Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: Pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, Session 2015-16, 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Tests for the intrusion of privacy
In making decisions and taking actions under this Act a public authority must have regard to the following—(a) the rule of law,(b) necessity,(c) proportionality,(d) the need for restraint,(e) the need for effective oversight,(f) recognition of necessary secrecy,(g) the principle of minimal secrecy,(h) the need for transparency,(i) legislative clarity, and(j) multilateral collaboration.”
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have put our names to Amendments 1 and 2. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee have said that privacy should be at the heart of the Bill. Although the Government have made some attempt to put an overriding privacy clause at the beginning of the Bill, we feel that that does not go far enough. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie—in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, dated 8 July—spells out the importance of the 10 tests for the intrusion of privacy which the RUSI panel that looked into investigatory powers came up with. Amendment 1 attempts to put those 10 tests for the intrusion of privacy in the Bill.
Although one might consider some of the principles to be obvious, such as “rule of law”, “necessity” and “proportionality”, there are other important elements of the 10 tests—in particular, “restraint”, as it should never become routine for the state to intrude on the lives of its citizens; “transparency”, as it must be evident how the law applies to the citizen if the rule of law is to be upheld; and “multilateral collaboration”, as government policy on intrusion should be capable of being harmonised with that of like-minded open and democratic Governments.
In the letter to which I have referred from the noble and learned Lord, the Government set out what I consider to be a rather optimistic view of how the Bill complies with the 10 tests. We will see, over the course of Committee, how we on these Benches do not share the noble and learned Lord’s optimism about how the Bill actually complies with them. As I said just now, we believe that the privacy aspects of the Bill need to be enhanced, in particular to increase the regard that people have to the Human Rights Act in implementing the Bill.
Section 46 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 provides for a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. This is already in legislation—it just has not been enacted by the Government—and we believe that it could also strengthen the privacy elements. We support the additional safeguards for confidential journalistic sources and material. We are concerned about how wide so-called targeted interception warrants can be, going beyond simply named individuals to organisations and even groups of organisations.
We are also concerned about the whole issue of the so-called double lock. Why, in non-contentious law enforcement cases, does there need to be any involvement by the Secretary of State at all? Why is there inconsistency between intelligence services’ equipment interference warrants, where there is a double lock, and law enforcement equipment interference warrants, where the Secretary of State is not involved at all, despite equipment interference being more intrusive than interception? We are concerned about how judicial review principles, which judicial commissioners are supposed to apply to decisions of the Secretary of State, can apply if only one side of the argument is present, because the applicant for the warrant puts forward the case for the issuing of the warrant and there is nobody arguing against it.
There is judicial authorisation of interception warrants in all “Five Eyes” countries and international co-operation—as I have just indicated from the 10 principles —is extremely and increasingly important. To ensure that there is co-operation between the UK and other countries, particularly the United States, proper judicial authorisation, not simply judicial review, should be an important part of the Bill.
We support the additional safeguards to protect clients’ consultation with their lawyers. We are concerned about how warrants can be modified—in some cases significantly—without reauthorisation. In some cases, even the person who originally applied for the warrant can alter the warrant themselves. I remember, as a young constable, being a guide for the special patrol group, and we went to execute a drugs warrant in a terraced house in a row of squats. When the only thing of interest we found in the premises that we raided was a six-foot metal penguin, the officers simply changed the address on the warrant to the house next door, and then raided that one. Such alteration of warrants appears, potentially, to be allowed under this Bill.
We are concerned about the interception of communication in psychiatric hospital situations, and we need to explore the possibility of admitting intercept evidence in court, while recognising the importance of making sure that secret methods of interception are kept secret. We also need to explore the possibility of whether, in certain circumstances, the product of interception might be given in evidence.
We do not believe that the current legal ban on the Secretary of State’s admitting the existence of a warrant, let alone being held to account for authorising it, should present a blanket excuse for not being able to address Parliament on a particular warrant if she feels it necessary. One argument for having Secretaries of State authorising interception warrants is that Ministers can be held to account by Parliament, whereas judges cannot, and yet it is—under the terms of the Bill—an offence for the Secretary of State even to admit that a warrant is in existence, let alone what the content of that warrant is. We question the degree of accountability there can be in those circumstances.
For a whole range of reasons, we oppose the collection of internet connection records and their examination by law enforcement. We believe that the operational cases that the Government have published are unconvincing and that the considerable intrusion into privacy is disproportionate to the benefits to law enforcement. We believe that internet connection records are not necessary in the case of serious crime or in the case of terrorism because the security forces can help law enforcement. Those forces—MI5, MI6 and GCHQ—say that they do not require internet connection records because they can acquire the information by other means. The collection of data by internet connection records can also be easily avoided. The likely result is that serious criminals—for example, those involved in child sexual exploitation—will easily be able to avoid their internet connection records coming into the hands of law enforcement and only the data of innocent individuals and minor criminals will be collected.
Although there is some debate over what the real costs are going to be to internet service providers, it is likely to be considerable. In his summing up of the debate on Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, said that he did not know where our estimate of a billion pounds had come from, but when we come to the discussion, we will go into detail about how we arrive at that figure. As I said on Second Reading, the creation and retention of internet connection records will create vast quantities of highly sensitive personal—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I ask whether I have completely lost the plot here. I thought this was the first group of amendments, Amendments 1, 2 and 3. I do not understand why we are ranging over the entire Bill.
