Clause 18 - Review of notices by the Secretary of State

Part of Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 7 March 2024.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 3:15, 7 March 2024

I thank hon. Members for the spirit in which they have engaged. To be clear, it is absolutely right that we listen to representations from companies around the world, as I am absolutely sure all Members across the House would expect. We are still engaged in conversations: the Home Secretary was on the west coast of the United States only last week, I think, and I maintain regular communication with many different companies, including many of the same companies to which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East referred.

Let me be quite clear about one aspect. There is a real challenge here, and it is absolutely worth getting to the heart of it. The way in which communications data has evolved means that there are now jurisdictions in which the UK cannot protect its citizens without the co-operation of certain companies overseas. That was always bound to happen to a certain degree, but it is now very much the case: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has children, but he will know that many children use tablets and internet-connected devices in their bedroom.

The reach of these companies into the personal life of children in our country has to be a matter of concern to the British Government—it just has to be. The question is who governs these spaces. Are they governed by the association agreements and terms and conditions of the companies, or are they governed by the laws of the United Kingdom passed by Members of this House, of whichever party? That is the fundamental question.

The jurisdiction of this House must be sovereign. If sovereignty is to mean anything, it must mean the ability to protect our children from serious harm. That is basic. Under the IPA and previous legislation going back to the 1980s, this House has always exercised a certain element of influence. Yes, the Bill is extraterritorial, but so are many other Bills that this House passes in relation to the protection of our citizens and our interests. We can have operational reach further than the UK border in order to protect our citizens. That is what we are doing here, and that is what makes it proportional.

It is true that there are conflicts of interest that we have to resolve. I must be honest with the hon. Gentleman: this has come up before. It has even come up in my time. It is something that we have to look at in order to ensure that we address those conflicts and see where the balance of proportionality lies.

It is our very good fortune that many of the conflicts arise between jurisdictions with which we are extremely close. The United States, for example, is an extremely close ally. We regularly—in fact, I regularly—have conversations with the US Justice Department and others to make sure that we manage those conflicts of interest in the best interests of all our citizens. It is unusual for us not to find a resolution, but there are means of dispute resolution when we do not. Although I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, it is not exceptional for companies rightly and understandably to defend their interests where they feel that they have a commercial advantage. That is, of course, reasonable.

The reality is that we are not stopping companies doing anything; we are asking them not to change our ability to protect our citizens, until we have found a fix. If they want to introduce a new product or service or change the way they operate, that is fine: it is nothing to do with us. All we ask is that they maintain our ability to protect our citizens during that translation and into the future.