With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 23—Review of the Operation of this Act—
“(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint an Independent Reviewer to prepare the first report on the operation of this Act within a period of six months beginning with the end of the initial period.
(2) In subsection (1) “the initial period” is the period of four years and six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) Subsequent reports will be prepared every five years after the first report in subsection (1).
(4) Any report prepared by the Independent Reviewer must be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State as soon as the Secretary of State is satisfied it will not prejudice any criminal proceedings.
(5) The Secretary of State may, out of money provided by Parliament, pay a person appointed under subsection (1), both his expenses and also such allowances as the Secretary of State determines.”
I inform the Committee that I consider clause 222 and new clause 23 to be alternatives. If the Committee decides that clause 222 should stand part of the Bill, I will not put the Question on new clause 23. If the Committee decides that clause 222 should not stand part, when the Committee comes to decisions on new clauses, I will put the necessary Questions on new clause 23 without debate.
I take it, Ms Dorries, that I am entitled to make a submission as to why the clause should not stand part of the Bill, and should instead be replaced with new clause 23.
In short, it is welcome that following the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, there is now some sort of sunset provision in the Bill. Those who sat on the Joint Committee or read its report will recall that various people who gave evidence made a strong case for a sunset provision in the legislation. The Information Commissioner summarised that case by saying:
“The draft Bill is far reaching and has the power to affect the lives of all citizens to differing degrees. For these reasons, the bill should include a sunset clause or other provisions requiring effective post legislative scrutiny. This would ensure that measures of this magnitude remain necessary, are targeted on the right areas and are effective in practice. To fail to make this provision risks undermining public trust and confidence. It will also enable the legislation to be considered in the light of the latest jurisprudence from the”
Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights. Various variations on the Information Commissioner’s proposal were put to the Joint Committee by other witnesses, including medConfidential, Dr Paul Bernal, Mr Davis, Privacy International and the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office.
The Home Secretary expressed reservations about having a sunset provision, but it is good to see that there is now some such provision in the Bill. What is missing from it, however, is an independent element.
“must…prepare a report on the operation of this Act.”
It goes on to say that he or she
“must…take account of any report on the operation of this Act made by a Select Committee of either House of Parliament (whether acting alone or jointly).”
To an extent, that follows up on recommendation 86 of the Joint Committee, because it recommended that a provision be added to the Bill for post-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of the two Houses within six months of the end of the fifth year after the Bill was enacted. However, an independent element is missing from this sunset clause.
Throughout the deliberations of this Committee, much reference has been made to the report of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, QC. I think we can all see the benefit of having that sort of independent input. The purpose of new clause 23 is to transform this sunset clause into one that will have the necessary element of independence to ensure the sort of public confidence that is required for a sunset clause.
I remind members of the Committee that the Information Commissioner said that a sunset clause should be there to shore up public trust and confidence. Without the independent element, it is less likely that such public trust and confidence will be ensured. The purpose of new clause 23 is to provide that
“The Secretary of State shall appoint an Independent Reviewer” to prepare the report, rather than it being done by the Secretary of State or persons acting under their auspices. The new clause would also provide that the necessary financial wherewithal was made available to enable that job to be done properly.
I shall speak briefly in support of new clause 23. The essential difference between this new clause and clause 222 is, of course, that the new clause would provide for a review within an initial period of five years and for subsequent five-yearly reviews, and for the reviews to be carried out by the independent reviewer, which we submit is more appropriate.
I understand why this new clause has been tabled, but it puts me in a bit of a dilemma. Is a review by the Secretary of State a good thing? Yes. I would therefore support clause 222 if I could not get anything better. I would not want to vote against the Secretary of State reviewing the Act if I lost on new clause 23, because it is sensible to have a Secretary of State review it. In other words, clause 222 is good, but new clause 23 is better; that is the way I would put it. I am in a dilemma, because if I vote against clause 222, I am voting against a good clause that I would naturally support in principle, but if the vote on new clause 23 was not carried—and having looked at the voting record so far, I am not confident that it would be—
Order. Mr Starmer, would it be helpful to say that you could table amendments to clause 222 on Report, if you wished to?
Yes, that is probably the way out of my dilemma, but really this is more for the record. I will not vote against clause 222, but that is not because I think it is preferable to new clause 23; I would like to have the new clause as well. We will reflect on how we deal with that apparent dilemma.
That was the most heartwarming qualified advocacy of an amendment that I have ever heard in Committee; I was quite touched by it. I could not help thinking that there must be countless Tory voters in Holborn and St Pancras who feel about the hon. and learned Gentleman as he feels about this clause. I know that he bathes in their generous acclamation on a daily basis. It was very decent of him to put his case in the way he did.
