HC Deb 17 April 1985 vol 77 cc1337-354

Amendment made: No. 8, in page 11, line 39, after 'Crown', insert 'or engaged in the business of the Post Office or in the running of a public telecommunication system'.—[Mr. Brawn.]

9.10 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This Bill fulfils the commitment that my right hon. Friend the Lord President gave in another place just over a year ago, that the Government would bring forward legislation on interception in the present Session. As we come to the end of our consideration of the Bill, it is worth looking again for a moment at what it is and is not designed to achieve. These broad objectives have understandably, perhaps almost inevitably, been rather lost sight of during the course of detailed examination of the individual provisions.

The Bill is comprehensive in its application to the interception of communications. It demonstrates the wisdom of the view that previous attempts to incorporate provisions in legislation dealing with other matters were bound to be unsatisfactory. Interception is a definable matter capable of being dealt with in one measure, and capable of being dealt with now. The enactment of this Bill would ensure that the authorisation of interception will be on a basis expressly approved by Parliament. I believe that that is a fundamentally important change and one that will be widely welcomed.

Throughout the preparation and passage of this Bill, the Government have been guided by one particularly important principle—that they are not seeking and not taking wider powers for authorised interception than have been practised by Governments of both parties over a long period. That is not perhaps a claim that I would often expect to be able to make for legislation as a Minister, but with interception it is of crucial importance. The Government want only to place on a statutory basis those things which they and their predecessors have judged essential to the interests of fighting crime and preserving the country's vital interests. The Bill does this, and no more than this.

These first two objectives involve the breaking of no new ground. The third does, and it is just the opposite. The Bill introduces significant additional safeguards. I urge the House not to underestimate either their importance or their novelty. In a number of respects the most fundamental is the provision in the Bill least discussed during recent weeks—the creation of the new offence of unlawful interception. I believe that I can claim that there has been universal acceptance of the offence provision and what it seeks to achieve. Such criticism as has been voiced was at the margins and the Government have sought to respond positively to it.

Clause 1 is, however, more than just the creation of another criminal offence. It is essential that it is seen, as it features in the Bill, alongside the arrangements for authorised interception. The point about the offence—I welcome this opportunity of publicly stressing and underlining this— is that it means that anybody who oversteps the mark, whoever he may be, whoever he works for, or whatever his purpose or motive, runs the risk of severe penalties. It is essential that those in official positions should be seen here, as in other spheres of life, to be subject to the same constraints as everybody else.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My right hon. and learned Friend is now accepting that, because of the compensation provisions in clause 2, compensation should be payable where the interception has been made improperly, and the tribunal has power to direct that. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider giving an aggrieved person the right to claim compensation where an offence has been committed under clause 1?

Mr. Brittan

Wholly different considerations arise there. Clause 1 covers unauthorised interception, which may be by anybody, not necessarily by anybody who is in any sense an agent of the state. Therefore, compensation for criminal offences cannot be treated in quite the same way as compensation for an interception that has been officially carried out by an agency of the state under the power given by a Secretary of State, but held by the tribunal wrongly to have been so given.

The other safeguards in the Bill have been discussed more thoroughly. Again, I can claim that they have not at heart been challenged. They mean that for the first time the individual can cause the decision of the Secretary of State to be reviewed and, if appropriate, overturned. That is no mean thing. Those who hitherto have had the responsibility of signing warrants have not been subject to that check and the power of review in that way. The personal decision of a Minister can in this way be reviewed by an independent body at the prompting of a private person, without legal representation or lengthy or expensive proceedings, simply in response to a brief application that he may make.

In the same way, the whole system of authorised interception, including all the administrative arrangements which necessarily underpin it, are subject to the continuing review of the commissioner. He will be a person of proven independence, stature and capacity, with free access wherever he wishes to go in pursuit of his duties. The importance of that should not be underestimated either. Continuing inspection of that kind will ensure that everybody concerned observes the highest standards, and, through the powers conferred upon him, nothing can be hidden from the commissioner.

During proceedings in the House, the Government have agreed to a number of significant changes to the Bill. Reading some of the comments on them, I cannot help feeling that in politics it is not possible to get anything right. If a Minister does not agree to changes, he is being obstinate; if he agrees to changes, he is "forced to make concessions." However, the important thing is to get it right rather than to worry about any comments that may be made, and I had no qualms about readily agreeing to amendments suggested from a number of quarters, including the official Opposition. I hope that the amendments that have been made are accepted as being helpful. Without exception they are designed to clarify the Bill and to underscore the objectives to which I have just referred—that new powers are not being sought and that the protection offered by the legislation is real and should be seen by people at large to be real.