My Lords, what I am trying to demonstrate here is to counter what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, said in his letter, that the Bill complied with the 10 tests put forward by RUSI. I am simply indicating where we feel that the Bill is deficient.
Moving on, we share others’ concerns that the technical capability notices and national security notices, only enforceable against UK companies, could make British products and systems more vulnerable to illegal hacking. There could be a considerable competitive disadvantage to UK companies as a result.
We are concerned about the operation of the filter. As I said at Second Reading, it creates a virtual database, and the noble and learned Lord in his summing up—
My Lords, I share the view of the noble and learned Lord. I am a simple sailor, and I am totally confused now as to exactly what the noble Lord is trying to do. Are we trying to insert an amendment, or are we having another Second Reading? The noble Lord is continually saying, “As I said at Second Reading”, but we do not do Second Reading a second time.
Unless you are a Liberal Democrat.
My Lords, I am trying to demonstrate—and in many cases, obviously, not succeeding—why the 10 tests as set out in the report are necessary, and how the Bill fails to meet those 10 tests.
As I was saying, on the filter, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, in his summing up said that it did not create a database. I said in my Second Reading speech that it creates a virtual database. No doubt, we can discuss that issue when we come to it.
Overall, we feel that having the 10 tests as part of the Bill is an important safeguard for the privacy of individuals, and would place limitations on what the Government can do. I beg to move.
I speak to Amendment 3, in my name, and note my interest as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. A lot of the points made by the committee have already been taken on board by the Government following discussions and scrutiny in another place.
In the committee’s report on the draft Bill, we recommended that privacy protections should form the backbone of the legislation around which the exceptional powers are then built. This is absolutely crucial to the whole purpose of the Bill. Following scrutiny in another place, the Bill introduced in this House now has in Clause 2 provisions on “General duties in relation to privacy”. I hope that your Lordships welcome the inclusion of the new clause, which crucially includes the requirement that intrusive powers should be used only when the information being sought cannot be obtained by other less intrusive means.
However, the Bill still lacks a clear statement at the beginning about the right to privacy. This is the purpose of the amendment in this group in my name. We propose inserting a new subsection at the very start of the Bill, which places an individual’s right to privacy at the forefront of the legislation. I note that this amendment is similar to Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which attempts to achieve something similar, although I suggest that the amendment in my name is the more straightforward of the two options before us.
Finally, I think that this short but necessary amendment is compatible with the more detailed provisions already existing in Clauses 1 and 2.
My Lords, it is a good idea to remind ourselves at times like these that we live in a democracy, and part of what defines a democracy is that our Government do not rule us and we are not their subjects; they govern on our behalf, and with our consent. So when our Government ask us to hand over prodigious quantities of our information that reveal in detail how we live our private lives, we must take great care.
We all have something to fear from these surveillance powers, for none of us can guarantee the benevolence of future Governments. The surveillance programmes run by our Government now go far beyond anything George Orwell imagined. The more personal data are dredged up and stored, the more the risk of misuse. Now that most of us carry smartphones, government agencies and the police have unprecedented access to location information about where we are 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can also get their hands on all the information on our phones and computers: our contacts, our diaries, our emails, our web browsing, our social networking and everything we do on the internet. Their access to our lives has expanded massively in the past 10 years. In addition, there are myriad new databases that create digital dossiers about our lives which are held by private companies and public bodies, including our banks and our doctors, and the Government have access to all of them.
In short, far from going dark, as is often claimed, the police and security services are enjoying a golden age of surveillance. If government agencies were offered the choice of current capabilities or pre-internet capabilities, they would overwhelmingly prefer their surveillance abilities today. Listen to the words of Wolfgang Schmidt, who was a lieutenant-colonel in the Stasi in Berlin. When he first learned of the extent of surveillance currently carried out on their populations by the British and American Governments, Schmidt thought carefully and then said:
“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true”.
Some proponents of bulk surveillance tell us, “You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide”. It has been said that the original maker of that claim was Joseph Goebbels. Many people’s response is simply, “I don’t have anything to hide, but I don’t have anything I feel like showing you either, and the way I live my life is none of the state’s business”.
I fully support the amendments in this group. They seek to give effect to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We have a great number of amendments to deal with today. I respectfully ask the noble Lord to address the amendments.
That is exactly what I was just doing.
I fully support the amendments in this group. They seek to give effect to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s demand that privacy protections should form the backbone of the legislation around which these surveillance powers are built as exceptions to the privacy norm.
Clause 2 was the Government’s answer to the ISC’s demand, but it is incomplete and insufficient and needs to be seriously beefed up. The amendments in this group give full effect to the ISC’s reasonable requirement that privacy should be the backbone of the Bill by, among other things, incorporating the 10 tests devised by the Royal United Services Institute review. I commend these amendments to the House.
I, for my part, am entirely content with Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin. I marginally prefer it to Amendment 2. It may be doubted whether either is strictly necessary, but let us have the simpler one. With the greatest respect, I regard Amendment 1 as entirely superfluous. It unnecessarily overcomplicates things and in large part it overlaps with other provisions in the legislation. It just is not a good idea. It is all very well to treat this legislation with some element of scepticism, but, please, not cynicism. That is the way this is approached in that context.
My Lords, following on from what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, I think that, in respect of Amendment 1, it is necessary to stand back and remember and recognise that this has got to be practical. If a public authority were presented with a list including, “the rule of law”, “necessity”, “proportionality”, “the need for restraint”, “the need for effective oversight” and statements such as “multilateral collaboration”, it would probably end up being terrified and do nothing. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, said, this is all dealt with in the Bill. It is entirely otiose.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the response to my request at Second Reading for a view about each of the 10 tests. I am quite happy to accept these. What I resent is the fact that someone can stand up in our free Parliament and equate the present status of this country with the Stasi, where there was no rule of law, no independent judges, no independent commissioners and no free parliament. Let us have a reasonably decent debate about this.
