I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As a simple soldier, it is nice to follow a debate full of so many learned colleagues. I have sat in wonder at the lawyers and their questioning over the last two and half hours. It was incredibly generous of the Attorney General to give so much of his time and to answer so many of my colleagues’ questions. I fear that we cannot normally afford lawyers for that long, but I hope the House managed to get to the bottom of it all.
This year, Dr Matthew Falder was sentenced to 25 years in prison. His charges included 137 offences of encouraging child sexual abuse, blackmail, forced labour and possession of indecent images. He tricked his vulnerable victims into sending him naked or partially clothed images of themselves and then blackmailed them into sending increasingly sickening images. He traded these abuse pictures on “hurtcore” forums, whose users revel in controlling and inflicting pain on victims. These hurtcore sites—hidden dark web forums—are dedicated to the discussion, and the sharing of images and videos, of rape, murder, sadism, torture, paedophilia, blackmail, humiliation and degradation. Long delays in getting vital evidence to our law enforcement agencies help people such as Dr Matthew Falder to continue abusing vulnerable children. It is our duty to protect victims from people such as him as quickly as possible.
The Bill is a straightforward piece of legislation designed to remove the bureaucratic barriers we currently face in investigating and prosecuting serious criminals when evidence is held by companies based outside the UK. The Bill provides a new route to allow law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities quick and efficient access to electronic data held by overseas communication providers. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, communication service providers are increasingly based outside the UK, and although we can currently access data held or controlled by these providers using mutual legal assistance channels, these processes are often long and bureaucratic, delaying serious criminals being brought to justice. In some cases, that even leads to investigations being abandoned.
Under MLA, there are several obstacles to overcome before law enforcement agencies can obtain data for use in an investigation. The requests must go through both countries’ executing authorities and both countries’ central authorities before getting to the relevant CSP. It can take anything from six months to two years to receive what could be vital evidence, meaning that the prosecution of criminals such as child sexual abusers can be severely delayed, in which time they can continue abusing. Indeed, less than 1% of child sexual abuse content stored online is hosted on UK platforms, meaning that 99% is hosted on platforms owned by companies overseas. The Bill will ensure that law enforcement officers and prosecutors can more effectively investigate and prosecute these horrific offences, meaning that children in all our constituencies can be kept safe.
Officials in the Home Office have been working closely with operational partners to understand the scale of the problem. Child exploitation and abuse is a very real, very serious and growing epidemic. The National Crime Agency received more than 80,000 individual referrals of horrific online content from the tech industry in 2017, a 700% increase since 2012. In 2014, the NCA made more than 1,600 referrals to UK police forces following tech companies highlighting horrific online content. After just three years, in 2017, the figure rose to nearly 10,000. The agency estimates that in the UK, a minimum of 66,0000 to 80,000 individuals present some kind of threat to children. In one operation, it worked with overseas partners to take down a site that contained more than 100,000 videos of child sexual abuse material that had been downloaded more than 1 million times.
All the case studies that I have been given make chilling reading. There are examples of people abusing children online—people whom our agencies struggle to identify and prosecute because of the delays in accessing the data that they need. It is our duty to do something about it, and to protect those who are vulnerable online. Of course, online crime goes beyond child sexual abuse. Electronic messages in the form of texts or emails can incriminate arms dealers, drug traffickers, people traffickers and those involved in other types of serious crime, including terrorism. We must ensure that our laws reflect the modern, technological world in which we live.
The overseas production order process offers a much simpler and quicker alternative to MLA for obtaining certain types of electronic data. An overseas production order could be served directly on the relevant overseas CSP rather than via that country’s courts and central authority, which means that our law enforcement agencies and prosecutors will be able to gain access to the data that they need in a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years. The orders will operate in a similar way to domestic production orders. To that end, the Bill was designed to reflect existing domestic legislation as far as possible. Of course, the necessary stringent safeguards will exist to govern access to the data. That includes a requirement that UK courts must be satisfied that the data is of substantial value to the investigation or proceedings, and that there is a public interest in its being produced before an order can be granted.
For the power to make an overseas production order to be available, a relevant international agreement needs to be in place. We envisage that the first agreement will be with the United States, given that a large majority of CSPs are based in North America. Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise each international agreement properly and thoroughly before it is ratified in the usual way.
