Certain transfer and agency arrangements with public authorities

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 19th April 2016.

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

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

There are matters relating to this clause on which I would like to press the Minister. This is the clause that provides for what is effectively the transfer of certain functions between the Secretary of State and other public authorities. The functions to be transferred are the functions in clauses 58 to 60, at which we looked in some detail last week: the filtering arrangements for obtaining data. As set out in clause 58, it is for the Secretary of State to maintain and operate arrangements. It is then for the relevant public authority, acting through a designated senior officer, to effectively carry out the exercise, using authorisations as and where necessary and appropriate. We discussed that arrangement.

Clause 74 provides for a transfer of functions of the Secretary of State—which I take to include establishing, maintaining and operating arrangements—from the Secretary of State to another public authority. That seems to me to cut through the thrust and the purpose of clause 58, which has a clear hierarchy to it: the Secretary of State, then the designated senior officer. Subsection (1)(b) is freestanding and transfers any function exercisable by a public authority back the other way to the Secretary of State, so there is a complete provision for a swap of roles. Subsection (3) indicates that:

“Regulations under subsection (2) do not affect the Secretary of State’s responsibility for the exercise of the functions concerned”.

Then schedule 5, in the back of the Bill, is referred to, but that does not add a great deal.

The question for the Minister is: how it is anticipated that these powers are to be exercised? On the face of it, this is an odd structure for a Bill to set out. This structure goes from the Secretary of State down to the relevant public authority, with the Secretary of State having a much wider role of setting up the arrangements, only for us to find, several clauses later, that it is possible to flip the functions and have the public authority making the arrangements. That seems to remove some of the formality and the safeguards intended by clause 58.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. and learned Gentleman, with his typical diligence—which is at least matched, by the way, by those on the Treasury Bench—has identified, quite properly, both the reasons for this clause and the character of the transfer of arrangements that it details. He accurately identified subsection (3), which emphasises that:

“Regulations under subsection (2) do not affect the Secretary of State’s responsibility for the exercise of the functions concerned”.

The transfer of arrangements will change neither the Secretary of State’s responsibility nor the process for authorising requests for data. It is about the technical running of the filtering capability. It is there to require flexibility; it might be appropriate at some future point for another authority to exercise the filtering function, but without responsibility moving from the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will retain responsibility, but the operational running of the filter might change over time. This is essentially about future proofing.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am grateful to the Minister. I am not being pernickety; I just want to be clear. Subsection (3) appears to apply only to regulations under subsection (2), which I think is about changing the powers of public authorities lest they should not have the power to carry out functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. In other words, when the Secretary of State is modifying the powers available to a public authority, that comes within subsection (3). On reflection, I wonder whether sub-clause 3 should say “regulations under subsections (1) and (2) do not affect the Secretary of State’s responsibility”, because I think that is the thrust of what the Minister said.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

That is not an unreasonable point, actually. Someone who read the Bill could certainly come to the same conclusion as the hon. and learned Gentleman. I will look at that from a drafting perspective, because it is important that we are clear. First, in all these matters, filtering arrangements take effect only as the result of a lawful process; the process for permission will not change. Secondly, that permission rests with the Secretary of State; I do not want there to be any ambiguity—as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests there might be—about which parts of this clause that affects. On re-reading the clause, I can see what he means, so I am happy to take it away and check whether the drafting needs to be amended in the way that he describes. In that spirit, and with that immensely generous offer, I hope we can move on.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 74 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76