The Bill is designed to ensure that people can have confidence in the operation and supervision of the system of authorised interception, and the Government have approached the proceedings throughout with an open mind on any practicable changes which might enhance that confidence. We shall continue to adopt that approach during the forthcoming stages of the Bill's passage elsewhere.

It is not my wish to detain the House longer. The Bill has been well examined. It will be examined further in another place. Discussion of the Bill — as distinct perhaps from the discussion of certain other extraneous matters on which attention was focused last month—has been measured and has recognised the need for carefully framed legislation. I trust and believe that that spirit will continue in the coming weeks. It is in that expectation that I commend the Bill's Third Reading to the House.

9.18 pm
Mr. Kaufman

The Bill's passage has been marked by a number of changes. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for acknowledging the part that the Opposition played in the discussions that brought about a number of concessions. Some of the changes are of particular importance. The Government have announced that they intend to legislate on the Law Commission's recommendation that there should be a civil remedy for the use or disclosure of information obtained by improper means, including bugging devices. The Home Secretary has issued guidance to the police on the new offence of unauthorised interception of communications.

We are gratified that the Government have moved—although they said previously that it was not their intention to do so—on the removal of the ability of a live-in landlord to consent to the interception of the communications of his tenants. The Government have tightened the definition of the "serious crime" criterion for interception, along the lines of the definition in the 1980 White Paper. We asked for that change during Second Reading. There is a tighter definition of the circumstances in which a civil servant may urgently authorise or modify a warrant. This will be done only on the express authority of the Home Secretary. Although this will not be done precisely in the way that we requested, it is, nevertheless, a considerable improvement.

The most important single change between Second Reading and Third Reading is in the currency of warrants. This will be as stated in the White Paper, and not as set out in the Bill. The period of first issue of warrants has been reduced from six months to two months.

The amendment on judicial review has acceptably clarified what was not clear on Second Reading, although the Home Secretary assured the House that it was. The Government amendment makes it clear that the tribunal will be able to look at the merits of the decisions by the Secretary of State to authorise warrants for interception.

In response to the shrewd and persistent applications by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), the Government have made a concession in relation to the protection of disclosures by Post Office and telecommunications employees and others to the commissioner and to the tribunal.

Those are all important and worthwhile changes, and the Opposition are glad to have played their part in bringing them about. There is no doubt that they improve the Bill, but it still requires a great deal of further improvement.

We still have major misgivings about some parts of the legislation, including the Government's failure, or refusal, to import into the Bill the administrative safeguards of the 1981 White Paper. We have to depend upon the tribunal or the commissioner to ensure that Ministers comply with those safeguards. The tribunal or the commissioner can be guided only by the criteria set out in the legislation and not by any other criteria—even though the Home Secretary has put them forward as criteria which govern him.

There is a risk that the Bill will accidentally destroy the safeguards set out in the 1980 White Paper. They have not been incorporated into the Bill. These include the matters about which we have misgivings and in respect of which we have sought, without result, to improve the Bill. They are both in clause 2(2). The first is the criterion of national security, which we insist is far too wide, and the second is the criterion of economic well-being, which, if there is any place for it in the legislation, is again too wide and imprecise.

In addition, the Government have given the citizens inadequate protection against unauthorised interception by excluding it from the remit of the tribunal and the commissioner. For unauthorised interception, the citizen depends completely on the ability of the police to investigate and the Director of Public Prosecutions' willingness to prosecute. We do not regard that as satisfactory.

There are other matters about which we know more because of admissions made by Ministers during the Bill's passage. One is that the individual will not be able to seek an injunction against unauthorised tapping. The Minister of State made that clear. Secondly, the Minister of State said that the tribunal is necessary because the rules of natural justice cannot be applied to complaints about interception.

One reason why the Government have resisted what we sought—a right of appeal from the tribunal—is that the criterion of natural justice is excluded. The tribunal is not obliged to report evidence of unauthorised interception to the police, although the Government assume that it will follow its duty as a citizen.

The tribunal's other major shortcoming is that it does not seem, from the debates and an examination of the Bill, that it will be of any use to the citizen who wants a remedy against interception, because the Government have insisted over an over again that it is not there to deal with unauthorised interception. For that, the citizen has to go to the police. Authorised interception is matched against the Secretary of State's issuing of a warrant. That depends upon, and is governed by, criteria which, as we have said, are far too wide.

