Clause 54 - Contracts

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 8th September 2022.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:00 pm, 8th September 2022

I beg to move amendment 67, in clause 54, page 38, line 29, at end insert—

“(2) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a statement setting out how the Secretary of State intends to exercise the power under this section. The statement must include an list of illustrative examples of the kinds of contracts or other arrangements this power relates to.”

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Clause 54 makes me uncomfortable and requires some thorough consideration. Amendment 67 seeks to flesh out some of the detail as to what the clause means in reality.

The explanatory notes say:

“This clause grants the Secretary of State authority to purchase services in relation to any form of monitoring in connection with measures specified in Part 2 notices. This would include, for example, electronic monitoring of compliance with the residence requirement provided for in Schedule 4.”

Frankly, the Government have a somewhat chequered history in awarding contracts, and while I will not go through the back catalogue, it is against that backdrop that we ask for more detail before we sign off on this clause. Section 29 of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 includes the same provision, so I hope that the Minister is in a position to share with us how private companies have been involved in the monitoring of those subject to TPIMs, so that we can gain a clearer understanding of how that would be replicated with STPIMs.

I am looking for reassurance on two fronts. The first is that we are not using contractors who are vulnerable to hacking or other forms of cyber-attack. There will be marked differences between the cohort of people currently subject to a form of monitoring—and even those subject to TPIMs—compared with STPIMs, which stand to present different challenges, so what tech will be used for monitoring someone subject to a part 2 notice, and how do we ensure that we, but no one else, knows where that individual is? I am assuming, based on what little we are asked to go on in the clause and explanatory notes, that we could be talking about wearable technology or monitoring hardware and software. I suspect that at least some component parts will be made overseas, if not all of them.

We sought to establish where the ankle monitors that are currently used come from. With some help from the House of Commons Library, we found that in November 2017 the Ministry of Justice awarded a contract for the supply of electronic monitoring services, which includes software and hardware, to G4S, and it appears to have been extended, but we could not establish where they were purchased from or just how robust they are. How do the Government plan to address that concern operationally and ensure that there are no holes to be exploited in the technology itself? How do we write those protections and technical specifications into contracts under clause 54?

Secondly, we are dealing with particularly capable people, potentially with the support of entire nation states. I want to know that our security services and trained police officers are undertaking this monitoring work, rather than private contractors who stand to be overwhelmed if not equipped and trained adequately. I had a look at what happens currently. The National Audit Office’s recent report published in June 2022, called “Electronic monitoring: a progress update”, states on page 22 that G4S supplies tags and home monitoring equipment as part of HM Prison and Probation Service’s tower delivery model for its tagging transformation programme.

HMPPS is an agency of the Ministry of Justice and is responsible for tagging. The report explains that the tower contracting approach has four different suppliers, each responsible for a different element of the national programme: supplying and fitting tags to offenders; running a monitoring centre; providing underlying mapping data; and providing the communications network. HMPPS acts as an integrator to co-ordinate work across the four suppliers. Can the Minister confirm that that is the same model, which has a number of private contracts and moving parts, presumably with the exchange of a lot of information between those moving parts, that we use for monitoring those subject to TPIMs, and that it is therefore the same way in which we will monitor people subject to STPIMs?

I would greatly appreciate some clarification from the Minister on that, to ensure that our national security cannot be outsourced and that we have specialist and trained people from our dedicated services undertaking this really important monitoring, using technology that can withstand the threat of outside interference. Given the situation in which we find ourselves, I urge the Minister to consider the merits of amendment 67.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Clause 54 grants the Secretary of State authority to use third parties to assist in relation to any form of monitoring in connection with the measures specified in part 2 notices. As the hon. Member for Halifax rightly identified, the electronic monitoring of compliance with the residence measure, such as by entering into a contract with a third party to provide tagging services, is exactly the form of contract that is envisioned. In practice, the Government will ensure efficiency by aligning, where possible, with existing contracts, and therefore may use ones that are already set up for comparable provisions in law, such as TPIMs.

The intention of the amendment is to seek clarity about what types of contracts the Home Secretary might enter into in relation to STPIMs and how she intends to exercise the power. Though the Government do not feel that publishing further detail on any such contract is necessary, I absolutely assure the Committee that the clause is not designed to do anything to outsource intelligence services. Instead, it is a standard approach that we have with TPIMs, where in some instances it is necessary for the Government to outsource some services. An example of such is the contract for ankle monitoring services to which the hon. Lady referred. She will be aware of my own views on outsourcing technology to various states; she can be absolutely assured of my own interest in making sure I prosecute this.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

I understand perfectly well what the Minister is saying about the occasional need to outsource. I also understand why he would say that much of the contractual information should not be released. However, there are valid questions about the clause. What information would a third-party contracting company have about the subject? For example, would that company be told that the subject may not even have been convicted of committing a crime, but was the recipient of a state threats prevention and investigation measures order?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

As the right hon. Member will be aware, in all such circumstances there will be a great variety, because what might be shared with somebody providing one service may not be the same as what is shared with another. It is also evident that the normal regulation on protecting privacy would apply where appropriate, and the Government would therefore abide with all due legal requirements. I cannot give a further commitment than that, for the obvious reason that the variety in which such contracting would apply is enormous. I can therefore only assure him that the existing previsions would endure.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. He talked about the convenience of extending existing contracts; however, given the cohort of those who will be subject to STPIMs, that is the exact point that concerns me. We are talking about a volume of those who have committed more typical types of crime, but we need to think much more carefully about the types of technology, the software and the individuals involved in monitoring those subject to STPIMs.

Given the Minister’s reputation and understanding of the detail, and as he has already given me those assurances, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he will go back to officials and interrogate clause 54, so that he and I are satisfied that there are no vulnerabilities in that approach. I hope we can continue that conversation with the Minister. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.