New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: I warmly endorse what the hon. Gentleman [Dr Julian Huppert] is saying. Does he agree that if more examples were given of a collated nature – such as those we read about frequently in individual criminal court cases – about the vital role that such data play, that would go a long way to allay unnecessary public suspicion about the importance of having such data available for the forces of law and order?

Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Unfortunately, the approach taken for, I believe, many decades has been not to tell people. We have always been told, “We can’t tell you what’s being done at the moment, but we need more.” If we were told and there was transparency, the public could make a much more sensible judgment about what was needed. ...

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Dr Lewis: Will my hon. Friend take on board the point I made in my intervention a few moments ago? Although one fully accepts that one cannot give full statistical data about these sorts of activities as they relate to national security, the point that the hon. Member for Cambridge [Dr Huppert] made – that the majority are about serious crime rather than national security – ought to give us the opportunity to set out many case studies that would improve the public’s understanding of why it is so important that we have these data.

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): I know that my hon. Friend understands the importance of communications data in the fight against organised crime, as 95% of the organised crime cases that have been brought before the courts have relied on those data. He will also be aware of some of the surveys that have been run to indicate the proportions of communications data that are used and how they are broken down. For example, a survey in 2012 showed that 51% of communications data used to investigate sexual offences were older than six months. It is that type of information that, if we had further detail, would give that sense of how communications data are used to reassure the public and others in respect of the utility of the powers that are there. That certainly touches on one of my hon. Friend’s points. ...

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Dr Lewis: I appreciate that my hon. Friend is mainly talking about the gathering and publication of statistical data, but it would not involve much effort for police forces to collate even half a dozen or a dozen cases per year that are reported in the press as to how these communications data are used in individual cases. A few good examples that have already been published would go a long way to help the public understand how important this methodology is.

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): In highlighting case studies, my hon. Friend makes an important point. A number of case studies involving serious murders have already been referenced in the debate this evening. Indeed, the shadow Home Secretary highlighted a case in which a young person who was safeguarded was effectively prevented from killing themselves. Such examples highlight the absolute import and value of communications data and the way in which our emergency services, police and others rely on them, not just to solve crime and to protect the public from those very real threats that we understand from a criminal law and a counter-terrorism perspective, but to protect children and vulnerable adults from harm. The ability to identify where someone may be through tracking the communications data can literally be a matter of life and death. My hon. Friend is therefore right to suggest we can draw on case studies to provide greater explanation. In the appalling Soham murders, for example, communications data were instrumental in bringing those responsible to justice. Such cases highlight the significance of the use of the powers. ...

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Dr Lewis: I am sure the Home Secretary knows that I am, in general, supportive of the Bill, but, in the light of the vote we have just taken, what sort of guarantee can she offer the House that the same European Court that struck down the previous situation will not strike down this Bill as well?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): As I indicated earlier, and as I think others have indicated during the course of the various debates we have had today, the European Court of Justice did not strike down the ability to retain data. It recognised that the ability to retain data was necessary and it recognised purposes for which those data could be retained. What it did in its judgment was say that the data retention directive was drafted too broadly and it challenged its scope.

Of course, it was always the case that regulations here in the United Kingdom had been drawn more tightly and narrowly than the data retention directive. We are able to put through this Bill with confidence because not only were our data retention regulations drafted in a way that met many of the issues that the ECJ raised, but we have made some changes to ensure that we meet the extra requirements that the ECJ made on us. That is what gives us confidence in the future of this legislation. ...

[For Julian's two speeches in this debate click here.]