Members of the other place have already expressed their broad support for the Bill, but a non-Government amendment was made to clause 1(6), on international agreements. As it stands, the subsection is technically deficient, because it refers to data that the UK provides “under this Act”. The Bill is only about the UK’s outgoing requests for data from overseas providers, so the UK would not be providing data under it. Because that subsection would not achieve what the Government understand to be the Opposition’s intended effect, “this Act” will need to be amended to “the agreement.” I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced by Members of the Lords, and I look forward to working with Members of this House to address their concerns.
Members may accept that bureaucracy is sometimes a necessary evil, but when electronic data could be obtained in a much quicker way and further criminal activities could be prevented, it needs to be reduced. The overseas production order process, together with the international agreements that will underpin it, will remove the unnecessary bureaucratic delay that currently exists in accessing the same electronic data through MLA.
Delay extends the investigation when someone has molested children. Delay leads to continued offending, and those children continue to be abused. Delay leads to serious criminals absconding before they can be brought to justice. Delay could even lead to our law enforcement agencies and prosecutors issuing fewer MLA requests to seek evidential data as they lose faith in the system, and thereby failing to pursue these vile criminals. We do not want to end up in that position: such delay is unacceptable. That illustrates why the Bill is so important, and the heavy price that we continue to pay every day without it.
Under the current system, we present an MLA to a country’s central Government authority, which will take it to that country’s courts. Once it is out of our hands, the pace will be that of the country concerned. Its courts will recognise the order and enforce it against the CSPs overseas, which are predominantly in the United States—for instance, Facebook and Google—and will then bring it back to us. That whole process involves many bureaucratic delays. For instance, there is the time that it takes for the case to go to the central authority and then to the courts, and the time that it takes for the volume of the orders to be decided, and sometimes challenged, in the courts. We are simply seeking to introduce a system whereby our police go to a court in the United Kingdom, the court makes the order, and the international treaties allow our orders to be recognised by overseas CSPs.
As I have said, some of them have gone on for years. Some cases are still sitting in courts overseas. It is predominantly a matter of months and years at present, and we want to reduce that to days and weeks. Every day on which we cannot access content in this area—and let us remember that it is the court, not me, that must be satisfied that a request from the police is valid—is a day on which, in many cases, the offenders are still offending. That is why we think the Bill is so important. It reflects the changes in how offending is happening, and the fact that it is now happening online. For many months, Members on both sides of the House have asked what more the Government can do about not only online radicalisation but online offending. This is a concrete step to ensure that we can do more to counter it.
The MLA process will continue to exist. It remains critical to other types of evidence that are not within the scope of the Bill, and to any electronic evidence that may not be provided for by the relevant international agreement. However, one of the biggest pitfalls of the current system is the long wait to secure electronic data that, by its nature, can be shared very quickly. The Bill provides the solution in the form of an additional, streamlined alternative: the overseas production order.
I do not doubt that Members will support the crucial purpose of the Bill, which is to provide a significantly faster mechanism for obtaining vital electronic data that is held by overseas providers in order to prosecute the most serious offenders, and to safeguard vulnerable people in our society from further unnecessary harm. I commend it to the House.
The Minister began by saying that he was grateful for the contribution of lawyers during the previous two and a half hours. Alas, I have not had a chance to leave yet, but hopefully that contribution will continue.
I doubt that even I could match the rates of the Attorney General.
As the Minister has explained, the purpose of the Bill is to permit a court in this country to require a person or company located overseas, such as an overseas service provider, to produce stored electronic information, as a court could if the information were located or controlled in the United Kingdom. That will be done via the overseas production order for which clause 1 provides. An order can be operative only if the UK signs a treaty enabling it to be exercised. UK law enforcement authorities will be able to apply for an order that requires the production of electronic evidence for the purpose of investigating or prosecuting crimes such as terrorism offences. At present, if UK law enforcement requires electronic data from another country, it must go via a mutual legal assistance treaty, but that process can be slow to complete.
I very much appreciate and accept that electronic information is crucially important for the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, and indeed is gaining in importance. The Minister set out the case of Dr Matthew Falder and some of the horrific child sex abuse images found on various websites, and it is clear that having a smooth, fast, efficient process to obtain this information is important, which is why the Opposition support the aim of this Bill; we do need a faster system.
I should also point out that I recognise the particular importance of the United States, first because this is the country where so much of the data is held and so many communication services providers—CSPs—are based, and, secondly, because the UK has been negotiating a bilateral data-sharing agreement with the United States since 2015.
The Minister knows that the Opposition are always happy to work with him in trying to reach consensus on matters, but there are aspects of this Bill about which I and my colleagues in the other place have concerns. First, I say to the Minister that we will be looking to pursue issues such as bulk data, confidential personal records and non-disclosure requirements in Committee.
