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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I can deal with the first point, which is a point of order--the second point is a matter for debate, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find his own way of putting it right. I endorse his feelings that we do better in this place when courtesies between right hon. and hon. Members are recognised. If one hon. Member refers to another, it is proper that he give notice.

Mr. Hancock: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to inform you that, on this occasion, I gave the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North notice that I was going to raise the matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I naturally assumed that.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to report to the House that, sadly, Mr. Stan Hurrell, who took over his father's business and served the House by providing our newspapers for 58 years, died on Friday night in St. Thomas's hospital. His family, who were with him, will continue the business. Many Members, including the Father of the House, have been in touch with the family, who maintained the newsagents outside the tube station and with whom the Serjeant at Arms, his predecessors and Members had many dealings.

I thought that the House would like to know that the family are very grateful for the huge support that they have been given by Members. Mr. Hurrell's death from cancer was long and painful, but the end came peacefully.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that sad event to the wider attention of hon. Members. As he said, many of us remember the long and dedicated service that Mr. Hurrell gave to this House and to individual Members. We were sad that he suffered so long from such a debilitating illness, which he bore very bravely. I am sure that all hon. Members would wish to extend their sympathy to Mr. Hurrell's widow and family at this sad time.

8 May 2000 : Column 531

Orders of the Day

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 8

Delegation of Commissioners' functions

'.--(1) Anything authorised or required by or under any enactment to be done by a relevant Commissioner may be done by any member of the staff of that Commissioner who is authorised for the purpose (whether generally or specifically) by that Commissioner.

(2) In this section "relevant Commissioner" means the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Security Service Act Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Act Commissioner or any Surveillance Commissioner.'.--[Jane Kennedy.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.22 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 3--Investigatory Powers Commission--

'.--(1) There shall be a body of Commissioners named the Investigatory Powers Commission, consisting of the Investigatory Powers Commissioners.
(2) The Commissioner under section 8 of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, the Security Service Act Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Act Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and the ordinary Surveillance Commissioners shall each henceforth be known as Investigatory Powers Commissioners.
(3) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the discharge under the general direction of the Commission of any of the functions of one Commissioner by any Commissioners.
(4) The Secretary of State shall appoint one of the Commissioners to be chairman of the Commission.
(5) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (2) insofar as it regulates the number of Commissioners.
(6) Schedule (Investigatory Powers Commission) shall have effect with respect to the Commission.
(7) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.'.

Government amendments Nos. 36 to 38, 68 to 83, 87 and 88.

New schedule 1--'Investigatory Powers Commission--

1. The Investigatory Powers Commission may appoint such officers and servants as they think fit, including investigating officers, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State as to numbers and as to remuneration and other terms and conditions of service.
2. Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Commission may make arrangements for the regulation of their business.

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3. The arrangements may, with the approval of the Secretary of State provide for the discharge under the general direction of the Commission of any of the Commission's functions by any Commissioner.
4. Anything done by a Commissioner shall have the same effect as if done by the Commission.'.

Government amendments Nos. 55, 92 and 93.

Jane Kennedy: As I am speaking to the Government new clause and amendments, it might help if I explain their purpose and deal with issues that we debated in Committee and that were raised on Second Reading. I wish to make it clear that we have listened carefully to hon. Members' comments and have sought to address their concerns in our amendments.

As I said during the Standing Committee debate, we are sympathetic to the need to rationalise the system of commissioner oversight that we are introducing, wherever possible. However, we are not considering going as far as is suggested in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and his colleagues, which would establish a single unified commission. In Committee, I outlined our thinking on the matter, pointing out that we believe that combining the various secretariats to the commissioners into a single body will achieve most of the benefits of amalgamating the commissioners' roles without sacrificing their distinctiveness.

There are strong arguments for retaining separately in statute the identity of some commissioners, who are experts in their respective fields, regularly visiting those agencies whose activities they oversee. Therefore, as I said in Committee, they are a more effective check than could be a body of commissioners whose responsibilities ranged widely across the spectrum of investigatory powers.

In Committee, I raised questions of accountability and security. Amalgamating commissioners' functions would risk obscuring the lines of accountability and compromising their expertise. The system proposed in the Bill is designed to ensure that the need-to-know principle is strictly observed and that details about particular individuals are shared to the minimum extent possible. Within a unified secretariat, members of staff would work for particular commissioners and this principle could be maintained. Amalgamating different commissioners' functions would make this considerably more difficult.

For those reasons, we tabled Government amendments Nos. 55 and 75, and new clause 8. Between them, those amendments would ensure that each of the commissioners was properly provided with staff who could act on their behalf, thereby facilitating the creation of a unified secretariat. In Committee, I referred to an audit team being sent out under the auspices of the interception of communications commissioner to examine communications data requests. The Government's intention is to create not only a unified secretariat but an investigative secretariat, along the lines suggested in the new schedule. Those staff would act entirely in accordance with a plan established by the commissioners.

The commissioners must be satisfied that the arrangements for oversight are such that they can genuinely report to the Prime Minister at the end of each year on the operation of the powers. That said, I see no reason why they personally need to visit police stations

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up and down the land to check, for example, the process for recording authorisations for directed surveillance and the question of whether particular directed surveillance was authorised properly.

The surveillance commissioners established under the Police Act 1997 already have a secretariat. We intend that that secretariat, which is geographically split between London, Edinburgh and Belfast, should be augmented so that it provides for the interception commissioner, intelligence services commissioner and security service commissioner. That does not go as far as the single, unified commission proposed in the Opposition amendments; none the less, I hope that, after listening to my assurances, the Opposition will feel able to withdraw their amendments and accept instead the Government amendments. Our amendments do not go quite as far as the Opposition's in terms of what is on the face of the Bill, but they do go most of the way toward ensuring the consistency that the Opposition want.

I turn my attention to amendments Nos. 36 to 38. Clause 18 places a duty on persons involved in interception of communications to keep secret matters relating to that work and all aspects of interception warrants, and it introduces an offence of unauthorised disclosure. Clause 50 imposes a similar duty to keep secret the giving of certain decryption notices under part III, their contents and related matters. The Bill as it stands does not make express provision to allow disclosures to be made to any commissioner, including the interception commissioner. That is clearly a deficiency and the amendments will correct it, ensuring that even if internal safeguards were to fail, no one would be barred by the criminal law from bringing a matter to the attention of a commissioner.

The remaining amendments, Nos. 68 to 83, 87 to 88 and 92 to 93, deal with the covert investigations commissioner. In Standing Committee, I stated that there might be scope for amalgamating the role of the covert investigations commissioner--the only new commissioner created by the Bill--with that of the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners established by the Police Act. That is what the amendments are designed to achieve. Amalgamating those roles will facilitate consistency in oversight across those public authorities other than the intelligence services that carry out activities under part II.

I hope that those measures will reassure the House that we are doing all we can to ensure that oversight of the powers in the Bill is as seamless as possible, while respecting the properly different functions of the existing commissioners to whom the Bill refers. I believe that the amendments respond to the Opposition's criticisms regarding the Bill's over-bureaucratic tendencies.

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