Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman ought to be aware, if he is not, that the Speaker does not have the authority to summon any Secretary of State. [Hon. Members: "Shame!] It may be a shame. Although I have a lot of responsibility and authority, I cannot do that. He seeks a statement from the right hon. Lady. If one had been forthcoming, we would have known about it from the Annunciator by 12 o'clock.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You do not have the power of summons, but you have the power to inform the House. Did the Secretary of State for Defence ask to make a statement to the House in light of the fact that British troops have quite rightly been deployed to Mozambique, where no doubt they will show their customary skill and courage, but where they will inevitably put themselves at some risk and perhaps under some threat? He properly appeared on television yesterday to explain the circumstances and to advise the public that the troops had been deployed, but is not it incumbent on him or perhaps a junior Minister to explain to the House as soon as possible what gave rise to that deployment?

Madam Speaker: The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to inform the House; that was the origin of his question. I can inform the House that I have not been informed that any Secretary of State seeks to make a statement on any issue today.

6 Mar 2000 : Column 765

6 Mar 2000 : Column 767

Orders of the Day

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.35 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is an important Bill, and represents a significant step forward for the protection of human rights in this country. Human rights considerations have dominated its drafting. None of the law enforcement activities specified in the Bill is new. What is new is that, for the first time, the use of these techniques will be properly regulated by law and externally supervised. That will serve to ensure that law enforcement and other operations are consistent with the duties imposed on public authorities by the European convention on human rights and by the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Bill is one of a series of measures aimed at securing a better balance between law enforcement and individual rights as set out in the convention. Over the years, these measures have included the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Security Service Act 1989, the Intelligence Services Act 1994, the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, and the Police Act 1997. In conjunction with existing legislation, the Bill will consolidate the law on the use of investigatory powers.

But there is one difference. Much of that previous legislation has been undertaken in response to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. In one respect--and one only--the Bill follows that trend: that is in respect of the decision of the ECHR in the Halford case, with which the Bill seeks to deal. The rest of the Bill reflects a change in the United Kingdom's stance on human rights. We have sought in the Bill to put right our existing regime in advance, without the need for individuals to resort to the courts, and then for Parliament to correct matters retrospectively.

We are trying actively to ensure that our system protects individuals' convention rights, while recognising how vital such investigatory powers are to the protection of society as a whole. Striking the right balance in this area is an important responsibility of Government, and of the Home Office in particular. Throughout, this Bill reflects what I believe ought to be the correct balance, and we look forward to it being the subject of detailed scrutiny in Committee and during this debate.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): This is an important Bill, but does the right hon. Gentleman know that its scope is so wide that, when the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is thrown out of the Labour party, it will be an offence, punishable by two years' imprisonment, for him to read a message on his pager that was not intended for him?

Mr. Straw: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's desire to jump on the Livingstone bandwagon, but I am not sure whether Conservative central office takes the same view. I do not begin to understand the gravamen of his question.

6 Mar 2000 : Column 768

The Bill addresses the regulation of six investigatory powers, and it is narrow in scope and subject matter. Those powers are the interception of communications; the acquisition of communications data; intrusive surveillance; directed surveillance; the use of covert human intelligence sources; and demands for decryption. They are all powerful weapons in the armoury of law enforcement agencies. In 1998, 52 per cent. of all heroin seizures resulted directly from intelligence gained from interception. Throughout 1998, the total street value of drugs seized in that way was in excess of £185 million. That amounts to more than 10 per cent. of the estimated total spend on drugs in the UK each year. More details are included in the regulatory impact assessment that I have published alongside the Bill.

Drug trafficking is just one example. Some of the powers underpin vital national security operations. They are also key to tackling the serious and organised criminals involved in money laundering, human trafficking, paedophilia, tobacco smuggling and other serious offences. Precisely because those powers are so vital, they have the capacity to represent a potential threat to individual privacy, so we must ensure that regulation is tight.

The regime set out in the Bill will ensure that the regulation is compatible with the terms of the convention. Each of the six powers addressed in the Bill will set out, or will provide for subordinate legislation to set out, who--which agency--can use each technique described; for what purpose; who must authorise the use of each technique; what use can be made of certain of the material acquired; who will oversee proper use of each technique; and to which body aggrieved individuals may complain.

Law enforcement and other public authorities will benefit from clear guidance on the precise circumstances in which they can use particular techniques. Members of the public will benefit, because the circumstances in which the powers can be used will be clear to them. They will have access to an identifiable tribunal if they believe that the powers have been abused, and they will have the reassurance that the commissioners will publish their reports to the Prime Minister on the use of the powers every year.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Why should the House be content to allow a statutory instrument to prescribe which additional bodies should be given powers under clause 6 to intercept communications? Which body not specified in the Bill does the Home Secretary think might have such a power--the Child Support Agency, perhaps, or the Government Whips Office? The possibility of adding bodies is considerable; surely such powers should be granted in primary legislation.

Mr. Straw: Whichever body has power to seek an intercept warrant, the process for authorising the warrant will remain the same. The warrant must be authorised personally under the hand of the Secretary of State, who, in the case of domestic warrants, is almost always the Home Secretary. I did not properly understand this before I had my present job, but the process is also subject to extensive judicial scrutiny--albeit retrospectively, as I think the right hon. Gentleman has cause to know--by the interception commissioner, who, rightly, is very thorough in monitoring the issue of warrants and checking that they have been lawfully authorised, in terms of process but, above all, in terms of use of the powers.

6 Mar 2000 : Column 769

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, which can be discussed in more detail in Committee, but the addition of bodies would be small, and would apply only to bodies with a law enforcement function.

Chapter I of part I deals with the interception of communications. We start from the regime established by the Interception of Communications Act 1985, and we have been faithful to many of its key tenets. Authorisation is to be at the same levels as now--in other words, by warrant of the Secretary of State. The purposes for which interception can be used will be tightly constrained, as they are now, and the safeguards relating to use of intercept material will be, if anything, even more tightly regulated and constrained than they are now.

There are, however, some significant changes. The criminal offence of unlawful interception is extended to private telephone and telecommunications networks. I hope that all hon. Members welcome that, because it is intended to take account of the judgment in United Kingdom v. Halford, in which the European Court of Human Rights found the existing regime in this country--where interception of private networks is not regulated at all--to be deficient.

We have established a criminal offence, and have also created a civil liability in respect of interception by a network controller. I fully accept that there may be legitimate reasons for someone controlling a network to engage in what effectively amounts to interception, but the Bill will create a civil liability in respect of employers and others who overstep the mark.

As for the warrants themselves, we have had to make some changes to reflect the diverse nature of modern communications networks; but warrants will still specify the communications to be intercepted and the target, and will continue to be personally authorised by the Secretary of State.

Next Section

IndexHome Page