There are also two other specific points of controversy in terms of this Bill that I will draw to the Minister’s attention now. The first of them is with regard to assurances on the use of the death penalty in cases where this country hands over data. The Bill is reciprocal, which allows countries with which a treaty is negotiated to seek a court order for electronic data stored in the UK to be transferred to another country. The current treaty is being negotiated with the US, and US law enforcement could apply via its courts for electronic data in the UK to be used as evidence in a particular case. There are currently 30 states in America that retain the death penalty.
I appreciate the Minister’s efforts to make this a more transparent process than has previously been the case, when Home Secretaries could, in private, make decisions in individual cases that are capital cases about handing over information. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asked an urgent question on one issue in this House in July, which was due to a leaked letter from the Home Secretary to the then US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. In the letter the Home Secretary stated:
“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.”
The Minister responding to my right hon. Friend stated at the Dispatch Box:
“I can reassure the House that our long-standing position on the use of the death penalty has not changed.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 792, c. 1612.]
While I accept that the Government cannot control whether another Government provide assurances that are asked for, they can control, where assurances are not forthcoming, whether information will be handed over, and that includes information which could lead to evidence being gathered for use in a court, as well as evidence itself.
My noble Labour colleagues in the other place tabled a strong amendment in this regard which passed by 208 votes to 185 and was added to the Bill. The effect of it is to prevent such handing over of information unless there are assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed. This is important for those of us on these Benches who oppose the death penalty in all its forms and are passionate about human rights here and around the world. Furthermore, while we are, quite rightly, focused on the United States for the reasons I have set out, this Bill could be used, alongside a treaty, as the basis for reciprocal information exchange with other countries around the world where the rule of law is not respected by the regimes in power there, making the need for safeguards in this Bill even more pressing.
Secondly, there is a concern regarding the protection of journalists’ confidential information.
I agree very much with what the hon. Gentleman has said on the death penalty reassurance point. He will note that the Minister said in his speech that the amendment was somehow defective. Does he agree that if that is so the Minister needs to make his case in detail and put forward another amendment so he can ensure that these death penalty assurances can be given?
The right hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a crucial point. The amendment passed the other place with a comfortable majority, and if it is to be argued that there is, perhaps, a technicality that renders it defective, the Minister must identify it in Committee so the House can on Report at least take a firm view on it.
On the protection of journalists’ confidential information, while the Government have argued that provisions in the Bill match those of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, there are specific instances where it does not quite match PACE, and I will give a few examples, which no doubt can be explored in Committee.
Under PACE, notice is required in all applications for journalistic material, and there are two types: confidential or “excluded material” and non-confidential or “special procedure material”. However, under clause 12(1) of the Bill, provision is made to notify organisations only when the material is confidential journalistic material:
“An application for an overseas production order must be made on notice if there are reasonable grounds for believing that the electronic data specified or described in the application consists of or includes journalistic data that is confidential journalistic data.”
An application for non-confidential material—for example, where a journalist made a documentary and had some notes—often facilitates a negotiation process about what data is appropriate to provide to the authorities and offers the right of the media organisation concerned to oppose it formally. The Bill’s failure to make provision for a notification to request non-confidential journalistic material is a concern.
Conditions must be met for the court to grant a production order for special procedure material under PACE, including the following: there are reasonable grounds for believing the material is likely to be of substantial value to the investigation; disclosure is in the public interest; and there are reasonable grounds for believing that the material is likely to be relevant evidence. While clause 4(5) and (6) include both public interest and “substantial value” tests, they do not include a “relevant evidence” test. That is again a matter we will look to pursue in Committee.
Adopting a threshold of what data is “relevant” to an investigation is both necessary and proportionate; as well as helping to enable clarity and consistency in cases, it is in line with human rights principles. Judges considering these applications will be familiar with the application of these recognised legal standards, and it would be a simple and sensible safeguard to bring these provisions in line with those under PACE.
Under PACE, tests are only limited to “investigations”, while the Bill is worded in such a way that the tests could be applied to include investigations and proceedings. It is not clear why this should be required right up to trial.
There is a further concern with regard to protection for “excluded material”, or journalistic material that is held subject to a duty of confidence. Under PACE, “excluded material” has a different set of conditions that need to be met. Why should that be different in this Bill?
