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My Lords, after a good deal of thought, my conclusion is that I support the conclusions of the Joint Committee, not the amendments. I previously joined the noble Lord, Lord King, in trying to bring provisions such as this to the statute book rather more urgently. I agree with his comment that it is the most scrutinised Bill we have ever seen—certainly in my more than 30 years in one or other House of Parliament. It was published with three independent reports supporting it, one of which, David Anderson’s report, was extremely complete and considered every aspect of the proposed legislation. It comes to this House with more documents published by the Government, including some of the inner work of GCHQ, than we have ever seen before. It is a great tribute to GCHQ that it accepted the advice that many people outside its establishment gave to it that it should reveal more of what it is doing. I absolutely agree with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, who had great experience of these matters throughout his career, until he entered your Lordships’ House.
What are we really trying to achieve? I think that we are trying to achieve what we already do when we have the opportunity to do it. There is a clear analogy here with mobile telephony records. As the Crown Prosecution Service has said, in 95% of the serious cases that are tried—when there is a not guilty plea, in other words—in the Crown Courts, mobile telephony records and cell site analysis are used as an extraordinarily powerful tool contributing to the conviction of very serious criminals.
On this occasion, I am not going to bore your Lordships with anecdotes about cases that I and other noble Lords have been involved in, for the simple reason that there are far too many cases to describe from those anecdotes in which mobile telephony records have been used to good effect. What technique is used—or has been used up to this stage, until this Bill is enacted—for accessing mobile telephony and internet connection records? Where they are available, the police and other authorities try to obtain access to them; when they obtain access to them, they can track the activities of the people whom they suspect—and, when they can track those activities to good, evidential effect, they use them. The result of that is to be able to put extremely powerful evidence before the courts. All that we are trying to do in this Bill is to create a reliable system that is as uniform as possible so that this type of information can be used in all cases.
Underlying the criticism of this provision is some kind of mythology about the activities of the security services, GCHQ and the police. There seems to be a myth about that they are so bored, so inactive, so idle and inert and suffer from such excessive curiosity that they have the time to look at the completely uninteresting, irrelevant internet records of any member of the public for something to do. That is an appalling suggestion, quite apart from the extremely strong discipline exerted—and I looked at this in some detail when I was Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and subsequently—on members of those security services. There are some far more experienced than me in this House, sitting in this House today, but I am sure that those noble Lords and noble Baronesses would agree that, if people were so stupid as to use their time in the security services to look up our credit card accounts, for example, they would be in very serious disciplinary trouble. So let us put that canard aside.
Let us also remember that we are not comparing like with like when we talk about other countries. The Joint Committee came to the conclusion—and the Government have, rightly, come to the same conclusion—that the Danish experiment failed because it was different and did not use the most appropriate technology. It was unfortunate for the Danes—they did it before we decided to do it—but the fact is that the Danish experiment is irrelevant to this discussion. Let us not forget, too, the powers of investigators in other countries. We are setting down in this Bill controls of the security services and anybody else who wishes to obtain access to those records, which will be the best controls in the world. We are ahead of the rest of the world in these provisions.
Compare it with what juges d’instruction can do, for example, in France or Belgium. If any one of us is an accused in France or Belgium or any other country on the continent where they have that kind of system, not only will the juges d’instruction have access to those records in any event, and not only do they have powers to direct that they have disclosure of those records to themselves, but the subject will never have the faintest idea that that has been done. Although it is tempting to compare what we do in this country with a number of other countries, it is misleading because no two systems are the same.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate that this proposal has been examined. It has had as objective an examination as one could imagine. It is a matter of record that my noble friend Lord Strasburger, like it or not, agreed with the committee’s conclusion. History will say that he agreed with that conclusion because it is there in the committee’s report. It is now time that we move on, accept that this Bill contains an objective analysis and pass this important set of provisions which will help our authorities to catch the most serious criminals, including hundreds of paedophiles, as alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Evans.