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21 Feb 2008 : Column 534

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman knows from the business statement that EU institutional reform will be the subject of debate on Tuesday. He will then be able to make his views clear to the Minister for Europe.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Given that the Government wisely distanced themselves from the suggestions about incorporating sharia law made by my old school friend, the Archbishop of Canterbury—that is the name-dropping bit—may we have a statement on consistency from whichever Minister it was who approved the decision to pay benefits in respect of multiple marriages and polygamous partners provided those arrangements were contracted abroad before people came to this country?

Helen Goodman: I understand that it is untrue to suggest that husbands with multiple wives have been given the go-ahead to claim extra welfare benefits; the welfare benefits date back to 1987.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I want to take the Deputy Leader of the House back to the business that she announced. She will know that day 11 of the debate on the European Union (Amendment) Bill will include discussion of clause 8, and thus the House will be given the opportunity to vote on whether to carry out the Government’s promise to hold a referendum. That business does not have protected time and will conclude at the moment of interruption. Given that it will take place on a Wednesday, many spare hours in the evening will be available for us to debate it at length. That would be the preferable option, but will she at least confirm that the Government will protect that business? My fear, shared by many Conservative Members, is that a number of statements will be made that day to curtail debate on this incredibly important issue.

Helen Goodman: The programme motion for the consideration of the Lisbon treaty, including the arrangements for the 11th day, was agreed several weeks ago. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that, contrary to what he is suggesting, fewer statements have been made on the days when the Lisbon treaty has been debated.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I want to continue the discussion on the lack of available Committee time to consider the Lisbon treaty. I have had the pleasure of attending each Committee sitting. It has not been too tiring, because most sittings have lasted for only one and a half hours. Selected groups of amendments are clearly not being reached—we only ever debate the first group selected. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House is keen on protecting the rights of Back Benchers. One thing that would help the House would be if the arrangements for the six allotted hours were changed so that the vast bulk of the time was spent in Committee, rather than discussing a motion. The Government have agreed to be flexible on the matter. Will she examine it and publish the timetable for next week, setting out how the split between the motion and the Committee is to be delivered?

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is right—we promised to be flexible, and we have been. We look ahead every week to consider the appropriate balance, taking into account the level of interest and the number of amendments tabled.

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Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Secretary of State for Health make a statement on the national health service’s approach to group B streptococcal infections in newborn babies? Three out of 10 pregnant women carry the GBS bacterium, which is the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborn babies, affecting 700 babies a year, 75 of whom die as a result. The NHS does not routinely screen for the condition, but if it did, 80 per cent. of the infections could be treated.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is well aware that infant and maternal health has improved in the past 10 years because of this Labour Government’s trebling of spend on the NHS. I am sure that he can write to the Department of Health about the detailed points that he raised.

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HMP Woodhill

12.26 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement. As the House will recall, in his statement on 4 February 2008, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary announced that he and I had jointly agreed to ask the chief surveillance commissioner, Sir Christopher Rose, to conduct an inquiry to

Sir Christopher has completed his inquiry and submitted his report, and I should like to thank him for his work and for the speed and efficiency with which he carried it out. Today, I am laying his report before the House; copies are available in the Vote Office.

There should be absolutely no doubt about the vital importance of covert surveillance techniques and the contribution they make to the protection of us all from terrorism and other serious crime. Covert surveillance is an essential tool for the police and security and intelligence agencies, and the ability to make use of it must be preserved. It is, however, right that its use is carefully regulated. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 mandates the form of authorisation and inspection for a range of investigatory powers, including two distinct types of surveillance: intrusive surveillance and directed surveillance.

Intrusive surveillance is defined as the covert acquisition of information on a residential premise or in a private vehicle. It requires the authorisation of a Secretary of State, or of a chief constable or equivalent, together with the approval of a surveillance commissioner. Directed surveillance is any other covert surveillance that does not constitute intrusive surveillance. Directed surveillance can be approved by senior officers in the police, but does not require, in any circumstances, authorisation by a Secretary of State.