Journalists play a fundamental role in holding those in power to account, and we must ensure that this legislation does not in any way suppress investigative journalism or the exposure of public interest matters. Thus while the Opposition do not oppose the Bill’s purpose and welcome measures for the speedy exchange of electronic data, we will be looking to put safeguards into the Bill on handing over information, to protect the clear will of the other place with regard to the death penalty assurances and to protect the long-cherished principle of confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The way in which we communicate with one another has changed dramatically as a result of the digital age. The rapid growth of social media platforms has led to a sea change in how information is shared, conveyed and consumed. Indeed, the use of these platforms is ubiquitous in this House, and not a day goes by without Members’ WhatsApp messages being conveniently “leaked”. However, the convenience, accessibility and anonymity of these platforms has not been lost on those with more nefarious intentions, from terrorist groups looking to spread their hateful propaganda to child abuse rings sharing horrific images, and they are enthusiastically embracing this technology. As those who intend to cause harm change their methods of communication, so must our laws change to counteract that. The Bill will help us to keep pace with the increasing use of global electronic communications by criminals.
The current regime of mutual legal assistance is too slow and bureaucratic to make an effective contribution to an investigation. An MLA request to the United States can typically take nine months to produce what is being sought. This results in delayed or abandoned investigations and can delay people from being eliminated from criminal investigations. It is clear that when dealing with fast-moving dynamic criminal threats, this system is not fit for purpose. A nine-month wait for crucial information can be nine months too long. Overseas production orders, as provided by the Bill, will make the process far faster and more reliable, as they will get the information directly from companies. Rather than waiting for another country to consider whether it can comply with a request, then issue a court order or warrant and serve it, a judge in the UK will be able to go straight to a foreign company and get the information required in days, rather than months.
The new system that the Bill provides for will help us to tackle one of the most heinous crimes: child abuse. As the Minister outlined, there has been an exponential increase in the reports of child sexual abuse. As a paediatric consultant, I have treated far too many children who have fallen victim to this crime, sometimes with horrific physical injuries resulting from the abuse and with the mental health consequences that can occur at the time and later. The National Crime Agency estimates that a minimum of 66,000 to 80,000 individuals in the UK present some kind of threat to children. Each child is an individual, and each family can be badly affected. Any measure that helps to prevent one more child from suffering this fate deserves our full support. The Bill will ensure that child sexual abusers will see swift justice for their actions, and I welcome it.
The Scottish National party welcomes the aims of the Bill, with some caveats, and the Scottish Government believe that investigations and proceedings relating to serious offences in Scotland could benefit from the use of overseas production orders as a quicker and more streamlined process for obtaining electronic data. Notwithstanding the Minister’s point, which I am sure we will discuss further in Committee, we also welcome their lordships’ amendment that provides safeguards against UK service providers being required to produce evidence in cases in which the death penalty may be imposed.
However, we are concerned about the lack of proper safeguards for journalistic material, and I hope that we will be able to strengthen the measures in that important area in Committee. Although I welcome the fact that an order must be for specific, targeted information, the fact that it will in all likelihood be able to access bulk datasets to retrieve that information is disappointing, and goes against the strong points made by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry during the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. I shall return to those issues a little later.
The ability to apply for an overseas production order through the domestic courts will make the process for gaining cross-border access to electronic data faster and more reliable than the current processes, which rely on mutual legal assistance treaties. MLAs have been criticised for being too bureaucratic and time-consuming. The UK’s deputy national security adviser on intelligence, security and resilience to 2018, Paddy McGuinness—not the one we are all familiar with—explained in an interview how the current process causes difficulties for UK investigators and prosecutors. He stated:
“It does not make sense that criminals plotting a major drug deal, a murder, a kidnap, trafficking people or sexually abusing a child in the UK can have their communications intercepted if they communicate via text message, but if they use a US company’s services their data should be out of reach of UK law enforcement.”
Those of us who sat through the Committee stage of the Investigatory Powers Bill will never forget the fact that electronic information is becoming increasingly important to the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, including terrorism. The companies that provide services that generate or store this data, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, are often located outside our jurisdiction. This puts the data beyond the reach of existing domestic court orders, which either cannot be made when the data is not in or accessible from the UK, or cannot be served extra-territorially. According to Access Now, a digital rights campaign group, there has recently been a “huge growth” in MLA requests to access online records such as subscriber details, email content, metadata and social media from companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, which treat the vast majority of their data as being located in California and therefore subject to Californian jurisdiction.
