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Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I am particularly concerned about this aspect of the Bill, especially as I have had conflicting answers from the Home Secretary about cordless telephones and who is responsible for giving the police or any other authority permission to tap such telephones. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary told me that he held no central information on the number of times that he had given permission for cordless telephones to be tapped. He then suggested that they were covered by the Interception of Telecommunications Act 1985.

In Committee, I understand that the Minister gave conflicting answers. I hope that he will clarify to our satisfaction whether cordless telephones are covered by the 1985 Act, who gives authorisation for the tapping of those telephones and who holds records of the number of times that authorisations are given. That is an important matter. A large number of people now own cordless telephones, and they will all be concerned about this grey area in the Bill.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): I hope that, in my usual way, I can assist the House and pour some oil on troubled waters this afternoon. First, on the point raised by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), there is no doubt about the matter, and there was no conflicting view in Committee. It is clear. Any organ of the state or anyone wanting to intercept any telephone communication, whether on a land line or a mobile phone--cordless telephones as she describes them--must have an intercept warrant under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. That requires the authorisation of the Home Secretary and has done so since IOCA was passed.

Mrs. Clwyd: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean: Yes, but the matter is not relevant to the amendment, and I do not want to stray too far from the terms of the debate.

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4.30 pm

Mrs. Clwyd: Surveillance is part of the debate. What the Minister says conflicts with what the Home Secretary said. If he can assure us that the matter is dealt with in the Interception of Communications Act 1985, why did the Home Secretary tell us that the information was not held centrally and that it was a matter for police authorities? Surely, if he has to give his permission, he must know on how many occasions he has been asked for it.

Mr. Maclean: I cannot add anything to what I have already said. It is quite clear that the Interception of Communications Act 1985 applies to the interception of telecommunications or telephone calls, whether on mobile phones or on land lines. The hon. Lady was confusing two issues. In her original question, she was confusing information on interception of communications and the quite distinct and totally different matter of whether the police can approach a telephone operator and ask for information that may be held at the exchange or on computer records about what phone calls were made from certain phones, whether mobile or land line.

Mr. Michael: I believe that the Minister is trying to help the House, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has been trying to tease out the explanation of the curious lack of reply from the Home Secretary on the interception of mobile phone calls. Is the Minister saying that interceptions of mobile phone calls would be included in the overall number of interceptions and cannot be distinguished, or that they are not recorded? Surely my hon. Friend's point is right: if the Home Secretary has to authorise such interceptions, they would appear in the numbers somewhere, although perhaps not in a separate category.

Mr. Maclean: I do not know whether they are separated out for statistical purposes. I can give the House the principal assurance that there is no difference in law and no avoidance of IOCA simply because the intercept relates to a mobile telephone call. At some point or other, mobile phones are plugged into the public telephone network, and if any state agency or police authority wants to intercept a public telephone, whether it is made exclusively on land lines, or between mobiles and land lines, or in any other combination, the Interception of Communications Act 1985 applies. That is exactly what I said in Committee, and I believe that that is the correct position.

I take extremely seriously the points that have been made. They were debated seriously in Committee. I know that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) expressed his concern in Committee regarding the cases in which surveillance operations in the sensitive categories may go ahead without the prior approval of the commissioner.

I also know that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has had a noble record, since long before I came to the House, of defending absolutely the privacy and the rights of individuals. At times, the Government may have considered his interventions slightly awkward to handle, but I none the less welcome his resolute defence of those rights, and it is important that hon. Members make

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those points. I do not say that he is misguided today: perhaps I have not made clear to him all the safeguards that already exist in the Bill.

We are all agreed that the procedure should be used only in cases of genuine urgency, and I believe that that point is satisfactorily covered in the Bill as drafted. I do not believe that any further definition along the lines of the amendment is necessary. The amendment would not get round my hon. Friend's main point of principle. Even if I were to accept the amendment, it would not address his worries of principle. I also believe that those worries are unnecessary.

The Bill already requires that, where an authorising officer uses the urgent procedure in cases that require prior approval, he must, when notifying the commissioner, give his reasons for believing that the case was urgent. That is the crucial point. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said repeatedly that the procedure is self-authorising, and that organs of the state should not use a self-authorising procedure. I agree entirely; this is not a self-authorising procedure that no one can challenge or examine. It is not the case that chief constables can make a decision that is never re-examined.

We have built it into the Bill that, in cases where a chief officer, or those designated, believe that something is genuinely urgent, they can use the procedure. However, they must then notify the commissioner, who will be able to quash an authorisation immediately if he is not satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the case was urgent. I draw that to his attention because I know that he has read the Bill and the Committee proceedings.

Mr. Richard Shepherd: The amended Bill.

