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Queen's recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(b),

Question agreed to.

26 Jul 2000 : Column 1177

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill

Lords amendments considered.

7.49 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): I draw the House's attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 17 to 19, 86, 88 and 97. If the House agrees to any of these Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you enlighten me as to the first set of amendments? I tabled an amendment relating to communications data and I would like to speak on the subject, but I seem to have lost track of the process. Have we gone past the debate on communications data?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: No, it is just about to start. However, I understand that the hon. Gentleman's amendment has not been selected.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise to ask your guidance on how to draw a certain matter to the attention of the House. About a week ago, when we debated the Care Standards Bill, I raised with the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), the fact that provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill conflict with that Bill. Afterwards, the Minister kindly told me that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), would write to me on the issue. The Home Office Minister is now present and I spoke to him earlier today, but I have yet to receive his letter. I therefore wish to draw the House's attention to the fact that, this evening, it might pass a piece of legislation that will make another one illegal. Will you rule on how to deal with that issue?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Sometimes, one has to pester Ministers--and be very persistent.

Clause 2

Meaning and location of "interception" etc

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 4, line 32, leave out ("address or other") and insert ("traffic").

7.50 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 5, 23 to 32, and 126 and 127.

Mr. Clarke: First, I shall respond to the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce). He has pestered me most energetically, starting about 11 minutes ago. I told him that I was prepared to write to him. He raised the issue when we were considering the Care Standards Bill. The Minister of State, Department of Health discussed the matter with me. I told him that there was no conflict between the Bill and the Care Standards Bill. On that

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basis, my hon. Friend gave that assurance to the House. The hon. Member for South Dorset is right, in that I told my hon. Friend the Minister that I would write to the hon. Gentleman to explain precisely why there was no conflict. I will do that. I have not been pestered and pestering should not have been needed, until a few moments ago. Being pestered as I am now, I will respond in the appropriate way.

The definition of communications data to which the amendments refer has been the subject of a great deal of important attention. We discussed it first in Committee. Principally, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) raised important points about whether communications data were more or less intrusive, as a concept of intruding on people's freedom and knowledge, than other forms of surveillance which were involved in the Bill. It has been a positive and helpful debate.

In supporting the amendments and in working with both Opposition parties in the other place, we wished to secure the maximum possible agreement and to go forward with a Bill that we can all agree represents the right way of proceeding. I shall not repeat the point, certainly not this evening. I place on record the fact that we appreciate the efforts of Lord Cope of Berkeley, Lord McNally and Opposition Members in this place in seeking to reach an agreement on where we should go. I appreciate the efforts made by many organisations, in business and elsewhere, which were keen to try to improve the Bill in a variety of ways. The amendments on these clauses and those in other groups that we shall discuss this evening are the product of a positive process of trying to seek agreement and improve the Bill in a generally constructive way. It is appropriate to pay tribute to those who have been involved in that process.

The purpose of this group of amendments is to draw the definition of communications data in the Bill tightly enough to exclude the possibility that the contents of the communication could be assessed. We all understand that when reading telephone bills it is possible to find where the calls go. Everybody was concerned to ensure that the content of, for example, a webpage or whatever should not be caught by the Bill.

We were ready to deal with that, so the new definitions set out in the amendments satisfy, we believe, three areas of concern. They include in what manner and by what method a person communicates with another person or machine. They exclude what they say or what data they pass on once the connection has been established--for example, the content of communications. Importantly, they still allow for dial-through fraud to be properly investigated.

Redrafting the definition has been a complicated process, and so it may assist the House if I explain briefly what each part of the new definition as set out in amendments Nos. 3 and 24 is designed to achieve. First, paragraph (a) covers subscriber information. Paragraph (b) covers routing information. Paragraph (c) is designed to address dial-through fraud. Paragraph (d) catches the data which are found at the beginning of each packet in a packet-switched network, which indicates which communications data attach to which communication. The tailpiece to the new definition puts it beyond any doubt that, in relation to internet communications, traffic data stop at the apparatus within which files or programmes are stored, so that traffic data may identify a server but not a website or page.

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Amendment No. 31 adds the Inland Revenue as a public authority that may be allowed to seek access to communications data under clause 24. We decided, with the agreement of others, to put that in the Bill in response to the recommendations of Lord Grabiner, to deal with the black economy in a way which I think most people consider positive and effective.

The Bill makes provision for orders that may add to the purposes for which communication data can be accessed, and similarly add to the list of those public authorities that may access such data. Amendments Nos. 27 and 32 ensure that these order-making powers are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

We need these order-making powers to take account of changing circumstances. We think it important to understand that the process is changing. We need order-making powers, and we accept that they should be affirmative subject to the resolution procedure.

We discussed this complicated and difficult area of the Bill in great detail in Committee--I put on record the efforts of the hon. Member for Hallam in trying to clarify these matters and develop them--and we believe that the definition of communications data is drawn tightly enough to exclude the possibility of accessing content. On that basis, I hope that the House will agree to accept the amendment.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): We have come a long way since Third Reading in this place. I thank all those organisations and individuals that have been involved in helping the Opposition in the House of Lords and in this place. I refer to bodies such as the Federation of the Electronics Industry, the Alliance for Electronic Business, the Internet Service Providers Association, the London Internet Exchange, the London Investment Banking Association, Justice, Liberty, the Conservative technology forum, Mr. Steven Brine, and the European Informatics Market.

I make no apology for listing those organisations and including Mr. Brine. They all have important interests in these matters. They have said from the outset that they support the principle that crimefighters should have the powers that they need and that there should be a proper framework for surveillance and the use of informants.

We reached the point on Third Reading in this place where the Government seemed unwilling to move further. The Opposition felt that the Government had not moved far enough. I join the tribute that has been paid to the work done by those in the House of Lords. I refer especially to Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Astor, with their team of Lord Goschen, Lord Northesk and Lord Lucas of Crudwell. The Liberal Democrats were ably led by Lord McNally. I even pay some tribute to Lord Bassam of Brighton, the Labour spokesman, who was forced to listen.

When we came to the end of Third Reading, I tabled a written question to the Minister to ascertain what amendments he intended to table in the Lords. He replied to the effect that he expected a very small number of minor and technical amendments. It is a tribute to the way in which matters have changed since the Bill was last in this place that we now have 29 pages of complete rewriting of the sections that most concerned the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats.

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I join in the welcome for these amendments, which deal with the important issue of communications data.

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