I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place. I certainly endorse the comments that he made at the end about the work of those in the intelligence and law enforcement community, who are there to protect us and whose successes, as he said, often go unrecognised.
We welcome the report by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, into the operation and regulation of law enforcement and agency investigatory powers. It is a report which the shadow Home Secretary called for when emergency legislation was being debated last summer, since we believe that the current legislative framework is no longer fit for purpose. While technology has moved on, the same cannot be said for either the law or the oversight arrangements. Reforms are needed, and we need to get them right in order to protect both our liberty and our security when addressing the threats we face.
In media broadcasts the independent reviewer has given today, he said that there are two problems with the law in this area as it stands. The first is that no one can understand it since it is spread over 64 Acts of Parliament, which have also proved variable in their application. The second is that there is a need for stronger safeguards and protections. For example, instead of it being the Home Secretary who decides whether you can tap the telephone of a suspected drug dealer or terrorist, it should be for a judge to do so, in order that it can be seen to be done in a proper and independent fashion. It seems that last year the Home Secretary authorised some 2,345 warrants. According to the report of one interview David Anderson has given, the Home Secretary has, in his view, effectively been doing this in her spare time when not running the department. Whether the Home Secretary shares the concerns of the independent reviewer about the workload imposed on her by having to decide whether to authorise all these warrants is no doubt something on which the Minister will be able to enlighten us, but I have a feeling that Mr Anderson thinks that warrants should be authorised by a judge—full stop—rather than concerns over the workload it involves for either this Home Secretary or indeed any other Home Secretary.
Proportionate surveillance and interception saves lives and averts and disrupts terror attacks and other major crimes. There is no doubt that these powers are needed and we cannot allow the sunset clause on the existing powers to lapse at the end of next year without having new legislation in place. However, strong powers need strong checks and balances, including effective oversight of the way the system works. Public acceptance of the need for such powers will be diminished if there is a belief that they are being abused for purposes that impinge on our privacy, and for which they were neither intended, nor for which authorisation for their use has been given.
We have to ensure that we put arrangements in place to address the concerns that personal privacy can be invaded without justification and proper prior authorisation. We welcome the proposals in the independent reviewer’s report to strengthen oversight that involve a new and stronger independent surveillance and intelligence commission, merging the existing system of commissioner, and of course introducing judicial authorisation of warrants. Do the Government also welcome these proposals?
The independent reviewer has also concluded that there should be no question of progressing proposals for the compulsory retention of third-party data before a compelling operational case for it has been made out, which he says it has not been to date. Is that recommendation in line with the thinking of the Home Secretary? We welcome the Government’s decision that a draft investigatory powers Bill—presumably based on David Anderson’s report, although perhaps the Minister can confirm that that will be the case—will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I hope that the Government will also provide time for a full debate on the Anderson report in this House so that all Members have the opportunity to contribute. I hope also that the Government will seek to promote this among the public at large as well, to help ensure that there is the widest possible consent and thus legitimacy for the new framework. Will the Government provide for such a debate?
The digital age is a source of freedom and opportunity but, as we have seen, it brings new challenges from new crimes and new threats to our security that are extensive and go well beyond the horrors of terrorism. We have to ensure that those whose responsibility it is to protect us and keep us safe have the necessary powers to do the job in the changing technological environment in which we live today, while ensuring that those powers are used only for the purposes authorised and intended, and not at the expense of the liberty and privacy of the public at large. We welcome the report by David Anderson, which will help us to do this and ensure that in the key areas of security, privacy and countering the many different threats we face, our very different digital age from that we have known in the past actually serves the interests of the public and our democracy rather than proves to be our master.