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Communications Data

Volume 762: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consultations they have had with law enforcement agencies and communications companies regarding their proposals to reform the law relating to communications data.

My Lords, the Government have regular discussions with law enforcement agencies and communications service providers. As was made clear when the report into investigatory powers by David Anderson QC was published, the Government are considering his recommendations carefully and will consult widely with all those affected.

Is it the intention of the Government to consult police officers, which they fail to do at present? Is not the Home Secretary determined to steamroller her so-called snoopers’ charter through Parliament? According to a former leader of the Association of Chief Police Officers, there has been next to no consultation so far with the police. He described the situation as “open warfare”. Is that not highly dangerous, extraordinary and unprecedented?

If that were the case, it certainly would be; but my day-to-day experience in the House of Lords is that that could not be further from what is actually happening. We are not steamrollering any legislation through; in fact, we are going through an exhaustive process. David Anderson has taken a year to produce his report. In the mean time, we have had the Intelligence and Security Committee’s detailed report, and we are awaiting a RUSI report. We have had Sir Nigel Sheinwald’s report to the Prime Minister, and we have pledged that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny. If that is a steamroller, I am not quite sure what some of the other legislative processes are.

We discussed these matters in the previous Parliament at some length in connection with the counterterrorism Bill, and the urgency and importance of the issue—that our defences are seriously at risk—was recognised by the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary. New means of communication—the internet, telephony and others—that are outside our present reach can be used by terrorists in particular. These are matters of some urgency. While I certainly do not think that the Government can be remotely accused of steamrollering, the Bill in question has already been produced in draft and been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. My concern is: how long are we going to take before we take the steps, agreed on both sides of the House in previous debates, which are very necessary for the defence of our country?

My noble friend is absolutely right. He helpfully mentions previous consideration of the counterterrorism and security legislation as it went through this House. We, the Conservative part of the coalition, very much wanted to introduce the Communications Data Bill, but what has been announced in the Queen’s Speech goes wider than that. It includes communications data but also looks at the regulatory regime and is built around investigatory powers, bringing us more up to date with the threats we face and, therefore, the capabilities that our people need.

Does the Minister accept that, with all the scrutiny this has rightly been given, we are considering not just a matter of law—though it is that—but a matter of political judgment about political circumstances and political threats, not least terrorist threats? Will everything possible therefore be done to ensure that the crucial interventions are retained within the ambit of politicians who are ultimately accountable to this Parliament, and not merely avoided by putting them out to judges without a political intervention?

Obviously, the noble Lord speaks with great experience. I think that he was Home Secretary at the time of the 9/11 attacks and is personally aware of the challenges we face in that area. The Anderson review raised the issue of the relationship between the Executive and the judiciary. A number of comments were made about the decisions that had been taken and about the risk if things go wrong being a political risk, saying that the decisions therefore ought to follow that process. That is a view that David Anderson expressed and which we are considering, but the Intelligence and Security Committee took a different view. We will evaluate the issue and come forward with recommendations.

My Lords, I wonder if I could ask the Minister to return to what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said: that the newspaper report said that the Home Office was not consulting senior police officers about the Communications Data Bill, as was, and which is now coming into the House. I ask the Minister to refute that suggestion; the department must be consulting senior police officers.

I will be as brief as I can. There is a specific issue here, in that, during the previous coalition Government, our coalition partners took a different view—I mean no detriment—so there was no clear government position on which to consult. That has changed. There is a very clear government view now that we need this, and fast.

My Lords, there are half a dozen or so civil liberties organisations that could greatly assist the Government in coming up with a balanced investigatory powers Bill. Which civil liberties organisations have the Government consulted?

They will have the same opportunity as anybody else to participate in the consultation process. There is also a statutory code of practice that has been introduced, and we are open to consultations. We will listen to them but I have to say that at present, when you see the threats that are faced by this country, I am going to listen more to the people who are actually trying to protect us and keep us safe.

My Lords, when people come to my noble friend and talk about their human right to communicate in secret, will he advise them that the most important human right is to life? Those of us who have been affected by terrorism remember that. I would not wish others to be needlessly affected in the same way.

My noble friend is absolutely right, and obviously he has deep personal experience of this. There can be no enjoyment of rights without security first, and security is of paramount concern to us. I had an opportunity just last week to visit GCHQ and see for myself the work that was going on there. The people there are dedicated professionals who are working against a fast-moving and intensifying threat. They were asking for the powers to be able to keep us safe, not just from terrorism but from serious and organised crime and from child sexual exploitation. This is a very serious matter and we must make sure that we give people the tools to do the job.