According to the Home Office’s own figures, as of 2016—the figures are now out of date—the UK was party to 40 bilateral MLA agreements. As we have heard, the MLA process can be slow, requiring significant Government-to-Government liaison. This can cause lengthy delays, which can cause problems for investigations and prosecutions. Lord David Anderson, the then independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has spoken of the severe delays in the process and recommended that the Government should seek to address deficiencies in access to material from overseas service providers and
“take a lead in developing and negotiating a new international framework for data-sharing among like-minded democratic nations.”
Detectives investigating serious offences, including murder, have commented that it is taking an “inordinate amount of time” to access evidence from Facebook. Cressida Dick has said that UK police forces have faced a “very protracted procedure” in cases where they have had to access information from organisations such as Facebook. Just recently she stated:
“I absolutely think that in certain instances...law enforcement in the UK ought to have vital evidence which might bring someone to justice.”
The delays that detectives currently face are unacceptable and it is clear that the system needs to be improved. Lord Anderson spoke in his summing up about the international frameworks, and I would like the Minister to explain further why, Brexit aside, he was not interested in participating in the European protection order.
I move on to the amendment made in the Lords to clause 1, with which we wholeheartedly agree. It provides that in any agreement on overseas production orders and the provision of electronic data under the terms of the Bill, assurances must be obtained from the other country concerned that the death penalty will not be applied. Article 2 of the European convention on human rights—together with protocol 139, to which the UK is a signatory—provides for the total abolition of the death penalty. It is therefore regrettable that the Government tried to resist this amendment in the other place. We—and, I am sure, Labour Members—will resist any Government attempt to draw back from this position in Committee.
While we broadly welcome the Bill, we are concerned about lack of safeguards for journalistic material. We believe that the provisions in the Bill are inadequate in protecting confidential journalistic material. This could threaten the pursuit of journalistic inquiry and undermine the democratic institution of a free press. We are not alone in this, as the BBC has also raised concerns.
Clause 12 provides for a journalist to be given notice of and made a party to an application that pertains to their confidential journalistic material, but this does not apply to non-confidential but none the less sensitive journalistic material, which is at odds with the domestic situation as outlined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The system proposed in the Bill will allow for a significantly reduced opportunity for journalists to engage in arguments about what is, and is not, suitable for disclosure, removing the opportunity for a journalist to make submissions on the issues that this gives rise to in the context of their work. Where on-notice applications are permitted in cases of “confidential” journalistic material, the Bill is currently silent as to whether or how any submissions will be taken into account by the judge. No further information is outlined on what this process would involve or how much information the journalist would be able to access; nor is it clear that sufficient information would be disclosed to enable them to respond appropriately. Additionally, it is unclear whether any advice or support would be provided to a journalist in those circumstances. Under clause 13, a journalist cannot inform anyone of the application or its contents, and no provision is made for this information to be disclosed to a legal adviser or representative.
The BBC has some further asks. It wants the Bill: to require that notice is given in all applications for journalistic material, not just in those involving confidential material; to ensure that the evidential value test mirrors the current law in both terrorism and non-terrorism cases; to ensure that confidential journalistic material is protected, as under the current law for domestic applications; and to ensure that the Secretary of State can enter into reciprocal arrangements only with countries that provide at least as much protection. I suspect that we will be looking at this further in Committee.
The other area that we will be seeking clarity on during the Bill’s later stages is the potential use of bulk data sets. As I have said, the SNP has argued strongly against the retention of bulk data sets, the vast majority of which are harvested from mainly innocent citizens. We argued that it is incumbent on the Government to prove that there is an operational case and that the powers are necessary and to ensure that the safeguards are rigorous. It would therefore be rather remiss of us to allow legislation to pass without the requisite safeguards around the accessing of such data.
To conclude, the MLA treaty system is not working in the modern age. Vast amounts of electronic data goes through Facebook, Twitter and other organisations, and a quicker and more streamlined process for obtaining data is required to investigate serious offences efficiently in the modern world. The ability to apply for an overseas production order through the domestic courts would make the process for getting cross-border access to electronic data faster and more reliable than currently. The Minister was uncharacteristically generous—I mean the Government, not him personally—in working with the Opposition when the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill was in Committee, and I hope that will be repeated with this Bill so that we can move on together.
For nearly a decade, I have been a champion of a charity called the Internet Watch Foundation. It is not a paid role, but it gives me huge pride. The IWF was set up by the previous Conservative Prime Minister, and it identifies online images of child exploitation and then removes them from the internet. Last year, the IWF took down or acted on 132,000 reports of child sexual exploitation, 55% of which involved children who appeared to be under the age of 10 and one third of which involved rape or sexual torture. Child sexual exploitation is hideous, and when the images can be taken down, sources can be traced and lives can be saved. I am proud that less than 1% of such images are now stored in the UK thanks to the work of the IWF.