My Lords, if I may just follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said, my view, having studied these issues for a very large number of years now, is that the Bill as drafted provides ample protections against invasions of privacy. Indeed, they have that kind of specificity that the courts readily understand. I am not opposed to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, but I respectfully say to my noble friends that the other amendments in this group, Amendments 1 and 2, add absolutely nothing of substance. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in saying that I regard it as outrageous to equate our situation today with Nineteen Eighty-Four. The idea that we have a “Room 101” in this country and cameras in every bedroom—which is what it says in Nineteen Eighty-Four—is completely misleading. My charitable view is that it demonstrates that my noble friend has never read Nineteen Eighty-Four.
I say to all Members of this House, including my noble friends—forgive me for taking up time, but maybe the beginning is the time to say it—let us get this Committee stage done as quickly as we possibly can and not spend our time on large numbers of otiose amendments.
My Lords, the Committee will recall that privacy protections were quite rightly a significant topic of debate as the Investigatory Powers Bill passed through the other place. To make clear the duties in relation to privacy and the associated protections and safeguards, the Government introduced a new overarching privacy clause, Clause 2, and made amendments to Clause 1. Those clauses impose statutory duties on public authorities in relation to privacy and, as drafted, already clearly underscore the right to privacy and provide the necessary balance between that right and the powers necessary to keep us safe.
Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to add a new clause which would list the 10 tests proposed by the Independent Surveillance Review panel, convened by the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI. At Second Reading in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked whether the Bill complies with those tests. My noble and learned friend Lord Keen confirmed that it does and undertook to set out precisely how it satisfies the RUSI tests. He then duly wrote to the noble Lord and has placed copies of the correspondence in the Library. Accordingly, and in particular in the light of the noble Lord’s helpful comments a minute ago, I hope noble Lords will accept that the Bill does indeed satisfy those tests. I recognise the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to set the scene, as it were, for our forthcoming Committee debates, and while I agree with the principle and spirit of the proposed new clause, I do not consider that it adds anything to what the Bill already contains. I am confident that the Bill as it stands meets each test.
On the amendments proposed to Clause 1, it is worth re-emphasising that Clause 1 provides an overview of the Bill and sets out the duties relating to privacy and the robust protections applied to the use of investigatory powers. This provides the context for the revised Bill and the accompanying codes of practice, which make clear the strong privacy safeguards that apply to the use of the powers contained in the Bill. The Bill ensures that the security and intelligence agencies and law enforcement continue to have the powers they need to keep us safe—and no more. Amendment 2 is therefore not required; Clause 1 provides a suitable and sufficient overview of the Bill and the privacy protections, so the proposed new text is not merited.
I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. The Government and law enforcement are clear about the value and importance of accessing internet connection records, in particular, to prevent and detect crime and keep the public safe. I did not hear the noble Lord refer to that imperative, although it has been recognised during the passage of the Bill, including by noble Lords at Second Reading. The Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill considered this issue in detail and concluded that,
“on balance, there is a case for Internet Connection Records as an important tool for law enforcement”.
On Amendment 3, I begin by thanking again the Intelligence and Security Committee for its diligent and valuable contributions to the Bill. We very much welcome its ongoing input to this debate. As I am sure the Committee will be aware, in its report on the draft Bill published last year, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament called for the inclusion in the Bill of an overarching clause dealing with privacy protections. That call was echoed by the Opposition and the Scottish National Party in Public Bill Committee. Following those discussions, the Government introduced the new comprehensive overarching privacy clause in the Bill, which was widely welcomed on Report in the other place.
I agree fully with the spirit of the ISC’s amendment but do not consider that it is needed. The new overarching privacy clause and amendments made to Clause 1 not only achieve what the ISC’s amendment seeks to achieve but go much further; rather than signalling the importance of privacy, the amended Part 1 now creates a statutory obligation to have regard to the public interest in privacy. The privacy clause serves to make clear what was always the case: privacy is at the heart of this vital piece of legislation. Therefore, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, I cannot see that his amendment, well-intentioned as it is, adds value to what is already in the text.
I hope these remarks are helpful and that, while doubtless the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will reserve the right to return to individual issues, he will nevertheless be content to withdraw his amendments at this stage.
My Lords, before my noble friend responds, having heard the discussion across the Chamber, I am satisfied by the explanation offered by the noble Earl. For this reason, respectfully, to be overspecific about principles that support the whole concept of privacy runs the risk of inclusio unius est exclusio alterius: that is, by being too specific, you prevent the opportunity to look at wider considerations. That may be rather a technical view to take at this stage but it also underlines the points that have been made already about the general thrust of this legislation, which has innovated to an extent that would not have been thought possible even five years ago.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the comments from noble Lords from around the Chamber, and particularly to the Minister. As we go through the Bill, we will, at each power, indicate how we believe the provisions do not match the 10 tests in the way the noble and learned Lord set out in his letter. However, we can leave that until we reach those sections of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, indicated that, of the three amendments, Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, would be the best to include. If it was necessary, we would be very happy to support Amendment 3.
