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Investigatory Powers: Police/Security Services

Volume 602: debated on Monday 16 November 2015

8. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that investigatory powers used by the police and the security services are defined in a legal framework. (902154)

10. What steps she has taken to ensure that the powers proposed for the police in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill are transparent and subject to oversight. (902156)

The Government have been clear about the need to provide law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies with the powers they need to protect the public in a clear and transparent legal framework. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published on 4 November and will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, particularly in the light of the terrible events in Paris, which continue to unfold. Can she confirm that the new investigatory powers commissioner will have greater resource and technical expertise than is currently available in the rather fragmented arrangements?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I can confirm that the new investigatory powers commissioner will have the necessary resources, and they will have increased resources, including technical expertise, within their remit to ensure that they have that support and advice. Indeed, their budget will be such that it will also be possible for them to buy further technical expertise, should they need it.

Some constituents have asked me to write to the Home Secretary and state that intercept warrants should be granted by a judge, rather than by the Home Secretary. Does she agree with me that, on the contrary, the accountability for and the scrutiny of her decisions in this place are more transparent than a judicial judgment?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. What we have proposed in the draft Bill is a double lock, so there will be the necessary accountability—because the decision is made by the Secretary of State—on whether the use of these intrusive powers under warrant is necessary or proportionate, and then there will be consideration by a judicial authority. We will therefore get that independent consideration by the judicial authority and the accountability of a Secretary of State signing the warrant.

The dreadful events in Paris make it even more important that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is subject to full and proper scrutiny by the Joint Committee to ensure that it provides both maximum security for our citizens and the toughest protection of our civil liberties. Can the Home Secretary confirm that it will get that full and proper scrutiny and that it will not be fast-tracked?

As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, we consider all counter-terrorism legislation carefully and review the necessary timetables, but this is a significant Bill and I think that it is important that it receives proper scrutiny. As he has said, we have put in place important safeguards and enhanced oversight for the Bill, and greater transparency in the powers that the security and intelligence agencies and the police and law enforcement agencies have available to them. It is right that it gets proper scrutiny.

A combination of technological evolution and a lack of transparency meant that we ended up in a position where the British people had no idea of the way in which legitimate investigatory powers were being used. Given the ongoing fast evolution of technology applications, what steps is the Home Secretary taking to make sure that we do not end up in that position again? There is no reference to future applications in the Investigatory Powers Bill.

One of the aims of the Bill is to be more transparent so that people can clearly see the powers that are available to the authorities. There is a balance to be struck by drawing the Bill up in such a way that we do not have to keep returning to new legislation as technology advances, and, on the other hand, not drawing it so widely that we do not have the necessary transparency and there is not foreseeability in terms of the use of powers. I think we have that balance right, but of course the scrutiny process will look at it.

GCHQ and our other security agencies have, unfortunately, all too much to do without delving into the personal communications of innocent citizens, but will the Home Secretary reassure the House that any abuse that occurred of such intrusive powers would, under the new legislation, constitute a criminal offence?

Yes, I am happy to give my right hon. Friend the reassurance that he requires in relation to including within the Bill offences that would apply were abuse to take place in the use of the powers. He is absolutely right in saying that of course the security and intelligence agencies do not have the time, the effort or indeed the intention or desire to look into the communications of everybody in this country; they are focusing very clearly on those who are suspected of wanting to do us harm.

As we have heard, the whole House is united in sending its sympathy and solidarity to the people of France following the terrible events on Friday. These callous attacks confirm the ability of ISIL to hit at the heart of Europe and place an obligation on us all to redouble our efforts to protect the safety of our country and that of our neighbours. We welcome the Government’s response to the weekend’s events and reaffirm today our commitment to work constructively with them, including on modernising legislation with regard to the powers of the police and security services. But of course, alongside the powers, we need the people to put them into practice. Will the Home Secretary say more about the funding announced today by the Prime Minister to recruit 1,900 extra officers for the security services and whether that funding is additional to the counter-terrorism budget?

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the attacks that took place in Paris. It has been clear from statements made by a number of Members of this House that there is a very clear message from this House of our utter condemnation of the brutality of those attacks.

In relation to the announcement, I was going to refer to that in the statement that I will be making later on. It is right that earlier this year the Chancellor made it absolutely clear that he was looking at the whole question of the funding that was available for security, particularly that for counter-terrorism. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the funding for the security and intelligence agencies is a matter that is dealt with separately from other Departments’ funding, and it has been, and will be, possible to provide the funding for these extra 1,900 officers.

I thank the Home Secretary for what she has said and appreciate that she will say more shortly. Let me also say that the united message coming from this House today is that ISIL will not prevail in this attack on our values. We welcome the action that the Government are taking in respect of the security services, but I am sure she will agree that the threat we face cannot be tackled by counter-terrorism operations alone—it also depends on the capability of the police to respond to an emergency and, as Sir Ian Blair said this morning, on effective neighbourhood policing to provide early intelligence. She will be aware of concerns within the police about the forthcoming spending review. In the light of the events in Paris, are the Government looking again at the requirements of the police and revisiting their assumptions on the police budget going forward?

As the right hon. Gentleman would expect, and as I have made clear over the past couple of days, following the events that took place in Mumbai in 2008 we enhanced and broadened the capabilities of the police to deal with the sort of marauding firearms attack that we saw there. We are looking at the attacks that took place in Paris on Friday to see whether there are any further lessons that need to be learned. It is absolutely right that we review the preparations that we have in place to see whether any changes are needed in relation to the capabilities of the police, or indeed the training of the police. The right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues tend to think simply in terms of questions of money and numbers, but very often it is about training and preparation for the sorts of attacks that might take place.

Order. As Members know, it is my usual practice to run exchanges on important ministerial statements very fully, and therefore I simply signal to those who have not been able to catch my eye at this time, on account of constraints of time, that if they are here at 3.30 there will be a very full opportunity to explore these matters at that point.