The Home Secretary alluded in a somewhat discursive fashion to the circumstances which existed when the Bill was introduced and which led to two delays in its being given a Second Reading. I am referring to the climate in which the Bill was introduced, and which, on a fairly placid evening on Third Reading, the House might tend to forget but should not be allowed to do so. Anxiety and misgivings were felt by a wide spectrum of opinion, from the Conservative through to the Left-wing press, about the Cathy Massiter allegations in the television programme which was first banned from Channel 4 by the IBA and then permitted to be shown. A wide spectrum of opinion was worried about interceptions which were not authorised by the Home Secretary, as well as about allegations of the way in which the Home Secretary might have authorised interceptions, and also about the way in which, for example, the Secretary of State for Defence might have misused the fruits of interception. That climate may be a little less heated now, but it still exists, as do the misgivings.

The misgivings must have been heightened by the surruptitious publication, immediately before Easter, of the terms of reference of the three advisers, which accompanied a written answer in this House. That was information which the House was able to know about and to raise only because of information supplied, not to this House, but to journalists, by the Prime Minister's press secretary, the notorious Mr. Ingham, an ex-Labour candidate for Leeds city council. Fortunately, the electors of that ward showed good sense at the time.

Mr. Brittan

Is the right hon. Gentleman unaware of the fact that a written answer was given, and that therefore the reference to the Prime Minister's press secretary is whollyinappropriate?

Mr. Kaufman

No reference to the Prime Minister's press secretary is wholly inappropriate.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that there was a planted question, with an answer which did not provide the terms of reference. It was only the fact that a number of journalists at No. 10 Downing street applied for and were given the information, and were then good enough to let Members of Parliament see it, that enabled us to see it in time. [Interruption.] There is no point in the Minister of State getting into a great fuss about it. These are the facts, and are known to be facts. That is one of the reasons why a great deal of the comment could not be made until after Easter. But what emerges—this is extraordinarily important—is that—

Mr. Brittan

May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Kaufman

I shall readily give way to the Home Secretary, but I wish first to complete this passage. In the Bill we have been dealing with the question of subversion. Earlier this evening, when we were seeking to redefine subversion, we emphasised that it was a subjective definition based upon the hazy Lord Harris definition of 10 years ago. That criterion, which can govern the decision of the Home Secretary to issue a warrant, is now affected by paragraph 1 of the terms of reference of the three advisers, where the words are: a subversive group, acknowledged as such by the Minister". That means that it is the Minister who can define a subversive group to suit his own personal criteria. The whole paranoia about subversion which has arisen under this Government in recent months is now being imported into definitions which will govern criteria which will permit the interception of communications underthis legislation.

Mr. Brittan

Leaving aside the fact that the change announced in thewritten answer to which I have referred is on the lines of what was recommended by the Security Commission— a fact which the right hon. Gentleman conveniently ignores—I want to deal in this intervention with the specific misstatement by the right hon. Gentleman. He gave a picture of a bare written answer and the information about the terms of reference having to be winkled out of the Prime Minister's press secretary by assidious journalists. However, the Prime Minister's answer said: In the light of the Security Commission's report following its review of security procedures and practices in the public service… the terms of reference of the three advisers and the statements of procedure have been revised. I am arranging to have copies placed in the Library of the House."—[Official Report, 3 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 621.] That does not sound like the clandestine operation that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We seem now to be straying somewhat from the contents of the Bill, and it is the contents of the Bill that are in order on Third Reading.

Mr. Kaufman

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you will permit me, before moving on I shall respond very briefly to what the Home Secretary said. To give a written answer with a reference to something that can be obtained in the Library, but which is not available to hon. Members who read the answer, is not the same as making the information plainly and clearly available simultaneously with the answer to the House of Commons.

We all know what happened. The answer was put out by the Prime Minister just before she left for her weird tour. She hoped that it would be submerged by the Easter press, because, of course, there are no newspapers on Good Friday — something well known to the Prime Minister through her press secretary. The Home Secretary's answer will not do. We know that he is a craven apologist for the Prime Minister, but that answer does not go far enough.

The Home Secretary has said that it will be all right, because the Securitry Commission has proposed something. The Security Commission does not sit at the top of Mount Sinai. We do not have to accept what it says as being like the Ten Commandments. The Prime Minister can decide for herself, if she wishes to do so.

The terms of reference, which are so germane to the Bill which the House will be asked to pass within a few minutes, are far wider than anything that has existed previously. The terms of reference have widened the definition of a public servant. They include a list, which did not exist before, of people who are liable to be sacked as security risks. The list covers people in the public service, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, including British Nuclear Fuels plc and United Kingdom employees of URENCO Ltd., the Civil Aviation Authority, British Telecom—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I must ask him to set a good example to the House by returning the Bill.

