Clause 48 - Criminal investigations or proceedings

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 18th September 2003.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 9:45 am, 18th September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 237, in

clause 48, page 25, line 5, leave out subsection (4).

Clause 48 provides, understandably, an exemption in relation to indecent photographs under clause 47 for ''Criminal investigations or proceedings''. I understand that to mean that if copies of an indecent photograph have to be made to be circulated in preparation for a trial, those engaged in that process are not thereby exposed to criminal penalties. It also applies to those who need to circulate such material because they are trying to catch someone or identify the person who has been photographed. That all makes eminent sense.

However I was slightly more curious about subsection (4). Separately from the other

authorisations, there is an authorisation here that can be

''given by the Director-General of the Security Service if it appears to him necessary for the exercise of any of the functions of the Service.''

The Security Service may well get involved, for example, in an investigation into the trafficking of underage children for sexual purposes, in which case the photographs will have to be circulated. The small query that emerged in my mind was whether that would give a blanket permission to the Security Service to take photographs of a Ruritanian chargé d'affaires having sex with a 13-year-old for the purposes of inducing him to co-operate with the Security Service thereafter. Although I know that these are subjects over which delicate veils are drawn, I wonder whether, before we gave a statutory sanction to such activities, we might hear from the Minister what is actually involved.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

Following on from my hon. Friend's comments, will the Minister explain whether the authorisation give by the director general is to be given specifically—that is to say that the decision making would involve only the director general—or is it wider, meaning that other members of the security services will be able to provide an authorisation under delegated powers from the director general himself? That is my first point. We have come across a parallel in other legislation where someone with a title is given authority, and it is important to clear up whether it is that individual person who has to make the decision and give the authority, or whether that person can delegate to others in his or her organisation. How wide is the prospect of authorisation being given?

Secondly, because of the slightly unusual circumstances, does the Minister think that there is any merit in the proposition that in the case of the director general giving authorisation, he or she should first seek permission from a High Court judge, or is she entirely happy with the provision as it stands? I join my hon. Friend in probing in relation to the amendment.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

I understand the spirit of the probing questions and hope that I can respond to Opposition Members. The effect of their amendment would be to prevent the director general of the Security Service alone, in the list of people to whom we are proposing to give authorisation powers, from giving that authorisation. That would presumably mean that the security services would have to seek authorisation in the list and would receive that only for the purposes listed.

In relation to the question of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, I would say two things. First, the security services have a remit in relation to crime anyway. They do not simply deal with intelligence and security, as the hon. Gentleman is aware. It is important, therefore, that they are able to give authorisations to their personnel, as other services would. There is not a neat split between criminal activity and organised terrorist activity that is core to the remit of the security services.

To give an example that we have talked about a fair bit, investigations into al-Qaeda took place to determine how such organisations communicate. It may be believed that some information pertaining to national security has been encrypted into a photograph or an image. It would be important for the security services to be able to draw down that image to decode and deconstruct the information that was in the photograph. Use of such images via the internet is one of the mechanisms that we know organisations use to communicate with their members in a secret way. That is a tangible example of why the security services need to be able to give permission to their staff to draw down certain images when they think that information is contained within.

The important point is that all the people listed in the clause—including the director general—are accountable for the way in which the authorisation will operate in their organisations. That is the key point. It may be that a particular individual at second tier may see the detail of the request to make a decision but the director general will be personally accountable. There is, therefore, no reason to make the director general of the Security Service go to a High Court judge, when we accept that other people included in the clause can be accountable in that way in law for the decisions that they make when they authorise their staff to draw down such material.

I hope that that answer satisfies the hon. Gentlemen. We are not yet satisfied with the drafting of clause 48. The numbers of people who might, with justification, seek authorisation is actually greater than we initially thought as we worked through the clause. Therefore, the clause may be too widely drawn and the system may become overloaded. We are negotiating with the police services and others and we shall table our own amendment on Report. For absolute clarification, we expect to continue to allow the Security Service to ''make'' such images in pursuit of its functions as the clause states.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 10:00 am, 18th September 2003

I suspect that I have got as much information as I am likely to. I am partly reassured by what the Minister of State has told me. Having noted that that is why we are putting the Bill on the statute book in that form, I look forward to seeing the revised list. I accept that all sorts of people may require such authorisations, and we will give the matter further scrutiny.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge

I wondered whether my hon. Friend had received a satisfactory answer to the Ruritanian question because I did not think that we did.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I must say that I did not think that I got a satisfactory answer to the Ruritanian question, and the Minister may acknowledge that. I have a funny feeling that I will not get a satisfactory answer. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.