The House will be aware that the 2000 Act also covers the interception of communications. That is a power that can only ever be used for limited purposes, and requires in each case the explicit prior authorisation of a Secretary of State. It is to interception, and to other surveillance requiring the approval of a Secretary of State, that the Wilson doctrine applies. Sir Christopher makes it clear that

This is in line with the Government’s stated position on the doctrine. As the facts set out in Sir Christopher’s report make clear, it is not relevant in this case.

Let there be no doubt: all forms of covert surveillance are subject to a strict and rigorous statutory regime for authorisations; are conducted in accordance with the guidance set out in the statutory codes of practice; and are overseen by the various
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independent commissioners—normally recently retired members of the senior judiciary—established under the Act to ensure that those using the powers do so in compliance with the law and to the highest standards of integrity. There is an independent tribunal—the Investigatory Powers Tribunal—established to investigate and rule on any complaints.

I turn now to the details of Sir Christopher’s findings. As he reports, Babar Ahmad was arrested on an extradition warrant on 5 August 2004 and the following day remanded to HM Prison Woodhill. Sir Christopher found that warrants for intrusive surveillance for closed non-legal visits and for directed surveillance for open non-legal visits to Babar Ahmad were properly and correctly authorised in August and September 2004. The first intrusive surveillance authorisation was cancelled in December 2004. The second and relevant directed surveillance authorisation lasted until December 2006.

Sir Christopher has studied all the documentation on this authorisation and its reviews and renewals. He says of this that

Sir Christopher records that my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting visited Babar Ahmad in prison on three occasions, in October 2004, in May 2005 and in June 2006. On the first occasion, before my hon. Friend was elected to this House, he visited as a solicitor, and Sir Christopher finds that his visit was not monitored in any way. My hon. Friend’s later two visits were as an approved visitor under the approved visitors scheme for category A prisoners. He made an application to be put on that scheme as a friend, and before his election to this House. However, Sir Christopher notes that after his election,

The two visits that occurred after my hon. Friend had become an MP were monitored by surveillance. It is absolutely clear from Sir Christopher’s report that my hon. Friend was not the target of that surveillance.

Sir Christopher finds that none of the senior officers responsible for authorising the surveillance knew at the time that the Sadiq Khan listed as a friend was a Member of Parliament. He finds that

those officers—

He concludes however that

As I have just said, Sir Christopher concludes that the authorisations were in line with the legislation and codes of practice. In summary, Sir Christopher concludes:

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There have been some concerns raised about the extent of surveillance in prisons. Sir Christopher comments on these. He notes that

There have also been claims made about surveillance of legally privileged conversations between prisoners and solicitors. In his statement on 4 February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice said in respect of conversations between prisoners and their legal advisers:

The statutory codes of practice governing this make it clear that

It is, though, important to note that the legislation does not absolutely forbid the monitoring of such conversations. Sir Christopher says on this point:

I have asked the police service about the matter, and have been assured that that is in fact the case. Sir Christopher goes on to say:

I hope that that deals clearly and fully with the concerns raised. If any hon. Member, or any member of the public, has a specific complaint to make, the proper thing to do is to refer it to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which this Government established for precisely that purpose.

I referred earlier to the Wilson doctrine. Although that does not apply in this case, Sir Christopher does suggest that there is some scope for confusion as to the correct interrelationship between the Wilson doctrine and the legislation. The Government do not propose to amend the Wilson doctrine, but accept that current codes of practice do not fully clarify the extent to which reviewing officers and authorising officers should pay special attention to conversations involving or potentially involving a Member of Parliament. I am therefore announcing today that the Government will review the statutory codes of practice, and in particular that we intend to clarify that, as regards covert surveillance, conversations between Members of Parliament doing their constituency business and their constituents should be considered as “confidential information”, and treated in the same way as other confidential information, such as conversations between a person and their lawyer or minister of religion. That will more clearly give such conversations additional protection.

