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Investigatory Powers Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 19th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 19th July 2016

My Lords, I am very glad the noble Baroness has tabled this amendment because it enables us to clarify the extension of the things we were discussing on telephone interception into this area, which the Government are now seeking to ensure is covered in other respects and that the same principles should apply. Having said that, I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, that what is now in the Bill is probably about the best set of safeguards that we could reasonably construct from the very important principle—I agree with the noble Baroness on this—that we should protect the ability of constituents and whistleblowers to contact elected Members to raise matters of concern. They may be matters which affect the very organisations, whether it is the intelligence services or the police, that might seek the power to initiate interception.

The noble Baroness mentioned the Wilson doctrine, which came up earlier. That adds no clarity whatever to the situation but simply obscures it. It is even further complicated now by the fact that the last Prime Minister to make a Statement on the subject is no longer the Prime Minister. It is not even clear that his successor will consider herself bound in any way by what Mr Cameron said on the subject. As I think we teased out in the previous discussion, the Wilson doctrine does not really mean anything now. There is now a statutory basis for considering how to deal with a situation where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a Member of a legislature is involved in very serious crime or associated with terrorism. That is the procedure set out in the clause that the amendment addresses.

That there should be a bizarre principle now that the Government generally have a policy of not using these sorts of powers but will come along to Parliament some day and say, “We’ve changed our minds and now we want to use these powers very widely indeed” just does not make any sense at all. Since no Prime Minister has ever come to the House to satisfy the requirements of the Wilson doctrine—that if government policy changes, you should make such a Statement—the whole thing has become absurd. We should give it a decent burial and satisfy ourselves that the provisions we put in place for governing interceptions of any kind of the communications of a legislator are satisfactory. I am of the view that the clause we have now, following the various interventions that the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, described, is a good basis for doing so.