Investigatory Powers Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:54 pm on 27th June 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Conservative 5:54 pm, 27th June 2016

My Lords, I return to the subject of the Investigatory Powers Bill. I support the Bill, which I believe to be strongly in the national interest. The threats against which we need this legal base for our collective protection are, sadly, of indefinite duration and, as other noble Lords have said, the situation is getting more complex, difficult and dangerous and we need the protection of the law behind us. Having said that, at the same time it is very welcome that the legislation will include further protections and safeguards that do not exist at present. That gives reassurance and helps produce the balance that we need in legislation for the future. Finally, it is important to remember that we need to get the Bill through as we have a statute on the books only until the end of the year.

The current Bill is the product of pre-legislative consultation and scrutiny in the other place, with plenty of debate and amendment. It has undoubtedly been improved for that. We should take notice of the fact that a great deal of work has been done there. It is, I think, well balanced and been made more proportionate in the course of that debate and a lot of progress has been made on contentious issues. While the House should give it the serious scrutiny that it deserves, which is one of our jobs, I hope that we can refrain from reopening issues where the other place has already done a good job. We do not need a degree of perfectionism that simply rewrites legislation in a slightly different way when the result we have already attained is good.

The Government have accepted an overarching statement of the privacy protections. That is very important and in the Bill. They have also either given or promised protections for sensitive data sources, Members of Parliament, journalistic sources, legally privileged materials and trade union activities. All of those add to the credibility of the Bill and clearly delineate where the powers apply and where exceptions have to be treated with great care.

There is also the increase in the double lock on forms of warrant, and I believe that any Home Secretary would be putting him or herself in considerable jeopardy were he or she to try to ignore the factual review of the judicial commissioner, so one really cannot argue that the power of the judicial commissioner that has already been put in place is inadequate.

My noble friend has indicated that more government amendments will be introduced as a result of debate in the other place, and our debates here will be made a good deal easier by that welcome development. We should pay tribute to the quality of debate in the other House that has led us to be able to advance the Bill in this House at an early stage.

Many noble Lords have rightly said that the Bill mostly brings together existing powers in one place, but there are some new ones, and one of them is access to internet connection records—so-called ICRs—including, as others have said, in relation to VoIP. The Government describe that power as crucial and I very strongly agree. It is necessary for us to have this technical capability. It is also an example of where previous legislation on the statute book was out of date because of technical developments. The point made by other noble Lords about the need to have legislation that enables us to deal with future technical development is important. Future-proofing is difficult; it is not easily done; but we should not pass legislation that prevents us coping with new situations. Taking a sensible stance on future-proofing is important.

I am sure that we will debate the ICR legislation carefully, and it is right that we should do so. There is the question of the authorisation regime and whether it is tight enough, and we need to know exactly what data can legitimately be regarded as forming an ICR. These are all issues that we need to look at. Among other things, service providers need to know precisely what they have to store. An important point is also to have clarity in the Bill itself over what constitutes third-party data.

I have had plenty of lobbying letters, as I am sure other noble Lords have, which raise some important issues that we will want to look at. Some of the points I have had have certainly been overegged, but in the letters I have had the service providers have generally taken a very intelligent and constructive interest in the Bill. Most of them say they welcome it, and very often they propose quite sensible ideas. Quite a lot of it focuses on whether it is right and adequate simply to have some of these safeguards spelt out in a code of practice or whether they should be in the Bill. In general I tend towards wanting to put the safeguards in the Bill.

I will say just a word about bulk powers. There is widespread questioning of why the British Government consider these powers so essential when other Governments do not think them necessary. We need to look at that carefully. My noble friend Lord King gave us some of the reasons why the Government may well be right. One does not have to believe in the erroneous assertion that collection of bulk material constitutes bulk surveillance—it does not. On the other hand, we need to be cautious about collecting a vast amount of data, which covers large numbers of individuals who are not necessarily involved. However, we do not live in a world where prior intelligence is so good that it is obvious that we can totally dispense with bulk collection in favour of targeted collection. The point is obvious. For me, the question is much more about how many categories of bulk collection are justified in the national interest. The Government have provided an operational case, and I look forward to the view and the assessment that Mr David Anderson will put forward in his forthcoming report, which will be very important to the House.

Finally, I will address something that has not been mentioned in the debate so far, which is the question of information that is outside the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom but which the agencies may need. It is quite possible—in fact, I would say that it was quite probable—that quite a lot of cases will involve data located outside the UK jurisdiction. Once the Bill has been agreed, it will give a considerable degree of confidence in UK standards of authorisation, transparency and oversight of data collection, and will lay a good base for international agreements with like-minded Governments, which would permit UK requests to be directly made to companies rather than through Governments in different jurisdictions. That will be an advance on having to rely on mutual legal assistance agreements. On this issue, I hope that we will build in the Bill a base for the international agreements that have been proposed by Sir Nigel Sheinwald as a way forward, as that will be a constructive and rapid way forward to getting the kind of information the agencies need. It is no good the agencies asking for something which turns up three months later after a legal haggle instead of being able to get at it in a timely way.

This is important legislation, and I hope that, notwithstanding the turbulence in our national politics that we have just been discussing, we will be able to apply ourselves and get it on to the statute book in good time.