As regards this particular case, Sir Christopher has found that the procedures for surveillance operations of this kind were properly and lawfully applied and
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that my hon. Friend was not the target of surveillance. Sir Christopher identifies a need to clarify the position with respect to MPs as set out in the code and I agree. The action that I have announced today will ensure that that happens.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): May I first apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who is unavoidably absent from the House today? I thank the Home Secretary for an early sight of the statement and, if I may say so, for much of its content. I also wish to thank Sir Christopher Rose for having conducted the review expeditiously. Parts of what he has had to say in his report are undoubtedly reassuring in relation to the correct procedures having been followed in compliance with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

There are, however, some issues in the report that should give the House considerable cause for concern. First, the Home Secretary may agree that it is unfortunate that in relation to the police officer referred to by Sir Christopher Rose as X, but widely known in the public domain as being Mr. Kearney, it was not possible for what he had to say to be tested by Sir Christopher, notwithstanding the fact that the allegations originated from him in the first place. As a result, parts of those allegations have not been fully tested by Sir Christopher, for understandable reasons relating to forthcoming trials. Were it to turn out that Mr. Kearney was right in his assertions that he had made repeated representations about the impropriety of bugging the conversations of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), and that the other police officers were wrong in their assertions, would the Home Secretary agree with me that that would put a different complexion on the nature of the investigation and inquiry?

Is not the nub of the matter—and the principal criticism that can be levied at the police—the fact that junior police officers who were carrying out the monitoring and review of the bugging became aware that the hon. Member for Tooting was an MP but decided that that had no bearing whatsoever on the nature of the intrusive surveillance that was taking place? It may well be that the authorisations made by the senior officers who knew nothing about that fact were perfectly valid in the context of the RIPA categorisation of how to go about bugging. However, I have to say to the Home Secretary that when one looks at the junior officers’ lack of response to the realisation that they were dealing with an MP coming on visits, it appears to show a woeful lack of understanding of what RIPA says.

Under section 28 of RIPA, such authorisations are allowed only in circumstances that involve national security or the prevention of crime—there are other categories—and one can understand why Babar Ahmad might have been bugged but, at the same time, the decision has to be proportionate. Unless it was suggested that the hon. Member for Tooting was in the course of his visits going to engage in a criminal conversation with Mr. Ahmad or in some conspiracy with him that would seek to undermine the criminal justice system in this country, it ought to have followed
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logically that those police officers would have been alerted to the fact that surveillance ought not to take place.

Are not wider issues raised about the extent to which we now have a surveillance society on such a level that a large number of intrusive investigations are being authorised by police officers at a senior level but are being carried out and monitored by police officers at a junior level? The result of that must be to cause anxiety that there will be instances when individuals whose conversations ought not to be monitored, for the very good public policy reasons outlined by the Home Secretary, will be monitored. For those reasons, I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of a review of the subject. I urge her to widen it to consider more generally the extent to which those areas of surveillance that fall outside the scope of the Secretary of State’s warrant, whether they relate to the bugging of an MP’s conversation when they visit someone in prison or elsewhere or to legal advisers and their conversations with individuals, should be looked at afresh.

The public are entitled to reassurance that we have not in fact created a system whereby there are substantial loopholes that allow junior police officers, through ignorance, inadvertence or possibly malice, simply to decide that they want to continue to listen to conversations when all the pointers mean that those conversations should remain confidential and, in some cases, privileged.

Jacqui Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his measured response to my statement and to Sir Christopher’s report. In relation to the specific points that he raised, Sir Christopher outlines at some length in paragraph 10 the inquiries that he undertook and what he learned about the meetings that the officer he identified as X had with a variety of people, as well as about the opportunities that he had during the course of those meetings. At the end of paragraph 10, Sir Christopher explains why it was appropriate to choose not to interview X further.

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point about the expectation that people might have had about the way the monitoring of a conversation that, as Sir Christopher identified, clearly involved a Member of Parliament on constituency business would be treated. As I said in my statement, the current codes and law make it clear that those police officers did not act outside the current codes and the law. However, it is precisely in order to ensure that there is clear guidance about the way in which an MP’s conversations with a constituent should be treated that I propose the changes to the codes that I outlined in my statement. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that needs clarification, and that is what we will provide.

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