If I may, I will speak––with some trepidation––in defence of my noble friend Lord Strasburger. There are people in the UK who have the sorts of concerns that he has articulated and it is very important that, during our discussions in the House, we seek every opportunity to reassure people who hold those views, however outlandish some Members of the Committee might consider them. At this stage, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1: Overview of Act
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 11, leave out “misfeasance” and insert “misconduct”
My Lords, I shall speak first to the government amendment. Clause 1 refers to those offences found elsewhere in the law that provide protections for privacy or safeguards against the misuse of these powers. This amendment simply corrects a minor error in the drafting; the Bill currently refers to the,
“common law offence of misfeasance in public office”.
That offence is more correctly referred to as misconduct in public office. This amendment simply reflects the usual name for the offence in common law, and will prevent confusion with the distinct civil cause of action, which is usually referred to as misfeasance in public office.
I rise to speak to Amendment 15 in this group, again on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is crucial when this House is being asked to approve intrusive powers for the state that we all have a clear understanding as to how any misuse of those powers will be dealt with. These are exceptional powers, capable of revealing the most sensitive and detailed information about private lives. The Bill already includes offences related to the unauthorised interception and misuse of communications data, and there are other relevant offences mentioned in other legislation relating to data protection or computer misuse, for example. However, the Intelligence and Security Committee has concluded that these offences, scattered across numerous Acts of Parliament as they are, are insufficient and lack clarity. There would, therefore, be considerable benefit in setting out a single offence in one single place in this Bill alongside the intrusive powers we wish to regulate.
Your Lordships will note that we have sought to include wording in this amendment relating to wilful and reckless misuse of intrusive powers. We are not seeking to make minor, accidental mistakes criminal offences; we are focusing on the most egregious abuses of investigatory powers. There have been arguments that the creation of a new overarching offence for misuse of powers would add confusion in the law, duplicate existing offences and create a “chilling effect” for those using these powers in the agencies. Neither of these arguments is particularly compelling.
First, far from adding to confusion in legislation, it is self-evident that putting a single offence for misuse in one place should simplify legislation in this area, as it avoids the need to look for offences scattered throughout the legislative corpus and the common law. Potential duplicate offences can be dealt with easily, as has already been done in Clause 231, which amends the Wireless Telegraphy Act. The clause effectively says that an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act which is also an offence under the Investigatory Powers Bill should be dealt with preferentially under the Investigatory Powers Bill.
Secondly, the argument that an overarching offence would have a “chilling effect” on agency staff seems exaggerated. If a certain action constitutes a criminal offence anyway, it seems highly unlikely that an agency staff member would act differently depending on where and when the legislation appeared. If agency staff are engaging in activities that are on the edge of lawfulness, it is quite right that they should be given grounds to pause for thought, at least to the extent that they take internal legal advice if they wish to continue their work. The amendment would therefore be a simplification of the law and provide suitable penalties for serious transgressions.
My Lords, Amendment 17 in my name would provide for a statutory public interest defence for the offence set out in Clause 3. Clause 3 effectively reproduces the RIPA Section 1 criminal offence of phone hacking, of which the Prime Minister’s director of communications, Andy Coulson—among others—was convicted when he was editor of the News of the World.
I invite the House to support the amendment in this group proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, which provides access to justice for victims of phone hacking and incentivises the adoption of the Leveson reforms which the Government have stalled on. But there is another matter which must be considered and which my amendment addresses—the absence of a statutory public interest defence for voicemail interception or any other type of breach of Clause 3.
Let us consider a situation where suspected serious wrongdoing is being investigated by a journalist or NGO and that journalist or NGO has no faith that the police will adequately investigate the matter; for example, a case of police corruption or, more practically, a case where the police have failed to investigate a case such as that of Jimmy Savile. In such circumstances, if the journalist or NGO intercepted voicemail messages which showed the corruption or illegality, and then exposed it, that person should have a defence that he or she can rely on.
Amendment 17 provides for this. The CPS can of course choose not to prosecute under the public interest arm of the “threshold test for prosecutors”, but that is not good enough. Prosecutors make their decisions on the public interest element after reviewing a file of evidence produced for them by the police and after an investigation which addresses the separate question of whether there is enough evidence to pass the first, evidential arm of the threshold test. Such a police investigation could last for months, if not years, and will involve interviews under caution, search warrants and perhaps arrest. That is a real disincentive to investigative journalism.
If there is a statutory public interest defence, the police will be able to see at an early stage that however much evidence they gather to prove that the act took place, or indeed even in the case of an admission, they will not be able to defeat the defence if the facts are clearly made out and their investigations will be curtailed. The benefit of a public interest defence therefore is not so much that it will allow investigators in the public interest to be acquitted at trial, or even that the CPS will choose not to prosecute on the evidential arm before even having to consider the public interest, but that the police will abandon investigations where the public defence is clearly made out in the facts. That will have the benefit of removing the chilling effect of potential police investigations and possible prosecution from investigative journalists who we rely on on these occasions to root out wrongdoing. Perhaps I may invite the Minister to engage in a constructive discussion about whether a narrow but valuable defence can be crafted. After all, noble Lords will be aware that there is a statutory public interest defence in Section 55 of the Data Protection Act, a provision that in Clause 1 of this Bill the Government are relying on as adequately protecting our privacy.
The investigative journalist Nick Davies of the Guardian exposed the hacking scandal. Had he had to intercept voicemail messages between Andy Coulson and one of the several convicted news editors who served under him in order to bring the story to our attention, that would have been in the public interest. It would not have been right that in the absence of a public interest defence which the police knew was valid, he had been arrested and questioned by the very police force whose failures he uncovered. That is why this amendment is so important and I commend it to your Lordships.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have Amendments 16, 20, 21, 22 and 84 in this group.
