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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Technical Advisory Board) Order 2001

Fourth Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Monday 29 October 2001

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Technical Advisory Board) Order 2001

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Technical Advisory Board) Order 2001

I am grateful for the opportunity to present to the Committee an order under section 13 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The order establishes the composition of the Technical Advisory Board, which requires affirmative approval. The draft order has been drawn up after extensive consultation; it should be welcomed by Opposition Members, who argued for such a measure during discussions on the Act. The TAB's function is to be an appeals body should a communication service provider believe that it is being asked to make unreasonable efforts to maintain an interception capability, and to act as a point of consultation on the order under section 12, which in due course will define the scope of the capability.

We propose that the body should consist of six people able to represent the interests of the industry, and six able to represent the interests of the intercepting agencies. The chair should be neutral. The balanced composition is required by the Act, and the addition of a neutral chair received widespread support from the industry during the consultation exercise.

We intend that the TAB should be able to call on experts from a pool in order to assist its deliberations, a recommendation made by several of the consultation respondents. The detail of how that will work will need to be agreed with the chair, but I expect the pool to include manufacturers of CSP equipment. The TAB, as an advisory non-departmental body, will need to be run in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines and the recruitment of members will follow the Commission of Public Appointments' code of practice. We intend to recruit the chair first, so that he or she can then participate in the selection of the members.We look forward to continuing our work with the industry in establishing the body.

This straightforward order gives effect to the will of Parliament that there should be a board to advise the Home Secretary on a range of difficult technical issues. I commend it to the Committee.

4.33 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O'Hara. As the Minister said, our proceedings will be relatively brief, but they are important.

The Minister was right to state that the Opposition called for the Technical Advisory Board to be an appeal body during the extensive debates on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), the main Opposition spokesman on that measure. The Minister will confirm from the record of his predecessors that there was much sensible and constructive cross-party discussion during the Committee stage of the Act. My predecessor the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who was involved in the early stages of the measure, also played a part in calling for bodies such as the one proposed today. We were concerned on behalf of those in the industry that there would need to be an appeals mechanism and we welcome the fact that the Government took that on board.

The order rightly sets up the board, and the Minister is correct to say that it is appropriate for the chairman to be appointed first, followed by the six representatives of the industry and the six representing the investigatory bodies. Will the chairman's appointment be announced to the House? Will that be done in a statement, a written answer or by some other means that can be placed in the Library?

I welcome what the Minister has said and I need not detain the Committee further in welcoming the board's establishment.

4.35 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): In Committee, the Liberal Democrats also supported the establishment of the Technical Advisory Board. It is fair to give the Government some credit for acceding to that request, which was made from both sides of the House and in both Houses.

I have a couple of technical questions about the board. If the Minister does not have the answers to hand, I hope that he will undertake to contact me later. He has explained that, by agreement, the chair will not represent the Security Services, the internet industry or the communications service provider industry. From which backgrounds will the Minister be looking to recruit that independent chair? I suspect that the industry and the security services organisations will place great faith in that independence, so it might be helpful to understand the sort of people who may be recruited.

My next question concerns what is missing from the order. As I said, there was a common call for the board to be established. The intention of hon. Members was to ensure that there was agreement between the internet industry—which shares people's concerns about terrorism, paedophilia and so on—and the security services organisations, which want to ensure that they can detect people who commit offences. The idea was to bring those groups together. I hope that the Minister agrees that that will succeed only if there is confidence between both sides.

What will be the outcome of meetings of the Technical Advisory Board? How will it report on its deliberations to the internet industry and the security services organisations? Clearly, those people will have to meet in camera in certain circumstances. They could be dealing with technical aspects put to them by those in the security services—or dealing commercially in confidence with items brought to them by internet service providers and those making the equipment—who do not want their concerns about an item of equipment to be put into the public domain.

In other circumstances, the internet industry may be looking for a clear steer with some detail from the Technical Advisory Board. I hope that the Minister will explain how the board will police itself with regard to what does and does not go into the public domain, because I can envisage circumstances in which either might apply.

As far as I can see, there will be no further statutory instruments under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to enable us to consider the operations of the board. This order provides the only opportunity to do that. I hope that the Minister will be as open as possible about the procedures, because they are the key to achieving a happy marriage between the communications service providers, their industrial counterparts, those in the security services and police forces.

4.38 pm

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I thank both hon. Gentlemen for their questions. I did not participate in proceedings on the 2000 Act, so I do not have a detailed knowledge of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I will ensure that the chairman's appointment is made known to the House. I do not yet know how that will be done—a statement may not be appropriate—but Members will be made aware of the appointment when it has been made.

I do not know whether the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), has looked at the outcome of the consultation exercise, which is on the Home Office web page. If he has, he will have seen that the idea of a neutral chairman arose from that consultation. Representations were made to us that it would be ideal if the chairman had some technical ability. We will obviously look at that, although certain procedures for this appointment will have to be followed.

The hon. Gentleman may know that there are some concerns in the industry about the establishment of the TAB and how it will operate. I accept that Opposition Members argued in this regard. On the one hand, there is the question of commercial confidentiality and, on the other, there is the need to disseminate information effectively. We do not want to tie the TAB's hands before it is established—how it does its business will largely be a matter for the TAB itself—but issues that are raised with it will obviously be in confidence. Where principles are established as a result of appeals, the TAB should make them known to the industry and provision will be made to enable it to do so. By and large we will expect it to operate in a common sense way.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, it is essential that the industry works properly with the enforcement agencies and that a rapport and a method of operation be established that gains confidence on both sides. We hope that the TAB will be able to do that. The order is not controversial and I hope that the Committee will accept it.

Mr David Cameron (Witney): Could the Minister clarify a point about the membership? He spoke about CSP manufacturers. Is the idea that the industry side of the TAB will have internet service providers, operators of portals and manufacturers—the whole gamut—or will it be focused on internet service providers and what he calls CSPs?

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The industry is split. There are different kinds of providers such as those that provide telephone communications through landlines, mobile phone operators, internet providers and the postal services. Although it was suggested during the consultation that manufacturers also should be included in the TAB, we felt that that would make it a pretty unwieldy and overlarge organisation. There was also an initial proposition that we should break the organisation up to ensure that certain sections of the industry were provided for. That was objected to in the consultation period.

We hope that all the necessary expertise from the postal service, the mobile phone providers and all others involved will be picked up in the recruitment process and that we will have a TAB that is of a manageable size. We hope then to have a wider group of people and some form of pre-scrutiny so that those involved can provide the necessary expertise from manufacturers on an as-and-when basis. Most of the representations in the consultation pointed in that direction and that is what we propose.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Technical Advisory Board) Order 2001

        Committee rose at sixteen minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Allan, Mr.
Allen, Mr.
Cameron, Mr.
Dobbin, Jim
Francois, Mr.
Hamilton, David
Hawkins, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Prentice, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Wood, Mr.

 
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Prepared 29 October 2001