Mr. Kaufman

I am talking about criteria which will govern the definition of subversion and decide whether a warrant can be issued under clause 2(2)(a). That is being widened by the document which the Government did not exactly publish but which was made available to the Opposition through the assistance of certain journalists of good will.

The Bill goes far too wide. In addition, parliamentary accountability will consist simply of a report to the House following the report by the commissioner. Proper accountability through the House—that is accountability of the commissioner appointed by the House to a Select Committee of the House—does not exist.

There are two areas of very wide concern. One relates to the criteria which make the Bill a telephone tappers' charter, as I said on Second Reading. The other is the total failure of the Government to take the opportunity of this legislation at long last to bring the security services under some form of parliamentary accountability when the fear has been throughout that elements in the security services are operating in a way not known to the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary may well have made a quickie investigation, but that does not begin to meet the misgivings of many people outside the House as well as many Members inside the House. Although we have secured some improvements in the Bill during its passage, it is for those reasons that we regard the Bill as so unsatisfactory that we shall vote against it tonight.

9.39 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg

I rise in the Third Reading debate to make a few short comments on the Bill—

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

They may well be short.

Mr. Hogg

I heard what the hon. Gentleman said. They may be short, but the example of his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is not encouraging. He appears to be anxious to lose the Opposition's prayer, perhaps because the prayer is largely without merit so he does not want it to be discussed. However, that is by the way.

The Bill is a very important and useful step forward, in that it enshrines in statute practices which had previously not been statutory. It sets out in statutory form the circumstances in which a warrant may be issued. It defines the practice in statutory form, and, for the first time, it provides an effective review system. All those things represent a great step forward, and I am sorry that the Opposition are so churlish as to say that they will vote against the Bill.

Having said that, I believe that there are at least four respects in which the Bill can be improved. The first is the point that I made to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I do not see why, where a person has had his phone or mail intercepted unlawfully, and thus there is an offence under clause 1, he should not have the right to claim compensation. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that matter with a view to making possible changes in another place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is now talking about what he would like to see in the Bill. What he must now discuss is the contents of the Bill itself.

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The second specific point is the definition in clause 2, which sets out in statutory form the circumstances in which a warrant may be issued. The Home Secretary has sought to define the circumstances that justify it — national security and so on. It is a pity that he has not felt able to include a slightly more precise statutory definition of the circumstances in which the warrant may be issued. I should like to have seen that done.

The third point relates to the power of the tribunal. I share with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) a certain amount of disappointment about that. When a person believes that there has been an interception, he has a right to go to the tribunal to make a complaint. The tribunal's powers are limited by clause 7. In particular, the tribunal does not have the power to say that there has been an offence under clause 1. I regret that omission. I hope that the matter will be looked at again in another place.

My final point relates to clause 9. It is the point about which I feel the greatest concern. Clause 9 provides that under no circumstances may evidence be adduced in a court or tribunal which shows that an offence under clause 1 has been committed or, indeed, shows that there has been an offence under clause 2. As a general proposition, I bitterly oppose any legislation which prevents people from adducing relevant evidence in court. That seems to be objectionable in principle. It is an extension of the law and has never been the case before. Until the Bill becomes an Act, people can adduce evidence to show that warrants have been issued. They are able to show that tapping has taken place. However, for the first time, under clause 9 that will no longer be possible. I am against that in principle.

I am prepared to accept that there may be a case for saying that the presumptions are against the adducing of such evidence, but I believe that there should be a residual power in either the court or the tribunal to cause such evidence to be admitted in exceptional circumstances. I deeply regret that the Minister of State, when I raised this matter in amendments two weeks ago, could not meet me on any point that I put to him. I very much hope that when the Bill goes to another place clause 9 is scrutinised with the greatest of care. I should be pleased if amendments came back to this place which would alter the nature of clause 9.

However, this is an important step forward. I do not want to derogate from it. The Bill can be improved. Notwithstanding that, it is a very welcome development.

9.44 pm
Mr. Maclennan

I shall follow the example of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and speak extremely briefly. He passionately expressed his opposition to clause 9—opposition which, as he knows, I wholly share. I consider that to be a sufficient reason in itself for voting against the Third Reading of the Bill. I and my hon. Friends in the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party will vote against it for that and for other reasons.

It was surprising that when the Home Secretary introduced the debate he did not refer once to the real provenance of the Bill—the finding of the European Court of Human Rights that the British system of telephone tapping is outside the law, that we are therefore in breach of the European convention on human rights and that because our system is based upon administrative rules, not upon the law of the land, something has to be done about it.