However, speed is vital when tracking images and getting hold of them means that our law enforcement authorities can then build cases and hold these evil people to account. This Bill will allow our law enforcement agencies to apply via the UK courts for a court order in other countries to get access to that data, and it will be crucial in countries such as the US, where we are already negotiating such an agreement. I am concerned that the Labour party’s amendments will create extra delays in the process when children’s lives are at risk. We should be working as hard and as fast as possible to get rid of this global crime. Britain needs to stand up and take the lead and save our children from exploitation on the internet. I am proud to support the Bill tonight.
I pay tribute to Vicky Ford. I think the Internet Watch Foundation does a fantastic job, and it is already saving lives, so everyone involved in the organisation deserves our thanks and gratitude. It is in that spirit that I rise to support this Bill and to say that the Minister was absolutely right to make his argument in the way that he did. The legislation goes beyond defeating the people involved in child sexual exploitation, and others committing horrendous nasty, violent crimes will also be caught by these important measures. Beyond that, the Bill will act against terrorism and so on, so the Government are absolutely right to pursue it.
All that is part of the way that we in this House need to support international co-operation against crime. Although this Bill will help to speed up the work that needs to be done via the courts to enable the investigatory bodies to get these criminals and hopefully stop such activities, I gently point out that the European Union already has many successful tools and instruments, and it is a shame that it looks like we are reducing our ability to use them.
However, in totally supporting the thrust of the Bill, I associate the Liberal Democrats with the gentle criticisms of the Labour and SNP Front-Bench spokesmen, who made important points about death penalty assurances and journalistic freedom that must be considered and put right in Committee and on Report. On the death penalty assurances, joint efforts between Labour and Liberal Democrat Lords secured that amendment, and it will take some proof to convince us that it is defective. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats would like to go further. Although the amendment was welcome, the fact that it relates to section 52 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 means that there may well be other treaties involving the sharing of collected electronic data to which it may not apply. Given the significance of that, it is important that we go as far as we possibly can. The UK must oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, and we need an assurance from the Government that the law is extremely tight.
Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore clarify his party’s position if we were in a negotiation with another country and the other country said, “Look, we cannot give you the death penalty assurances”? Some 99.9% of the data requests under this Bill will be concerned with crimes of paedophilia or the other crimes that I described earlier. Should the death penalty become a bar, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the UK should not enter into an agreement because of the rare occasions on which an offence may involve the death penalty? Would he sacrifice the 99.9% for that?
The Minister is being slightly sneaky. It is quite possible to take the two issues separately and deal with them separately. It is quite easy to see how one would ensure that the welcome measures in this Bill apply to the cases to which we all want them to apply while ensuring that the death penalty assurance, which ought to unite the House, is also dealt with properly.
I am sure that the Minister understands that Opposition Members in the other place and in this place are using this point to try to ensure that the Government move on this point. He will be aware of the cases of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh from earlier this year, in which the Home Secretary—I acknowledge that this was revealed in a leaked letter—assisted the US to prosecute them without seeking death penalty assurances. That shocked people on both sides of this House, and the Minister is absolutely aware of that concern, so it is incumbent on those on the Treasury Bench to explain to and reassure this House that that cannot reoccur and that we will find ways through such issues.
I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point. He talks about “our wish”, but he cannot speak for the other country that may be involved in forming an international agreement. They may say, “That’s fine. We know what you want, but we are not prepared to do that.” In that case, the decision becomes whether we want to use this legislation for the urgent and speedy data requests that happen 99.9% of the time for offences that are egregious and horrible but do not warrant the death penalty. He cannot speak for another country, so would he sacrifice the whole Bill?
I am afraid that the Minister is still trying to split hairs. I am sure that no one in this House wants to get in the way of measures that will ensure that we can work with other countries to tackle criminals. Equally, however, it is incumbent on the Government to find a way to ensure that what we heard from the Home Secretary earlier this year does not happen again. The Minister is in the Government and has the officials to come forward with proposals to be able to manage both those issues.
It does not seem beyond the wit of man and the clever officials in the Home Office to produce such proposals. If he is saying that the amendment made in the other House is defective because it has the problem he is raising with me, let Home Office Ministers come to the House in Committee or on Report to show that and to produce an alternative that deals with the matter, about which I am sure he shares my concern.
