Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I have massive concerns about the Bill. I do not like the way in which it has been brought to the House. I do not like the way in which we have to rush through this process at breakneck speed, even though this is an issue that was flagged up to the Government some three months ago. I am suspicious about the reasons why we are doing all of this now. I do not like the fact that it seems little more than a half-hearted attempt to get around a European Court of Justice ruling that declared the European directive invalid and thereafter practically everything that the Government are doing on data retention probably illegal.
I am suspicious about the way in which all the UK parties and party leaders have been brought into line around these unspecified threats. That is reminiscent of the dark days of the creation of the anti-libertarian state by new Labour; unspecified threats were the things we had to address then. I particularly do not like the fact that the Scottish Government, who have responsibility
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for the judiciary, policing and even delivering parts of RIPA in Scotland, were not consulted about the Bill. Most of all, I do not like the way in which the Government are trying to pretend that this is just business as usual when it clearly is an extension of what the Government can do in the collection and retention of an individual’s personal data.
I want to take that last concern first. I listened very carefully to all the party leaders last week when this was presented. The Prime Minister said that the Government were not introducing “new powers or capabilities”, but clauses 3 to 5 make significant amendments to the range of powers included in RIPA. The Bill extends the Government’s surveillance powers in two very important ways. Clause 4 clearly extends the territorial scope of RIPA, and the Government can now issue interception warrants for communications data to companies outside the UK. It also extends the definition of what “telecommunications services” means within RIPA to include webmail services such as Gmail. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who is no longer in his place, said that the most fundamental change is in that relationship between ISPs and the state.
The Government must now come clean with the British people. This is not business as usual. These are significant and substantial new powers. The Bill is more than the sum of its parts. It is a statement of intent. The Home Secretary said as much last week when she introduced it. Her real intention is, of course, to reintroduce her much-coveted snoopers’ charter in this Bill. The way in which the Bill brings on board the overseas ISPs is little more than a paving Bill for the reintroduction of that most unwanted anti-civil libertarian measure.
There has been a lot of talk about what is and what is not included in the Court judgement. The Government have had three months to address the Court’s findings. It is not the threat of terrorism or of criminal activity that has forced the Government’s hand in bringing this forward today. It is the threat of legal action by organisations such as the Open Rights Group and others that has prompted this emergency legislation. The Government should not mislead us about the urgency of the Bill. Given its significance and the issues it raises about our civil liberties, it should not be passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Truncating the Bill in this way is nothing short of appalling. It does a massive disservice to our constituents who have taken a real interest in this.
We all agree that the targeted retention of communications data can help the police to tackle serious crimes such as terrorism and child abuse. We all want to ensure that our communities are safe. But it has to be done proportionately and responsibly, and first and foremost, it should be legal.
What the European Court of Justice said was that we have a very low threshold for the retention of data, and it made it clear that the retention of data of every single person strikes the wrong balance between the need to tackle serious crime and our right to privacy and a private family life.
What most disappoints me is the total disrespect shown to Scottish Ministers. The first any Scottish Minister got to hear about this Bill was several hours after the statement was made in this House about its
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introduction, yet Scottish Ministers are responsible for policing and justice. It is Scottish Ministers who sign off any request for intercept on serious crime grounds. Part of RIPA required an Act of the Scottish Parliament and it puts in place the authority to conduct directed surveillance, undercover intelligence and intrusive intelligence. It is therefore staggering that this Government would proceed with this measure without exchanging even the slightest word with Scottish Ministers.
We believe that it will always be necessary to collect and retain the personal data of individuals in the pursuit of serious crime and we will take those responsibilities very seriously as an independent nation, but because this Government have got the balance so badly wrong, we will oppose the Bill today.