There is no certainty that the passing of the Bill will necessarily bring us wholly within the four corners of the convention. It has to be admitted that the necessary requirements were not spelt out in the Malone case, which led to the adverse ruling against this country. However, in the Klass case against the Federal Republic of Germany, control over the exercise of Executive discretion was considered in some detail. Although I acknowledge that the Bill marks a step forward, it does not go nearly so far as the legislation in the Federal Republic and is most notably defective in the provision that it makes for paliamentary scrutiny of what is happening.

I accept that the Bill contains a provision for an annual report to be made to Parliament. However, I do not believe that it amounts to real and effective control. I opposed the concept of a single commissioner of high judicial office and proposed instead that this review function ought to be conducted by senior Privy Councillors, some of whom have experience of exercising discretion and who have a tie with Parliament. I believe that that would have been a better procedure. I hope that another place will consider that point. For those reasons, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will vote against the Bill.

9.47 pm
Mr. Eldon Griffiths

What has come out of our debates is general agreement that interception is necessary in the interests of freedom and security. It is a step forward that all parties have said that clearly. The Bill legitimates the interception of communications. Therefore, I very much welcome it. It provides, for the first time, a legislative sanction. The House is determining how this practice should henceforth be applied. Previously, it has been a matter of prerogative and practice. Now, it is a matter of statute. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on that achievement.

My right hon. and learned Friend has also introduced two novel and important safeguards: first, the commissioner; and, secondly, the ability of the citizen to have the Home Secretary's decision overturned and compensation provided. That is an extension of civil liberty.

My last point is that during our discussions nothing has seemed to me to be more peculiar than the attitude adopted by the Opposition Front Bench. If the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who spoke for the Opposition, felt so strongly about the iniquities of telephone tapping without the proper safeguards, the review procedures of a Select Committee and the thousand and one additional amendments to which he referred this evening, why on earth, when he was in government, did he do nothing about it? That is the essential difference between the Opposition and this Government. When the opportunity presented itself, this Government provided an extension of civil liberties and parliamentary sanction for the Bill. The Opposition have done nothing but complain, even though they did nothing about it when in office. Now they have the humbug to complain when the Government are putting this Bill on the statute book.

9.49 pm
Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

I shall address myself briefly to the content of the Bill. How will it affect, for instance, my constituent Carol Brickley, who, according to this month's Monochrome, as a prominent activist of the City Anti-Apartheid group had her telephone tapped and transcripts passed to the South African embassy? This is allegedly based on information from an MI5 officer on the lines of the Cathy Massiter revelations.

First, did the Home Secretary authorise that tap and, if so, did he know that the information was to be passed to a foreign embassy? If not, will he inquire into the matter? Finally, does my constituent have redress under the Bill by applying to the commissioner or the tribunal—and if not, why not?

9.50 pm
Mr. Norris

It would be churlish for anyone on either side of the House not to welcome the Bill, for at least three good reasons.

First, much to the surprise of Members on both sides, an offence of unlawful interception is being created for the first time. It is extraordinary how many members of the public are amazed and appalled that no such offence now exists and that this important statutory safeguard for the public is being provided for the first time.

Secondly, having introduced a ten-minute Bill towards the end of last Session, on the Law Commission's recommendations on breach of confidence, I was especially pleased at the introduction of a civil remedy as a vital adjunct to the criminal provisions in the Bill.

Thirdly, and especially significant in the light of the "20/20 Vision" film, which coloured earlier proceedings on the Bill to a large extent, anyone who claims to have been unlawfully subject to interception in that way will now be entitled to have a commissioner investigate the case and a tribunal decide that the tapping was completely unlawful. That is a very significant advance.

For those three individually significant and collectively extremely important reasons, it would be churlish indeed not to welcome the Bill.

Mr. Dickens


Mr. Norris

Despite my hon. Friend's alacrity in springing to his feet, I must detain the House a little longer, as I have two major reservations about the Bill.

First, clause 1 still clings to an unnecessarily restrictive definition of interception. After all our deliberations on the Bill, we are left with the ludicrous situation in which telephone tapping and interception of mail are covered, but surveillance by any other means is not covered. Far be it from me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to stray into matters not covered by the Bill. One is obliged to point out, however, that the Bill covers precious little and to suggest that it is a safeguard against the whole process of unlawful surreptitious surveillance is inaccurate so long as the Bill assumes that such surveillance is carried out only through telephone tapping or the interception of mail.