My point is that the moment for the House to look at that is not when considering this Bill but when whatever treaty or international arrangement we make with whatever country we need to make it with comes before the House for scrutiny. Then we can have a debate about whether the international treaty we have sought to give effect to this order is right for the balance of risk, but the generic primary legislation that allows an order to be made is not the right vehicle.
What the Opposition parties are saying very clearly to the Minister is that he has to make that case in Committee, just as Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Labour party’s Front-Bench spokesman, made clear when I intervened on this very point. The Minister should make the case, but he should also explain how the Government will deal with the problem, which has arisen because of the actions of the Home Secretary not because of the actions of the Opposition.
We are concerned about the potential for this Bill to undermine protections for the freedom of the press. To be generous to the Government, what I think has happened is that, in pursuing a laudable aim that we all support, they went to the statute book and said, “Which statutes can we copy and paste to enable us to meet our objectives?” Rather than looking carefully at how, in domestic law, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has carefully nuanced the use of the Terrorism Act 2000, Home Office officials, possibly because of the culture in the Home Office, just cut and pasted mainly from the Terrorism Act. That may have been a mistake, and there may have been no deliberate intention for it to have the consequences that now appear before us, so I gently say that I hope the Minister will go away and think about this. I invite him to meet hon. and right hon. Opposition Members, as well as representatives of the media to hear in detail the genuine concerns not just of BBC lawyers but of lawyers representing other media organisations.
We have heard from other Members about the issue of the relevant evidence test, which is in our domestic law and has been carefully developed over a period of years, but that test will not be applied to protect journalists with respect to material that comes from their investigations abroad. That is quite worrying if one looks at the practical examples. Take the case of Mark Duggan, for example. He was shot by the police in Tottenham in 2011, and the BBC obtained mobile phone footage of the aftermath from a witness. The BBC was ordered to turn over the footage and, because it was relevant evidence, the footage was handed over. Then an application was made for information that would reveal the identity of the source of that footage. The person who had shot the footage was understandably concerned for their safety, and the BBC successfully opposed the application by pointing to the relevant evidence test in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. That test is not in the Bill, so there is a clear example that, by not being as subtle in this legislation as we are in our domestic legislation, there is a danger that journalistic freedom, as exercised abroad, will be curtailed.
The point about the notices is relevant, and it should worry the Minister because the way that notices work under domestic legislation is very helpful not just to journalists but to the police. Sometimes when the police put a notice to a journalistic organisation, that organisation will go back to the police and say, “You are asking for a huge amount, and we don’t really think it is necessary for your investigation. Let us enter a dialogue with you to narrow down your search so you can get information that will really help you, and therefore you will not have to waste so much time.” The notice actually turns out to be helpful in speeding up investigations. Given that that is the whole purpose of this Bill, the Minister should go away and look at that.
Moreover, it is not just about thinking of the police’s point of view in speeding things up; it is also about making sure the police know whether the evidence exists. The way some notices work at the moment is that the police go on a fishing trip. There is the example from Durham police, which applied to the BBC without notice. Durham police was eventually told that it could not do that and that, if it had submitted a notice, it would have learned that the material no longer existed. Again, the BBC was trying to save police time.
Some of the carefully constructed domestic law needs to be put into this internationally applying legislation in order to help the police and security services, not just journalists. I am sure this is just an unintended consequence, and I am sure there is no malice, so I hope this is the sort of issue that can be settled by a few meetings and a few amendments that garner support from both sides of the House. That is how scrutiny should operate in this Parliament, and I hope the Minister, with his usual generosity, will be open-minded to that approach.
With the leave of the House, I will briefly respond to the debate. Dr Johnson put her finger on it when she said that any measure that prevents one more child from suffering must be a laudable one, and she is absolutely right. Gavin Newlands and I often find ourselves working together on such Bills, and I look forward to working with him once again in Committee. He is right to raise the issue of journalists who have material that is sensitive but not necessarily confidential, which is clearly an issue to consider in Committee.
I commend Vicky Ford for the work she has done in taking down horrific images from the internet through her work with the Internet Watch Foundation. I say to Sir Edward Davey that there is no difference of principle in opposition to the death penalty. I appreciate that there is an argument about other treaties, but there will also be an argument about what is within the scope of the Bill. We should do our best, on a joint basis, to protect the gain that has been made in the Lords, and I look forward to working with his party on that at later stages.
All I say to the Minister is that I hope we can proceed by working together, as we have on previous Bills. As the Bill goes into Committee we will now be looking carefully at the issue of data access being proportionate and necessary, the issue of confidentiality and journalists’ sources, and the vital issue of death penalty assurances.