Amendment 16 concerns the offence of unlawful interception, but in the Bill as drafted that applies only to public telecommunications systems, private telecommunications systems and public postal services. It does not apply to private postal services. Examples of those could be the postal services used by the legal profession such as Legal Post and DX. Can the Minister inform the Committee why private postal services are not included in that provision?
Amendment 20 relates to the provision that,
“Conduct which has lawful authority for the purposes of this Act … is to be treated as lawful for all other purposes”.
Presumably, this provision is to avoid the problem we have had in the past where, while interception or equipment interference was allowed under one piece of legislation, it was an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. Presumably, that is why this provision has been included, but surely it should apply to existing legislation—and it should state that it should apply to existing legislation—not to legislation in the future.
Amendment 21 is again about any other conduct under the Bill being treated,
“as lawful for all purposes”.
Surely this should not be as broad as that. It should be restricted to what is lawful only for the purposes of this Bill.
Amendment 22 concerns the service of monetary penalty notices. Paragraph 4(4)(g) of Schedule 1 allows for an oral hearing before the commissioner, but the amendment would add that the person who applies for and is granted an oral hearing before the commissioner can be legally represented.
Returning to something that I referred to in my opening remarks, Amendment 84 is about restrictions on unauthorised disclosures which as written would prevent the Secretary of State from disclosing the existence and contents of a warrant. The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to disclose the existence and details of a warrant if she felt it was necessary in order for Parliament to carry out its functions. As I mentioned before, I do not see how the argument can be made that the Secretary of State should be involved in the authorising of warrants because she can be held to account, when she is not able, under the terms of the Bill as drafted, even to admit that such a warrant exists.
My Lords, I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry about the press intrusion suffered by my family and I am going to speak to Amendments 18 and 246 in my name.
In Section 1(3) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, there was a statutory tort for interception of communications. This has not been recodified in the Bill, presumably because the common law has proven to be a sufficient basis for legal actions against those who hack communications. The effect of subsection (1) in my Amendment 18 is to reinstate that tort. The effect of subsections (2) to (5) in my amendment are then to provide access to justice for victims of phone hacking—the criminal offence recodified in subsection (1). It will enable them to sue, without cost risk to themselves, those newspapers which have invaded their privacy but are refusing to guarantee low-cost arbitration.
I hope that this amendment will encourage the Government to bring into effect law already passed by this House and the House of Commons in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Amendment 18 replicates Section 40 of that Act in a limited way for claims made by victims of the interception of private communications—phone hacking—because only these claims are in the scope of this Bill. The consequential amendment to Clause 243 would have the effect of automatically commencing the provision immediately after Royal Assent to prevent government non-commencement, as has happened with Section 40. Of course, if the Government commence Section 40 forthwith, this amendment will be withdrawn. If the Government do not, this amendment would have the same effect as that law, at least for victims of phone hacking.
I am very grateful to noble Lords from across the House who are supporting these amendments, and for briefings and drafting assistance from Hacked Off, through which I have been introduced to many other victims of press abuse. I remind noble Lords that Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry found that voluntary newspaper self-regulation by the Press Complaints Commission had failed appallingly and urged Parliament and the Government to ensure that any new regulator set up by the press would be accredited by an independent recognition panel to assure its independence and effectiveness. The idea was, and Parliament agreed, that the newspapers would have to join such a regulator and not be allowed to set up another version of the PCC. The terms of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act were agreed, somewhat reluctantly, by the Government to avoid defeat in both Houses in March 2013.
Section 40 was part of the cross-party agreement which included the royal charter, and was signed by the Prime Minister and the leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. As a result of this agreement, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, withdrew his amendment to the Enterprise Bill in March 2013 which would have implemented the Leveson-recommended recognition panel by statute. Ben Bradshaw MP and Simon Hughes MP similarly withdrew their amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill, which would have brought in a stronger and faster version of Section 40.
Section 40 provides protection from court costs in libel, harassment and privacy cases involving newspapers and has three policy aims. The first is to guarantee access to justice for claimants in libel and privacy cases against non-Leveson-regulated newspapers. The second is to protect investigative and public interest journalism at newspapers from court costs and thus from so-called “libel chill”. The third incentivises non-Leveson-regulated newspapers to join a Leveson-style self-regulator which has been accredited as independent and effective.
Section 40 would have to be commenced in the usual way provided in all Bills,
“on a day appointed by the Secretary of State”.
It was agreed, cross-party, that commencement of Section 40 would be well before the exemplary damages provision in Sections 34 to 39. Those sections, on exemplary damages, were to come into effect one year after the royal charter Press Recognition Panel had been set up, which should have been in November last year. This makes Section 40 well overdue. Ministers made multiple explicit commitments on the Floor of both Houses to bring in Section 40—I have a list of 25 such commitments. However, last October the Secretary of State announced at a meeting of newspaper editors, that he was “not minded” to commence the statute. Since then, despite being asked on a number of occasions, the Secretary of State has apparently failed to point to any precedent for such non-commencement of part of an Act of Parliament.
