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Wilson Doctrine

Volume 764: debated on Wednesday 22 July 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which methods of communication used by members of either House of Parliament are not presently subject to the Wilson doctrine.

My Lords, as the noble Lord may be aware, there is an ongoing litigation in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on the Wilson doctrine. In fact, there is a hearing tomorrow. One of the issues that the tribunal is looking to consider is the scope of the doctrine. Given this ongoing litigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at present.

My Lords, David Anderson’s recent report confirmed what we already knew from Edward Snowden—namely, that, every day, GCHQ is hoovering up the private data of millions of innocent citizens without the informed consent of Parliament. Can the Minister explain how the Government manage to comply with the Wilson doctrine by excluding the private data of parliamentarians when they are scooping up everyone else’s indiscriminately?

As I said, there is a tribunal hearing on the Wilson doctrine tomorrow, and the noble Lord can understand why I am not in a position to say more about the doctrine with a court case ongoing. Perhaps I may quote the Home Secretary from a recent debate in the other place. She said:

“Obviously, the Wilson doctrine applies to parliamentarians. It does not absolutely exclude the use of these powers against parliamentarians, but it sets certain requirements for those powers to be used in relation to a parliamentarian. It is not the case that parliamentarians are excluded and nobody else in the country is, but there is a certain set of rules and protocols that have to be met if there is a requirement to use any of these powers against a parliamentarian”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/14; col. 713.]

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that we are not “scooping up indiscriminately”? That is a wrong description. As we are just about to break to go on summer leave, will she give congratulations and support to GCHQ, which, during my time as a Minister, stopped 10 major attacks on the country and is consistently looking after the security of our nation?

I thank the noble Lord for that helpful intervention and question. In fact, our agencies have some of the most rigorous safeguards in the world, and all our policies are part of that. I agree with the noble Lord.

I warmly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord West, has just said about the work of GCHQ and what it has meant for the lives of many people in this country who might otherwise be in a much unhappier state than they are now. The House will recognise why the Minister is unable to go further, given that there is a hearing tomorrow. Is she not absolutely right in what she said, sadly—that it would be quite wrong for parliamentarians to be totally excluded at all times? It is the only category that would be excluded. Unfortunately, many of us in this House will remember that there have been good reasons why certain people should not have been excluded and were, in fact, found to have been collaborating with enemies of this country in difficult times.

My noble friend makes a very good point. As he said, it is not the case that parliamentarians are excluded, but certain rules and protocols have to be met if there is a requirement to use any of these powers against parliamentarians.

My Lords, given the slight uncertainty about this issue, will the Minister agree to enter into discussions after this with all parties? The metadata will obviously include all parliamentarians. It would be right for everyone, particularly MPs, to know whether it is possible that their communications are being kept. That should be on the record so that everyone knows the position, and those talks should be cross-party.

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. She is right that it would be sensible for us to come back in the autumn and discuss this further after the review on this subject has taken place. That is why I am really not able to comment any further. Until that review is complete it makes it very difficult for me to say anything.

Can the Minister give us any indication of the approximate date on which a new Bill will be tabled? I declare an interest as having been a member of the panel that produced the Royal United Services Institute report, the third to deliver on these topics after those of the ISC and David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. The reports have reasonably congruent recommendations. How long will it take the Government to produce updated legislation?

David Anderson’s recommendations sit alongside the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee published in March and the report from the panel convened by the Royal United Services Institute. The Government are considering all these reviews and their recommendations in the round. We will bring forward proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses in the autumn.

Can the Minister assure us that the intelligence and security services, including GCHQ, will not be subjected to the kind of swingeing cuts today announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

My Lords, I am much more concerned to know that non-government bodies, particularly a number of charities and political charities, have access to the police national computer. That is completely wrong. I have tabled Questions asking for details about how and why. For example, there is a charity in Scotland that has direct access to the police national computer. That should be much more carefully protected.

Will the Minister be writing to my colleague with an owl pen to ensure that it is an entirely wise answer?