Secondly, the procedure outlined in clause 2, whereby warrants for interception will be issued by the Home Secretary, is still deeply unsatisfactory because it continues the fundamental error of failing to distinguish between the judiciary and the Executive. Other European Governments have found no difficulty in making that distinction—not, as is sometimes asserted, because their judicial systems are different, because their judges have a different role or because their courts undertake different functions. There are precedents in this country for search warrants, for instance, to be issued on a judicial basis. The real answer, I suspect, is that where there is a will to achieve such a system a way can be found, but it is clear that there was no such will in the content of the Bill.

While we are considering the limitations of the power of the tribunal and the commissioner, I must point out to my hon. Friends — I address my hon. Friends in particular because this is not a party political issue and the freedoms being protected in the Bill are far too important to be considered on a party political basis—that clauses 7 and 8 set out the procedure by which the tribunal and the commissioner will work.

Hon. Members may be interested to recall that when Lord Bridge was asked to review the way in which authoritisatons had been issued in the past, after various recent allegations in the press, he was able to complete the onerous task in a weekend. That shows how restrictive are the terms for the tribunal and the commissioner. They can only ensure that the warrant has been properly applied for and that the criterial established under the legislation are met. They are not concerned with the broader principles of natural justice. Such considerations are beyond the scope of this limited Bill.

There are many important new safeguards in the Bill which we should all welcome. I shall have no difficulty at all in supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight. There is much in the Bill to welcome. However, the measure will not go far enough to dispel the public disquiet and concern aroused not only by the "20/20 Vision" film but by many other incidents over the years. The Bill will do something, but a great deal remains to be done, and I must add to the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) the hope that in another place the Bill will be given the teeth that will enable it genuinely to dispel the public disquiet that has arisen.

9.58 pm
Mr. Cohen

According to a report that I have read, the secret services have a word identification machine which was used during the miners' strike. Unfortunately, someone decided to put on a word picket when the miners' phones were being tapped. The result was an unexpected mass picket on the machine, and it became overloaded. That is one example of abuse.

Many other abuses have been mentioned in the House during debates on the Bill and at other times. The Minister never comments on them. The answer is always that the matter is, of its nature, secret. That is a great excuse for a cover-up of incompetence, negligence or even political corruption on the part of the Minister, politicians or administrators.

There have been far too many abuses. We have heard about the tapping of the phones of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and of trade unionists. The definition of subversion is too wide. It enables tapping, and other unsavoury activities that abuse civil liberties, to take place.

The Bill gives no definition of the national interest. The Minister says that the concept of national interest can be used in a variety of contexts. On Second Reading, he said that the concept was not unnecessarily imprecise. What is necessary about imprecision in a matter as important as the invasion of privacy and civil liberties? The judge in the Ponting case raised a serious issue when he equated the national interest with whatever the Government of the day wanted to do. That was dangerously wrong, as the jury thought.

The Home Secretary has said that even lawful activity can be regarded as subversive and against the national interest and that perfectly lawful tactics could be used to subvert our democratic system of government. That must be wrong. The definitions are so wide that the security service or Ministers can get away with virtually anything.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) hit the right note in Committee when he said that there is only one legitimate criterion for listening to or intercepting a person's telephone call—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


That, at this day's sitting, the Interception of Communications Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.

Mr. Cohen

—that a crime is being, is about to be or is thought likely to be about to be committed. Once we depart from what people do and include what they think, which is what subversion is all about, we are getting away from a basic principle on which British justice is supposed to be founded.

With warrants, the signature of one is an excuse for tapping perhaps hundreds or even thousands of telephones. With the extension to computer data, it is possible to get perhaps 50,000 personal records as well. The Minister said today that warrants are signed by a non-political Director General or a non-political Secretary of State. Was the signing of Mr. Cox's warrant non-political? Mr. Cox, the vice-chairman of CND, had his telephone tapped. If the Secretary of State is non-political, what is he doing duplicating the Director General's job? In those circumstances, he is effectively no more than a rubber stamp.

The extension of tapping to computer data, which the Bill allows, will permit a trawl of personal data. My amendment, which would have required the destruction of excess material, was not selected. In Committee, the Minister said that intercepted material will be limited to the minimum necessary.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not discuss amendments that were not selected.

Mr. Cohen

I am not, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill provides for a massive extension of tapping to computer data. It should be explicit and ensure that excess material is destroyed rather than set up in files on people, which is the big brother technique.

The tribunal's powers are severely limited and many people will be denied the opportunity to right wrongs that have been done to them. There will be no proper parliamentary accountability. The idea of there being a Select Committee as an overseer has been rejected by the House. A secret budget of more than £1 billion a year has been reported, and the principle of no taxation without representation has been negated.

