Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 14th November 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) 7:15 pm, 14th November 2018

My Lords, I hope that I can reassure noble Lords with my explanation, but I thank those who have raised their concerns about the use of Schedule 3 powers to compel a journalist to reveal their material, including confidential material.

In drafting the Bill, we have been alive to such concerns and at pains to ensure that adequate safeguards, which I think noble Lords are talking about, are in place to protect confidential material, including confidential journalistic material. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, the new retention powers in respect of confidential information require the authorisation of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who has to be satisfied that certain conditions are met before granting that authorisation.

In earlier debates on the powers under Schedule 3, I explained that a number of foreign powers and hostile actors are becoming even more bold and inventive in their methods. For example, as I outlined earlier, intelligence officers and their agents actively use the cover of certain professions, including journalism, the law and others. To ensure that our police officers are equipped to detect, disrupt and deter such activity, it is critical that they are able to retain, copy and examine documents or other articles that may include confidential journalistic or legally privileged material. That is why Schedule 3 introduces new powers and mechanisms to allow for such action to be taken where the article, which may include confidential material, could be used in connection with a hostile act or to prevent death or significant injury.

I recognise that the protection of journalistic material held by any individual examined under ports powers is a sensitive matter and one where we clearly need to get the safeguards in the Bill right. I want to be clear that the powers in Schedule 3 are not intended to disrupt or impede the vital work of journalists in any way. Journalistic freedoms of speech and expression are the absolute cornerstone of our democracy, which should be protected in the exercise of any police powers. The provisions in the Bill, however, are aimed at those who seek to abuse our legal frameworks to put our national security at risk and who are often trained to do so.

Amendment 68 would allow a person to refuse a request for documents or information where the information or documents in question consist of journalistic material, as defined by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Investigatory Powers Act, or are subject to legal privilege. In practice, this would prohibit the examining officer from verifying that the material in question is confidential and would require the officer to take the examinee at their word. Amendment 69A is similar and, while it does not quite go as far as allowing a person to refuse to provide requested documents or information, it would prohibit an examining officer from verifying that that material is confidential. Instead, it would be for the IPC to determine the question.

Restricting powers in this way would be problematic, particularly where the examinee is a trained hostile actor. Amendment 68 would provide a ground for a person to refuse to hand over documents or information simply by claiming that the material is journalistic or legally privileged. Furthermore, it would mean that the examining officer could not seek to examine such material, where there is a need, by retaining the material and applying for IPC authorisation. Amendment 69A is also concerning, as it would impose a restriction on the examining officer such that they were unable to establish their own reasonable belief that the article consists of confidential material. The police have a duty to protect our citizens and prevent crime. They cannot be expected to take at face value the word of someone they are examining who, in some cases, will be motivated to lie.

It is important to note that there are additional safeguards to govern the retention of property under Schedule 3 that consists of, or includes, confidential material. The IPC will authorise the retention and use of the material only if satisfied that arrangements are in place that are sufficient for ensuring that the material is retained securely, and that it will be used only so far as is necessary and proportionate for a relevant purpose—that is, in the interests of national security or the economic well-being of the United Kingdom; for the purposes of preventing or detecting serious crime; or for the purposes of preventing death or significant injury.

The Government are of the view that it is reasonable to expect that an examining officer will need to review material, to conclude one way or the other that specific items are, or include, confidential journalistic or legally privileged material. That being said, the draft Schedule 3 code of practice is clear:

“If during the process of examining an article it becomes apparent to the examining officer that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the article consists of or includes items that are confidential material, the examining officer must cease examining and not copy these items unless he or she believes there are grounds to retain it under either paragraph 11(2)(d) or (e)”.

The provisions in paragraph 11 of Schedule 3 contain the retention powers involving oversight by the IPC and the safeguards that I described earlier. I acknowledge that handling confidential material requires vigilance and discretion to safeguard it against unnecessary examination or retention, which is why the mechanisms under paragraphs 12, 13 and 15 of Schedule 3 in relation to these retention powers require prior authorisation of the IPC to be sought, save in exceptional circumstances, before an examining officer is able to examine such material.

We are therefore confident that the safeguards provided for in Schedule 3 and the associated draft code of practice are sufficient to protect the work and privacy of legitimate journalists and lawyers, and are consistent with the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the Schedule 7 case of Miranda that,

“independent and impartial oversight … is the natural and obvious adequate safeguard”,

in examining cases involving journalistic material.

Amendment 69 would extend this bar to information and documents where the material falls under the definition of journalistic material, as defined by the PACE and IP Acts. Such a position would go much further than safeguarding the examinee against self-incrimination. By extending the statutory bar to cover information or documents that are considered journalistic material, Amendment 69 could prevent evidence of a hostile act being used in criminal proceedings where it has been acquired through the legitimate examination of confidential material on the authorisation of the IPC. This would significantly undermine the ability of the police and the CPS to prosecute hostile actors who have used journalistic cover to disguise their criminal activities and been uncovered through the Schedule 3 examination powers.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, an officer can proceed to verify that material is confidential, subject to IPC authorisation, and look at confidential material, even if satisfied of the credentials of the journalist who might nevertheless be a hostile state actor.

Amendment 71 concerns the definition of “confidential material” in paragraph 12(10) of Schedule 3 and the associated protections. For the purposes of Schedule 3, confidential material adopts the definition of the IP Act. This definition covers, for example, journalistic material and communication that the sender intends the recipient to hold in confidence. As I explained, this material would fall under the definition of confidential material. It cannot be used or retained by an examining officer unless authorised by the IPC.

With those explanations—I am sorry they were so lengthy—I hope that the noble Baroness will feel happy to withdraw her amendment.