New Clause 1 - Report on the Prime Minister’s engagement with the Intelligence and Security Committee

Part of Investigatory Powers (Amendment)Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 25 March 2024.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 8:00, 25 March 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Sir John Hayes, and indeed all the fellow members of the ISC who have spoken on both sides of the House in our debate on seeking to improve this important piece of legislation. I must say that it is very rare, when one is called towards the end of a debate, for there to have been concessions on most of the areas at issue, leaving very little else to say. It makes me happy that I did not write my speech in advance, since I would have had to rip most of it up following the Security Minister’s very welcome concessions on a range of issues during our debate. They are on the record, and they are indeed extremely welcome.

However, there is one area of detail that I want to comment on, which is about the triple lock amendment—amendment 22—on the qualifications and experience of the Secretaries of State who, under the widening of the triple lock, could if the Prime Minister of the day is incapacitated for some reason, be drawn into making a warrant to intercept the communications of a Member of this Parliament, or indeed a Member of any of the devolved legislatures in the UK. Sir David Davis was very explicit about why that particular protection should be in existence, and I completely agree with his analysis. One of the ways we defend our democracy is by allowing Members of Parliament to do their unique jobs without interference unless it is for an exceptional and a very good reason, and has been authorised at the highest level.

There has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing while the Bill has been going through its parliamentary stages about precisely how this widening of the power to make such a warrant away from the Prime Minister, if he or she is indisposed or unable to be near secure communications, should actually be defined. We have got down to the stage where everybody agrees that to make the system robust there should be an expansion, and we have even come up with a number of Secretaries of State—five—who should be authorised in such exceptional circumstances to make that warrant.

We are now down to the last piece of disagreement between the ISC and the Minister, which is about what the qualifications of those Secretaries of State should be. In seeking to try to draw out precisely what the Government mean, we have asked as a Committee that the relevant Secretaries of State who may be down to do this duty ought already to be responsible for warrantry, or have had previous responsibility for it. Thus far, however, the Government and the Minister have been unwilling to be that deliberate in the arrangements they have made.

As Sir Jeremy Wright said in his contribution to the debate, the only qualification apart from being a Secretary of State that the Government appear to have admitted is that the person standing in for the Prime Minister ought to have had a 20-minute security briefing about warrantry.