The largest part of the press industry has set up the Press Complaints Commission mark 2, called IPSO. By its own admission, it fails to meet the majority of Leveson’s recommendations. There is, however, a Leveson-compliant regulator called Impress, which is seeking recognition by the royal charter-established, independent Press Recognition Panel. Impress is likely to be recognised over the summer. But the absence of Section 40 being brought into effect has severely compromised the ability of Impress to attract members because such members do not gain the promised costs advantages of joining. The non-commencement of Section 40 means that the three benefits or incentives that I have described will not be available to them. This still means that there will be no access to justice for press abuse victims suing IPSO newspaper members, no cost protection for newspaper members of Impress and no incentive for IPSO members to join Impress or to require IPSO to become accredited.
Non-commencement changes government policy, breaks the cross-party agreement and betrays victims of press abuse. My amendments will not be put to a vote in Committee, but I intend to bring them back on Report unless the Government commence Section 40, as Parliament expected to happen last year. I commend my amendment to the Committee.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. She set out extremely clearly what is at stake and we should remember that at the other end of violations of privacy there are people who have their privacy severely intruded upon. The intruders are not the security services or a public authority but privately owned newspapers.
There is a rumour abroad that in some way Sir Brian Leveson’s recommendations were a challenge, an affront and an abridgment to freedom of the press. That is a mistaken view of the matter. Freedom of the press is not freedom to intrude in other people’s privacy. On the contrary, it is freedom not just within the law—we are talking about changing the law—but where victims have reasonable redress. At present, that is not the case because the heavy costs and risks fall on victims—even a worthy case may fail in the courts—and because, on the other hand, perpetrators have no incentive to apologise or be accurate. There has been a great deal of concern about the extreme inadequacy of the complaints procedures that IPSO has devised. I say that with hesitation because I suspect that they cannot really count as complaints procedures, given that violations are rarely reported adequately and lead to no consequences.
We need this protection for individuals and private lives, and it fits naturally into this Bill.
My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. We should remember the agreement signed in 2015 with the full support of Parliament, and its three pillars: there should be a body to regulate complaints against the press that is based on Lord Leveson’s recommendations; it should not be compulsory for the press to sign up to those recommendations, but there should be certain disincentives to not signing up, such as in the treatment of case costs by the courts; and there should be a back-stop in the form of a royal charter for such a body in order to make sure that there was no backsliding.
If we are honest and look at those agreed aims of Parliament, how are we doing? We are doing badly. We have one regulator, Impress, which, as the noble Baroness said, is compliant and marching towards a seal of approval, but has no serious clients. We have another in IPSO, which falls far short—I emphasise “far short”—of the requirements of Leveson. It is dependent on those who regulate it, with its structure, rules, code, membership and funding all controlled by those it seeks to regulate. It does not provide assured redress for members of the public who have been mistreated, because its arbitration scheme is voluntary. It is confined, like its predecessors, to mediation, not regulation, and its procedures make it hard, if not impossible, to envisage that it would ever impose a big fine on a member. I do not want to impose on the patience of the Committee by going into great detail on any of these. However, I do not blame the chair of IPSO, Alan Moses, who has fought vigorously for a compliant IPSO; I blame the clients.
Having said that, there is still hope. The Government’s own Press Recognition Panel has to report to Parliament, perhaps in September, about how things are going, and it is bound to say that they are going nowhere. I invest more hope still in the fact that Sir Joe Pilling, a former head of the Northern Ireland department, has been commissioned by IPSO to look into its workings. We had a good example of the work of former heads of the Northern Ireland department in the report of John Chilcot last week, and I believe that Sir Joe Pilling is another good man who can do a good job.
However, just at this moment when things hang in the balance, the Government have chosen to take their foot off the pedal. It never occurred to Parliament for a single second—I was present during the debates, as were many noble Lords—that the damages sanctions would not be brought into force. To be fair, John Whittingdale has not said that he will not bring them into force, but that he is not currently minded to bring them into force. While that is his position—while it is thought that the organisation will get away without these incentives coming into force—the chances of fundamental change to IPSO that is greatly required are such as to compete adversely with those of a snowball in hell.
The IPSO non-compliant press is basing itself on the argument it has run throughout—that the suggested royal charter is a tool which could lead to parliamentary and political interference with the press. I happen to think that claim is far-fetched, but believes it. However, that is very much a side issue. The central issue is not the royal charter but whether we are to have a Leveson-compliant regulatory body or are we to have IPSO slipping back over time, as its various predecessors did, into complete impotence and ineffectiveness? In the absence of the sanctions envisaged by both Houses and all parties in Parliament, the whole dreadful saga that led to Leveson is destined, in time, to repeat itself, leaving ruined lives in its wake.
My Lords, I should disclose an interest as having been appointed some years ago now as chairman of the management and standards committee established by News Corp, following the revelation of the phone hacking scandal.
I want to say a few words about Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. I respectfully suggest caution as regards whether such an amendment should be approved by the Committee. In my experience—and I have had quite a lot of it—looking at many of the cases arising out of that scandal, journalists tend to be not very good at distinguishing between the public interest and matters which they believe will be of interest to the public. There is quite a fundamental distinction, but one which, regrettably, in my experience is not really appreciated by journalists, even the best of them. It may not be a very wise manoeuvre to introduce this defence into the Bill, as it would encourage journalists to hope that they might secure the benefit of that defence and would thereby be justified in conducting essentially voicemail hacking activity. In my view—and experience confirms this—these cases are mostly about trying to get hold of a story, often a sleazy one, which is wholly intrusive into private lives and little or nothing to do with the public interest. I would be inclined to oppose that amendment if it is pursued.
My Lords, I will not detain the Committee long. I support the amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lady Hamwee and I will speak briefly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins.
