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Investigatory Powers Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 19th July 2016.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:00 pm, 19th July 2016

My Lords, Amendment 169AA would remove the role of the Secretary of State and law enforcement chiefs from the warrant authorisation process, in circumstances where an equipment interference warrant is sought for the purposes of acquiring the communications or private information of a Member of a relevant legislature. This proposal reflects an earlier amendment discussed by this Committee in the context of interception. As I understood her, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is concerned that the safeguards contained in the Bill politicise the process of authorising a warrant. I do not share that perspective at all.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Keen said when we first discussed this matter, this amendment would in fact reduce the safeguards for parliamentarians. In line with the commitment given by the previous Prime Minister last November, the Bill provides a triple lock where warrants concern a parliamentarian’s communications or private information: they must be issued by the Secretary of State; approved by the Prime Minister; and authorised by a judicial commissioner. The Bill goes even further in the context of equipment interference warrants issued to law enforcement agencies, which are issued by a law enforcement chief and must be approved by the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and an independent judicial commissioner.

I will not rehearse the arguments for the double lock at this point, but it is important to remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, reminded us, that it was endorsed by the Joint Committee of Parliament that scrutinised the draft Bill and, following amendments made in the other place, enjoyed cross-party support. The additional safeguards provided for parliamentarians add an extra layer of checks to the process. I do not share the perception of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the process introduces the risk of political bias. In fact, I find it difficult to see what possible benefit would accrue from removing one of the checks that we now propose—that regarding the Secretary of State or law enforcement chief. In view of that, I respectfully invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

I will move on briefly to the amendment tabled by the Government. Amendment 173 is—this answers the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—a small, technical amendment that simply corrects the omission of a definition from Clause 114. The amendment adds the appropriate definition of a “designated senior official” to the clause, informing the reader of the persons to whom the provision applies. We do not think that there is any need to revisit the relative definitions in other parts of the Bill, and the amendment does not change how the equipment interference regime operates in any way.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the Government’s view of the Wilson doctrine. As he will be aware, in its judgment of 14 October the IPT comprehensively rejected the claim brought by a number of parliamentarians that their communications were improperly intercepted and found that all activity was within the law. The IPT also found that MPs’ communications with their constituents and others are protected by RIPA, the statutory legal regime, and that the regime governing the interception of MPs’ communications is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In February 2015, the Government published an updated draft code of practice on the interception of communications, which explicitly recognised the importance of communications between constituents and their elected representatives. In consequence, the Bill now provides for this in statute by setting out a role for the Prime Minister in authorising warrants which target a parliamentarian. I hope that that is helpful.