With the leave of the House, I will close the debate on Second Reading. I thank hon. Members for engaging with the Bill, for their support of what it will achieve and for their considered comments.
Overseas production orders will be vital in ensuring that criminals do not remain at large for longer than is necessary due to delays in accessing electronic content data held overseas. Overseas production orders also reflect the technological developments of recent years. The use of modern electronic communication technologies by serious criminals to perpetrate their crimes and to seek to evade justice is increasing exponentially. This means that the evidence needed to convict such criminals is increasingly in the form of emails, Facebook messages, images stored with providers like Dropbox or elsewhere in the cloud, and similar electronic content data. UK law enforcement agencies and prosecutors now need a faster, 21st-century process for obtaining such evidence, not least to protect victims of child sexual abuse living in our communities and in our constituencies.
The length of time it currently takes to obtain electronic evidence leaves child victims to be abused while our dedicated law enforcement agencies and prosecutors navigate unnecessary bureaucracy. Bureaucracy prevents us from getting to the heart of an investigation sooner and puts more children at risk. The longer it takes, the longer these vile criminals are free to carry on offending. We must prioritise the safeguarding of the most vulnerable people in our society as far as possible.
I will now briefly address the comments of hon. Members. The hon. Members for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and Sir Edward Davey all spoke about journalistic data. I absolutely hear what they say, and will give substantial consideration to their ideas and suggestions. I can perhaps provide some clarity on this. I do not think that, as the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton suggested, officials picked this off the top of their heads; it was in not only the Terrorism Act 2000, but the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. As with a lot of different case law, there have been different developments on the definitions of “data” and “confidential data” as it relates to journalistic material. Of course, the substantial value and public interest test is already in place to ensure that data relevant to a particular investigation or proceedings can be the subject of an access production order, but I am happy to discuss this further in Committee.
The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North talked about a number of things. First, he asked why we had not opted into the European protection order scheme, by which I assume he means the Europe e-evidence proposals. The Government chose not to opt into the e-evidence regulation as it is not clear that the new EU legislation will be a practical and effective way to address the global issue of providing lawful access to data held anywhere in the world. Clearly, however, I agree with the principles, which is why we are introducing this Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of bulk data. An application for an overseas production order must specify what data is being sought. The judge approving the order must be satisfied that the data requested is of substantial value to the proceedings or investigations, and that it is in the public interest for the data to be obtained. I know the hon. Gentleman may not be satisfied by that, but Joanna Cherry, being a barrister, will no doubt be absolutely supportive of judicial discretion. Interestingly, people in this House often hold strong views on this—I am a great believer in judicial discretion—yet when we ask them to make that decision about public interest or certain tests, the same people sometimes seek to restrict that judicial discretion. I trust our judiciary and believe that in this environment of a bulk data request and so on, if this is laid by our law enforcement agencies before the court, the judge can use his or her discretion to make that decision, if it is in the public interest, and the police and law enforcement satisfy the requests made.
My hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) were absolutely right about the potential damage that the online environment is doing to our young people and the tools that the internet gives some persistent offenders to exploit and abuse people, both adults and children. I mentioned Dr Matthew Falder at the opening of this debate. To see that case in detail is disturbing, and it will stay with me for most of my life. We know that he affected people’s lives, not just at home in the UK, but across the world, including by encouraging people to commit suicide and so on. He set up chatrooms where the qualification for entry was for people to bring their own abuse images into the chatroom—people were tasked with abusing children and bringing those images in. These are the people this Bill is targeted at, and every day we cannot deal with them is a day they continue to abuse.
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, and the hon. Members for Torfaen and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North asked about the issue of the death penalty. I understand the importance of it and the key principle that people hold on it. The right hon. Gentleman was a member of the first Government who published the overseas security and justice assistance guidance—OSJAG. This is human rights guidance on requests for evidence and it contains all the guidance for law enforcement and government on the extent to which we seek and uphold our principle on the death penalty. I am happy to debate this in Committee. It does however reflect the issues and challenges we face as to balancing our security with our belief on human rights. This affects any Government, including the last Labour Government, who did not have OSJAG but still believed there were exceptional circumstances when assurances need not be sought. That is why I will welcome the discussion in Committee, but I make the point to Members that this Bill is an enabling Bill. It is, in effect, a plug for international agreement that we will then go and negotiate around the world, depending on where risk comes from and need. Both Houses will get a further chance to scrutinise those individual agreements and we can then ascertain whether they uphold our principles. I look forward to debating with interested Members in Committee, and I commend this Bill on Second Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.