During the coalition, I was involved in the discussions which led to the royal charter and the other commitments made by all the party leaders and the coalition Government. It is important either that the Government commence the relevant parts of the Act or, as the noble Baroness has indicated, that this amendment should proceed to a Division when the Bill comes back on Report. The Secretary of State’s failure to commence the relevant sections of the Act is an utter betrayal of the commitments which were made at the time by all parties, including the Prime Minister. Most importantly, it is an utter betrayal of the many victims of phone hacking and other invasions of privacy who were to be protected by the royal charter and the Act. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about this. Perhaps the Prime Minister, before he leaves office, will stand up and ensure that the commitments which he made personally are implemented.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly on Amendment 16, to which I added my name, which has already been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Should the Government accept the logic of that amendment, they might also want to look at Clause 4(8)(b)(i), which ought also to be amended to include “a private postal service”. Like the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, I think the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, sounds like a carte blanche for allowing private phone hacking. The noble Lord came up with better words than I could when he spoke about thinking that “public interest” and of “interest to the public” were the same. I would be very alarmed at the idea of allowing phone hacking by private bodies, simply because they thought it might be in the public interest.
The more substantial issue in this group is dealt with in Amendments 18 and 246—I refer to them as the Leveson amendments. The Labour Party has an interest in Amendment 18. Our names are not on it but our former leader, my right honourable friend Ed Miliband, was, along with the current Prime Minister, one of the signatories to the deal which has already been described and which led to amendments being withdrawn in this House and in the Commons. Failing to implement Parliament’s decision on this matter is a shameful disregard for the law on the part of the Government. The Act was passed in good faith and the Government should have implemented it, in accordance with the wishes of this House and the other place. Non-commencement is an unacceptable device to undermine legislation which has been passed.
Amendment 18 seeks gently to encourage the Government to bring into effect the law already passed, and we hope they will agree to do that. I will not rehearse the case that has been made so well already. However, it is remarkable that, as we consider a Bill on investigatory powers that sets out clearly and openly what the state and its agencies can do regarding hacking—the limits, the safeguards and the penalties for exceeding the law—private and unaccountable profit-making bodies such as the press continue to get away with things our spooks rightly would not be able to. The Government should not undermine Parliament by failing to commence Section 40 and we hope that, today, they will show their willingness to act now.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, can I point out that I share entirely her concerns and those of her noble friend about journalists confusing the public interest with the interest of the public? If there were any such amendment along the lines that I suggested, it would have to be drafted so narrowly that that confusion could not exist.
My Lords, I begin with Amendment 15, which raises the issue of creating a new criminal offence. This was initially discussed in the other place at earlier stages of the Bill’s passage.
In the other place the Government made it clear that each of the powers in the Bill is already subject to one or more civil penalties or criminal offences for misuse. Part 1 has always contained a number of privacy protections that are central to the Bill, and it now makes clear the existing offences and sanctions that apply in respect of the different powers, such as the offences that relate to the unlawful interception or unlawful obtaining of communications data. In addition to the strict safeguards that are explicit in Part 1 of the Bill, there are a number of other additional offences that exist elsewhere in statute but apply equally to any misuse of the powers.
In response to the concerns raised in the other place and with sympathy for the Intelligence and Security Committee’s desire for clarity, the Government listened carefully and tabled amendments that now more explicitly refer to the relevant offences set out in other statutes, such as the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which applies to equipment interference, and the Data Protection Act 1998. These put beyond doubt the penalties that would apply in the event of deliberate wrongdoing by a member of a public authority.
On the basis that there are existing offences that apply to every power in the Bill, the Government are reluctant to introduce a new criminal offence that would lead to confusion, as it would overlap or duplicate those set out elsewhere. Perhaps more simply, it would be unnecessary. The powers in the Bill are varied, each with their own distinct regimes. If we sought, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, to create one offence to fit them all, it would either be too broad and catch too much, or by being too narrow actually miss something and result in a less effective sanction. It could also lead to a lack of legal clarity and potentially hamper the effective enforcement of existing offences. The point is that one size does not always fit all.
There is a further concern. The heads of the three intelligence agencies have written to the Home Secretary and to the ISC outlining their very real concerns about the inadvertent operational impact this proposal may have. The officers working within our intelligence agencies are entirely committed to the mission of keeping the country safe. They are professional and ethical in the way in which they conduct their work. We recognise the concerns raised about potential misuse of investigatory powers, but the creation of a new offence may unnecessarily inhibit agency staff and limit their ability to operate with confidence and at pace against the numerous threats we face.
We do not disagree that intelligence officers who are exercising these most sensitive and intrusive powers should consider their actions carefully before using them, but I have seen no evidence that the dedicated men and women of our security and intelligence agencies give such matters anything less than the most careful consideration. I can quite easily see that Parliament’s creating a new offence that appears to be targeted solely and squarely at our intelligence agencies could have a detrimental impact on the confidence, morale and willingness of those persons to carry out the often dangerous yet vital work we ask them to do on our behalf. Moreover, the Government are clear that if anyone in a public authority were to act contrary to their obligations under the Bill, the matter would be taken extremely seriously. The current commissioners already ensure that they investigate and report publicly on the very infrequent cases of errors which involve serious misuse. In appropriate cases disciplinary action may be taken, up to and including dismissal, or civil or criminal liability incurred.
When these points are considered collectively, I hope noble Lords will agree that this puts beyond doubt the severe penalties that would apply in the event of deliberate wrongdoing by a member of a public authority. A new criminal offence is therefore wholly unnecessary and potentially confusing, and would adversely affect the operation of the agencies.
