Two Speeches at Committee Stage
(i) Extra-territorial Application of RIPA Warrants
Dr Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) asked an important question: what will the Government do when a company does not wish to co-operate? I would like to put on the record something that I cannot attribute to a particular individual, other than to say it was a comment made by a very senior member of one of the main communications services providers in modern media. In relation to the question of his medium being abused for serious criminal or terrorist purposes, he said:
"We don’t want to frustrate the access of law enforcement agencies; only, that they should come through the front door and ask us, not sneak in by the back door."
The companies want something that is clearly laid out in a proper legal format, so that they can fulfil that promise not at the whim of some private or backstairs approach by some unnamed Government official, but through a proper on-the-record procedure.
Mr Raab: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. There has been a lot of talk about privacy, but if we do not get this right and the providers are not comfortable, the risk is that the Bill will be flouted. If that happens, the use of foreign providers by every paedophile and jihadist group would drive a coach and horses through clause 4 and render it utterly useless.
Dr Lewis: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who is a fierce defender of the rights of individuals. I hope he agrees that if we can build on the attitude I have described from one of the most senior providers, then, by consensus, we ought to be able to set an example of an agreed arrangement whereby providers can be satisfied that they are assisting the law enforcement authorities in a proper, open and legitimate way, with no question of their being party to underhand arrangements.
Finally, may I apologise to the House for my late entry to this important debate, and, indeed, for my attire? I spent the entire day at the Farnborough Air Show, where the screaming of fast jets must have excluded the noise of my telephone ringing repeatedly from Downing Street, offering me an alternative way to serve the nation. [Laughter.]
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(ii) Bringing Forward the Bill as Emergency Legislation
Dr Julian Lewis: Having made a brief intervention earlier that was largely helpful to Members on both Front Benches, I will now rectify the balance by saying that, however one looks at this debate in terms of whether or not enough time has been made available for those who want to speak to have their say, the overall impression that has been given to the public has been unfortunate, to put it mildly. My understanding is that this Bill has been made necessary because of an ECJ judgment that was arrived at in April. It is now mid-July. Why on earth has it taken so long to get from that judgment all those weeks ago to the position now, whereby it appears to the public that we have to make what I believe to be very necessary changes in a terrible rush? They are under the impression – in the context, it must be said, of the paranoia over the Edward Snowden affair – that we are doing this in a desperately swift and ill-considered way.
Personally, I accept that there is some strength in the argument that the time the Government have made available at this very late stage is probably enough for most of the people who are likely to contribute to the debate in the Chamber to do so; but not enough time has been given to those in the country who want to develop the wider public argument. One would not like to give the impression that one was trying to get this Bill through in a rush before a suitable momentum of public concern had the opportunity to build up, but, if that was not the reason for the delay, then what was?
Mr David Davis: My hon. Friend says, quite properly, that there is time for those of us who are concerned to make our points, but there is no time for us to research those points. There are significant legal and practical issues involved, and some of the issues are difficult to research because most of them are secret. One weekend is a ridiculous time scale in which to consider something that goes to the heart of the fundamental relationship between the state and the citizen.
Dr Lewis: I hope my right hon. Friend accepts that the nub of my short contribution is to say that we should not have found ourselves in this position. When the ECJ judgment was made we should immediately have swung into action so as to give people reasonable warning that this debate was going to take place, and then they could have done the degree of research necessary to avoid the impression that things were being rushed through in unseemly haste.
Steve McCabe: If we are all trying to be open and straight with people, why do we not just own up to the fact that this problem is of the Coalition Government’s making? They could not get to the point where they agreed on a Bill, so we now have to consider a bit of bounced legislation as an emergency because of the Coalition’s problems.
Dr Lewis: I always love it when an Opposition Member precisely anticipates my final point. My love, affection and esteem for Coalition politics are legendary. I want Ministers to give me the explanation – so far, we have been denied it – that there is indeed a rational alternative to the paranoid belief currently abroad that all this is being rushed through because we wanted to stifle debate, were afraid what the public would say and feared the context of all the revelations of secrets.
Let us get to the heart of it: if the truth is that it took this long for the Conservatives and the Liberals to agree what they wanted to introduce, there is nothing to be ashamed of in saying so; it is a natural downside of Coalition politics. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister, who does these things with such panache and dependability, to put his head above the parapet and simply say that this was one of the many disadvantages of Coalition politics – which Conservative Members and Labour Members look forward to seeing the back of in a few months’ time.