My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Birt. The Government are inviting us to walk down the digital street, but it is a street which would have frightened Dickens. The Bill misses opportunities to do something about that. The information which the Government are giving themselves access to in the Bill would enable them to help us, as ordinary citizens, to deal with the tide of three-card-trick salesmen, conmen and pimps that assails us every day on the internet. However, there are no proposals in the Bill to do anything, which is quite astonishing. Of course, it is not astonishing because it is a Home Office Bill. We have had this before: noble Lords on the Benches opposite will remember when they tried to get us to take identity cards. That failed because it was a Home Office Bill; there was nothing in it for the ordinary citizen. All the advantages for the ordinary citizen that might have come from an identity card system were neglected. There was nothing there; it was just, “we want to control you”. Yet, as others have pointed out, we readily accept an enormous exchange of information and control with the likes of Google and Facebook because they offer us something in exchange.
The Home Office will have to get a grip on this. How are we to deal with open borders, post-Brexit? Presumably we will still have visa-free travel with Europe, as is proposed for Canada and other countries. It would be very odd to introduce visas, so we are going to need some kind of identity system so we can catch up on people after they have got in. This is about the only way one could police a border in Ireland, let alone one with Scotland. We really have to change the Home Office to an organisation which thinks of us as citizens as well as thinking of itself as a controller of citizens. It would be excellent if the Bill could start to do that by making sure that the Home Office at least has the power to use all the information it is gathering to start reducing the level of crime described by the noble Lord, Lord Birt. I also agree very much with the noble Lord and others on the need for international collaboration. That has to be the way forward. I do not share with him and the provisional Opposition opposite—I do not think that, after today’s meeting, I can call them the Official Opposition any more—the feeling that disconnecting from Europe will slow this down. This will be an international thing that does not care for other structures: a community that all nations committed to democracy will join, whether or not they are part of any individual organisation.
I have worries, too, that the Bill has not really addressed the question of speed. There are circumstances where the Government need quick access to information. In the course of the London riots, it was really noticeable how slow official processes were in catching up with information as to what was going on but communication service companies have those capabilities. They will perform checks online in real time if someone proposes to do a financial transaction. That is routine but you need access to and collaboration with the computing power that communication service providers have to make good use of it. You cannot seek to have a second-hand flow of information and hope to build government systems that will do the deed in real time, enabling you to get on top of the flow of information taking place among people in the middle of a civil disturbance. In the course of the Bill, we have to look at how to enable the Government to collaborate with the communication service providers when speed becomes of the essence and to make sure that we are not putting any obstacles to doing so in their way.
However, I share some of the concerns about the ICR and what we are creating with the request filter. We are producing a resource there that Francis Urquhart would have loved to have his fingers on: absolute knowledge of everyone’s private life. We would have to be so clear that what we are doing will not be abused and is not open to abuse. To have a system which can be accessed without warrant or proper record of what has been done—without proper supervision of those records—really opens us up to abuses of power and of position, in a way we should not do. I am very encouraged by the quality of the debate. This House is clearly full of people who understand these problems a great deal better than I do, so I am confident that we will do something about it. We should take this seriously and I look forward to Committee to do just that.