Amendment 16 seeks to extend the criminal offence of unlawful interception to “private” postal services. This is aimed at capturing those services which cater to more specialist clients; for example, companies that provide services to banks or lawyers. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to DX as an example of such a company. I understand the reason for the amendment and support the principle that the offence should apply to this type of company. However, these companies are already caught by the existing provision. The Bill describes a “public postal service” as one that,
“is offered or provided to the public, or a substantial section of the public”.
This includes companies that specialise in providing services to bespoke sectors, such as the legal profession or banks.
Moving on to Amendment 17, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, Clause 3 sets out the offence of unlawful interception. This is a vital safeguard that relates to one of the most sensitive powers provided for in the Bill. It underpins the protections for privacy that are fundamental to the Bill. I am afraid I cannot accept an amendment which would limit or even undermine that safeguard. The amendment would limit the offence by setting out circumstances in which it would not apply; for example, it provides a public interest defence to the offence. It would not be appropriate to allow someone to intercept the communications of another—without lawful authority—because that person takes the subjective view that it would be in the public interest. I note and agree with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, in this regard. It would not be right to reduce this strong safeguard, which exists to protect individuals.
I should have come in on Amendment 16, but before the Minister moves on, the issue of the private postal service was raised by the Minister’s Scottish legal colleagues, who wrote to us. They felt that the definition of “public postal service” did not include DX. I wonder if he will agree to write to me so that the legal position is clarified, since it was good Scottish lawyers who raised the issue.
I am obliged to the noble Baroness. It was raised by Scottish colleagues—Scottish colleagues with whom I do not agree—but I am quite happy to undertake to write to her. I should say it was raised by the Scottish Law Society, not the Scottish Bar.
Amendments 18 and 246 were spoken to very clearly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins and Lady O’Neill, and the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Oates. While I am quite happy to write on the matter of press regulation and the commencement of Section 40, press regulation is not the purpose of the Bill. I have to make that clear in this context because while I understand the points that are being made, they do not arise directly in the context of these amendments.
Moreover, the relevant amendments are not considered necessary. There is already a criminal offence where unlawful interception takes place on a public or private telecommunications system or a public postal service. There is also a cause of action which applies in a limited set of circumstances, where the criminal offence does not apply. Where there is an allegation that unlawful interception has taken place on behalf of a public authority, a person may seek recourse through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which has the power to provide redress, including awarding damages.
Where the conduct relates to an individual who does not belong to a public authority, there are other causes of action which may be applicable. I may have misunderstood the noble Baroness that the tort which currently exists in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—allowing an individual to take action against a person who has the right to control the use or operation of a private telecommunications system and who intercepts a communication on that system—has been added to the Bill by way of Clause 8, and that happened after the debate on the Bill in the other place. In these circumstances, we are not prepared to accept the amendments.
Turning to Amendments 20 and 21, Clauses 6(2) and 6(3) are important because they provide that where a public authority, or a telecommunications operator, is acting in accordance with a warrant properly obtained under the Bill, or the provisions of Clauses 42 to 50, they can be sure that they are not breaking any other law or required to obtain additional authorisations. This legal certainty is vital for those engaged in the essential work of keeping us safe.
The first amendment seeks to provide that future legislation could make that conduct unlawful for certain purposes. I understand the principle the noble Lords seek to achieve but I do not believe it is necessary. Nothing in the Bill prevents Parliament amending the legislation at a future date to make any of the activity unlawful or provide that some additional authorisation is required.
The second amendment seeks to amend subsection (3). The purpose of this subsection is to make clear that conduct undertaken in accordance with a warrant or which is authorised by any of Clauses 42 to 50 is to be treated as lawful. This is vital in providing companies with reassurance that by complying with a warrant they will not be acting unlawfully in relation to their regulatory obligations or other legislation. The effect of this amendment would be to provide that the conduct is lawful only for the purposes of the Bill. My concern, were we to accept this amendment, would be that we would remove the legal certainty that the companies and agencies rely on to do their job and to keep us safe. We therefore do not accept the amendment.
Amendment 84 relates to exceptions from the duty not to make unauthorised disclosures about warrants. It is absolutely right that the Secretary of State should be accountable to Parliament, even for the most sensitive decisions concerning the most sensitive powers. But when it comes to such matters, which necessarily must remain secret, it is absolutely right that Parliament provides a mechanism for the Secretary of State to be held to account, while at the same time doing nothing to jeopardise national security. That is the very reason for the existence of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
To put beyond doubt that the Secretary of State is, and will continue to be, accountable to Parliament through the ISC for decisions relating to warrants, the Government amended Clause 54 and Clause 123 to make clear that the Secretary of State may disclose matters relating to warrants to the ISC. This will allow the ISC to carry out its statutory functions in holding the Government to account, while maintaining our security. It is right for the ISC to carry out this function and it would not be appropriate for disclosure to be made to Parliament as a whole. To do so would breach the long-standing principle of successive Governments to neither confirm nor deny matters relating to intelligence and security and could risk jeopardising our national security. Accordingly, I invite the noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Can the Minister clarify whether it is not then an offence for the Secretary of State to disclose the existence or content of a warrant to the ISC? That is not our understanding of the Bill.
It may be then that we have to agree to disagree. It is my understanding of the Bill and it is our position that the Secretary of State is entitled to make disclosure to the ISC for the purposes of answering to the ISC in this context.
Amendment 4 agreed.