VICTORIA SPEAKS IN DEBATE ON THE INVESTIGATORY POWERS BILL

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On Tuesday 15 March, Victoria Prentis MP spoke in the Commons debate at the Second Reading of the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill. The Bill, introduced by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, aims to reform the powers afforded to the UK’s crime, security and intelligence agencies. Victoria, who led the Justice and Security team in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department before her election to Parliament, called on her experience while speaking in favour of the Bill.

The House of Commons voted by 281 votes to 15 to proceed with the Bill. The Bill will now be considered by a Public Bill Committee, which is expected to hold oral evidence sessions on Thursday 24 March.

The text of Victoria’s speech can be seen below.

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 15 March 2016:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): Frankly, I struggled with the intricacies of RIPA and the other relevant legislation in my many years as a Government lawyer. I was, therefore, pleased and, indeed, excited to hear that previously almost impenetrable legislation was going to be consolidated into a new, easy to understand Bill, fit for the modern age.

When I read the draft Bill, I had concerns. I felt that greater judicial oversight was needed and that specialist groups, such as lawyers, journalists and, indeed, Members of this House, needed further protection. I read the Committee reports with interest and I was very much heartened to read the new Bill, which was produced following a large amount of scrutiny.

I feel that the double lock is a safe one. Assessing applications does and will undoubtedly take up a great deal of the Home Secretary’s time, but it is time well spent. It means that she is up to date with the details of real investigations in a way that few of her counterparts abroad can ever hope to be. It keeps her finger on the pulse. These are both political and judicial decisions; the fact that bulk warrants will come into force only once they have been authorised by the Secretary of State and approved by the Judicial Commissioner seems to be the very best of both worlds. Effectively, we are talking about judicial review with bells and whistles on, as Lord Judge informed the Committee, in every single case.

I was also pleased to read about the new protections afforded to those who provide information to sensitive persons—I hesitate to call lawyers and politicians sensitive, but perhaps those who provide us with information may be so described. The exemption is specially related to journalist sources.

I have been surprised by the openness of the Department in publishing the supporting material for this Bill. It is brave—I use that word as a long-term civil servant—of the Government to have published codes of practice complete with examples, and indeed the operational case for assessing internet connection records. It means that we can have a really informed debate today. I have presented cases where the security services, the police and the Ministry of Defence have analysed very large quantities of data. Although not very technically able myself, I did have to learn a certain amount about the search engines, which were designed to interrogate this material. I was reassured and, in turn, was able to reassure judges and Queen’s Bench Masters that the material on which important decisions were made was as complete as possible. The ability to collect bulk data is essential. The new Bill will help to ensure that there is no credibility gap in the balance between keeping us safe and protecting our rights to privacy. As important as pinpointing what information Government can obtain is deciding what can be done with it once it is gathered. This is where the important ethical debate should focus.

Last week the Justice Committee was fortunate to interview the President of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. He told us about new techniques to reduce crime by interrogating openly available material. Discussions now need to focus on whether we should

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interrogate social media to decide on a person’s propensity to commit crime or have drug addiction problems in the future.

I hope that the new IP commissioner will be a strong voice in the debates that lie ahead, and that he will be able to add a sensible and independent viewpoint to both the media and this House. Getting the balance right will always be a challenge, but I welcome the transparent approach of the Home Secretary and her team in presenting us with the Bill in its current form.