The abuses will go on. Policy will be changed and widened without proper debate, perhaps without the knowledge of the House, and the Bill will do nothing to stop that.

10.3 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens

I shall not detain the House. This Third Reading is of immense importance to the country. There can be no user of a telephone who has not at some time felt, by the hum on the line, a crackle, a voltage drop or an apologetic interruption, that his line is being intercepted. How many of us say on the telephone, "We must not say too much. The telephone is not the best medium on which to discuss such things."

When constituents ask us what safeguards there are, we reply that the Home Secretary or a senior Cabinet Minister must sign a warrant. That warrant must be authorised by a chief constable or a deputy chief constable. A constituent may ask, "What if the Home Secretary is on the twelfth green? How can he sign if there is a suspected VAT or drugs offence, or vast frauds or security implications? How can we be sure that the Home Secretary or his alternative can be reached swiftly?" People are suspicious about the procedures that are followed, but when they are told that at present it is not a criminal offence to intercept someone's telephone calls, there is complete disbelief.

We are now on the Third Reading of a Bill which gives hope. I am appalled to think that the Opposition will vote against a measure which provides safeguards such as the tribunal and the commissioner. How can they vote against a Bill which they never had the guts to introduce when in government? It is quite disgusting. I have been saddened by the contributions of Labour Members. When they were in office, they did nothing at all. Yet for propaganda and political gain, they snipe at the Conservative Front Bench and at Conservative Back Benchers.

I shall watch with interest when they oppose the Bill, and I shall refer to that fact at the next general election. I shall also be interested to see how the minority parties vote. I shall note what Lobby they go into. Every sensible thinking person wants legislation to make the unlawful interception of someone's telephone an offence. The privacy of the individual still stands for something in this country, and the Conservative Government have provided the legislation.

10.7 pm

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) speaks for the country, as I do, when we refer to the dangers for those whose communications are intercepted without lawful authority. I am glad that we have finally reached the Third Reading of the Bill. I sincerely believe that the Home Secretary will now follow the proper procedures as laid down by the House. As we already know, if decisions are not arrived at properly, they will be overturned.

Unlawful interception is a serious crime, but the nation's security must be properly protected. The procedures which have been discussed at length in Committee will be strictly adhered to, and I am confident that authorisation will be granted properly and in the interests of the state.

It should be remembered that the Bill was the result of a commitment by my noble Friend Viscount Whitelaw. It was the Malone case which pointed to the necessity for such a measure. That case was of great interest to the country and to the Government. Even before the European Court gave its judgment, it was of particular concern to me, because Mr. Malone lives near me.

It is lawful to intercept in order to prevent crime. That view must be supported. The Bill will ensure that United Kingdom law is in line with articles in the European Convention on Human Rights. We need such a legal framework. Many people have been crying out for it for years, but nothing came from the Labour Government. A Conservative Government have restored the balance, and I am confident that this framework, which I believe the public will come to accept and respect, is reasonable.

We need the legislation to ensure that interception can be used where necessary to protect society. However, interception must be lawfully carried out, I am sure that it will not be used all the time. I also believe that the public will finally grow accustomed to it. There are no new powers in the Bill. Indeed, in some cases it will restrict powers. Many previous Home Secretaries have authorised the carrying out of interception. Any unauthorised interception will now be a criminal offence. That is to be welcomed, and I would have thought that the Opposition would welcome it rather than vote it out.

No warrants will be issued without authority. I have been worried about warrants being issued, but I am happy that they will be issued for the purposes of the Bill— that is, in the interests of national security, to detect serious crimes and for the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. Warrants will be issued in the same way as at present—that is, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Some newspapers were worried about intercepting material, but it was needed for authority. The intercepted material needed to be examined. The tribunal will have the proper redress to examine what is happening. That is right, and the revelations are all right. I shall support the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 255, Noes 105.