I will deal with the substance of the new clause and its purpose. The hon. and learned Gentleman is right that new clause 23 would replace the Government’s proposals for a review of the operation of the Act as set out in clause 222, and he is also right that the clause obliges the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the operation of the Act within four to five years. He described the detail, and I will not tire Committee members by quoting it more specifically. The new clause proposes instead the appointment of an independent reviewer to report on the operation of the Act every five years, beginning five years after the Act is passed.
Where we find common cause is in thinking that both pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny are essential. One could make that argument for most legislation, but particularly for legislation in this field, for two reasons: first, its import; and, secondly, the changing circumstances that will doubtless apply, as regards both technology, which the Bill deals with expansively, and the threat we face. All we know about the changes that have taken place over recent years suggests that those changes will continue and may grow in character and speed.
I fully understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman wants the whole House to take a close look at these matters over time. Indeed, the Home Secretary, in her evidence to the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, said:
“As technology advances, it may be necessary to revisit the powers, the legislative framework and the safeguards that are available”.
That is eminently sensible, and something that the Government wholeheartedly support.
As I said, clause 222 provides for judicial review. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention it, but he will know that the Joint Committee looked at that, and said that
“the appropriate vehicle to do this would be a specially constituted joint committee of the two Houses. This work should begin within six months of the end of the fifth year after which the Bill is enacted. Although the appointment of such a committee would be a matter for the two Houses, a provision in the Bill would provide a clear mandate and guarantee the timescale for this review.”
The Joint Committee gave that quite careful consideration. The members of this Committee who were also members of that one will recall that they did so because of the shared determination, which the hon. and learned Gentleman has articulated well, that we should not assume that as time goes on we will not need to be reasonably flexible about the application of the powers.
The Solicitor General made a point about providing legislation that looks as far into the future as possible. Certainly, the purpose of the Bill is to not only draw existing legislation into a single place but, as far as one reasonably can, prepare for the future. However, in doing so, it is important to be mindful of what the Joint Committee said, reflecting the Home Secretary’s evidence.
The hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras will know that the Joint Committee went on to recognise that the Government cannot, in statute, require Parliament to appoint a post-legislative scrutiny Committee. Let me explain that a little more. Ms Dorries, as you will understand with your experience in the House, it is not for the Government to say what Select Committees might look at over time. It certainly would not be for the Government to dictate to the Intelligence and Security Committee, for example, how it should regard or review the legislation within its scope or purview. It would be a dangerous precedent to set to say that any particular Select Committee should, statutorily, consider matters at a particular point in time, or in a particular way.
The clause says that the report should take account of any other report on the operation of the Act, mindful of what I have just described—that is, that the ISC, other Select Committees, or Committees of both Houses could bring evidence to bear that would inform that review. In essence, it would be a matter for Parliament to decide precisely what was looked at and when, within the confines determined in the Bill, but it is essential that the Secretary of State is missioned to report on the Bill’s implementation in the timetable described. That is something that legislation can quite properly do; it both gives all kinds of powers to the Secretary of State, and confirms those powers.
While I can see why the hon. and learned Gentleman supports the new clause, it is unnecessary, not because of the intent, but because of the detail. Essentially, we are offering two different models in order to achieve the same end. A parliamentary Committee would be just as independent as a separately appointed reviewer—and it would avoid the argument, which I know Opposition Members would be quick to have, about who should be responsible for appointing the reviewer.
This may be blindingly obvious, and any Secretary of State, including the current one, would almost certainly take this into account anyway, but could we amend subsection (3) to make it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State must take into account reports of the independent reviewer in addition to those of Select Committees? While that is not precisely what the new clause would achieve, and while I am absolutely sure that any Secretary of State would do that in any event, it would weave in an element of the new clause’s intention. It would not presuppose that there would necessarily be a report, but if there were one, it would be taken into account.
I am not unsympathetic to that suggestion, but let me qualify that slightly. There is an argument to say that we would want another reviewer involved in the process, because what we want is as much empiricism as possible. We have neither the time nor the patience for a long debate about the philosophical character of empiricism, and I am not an empiricist, philosophically, but in terms of legislation, it matters. There is an argument for introducing still more independence into the process.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that, of course, the Secretary of State would want to take into account the views of all those in positions of authority who have taken a view on the Bill and its implementation and effects in her or his report. I certainly would not want to exclude from that consideration any of the authoritative reports published on the Bill. I think that probably meets the hon. and learned Gentleman halfway, and perhaps a little more than halfway.
Any parliamentary review would take evidence from a range of witnesses. It is, again, almost inconceivable that the independent reviewer would not be a key witness, as our current independent reviewer was to the Joint Committee and other Committees of the House. It would—again, as the Joint Committee did—be likely to appoint technical advisers, who would inform the process and work in concert with the ISC. While the Government support a post-legislative review of the Bill, that review should be conducted by Parliament—by legislators drawing on external expertise and evidence, as the Joint Committee recommended. I therefore invite hon. Members not to press the new clause to a vote.