Clause 7

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 5th February 2009.

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Authorisations for obtaining and disclosing communications data

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security) 10:15 am, 5th February 2009

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 7, page 9, line 35, leave out ‘(“the authorising force”)’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 4 to 18.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

The amendments replicate for Scotland what the clause does for England and Wales, where the matters are reserved, and it is within the powers of the UK Government to do so.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

Amendments made: 4, in clause 7, page 10, line 9, at end insert—

‘(3DA) Subsection (3DB) applies if—

(a) a person is the designated person by reference to an office, rank or position with a Scottish police force; and

(b) the chief constable of that force has made an agreement under section 12(1) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 with the chief constable of one or more other Scottish police forces.

(3DB) The designated person may grant an authorisation for persons holding offices, ranks or positions with a collaborative force to engage in any conduct to which this Chapter applies.

(3DC) For the purposes of subsection (3DB) a Scottish police force is a collaborative force if—

(a) its chief constable is a party to the agreement mentioned in subsection (3DA)(b); and

(b) the persons holding offices, ranks or positions with it are permitted by the terms of the agreement to be granted authorisations by the designated person.

(3DD) A reference in subsections (3DA) to (3DC) to a Scottish police force is to a police force maintained under or by virtue of section 1 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967.’.

Amendment 5, in clause 7, page 10, line 10, leave out ‘Subsection (3B) is’ and insert ‘Subsections (3B) and (3DB) are’.

Amendment 6, in clause 7, page 10, line 12, leave out ‘subsection (3A)’ and insert ‘subsections (3A) and (3D)’.

Amendment 7, in clause 7, page 10, line 37, after ‘force.’ insert—

‘(3D) The provisions of a notice under section 22(4) may also specify or otherwise identify a person for the purposes of subsection (3)(b) above if—

(a) the person giving the notice holds an office, rank or position with a Scottish police force (“Scottish notifying force”);

(b) the chief constable of the Scottish notifying force has made an agreement under section 12(1) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 with the chief constable of one or more other Scottish police forces; and

(c) the person specified in or otherwise identified in the notice holds an office, rank or position with a collaborative force.

(3E) For the purposes of subsection (3D) a Scottish police force is a collaborative force if—

(a) its chief constable is a party to the agreement mentioned in subsection (3D)(b); and

(b) the persons holding offices, ranks or positions with it are permitted by the terms of the agreement to be specified or otherwise identified in notices under section 22(4) given by a person holding an office, rank or position with the Scottish notifying force.

(3F) A reference in subsections (3D) and (3E) to a Scottish police force is to a police force maintained under or by virtue of section 1 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967.’.—[Mr. Coaker.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We are now back on track, as you would wish, Sir Nicholas and I have just one question. The clause relates to authorisation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Can the Minister, for the benefit of the Committee, tell us why the Government did not seek to take the opportunity in this clause to look at the RIPA codes? The Minister will be aware of the debate—his predecessor was certainly well aware of it—which concerns the fact that RIPA is an important means of making sure that the authorisation that officers seek, when they carry out surveillance, is done in a way that civil rights are protected. We understand that.

However, many representations were made to his predecessor and have been made to me. I shall give just one example. Over two years ago, the Police Superintendents Association made representations in writing to the Home Office, the nub of which was to amend the RIPA codes to say that in a set number of examples—it came up with up to 20—an authorisation under RIPA would not be necessary. To give a flavour of that, it suggested that the RIPA codes should be amended in the following, stylised example. At the moment, if a police officer had intelligence, anecdotal or otherwise, that youths were breaking into cars parked in a particular supermarket car park on a Sunday, in order to survey that event by hiding behind a wall, under a strict interpretation of RIPA 2000, that officer would have to get written authorisation for that surveillance.

That was one example where the Police Superintendents Association indicated that the RIPA codes should be re-written to create an exemption. That is a current issue. When I last raised it with the Minister’s predecessor in Westminster Hall last year, the Minister said that this problem—I paraphrase—had been dealt with. It is clear that what he said in Westminster Hall was not the understanding that serving officers had of the operation of the RIPA regime and seeking authorisation. They were seeking a re-writing of the RIPA codes to make exemptions. Officers said the problem was still current. The Minister’s predecessor was wrong to say there was no concern. I wonder, in the light of that, why the Home Office or its advisers did not see fit to touch on that in the police reform part relating to authorisations necessary for surveillance in the context of RIPA, which is the subject of this clause.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

It has been suggested—the Minister says, unkindly—that the Bill is a rag-bag, that it is legislation for the sake of it. One issue that has perhaps been missed and which the opportunities of this clause could have dealt with is the concern about the over-extension of the number of people who can use the powers under RIPA. When RIPA was introduced, nine organisations could use its powers. By last year it was 792 organisations, including 474 councils. In the last year, the police and  law enforcement agencies made 19,000 applications to use the powers of RIPA and councils and other departments made 12,500 applications. At that rate, it will not be long before councils, Government Departments, civil servants are making more use of this than the law enforcement agencies that it is designed for. We have had examples of councils using the powers to try to monitor dog fouling, people who may or may not be lying about where they live so they can get access to schools and that sort of thing. I know the Government have recently said to councils that they should not be doing this, but when powers are created they will be used. This has happened with counter-terrorism legislation where police use it to arrest people who are legitimately protesting at an arms fair or heckling at a Labour party conference. If powers exist, people will use them. Do the Government intend to look again at the workings of RIPA—the way it has extended into so many non-law enforcement agencies—and alter legislation to deal with that?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I commend all Members of this Committee tomorrow to read the House of Lords report—I gave evidence to the Select Committee—which deals with many of the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman, in particular the inappropriate use by local authorities of powers under RIPA. That is being looked at.

In direct answer to the point from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, we are looking at the statutory codes of the covert surveillance and human intelligence services and we will be putting out revised codes of practice for public consultation in the not too distant future. The hon. Member will then be able to look at those and comment. That work is being taken forward and I hope that reassures him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.