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Mr. Richard Shepherd: All I am saying is that provisions in the criminal law give the police authority to arrest people for kidnapping or whatever. That is why I have difficulty in understanding why we need to set down the principle that everyone should be authorised by a warrant from a separate institution such as the magistrates court.

Mr. Michael: I see that the hon. Gentleman did not understand the example that was given, which was that of the need to undertake intrusive surveillance of premises to which a kidnap victim might be taken in order to undertake the operation of safely rescuing that victim. There are examples that go precisely to the point of the authorisations in the Bill and to the sort of circumstances in which urgency might arise.

My concern is that, if the amendment were to be passed, it would allow the urgency procedure to be used only where delay would be likely seriously to prejudice the effectiveness of the operation. Other matters might be urgent, such as the protection of the public or the avoidance of danger to the public or to police officers. The amendment would prevent the urgency provision being used in those circumstances, and that would be a grave mistake. I certainly understand the reasons why the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed wants to define urgency more closely, but his amendment would introduce a danger that the use of the urgency provisions would be so constrained that police officers and members of the public were put at risk. That would be a dangerous mistake to make.

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4.45 pm

Mr. Beith: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for his usual stalwart contribution on civil liberties matters, as I have been grateful for his support in earlier stages of the Bill. I am also grateful for the closing words of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). I shall not dwell on his earlier remarks, except to say that he is an upholder of the longer and rather unhappy political tradition of never admitting that one was wrong, even when one has had the sense to change one's mind. That attitude is all too common in British politics, but I see no merit or advantage in it.

The Minister's remarks were echoed to some extent by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth in saying that we must have an urgent procedure because lives may be at risk. I simply emphasise that the existing procedure, with no urgency provision, has to be operated when terrorism is being fought by the Security Service. If that service is aware that a surveillance operation is necessary because of the prospect of a major bomb outrage occurring, it gets to the Home Secretary quickly, and gets the authorisation in an efficient manner.

What I do not want is a cumbersome and slow system of approvals for the police when dealing with serious crime that necessitates frequent recourse to an urgent procedure in which they do not have to get approval in advance. The Minister has said, and has referred to parts of the code of practice that say, that urgency has to be genuine. He has underlined that the urgent application will not merely be reviewed as to whether it was a good idea, but will be open to being quashed. That quashing might not have any effect if the operation has already been completed, but one quashing of an urgent application at a relatively early stage might serve to concentrate minds wonderfully from then on. I hope that that does not prove necessary, but the Minister has today helped to make clear it that the procedures should be used only in an extremely limited and closely defined set of circumstances.

There may be dangers in narrow definitions, but the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth illustrated some of the dangers of broad definitions by using phrases such as "where there is danger to the public". There is danger to the public in all these matters--there is danger to the public in most serious crime and all terrorism. However, we have to have procedures that ensure that rapid action can be taken where that is needed and that the civil liberties of the vast majority of citizens, who are not engaged in any of those activities, are also protected.

The Minister has helped to put that firmly on the record, and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 104

Appeals by authorising officers


Amendments made: No. 12, in page 44, line 13, leave out from 'complainant' to end of line 14 and insert 'under Schedule 7'.
No. 13, in page 44, line 45, leave out 'remain' and insert 'be'.--[Mr. Maclean.]

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Clause 106

Appeals by complainants


Amendments made: No. 14, in page 45, line 31, leave out 'Subject to subsection (4)'.
No. 15, in page 45, line 34, after 'Commissioner' insert 'appointed under section 91(1)(b)'.
No. 16, in page 45, line 36, after 'complainant' insert
'by virtue of paragraph (a)'--[Mr. Maclean.]

Clause 108

Interpretation of Part III


Amendment proposed: No. 17, in page 47, line 5, leave out from 'writing,' to end of line and insert
'the notice may be transmitted by electronic means'.--[Mr. Maclean.]

Mr. Beith: I was slightly concerned when the amendment was tabled and even more concerned when I saw the Government's explanation for it. The amendment would allow documents used in the process of obtaining authorisation to be sent by e-mail. The Government's explanation is that that could be used only if the police, customs and the commissioners are satisfied that the communication will be secure. That is obviously a fundamental point: communication must be secure, because the matter is highly delicate. If information became known to those being surveilled, the operation would be defeated and, in addition, other kinds of confidential information about operations would emerge.

However, e-mail is a threat to the security, not only of the communication, but of the systems at each end. Use of electronic mail involves access to the computer system from which it goes and the computer system into which it goes, so the condition that the Government have kindly included in their notes on clauses--that e-mail will be used only if they are satisfied that the communication will be secure--will not do. E-mail is a real danger to the security of the body of material that will be stored by the secretariat of the commissioners, and to the computer system of the police force sending that information.

Mr. Maclean indicated dissent.

Mr. Beith: The Minister shakes his head. If he seeks to deny that, I shall draw his attention to various places in various documents to which his Department has access which make it clear. I hope that the Government will now take that into account.

Mr. Michael: The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has drawn attention to a proper concern, which the Minister sought to allay, in Committee and subsequently, by saying that he would want to be satisfied of the safety and security of communications. Under this part of the Bill, communications can be made in a variety of ways, including in writing, and writing can be extremely insecure if the wrong means are used, so I have no objection to the inclusion of electronic communications.

I should be grateful if the Minister would satisfy us that requirements will be placed on those using such systems so that there is some oversight to avoid the dangers. There are secure and insecure facsimile transmissions. Can the

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Minister assure us that secure fax, not insecure fax, will be used? The same thing applies to all communications where there may be risk, not only to operations, but to individuals' safety.

Mr. Maclean: I am delighted to give the House the maximum assurance that I can on that. There is e-mail and there is e-mail. This will not be a loose Internet system. The police already have a secure system for communicating throughout the country and we have a national communication strategy, which aims to connect up the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts in future, mainly to speed up the processing of criminal cases. I envisage part of that system being used and the commissioners being linked to it.

I do not understand the technicalities, but I know that, although the Home Office is connected to the Cab-E-Net system, it is impossible for a person in another Government Department--even on our network--to tap into all the files in the Home Office, or for us to tap into anyone else's files. Codes, passwords and electronic gizmos must be used and one can obtain access only to the part of the system to which one is entitled to gain access.

I do not understand the bells and whistles that make these things operate. I do not suppose that these computers have valves any more, but I am absolutely certain that, when the right valves are installed, the police will have access only to the files to which the commissioners want them to have access, and the commissioners will be able to correspond only with those parts of the police network that the police wish them to correspond with. That is achievable.

Of course there are security risks--someone may get it wrong, and there may be leakage in the system--but I know that, with the best computer brains applied to the matter, the secure systems that already exist in this country can be replicated for that system.

One of the advantages of e-mail is the speed that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed urged on us a moment ago. He does not want a slow, bureaucratic, burdensome system, which requires the commissioners to wait for a few days before taking decisions; nor do we. If we want an urgency procedure to work PDQ, the chief constable and his staff should be able to e-mail the commissioners, saying, "We have just used the urgency procedure; this is why," and the commissioners should be able to e-mail them back securely as soon as reasonably practicable, to approve or quash action.

Use of electronic mail is the best way to implement the wish of the right hon. Gentleman, the Opposition and myself that such things be dealt with speedily. The technical experts tell me, and I know from my own amateur knowledge of computers, that it is possible to have a secure network. Security is vital, and I shall endeavour to make the system as secure as is humanly possible.


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