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My Lords, these amendments all concern the public authorities that are able to acquire communications data. I should take this opportunity to mention a document which we published last week and which is available in the Printed Paper Office: Operational Case for the Use of Communications Data by Public Authorities. It sets out why it is essential that the authorities listed in Schedule 4 to the Bill are able to acquire communications data. It is important to recognise that the crimes they investigate are not trivial. They include offences such as bribery and corruption, defrauding vulnerable people of their life savings, stealing sensitive personal information and supplying dangerous counterfeit medicines. That document is pertinent to this group of amendments, because Amendments 145 and 146 would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to add public authorities to Schedule 4 by regulations.
I recognise the well-intentioned purpose of the amendments. However, it is not something that the Government can support because it goes against our stated aim of ensuring that the Bill is future-proofed. Although we have no plans to use the regulation-making power, and, indeed, we think it unlikely that any additional authorities will be identified, it would not be good policy to specifically rule it out. That is because communications data are an essential investigative tool for numerous investigations and they are used by a number of different authorities. As I said, we have published the operational case demonstrating why it is so essential that the authorities listed in Schedule 4 continue to be able to use these powers.
As that operational case demonstrates, the authorities that acquire communications data, including the so-called “minor users”, often do so to investigate serious crime and, in some cases, save lives. Should a new investigative body be established—for example, with a remit to investigate a specific type of serious crime—we would want the flexibility to give it the powers that it needed. Similarly, we need to be able to adapt the list if changes in the roles and responsibilities of public bodies mean that it falls out of date.
Of course, there should be full and proper scrutiny of any decisions to provide powers to an additional body. The Government will consider giving powers only where a public authority can make a robust case and, perhaps more importantly, the Bill allows a public authority to be added to Schedule 4 only under the enhanced affirmative procedure. This procedure requires additional consultation above and beyond the affirmative procedure and ensures that a parliamentary committee is provided with an opportunity to consider the draft regulations.
This power has been considered by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. In her letter to the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Bill, my noble friend Lady Fookes reported that the committee accepted the need for the delegated power and welcomed the strengthening of scrutiny procedures under the Bill. She said that,
“the enhanced affirmative procedure ... provides an appropriate level of Parliamentary scrutiny”.
I hope that that reassures the Committee that sufficient scrutiny is already built into the process to ensure that an additional public authority would be added to Schedule 4 only where it had a robust and compelling need for the powers.
On Amendment 147, I hope I can reassure noble Lords that the intent of this amendment is already met by the Bill. Should there be a need to make changes by order to the “designated senior officer” position within local authorities, the Bill already requires the Secretary of State to consult each local authority to which the amendment relates. If the intent of the amendment is to ensure that organisations such as the Local Government Association are consulted, I can also assure noble Lords that the Government regularly consult such organisations and would consult them should we wish to make changes in respect of investigatory powers that affect their members.
However, we do not think that it would be appropriate to include a requirement to consult representatives of local authorities without identifying who that specifically means, particularly when there is already a requirement to consult the local authorities themselves. I hope that that provides reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
Amendment 149 would remove a power that will be used as a safeguard. I am sure that that cannot be the intent of the noble Lord. The provisions in the Bill relating to collaboration agreements provide that, where a collaboration agreement is in place, single points of contact and designated senior officers in one relevant public authority are able to act on behalf of another relevant public authority. The Bill allows the Secretary of State to require authorities to enter into collaboration agreements, where appropriate.
Smaller users of communications data being mandated to request data through the single points of contact and designated senior officers in authorities that acquire communications data more frequently can be an important safeguard. That is because, inevitably, those authorities that request data most frequently will be able to build up more experience and expertise in acquiring communications data, thus reducing the possibility of errors or inappropriate use. Accordingly, the Government do not believe that it would be sensible to remove this potentially important safeguard. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and gives him sufficient comfort at this stage to withdraw his amendment.