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend has read the amended Bill in detail. I ask him to look at the procedure that we now have: the authorisation by the chief officer; the review by the commissioner to check whether the chief officer's decision was reasonable; the appellate procedure built in for the chief commissioner. In all fairness, there is no way in which my hon. Friend could describe this as an organ of the state having a self-authorising procedure.

Mr. Shepherd: That the judgment may be reviewed subsequently does not alter the fact that the initial phase is self-authorising.

Mr. Maclean: Of course the initial phase is self-authorising, but then there are the procedures involving the commissioner and, on appeal, the chief commissioner. There is another safeguard. As my hon. Friend knows, chief constables will not abuse the procedures, because of the safeguards that are built in. I am not asking the House to trust me and to trust all the chief constables. We are not simply leaving it to that. The system will not be abused because of the procedures built in--the report that the chief commissioner will make to the Prime Minister and the safeguards that are in the Bill. The chief commissioner will consider in his annual report how the urgency procedure has been used. He will not be backward in coming forward if he believes that there has been misuse of the genuine urgency procedure.

We have had a short but crucial debate. I reiterate that I do not believe that it is necessary to define "urgency" in the Bill. I have listened carefully to the points that were

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made. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has made a case for defining in one sentence the meaning of "urgency". That could be limiting in some cases, which could be dangerous--and not because it would be administratively inconvenient. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that this has been done not for administrative convenience but because both Government and Opposition, in the main, appreciate that there will be some circumstances in which lives could be at risk or a terrible crime is being, or is about to be, committed. The procedure could solve the crime or prevent it from happening; it could save lives. That is not a matter of administrative convenience but an important safeguard for the rest of our 55 million citizens.

Mr. Michael: I am worried that the amendment would not only provide a definition that may not be necessary but that it might get in the way of operations and lead to dangers to the public. I shall come to that in a moment. I am stimulated to intervene not least by the fact that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was at his sanctimonious best. Labour will not take lessons from the Liberal Democrats on the importance of civil liberties.

Last year, the Security Service Bill was improved in Committee by sensible debate. In that debate, we pressed the Government and received assurances from the Minister that, at the earliest possible date, two things would happen. First, there would be a service authority to introduce accountability for the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the proposed National Crime Squad. In the event, there are to be two service authorities with overlapping membership. Secondly, it was promised that intrusive surveillance, which was dealt with in respect of the Security Service in that Bill, would be made subject to legislation. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed took much interest in that important step at the time.

That step was extremely important, and so are the measures before us today. The right hon. Gentleman makes a mistake in thinking that the protection of an application to circuit judges, which would introduce the delay and bureaucracy entailed in an application to a court, would provide as strong a protection of civil liberties. It would delay decision making and bring it into disrepute. It would increase the use of the urgency provisions and provide inadequate protection of civil liberties. That is why the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the House of Lords were mistaken in preferring that option, and why the amendments moved by the Labour spokesman in the House of Lords were the right approach.

The change that has happened is right. It was a sensible development. There was a debate. The outcome was a triumph for intelligent debate, which had been going on long before the press and public became interested. The change that happened means that we now have protections in the form of prior authorisation by a commissioner on sensitive matters relating to property and, for example, legal privilege. There were some worrying discussions about interference with legal privilege in areas not covered by the scope of the Bill. I think that the Minister sought to respond to that matter in a short debate at the end of the Committee proceedings yesterday. The matter will need to be returned to because there is a great deal of concern about the way in which it is being interpreted.

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The speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) was a mixture of high principle and absurdity. He was rightly sensitive to the idea that intrusive surveillance should not take place gratuitously or to meet the administrative convenience, whether of organisations of individuals or the state as a whole. That is right. I respect his passion in raising that point, as all hon. Members would, but we need a balance. Action sometimes needs to take place urgently when it is necessary to catch criminals or protect the public. The balance in the Bill now is a good deal better than before, but to swing in the opposite direction would undermine the operations about which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed expresses concern through the wording of his amendment.

The question is what operations require urgency. Are the operations the only things that would define urgency? The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills referred to the case of a kidnap victim. He has misunderstood the nature of the authorisation that would be needed in those circumstances. He said that it was obvious that everything should be done to protect someone who had been kidnapped, where there was danger to life. Clearly, that is the case, but it is not always possible to predict the movements of the kidnappers or what premises they will go to. Intelligence that a kidnap victim will be taken to particular premises might require surveillance of those premises at short notice in the interests of the protection of the victim and the effective conclusion of the operation. That is surely a sensible priority to allow for. The hon. Gentleman suggested that, in those circumstances, it would be so obvious that the victim needed to be protected that self-authorisation would be allowed.

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