May I begin by making a slight apology to the House? As the amendments have been grouped together, my speech will be in a single block, so I ask Members to be patient.
Let me begin by addressing amendments 12, 1 and 24. I recognise that amendment 24 has not been selected, but I am happy to deal with it, because it was tabled.
Throughout the progress of this Bill, as with others that I have piloted through the House, I have been keen to reach a consensus. Labour Front Benchers, as well as members of the Scottish National party, will know that I have often been open to their ideas, and that in the case of a number of Bills—such as the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill and indeed this Bill—I have taken their ideas on board and put them into law. I have done so not only because I truly care about keeping our citizens safe, but because I know that our laws work best when they do what they set out to do and are supported by the broadest consensus of the public.
The House of Commons cannot ignore the times in which we live. In the last decade, we have become more and more dependent on the internet and smartphones. In fact, 78% of people and 95% of 16 to 24-year-olds now possess a smartphone. Such technology can be a force for good, but it has also become an accelerant to those who wish us harm. Whether we are talking about county lines, terrorism or child abuse, smartphones have opened up a whole world of encrypted communications which I believe presents the biggest single challenge to our police and to law enforcement.
As Security Minister, I recall many occasions on which I was woken to deal with security issues. I remember being woken on the night of the Manchester Arena bombing, and I remember hearing the chilling news that a nerve agent had been used on the streets of Salisbury. But the day that I remember above all from the last two and a half years was the day of my visit to a regional and organised crime unit, where I had to listen, via an online chatroom, to a paedophile plot to kidnap, rape and kill a seven-year-old girl, about the same age as my daughter. If that was not sickening enough, I could sense the frustration of detectives who needed data from overseas to stop the abuse being committed, because in case after case timing is everything in these investigations.
So when the US Government, supported by Senators in the House of Congress, offered to help to solve this problem we grabbed at the chance. The House should recognise what they have offered: they have offered to remove legal barriers in the US to enable compliance with UK court orders. The Americans recognised, as we do, that the vast majority of data that we need for our investigations reside on the other side of the Atlantic—Google, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, to name but a few. In fact, 99% of data that we need for child abuse investigations resides overseas and only 1% resides here.
These stark figures say two things to me. First, the reality is that we need the US data far more than they need ours. That was true before Donald Trump and it will be true after Donald Trump. Secondly, in this case, the US is doing us a favour. The Bill before us is the legislation required to give effect to a future US treaty and any other treaty we may make with another country in future, for example, Canada, so we can access that data much more quickly than we do now. These treaties will come before us separately, to this House and the peers House, at a different time, and Members will be able to scrutinise and challenge them at that point.
Let me deal directly with the Labour amendments. During the Bill’s passage in the Lords the Labour party attached to this Bill an amendment that would prevent the UK from making the necessary treaty with the US unless it got assurances that data sent across the Atlantic would not lead to the death penalty. This Bill allows enforcement agencies to access content directly from communications service providers based overseas using an overseas production order. These orders can only work when a relevant international agreement, such as a treaty, is in place between the UK and another country and as the majority of the CSPs, as I said, are based in America we expect the first such agreement to be with the United States. Both amendments 1 and 12 attempt to amend the Bill and reinsert the Lords amendments.
First, and bearing in mind how little data we hold here, having looked back over 20 years, we have not been able to find a single case whatsoever where only the data that the Bill deals with would have led to a death penalty overseas. Secondly, this is about data, not people. Extradition from the UK is dealt with by separate legislation and Her Majesty’s Government are already prevented from handing over someone without death penalty assurances. Thirdly, this Bill is about our data requests overseas in order to bring data back here for investigations and when I last looked we do not have the death penalty in this country. So to try to use the Bill as a vehicle to deal with a treaty as yet not concluded is simply wrong.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have been clear that the US has been generous in its offer. I have also admitted on the record that on this subject we do not have equality of arms with the US. This is not about a fantasy that we are bowing to the US. I noticed the allegations that Ms Abbott made in her column in the Daily Mirror recently saying that this was all about cosying up to Donald Trump, that the Labour party amendment
“simply blocks data sharing co-operation with all countries if the death penalty is a risk”,
and that the
“reason Ministers seem to be so keen to tear up our laws and ignore our human rights is because they are in a terrible mess in refusing to rule out a No Deal Brexit.”
Of course, nowhere does her op-ed address the central allegation that her blocking data will mean child abusers will be free to continue abuse of children for longer because we simply will not be able to get the data that we wish. And perhaps I could put her mind at rest: the US offer on this treaty was initiated not under President Donald Trump, but under President Obama. This is about the reality and the decisions we need to make to put our citizens’ safety first. Members should understand that the current drawn-out methods of getting data can take months and years.