Police Scotland (Monitoring of Political Activists, Trade Unionists and Environmental Campaigners)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th November 2015.

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Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it has taken to determine whether Police Scotland or its predecessor forces have monitored the activities of political activists, trade unionists and environmental campaigners. (S4O-04771)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

In response to Hugh Henry’s question on 6 October, I made it clear that authorisation of police surveillance is a matter for Police Scotland. Scottish ministers have no role in that authorisation process. Surveillance activity is overseen by the independent and judicially led Office of Surveillance Commissioners. The OSC carries out regular inspections of the relevant public authorities and makes annual reports that are laid in this Parliament and at Westminster.

Any person who is aggrieved about any conduct that is authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 is entitled to make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Information about the tribunal, including details of how to make a complaint, is included on its website.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

That is typical double standards. When there were allegations that the communications of MSPs were under surveillance, Scottish National Party ministers had plenty to say. Indeed, the First Minister called on the Prime Minister to act on Government Communications Headquarters snooping of MSPs; she called on him to declare whether MSP communications were being intercepted.

Surely political activists, trade unionists and environmental campaigners deserve the same level of care and concern from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government cannot be bothered to ask. I ask the cabinet secretary to reverse that shocking complacency and at least to ask the question.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am afraid that Hugh Henry is confusing a number of different issues, in terms of surveillance and interception of communications. The issue that he is referring to in relation to elected members is interception of communications. As he is a former justice minister, I would have thought that he would have been aware of how that differs significantly from surveillance, which is dealt with under different legislation. That legislation and the safeguards alongside it were brought in by his own Administration when he was a minister.

As I have set out, a regulatory regime is in place for the authorisation mechanism and for complaints that individuals have in relation to surveillance matters. That is also the case for anything to do with interception of communications. If Hugh Henry is aware of individuals who have grievances, I am surprised that he has not directed them to the regulatory framework that his Government put in place to deal with concerns about such matters.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

An individual can hardly make a complaint about activity if they do not know that it is happening. Surely we can all acknowledge some information that is in the public domain: Strathclyde Police officers were caught on tape admitting to infiltration of climate change campaign groups and attempts to disrupt their activity. Do not we all have a responsibility to give a clear steer to set expectations about the appropriate use of police powers, when there is surveillance or other attempts to undermine and disrupt legitimate peaceful campaigning?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As I mentioned, there is already in place a regulatory framework that sets out the thresholds regarding both the necessity and proportionality of any type of surveillance that the police choose to undertake. For example, direct surveillance must be authorised by a superintendent or officer of higher rank. Intrusive surveillance must go to an officer in Police Scotland of the rank of assistant chief constable or above, and the authorisation must be signed off by a police surveillance commissioner, independent of the police, before the surveillance can take place.

Issues with how surveillance is conducted can be reviewed by the judicially led Office of Surveillance Commissioners, which ensures that the process has been appropriately adhered to by law enforcement organisations. If the OSC finds that any actions have been inappropriate, it can investigate the matter further, and the case can go to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which can consider the issue in much more detail.

As I said, there is at present a regulatory framework in place to deal with all that. However, as Patrick Harvie will be aware, the UK Government intends to change that framework by revising the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which will have an impact on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, given that the OSC covers Scotland, too.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There will be a very brief supplementary question from Neil Findlay.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has established the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales. What correspondence has there been between the UK Government and the Scottish Government to give Scottish people an input into Pitchford? Alternatively, will there be a similar inquiry in Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

To my knowledge, there is no reason why people in Scotland could not make representations to the Pitchford investigation. If Neil Findlay wishes to raise specific allegations with me, he should feel free to do so. I will ensure that any allegations are passed on to the appropriate body for its consideration. I should say that the member has not to date, despite having said a lot about the matter, contacted me with any specific allegations that he wishes to have investigated.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

The letter is in the post.