Division No. 186] [10.15 pm
Adley, Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Aitken, Jonathan Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Alexander, Richard Dover, Den
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dunn, Robert
Amess, David Durant, Tony
Arnold, Tom Dykes, Hugh
Ashby, David Evennett, David
Aspinwall, Jack Eyre, Sir Reginald
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Fallon, Michael
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Farr, Sir John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Favell, Anthony
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Baldry, Tony Fletcher, Alexander
Batiste, Spencer Fookes, Miss Janet
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Forth, Eric
Bellingham, Henry Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bendall, Vivian Fox, Marcus
Benyon, William Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bevan, David Gilroy Freeman, Roger
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gale, Roger
Blackburn, John Galley, Roy
Body, Richard Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bottomley, Peter Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Goodlad, Alastair
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Gorst, John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gower, Sir Raymond
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Greenway, Harry
Bright, Graham Gregory, Conal
Brinton, Tim Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brooke, Hon Peter Ground, Patrick
Bruinvels, Peter Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bryan, Sir Paul Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Budgen, Nick Hanley, Jeremy
Bulmer, Esmond Hannam, John
Burt, Alistair Hargreaves, Kenneth
Butler, Hon Adam Harris, David
Butterfill, John Haselhurst, Alan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Carttiss, Michael Hawksley, Warren
Cash, William Hayes, J.
Chapman, Sydney Hayward, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Heddle, John
Cockeram, Eric Hind, Kenneth
Conway, Derek Hirst, Michael
Coombs, Simon Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cope, John Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Corrie, John Holt, Richard
Couchman, James Hordern, Peter
Cranborne, Viscount Howard, Michael
Critchley, Julian Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Crouch, David Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Dickens, Geoffrey Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Dicks, Terry Hunt, David (Wirral)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Powley, John
Hunter, Andrew Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Price, Sir David
Jessel, Toby Proctor, K. Harvey
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Raffan, Keith
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Rhodes James, Robert
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Key, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Rowe, Andrew
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Knowles, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Knox, David St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N
Lang, Ian Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Latham, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lawler, Geoffrey Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lawrence, Ivan Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lee, John (Pendle) Silvester, Fred
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Sims, Roger
Lightbown, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Lilley, Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lyell, Nicholas Soames, Hon Nicholas
McCrindle, Robert Speed, Keith
McCurley, Mrs Anna Spence, John
Macfarlane, Neil Spencer, Derek
MacGregor, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maclean, David John Stanley, John
McQuarrie, Albert Stern, Michael
Madel, David Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Malins, Humfrey Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Maples, John tewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marlow, Antony Stradling Thomas, J.
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mates, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mather, Carol Temple-Morris, Peter
Maude, Hon Francis Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thornton, Malcolm
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Thurnham, Peter
Mellor, David Tracey, Richard
Merchant, Piers Trippier, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Trotter, Neville
Mills, lain (Meriden) Twinn, Dr Ian
Miscampbell, Norman Viggers, Peter
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Waddington, David
Moate, Roger Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Monro, Sir Hector Waldegrave, Hon William
Moore, John Walden, George
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Walters, Dennis
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Murphy, Christopher Warren, Kenneth
Needham, Richard Watson, John
Neubert, Michael Watts, John
Newton, Tony Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Nicholls, Patrick Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Norris, Steven Wheeler, John
Onslow, Cranley Whitfield, John
Osborn, Sir John Whitney, Raymonnd
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Wilkinson, John
Parris, Matthew Wolfson, Mark
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn) Wood, Timothy
Pattie, Geoffrey Woodcock, Michael
Pawsey, James Younger, Rt Hon George
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Porter, Barry Mr. John Major and
Portillo, Michael Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Powell, William (Corby)
Alton, David Beckett, Mrs Margaret
Anderson, Donald Beith, A. J.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)
Ashdown, Paddy Blair, Anthony
Ashton, Joe Boyes, Roland
Atkinson, N. (Nottenham) Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Barron, Kevin Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Caborn, Richard Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Flannery, Martin
Campbell, Ian Foster, Derek
Canavan, Dennis Foulkes, George
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Clay, Robert Freud, Clement
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Golding, John
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Gould, Bryan
Cohen, Harry Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Coleman, Donald Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Haynes, Frank
Craigen, J. M. Heffer, Eric S.
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Deakins, Eric Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Dewar, Donald Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Dixon, Donald John, Brynmor
Dormand, Jack Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dubs, Alfred Kennedy, Charles
Duffy, A. E. P Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Kirkwood, Archy
Eastharn, Ken Lamond, James
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Leighton, Ronald
Fatchett, Derek Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Faulds, Andrew Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Field, McGuire, Michael Frank (Birkenhead)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
McKelvey, William Skinner, Dennis
Maclennan, Robert Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Madden, Max Snape, Peter
Marek, Dr John Soley, Clive
Meadowcroft, Michael Spearing, Nigel
Michie, William Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Strang, Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
O'Brien, William Tinn, James
O'Neill, Martin Torney, Tom
Park, George Wallace, James
Pavitt, Laurie Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Penhaligon, David White, James
Pike, Peter Wilson, Gordon
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Winnick, David
Prescott, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Redmond, M.
Richardson, Ms Jo Tellers for the Noes:
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Mr. Robin Corbett and
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood) Mr. John McWilliam.
Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.