HC Deb 16 December 1982 vol 34 cc466-7
5. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now answer questions on telephone tapping.

Mr. Whitelaw

I intend to maintain the practice of successive Governments to answer questions about these matters only in so far as they concern general issues about the arrangements set out in the White Paper "The Interception of Communications in Great Britain" (Cmnd. 7873) and the role of the judicial monitor.

Mr. Cryer

Can I say to the Home Secretary that that is a rotten practice? It reflects great concern by him and other Governments that apparently our democracy is so fragile that there cannot be full and proper accountability to the House about general policy and direction and that it must depend instead on the internal workings of a judicial scrutiny. That simply is not a good enough substitute for proper accountability to the elected Members of the House of Commons.

Mr. Whitelaw

Of course, the hon. Gentleman can say to me whatever he likes. He has not asked me a question. I maintain the position of previous Governments, of whom the hon. Gentleman was a somewhat erstwhile supporter. He supported them from time to time. I am in good company in maintaining that position.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that not just political phone tapping but commercial espionage could be carried out by phone tapping procedures? What safeguards are there to protect industry against infiltration by commercial espionage through phone tapping?

Mr. Whitelaw

Interceptions for which the Home Secretary is responsible require his personal signature. If anything else happens, it is outside the law.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does the Home Secretary agree that the Home Office's supposed decision to introduce a Data Protection Bill, which seems to be a little time in giving birth, changes the whole situation? How can the House—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is unreasonable for hon. Members to conduct a running conversation when someone else is trying to address the House.

Mr. Price

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

How can the House legislate on important matters of privacy and then give up all power of scrutiny thereafter? Surely there must be some scrutiny over those issues if we are to legislate on them comprehensively for the first time.

Mr. Whitelaw

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should wait to see the Data Protection Bill when it is published. He will then be able to judge on what basis the House might be asked to legislate.

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