Clause 1 - Requirement for authorisation

Part of Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 7 March 2024.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East 11:30, 7 March 2024

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins.

I echo what the shadow Minister says. We are all here to assist the brave personnel in our security and intelligence services, but that does not mean that we will not closely scrutinise this legislation. We did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. Some parts are good, but we have indicated our serious concerns about other parts because we think the powers go too far. They have not been shown to be necessary and proportionate; rather, they are more for the convenience of the security and intelligence services. How these powers are drafted also causes us concern, because they seem to allow behaviours beyond what we were told the powers were going to be used for. At other times, it is the nature of the oversight that is a concern, as the Bill introduces potentially intrusive powers.

I have one other brief point to make, which I indicated I would make at last night’s meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee. I had hoped that this morning we could perhaps have had some witnesses to guide us through this process. I think that would have been very helpful. It was very helpful in 2016, when we were looking at the original legislation, and I regret that we do not have such an opportunity this morning.

The provisions on bulk personal datasets and so-called low/no datasets are an area where we fear that the legislation is rather more a matter of inconvenience than something that has been shown to be a necessity. That will emerge in the debate about clause 2, which contains quite a lot of the detail about how the regime is supposed to work. Basically, we have been told that there will be a significant increase in the use of bulk personal datasets. We have been told that scrutiny is too slow, so we will either have to remove it or, perhaps more accurately, water it down in relation to these so-called low/no datasets. Fundamentally, I do not like that argument. The Minister will need to make a compelling case.

When we discuss clause 2, it would be useful if the Minister told us how many bulk datasets are retained and examined each year currently; how many datasets it is envisaged will be retained and examined after these powers come into force; what percentage of the datasets he thinks would be considered low/no datasets; how long authorisation processes take currently and why they take that length of time; and why cannot we improve or accelerate that process in some way, rather than having to water it down in the way that this Bill suggests. We will ask the Minister for that sort of evidence, because he is asking us to do away with parts of the oversight system that were put in place in 2016, and we want to understand how that oversight system is causing a problem at the moment. If he cannot explain that, we cannot support this new regime.