Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [HL] - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 22nd October 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 3:30 pm, 22nd October 2018

I thank both noble Lords for speaking to their amendments today and express my gratitude to all Members of the House for their contributions both in Committee and today on Report—I think it is the same two noble Lords, but perhaps there are one or two more.

I stress to the House the importance of the UK-US data access agreement. The agreement will allow the UK authorities access to valuable evidence and intelligence directly from US communication service providers. The House should be made aware that the vast majority of CSPs and their data reside in the US, not the UK. The Bill gives our law enforcement a strategic advantage in the fight against the threat we face.

Indeed, in almost every serious criminal investigation, we expect those we investigate to be using services provided by CSPs based in the US. The agreement will make a significant contribution to the detection, investigation, prevention and prosecution of serious crime and terrorism. The Government have been working towards the agreement with the help of US CSPs and the US Government for several years following the recommendation from the then Prime Minister’s data envoy Sir Nigel Sheinwald.

All Governments and any future Governments have the duty to put the security of their people first. It will always be in the public interest to ensure that our police and agencies have access to the necessary intelligence and evidence in order to fulfil that duty. Just as it was under the previous Labour Government and as it is today, Ministers must always be mindful of the current threat environment they find themselves in. That is why we believe that better scrutiny of these agreements and accountability for future treaties is the best way to ensure that the Government’s principles are tested, rather than prescribing a rigid format for treaties that have not yet even been mooted, let alone being currently under negotiation.

Of course, the Government’s objective is to obtain a satisfactory death penalty assurance, but negotiations are ongoing and not yet concluded. Playing the discussions out in public may make it much harder to conclude them effectively.

Let me be clear to the House: there will be an assurance in the agreement. We can expect it to rule out the direct use of information obtained under the agreement as evidence in a prosecution where the death penalty might apply. Parliament will scrutinise the final detail of any agreement and the assurance it contains. We have already tabled an amendment today clarifying that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process will always apply to relevant international agreements, ensuring that Members have two opportunities to scrutinise a treaty.

But I am willing to go further. Noting the concerns that noble Lords have expressed, the Government will commit to bringing forward an amendment in the Commons. Such an amendment would not pre-empt negotiations with the US, or any future agreement with another country, but would instead absolutely guarantee that Parliament has the chance to conduct proper, thorough scrutiny of relevant agreements and death penalty assurances.

The amendment I envisage would ensure that Ministers cannot make regulations to designate any agreement with a country which retains the death penalty for incoming requests without first laying before Parliament the agreement and details of any assurances obtained. There would then be a defined period during which Parliament would have a chance to examine those details, and this could include scrutiny by any relevant committees.

Finally, the Secretary of State would be obliged to consider any recommendations made by a committee in relation to the assurances before laying regulations to designate the agreement. Of course, the regulations themselves would then be subject to the usual process of parliamentary scrutiny, during which time Members of both Houses could consider any recommendations and respond to them.

Ultimately, it is right that Parliament has a say on the difficult decision between not concluding negotiations on agreements and securing the death penalty assurances we would like. Both the amendments tabled by Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers could lead to our being unable to conclude a data access agreement with the US. If we find ourselves in that situation, law enforcement agencies and the UK intelligence community will continue to be denied timely access to valuable evidence and intelligence.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that Section 52 of the IPA covers only material intercepted in the course of transmission. That is not entirely correct. It can authorise obtaining stored communications as well as intercept. As I said, there is a balance to be struck here. That is why I ask Members not to tie the Government’s hands in negotiations. Instead I will commit to amending the Bill in the Commons to ensure that Parliament has ample opportunity to scrutinise any future treaty and, if relevant, its death penalty assurance.