks on people and businesses in the UK discovered by the security and intelligence agencies over the past six months. My hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat is right to say that this is about real life operational necessity. I congratulate my hon. Friend Suella Fernandes on the role she played both on the Joint Committee and the Bill Committee. The threat she described so vividly is, as she said, worldwide and of a kind that would allow us to do nothing other than take the necessary steps to counter it in the defence of our freedoms.

I was perhaps a little unkind to Anne McLaughlin who spoke for the Scottish National party, although I make no apology for reprising what I said. Frankly, her contribution missed the point. The point is not whether the powers are necessary, it is whether we can put in place sufficient safeguards to ensure that they are used only when, how and where they should be. That was the point made by the Chair of the ISC and by the ISC when it had the chance to consider these matters. As the Chair of the ISC said, it then also had a chance to reconsider them, having been given further information of a secure kind—that is its function after all—and its members were persuaded that the powers were indeed necessary. It is right to have an informed, thoughtful debate about safeguards, checks and balances, and constraints, but we cannot have a grown-up debate about whether the powers count, because they are not new; they are existing powers. The Bill simply introduces additional safeguards, which I would have thought any reasonable Member would welcome.