A Tale of Three Bills: committee work so far

In the UK, the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill has so far had two informal briefings from Home Office officials (4th of July) and their specialist advisor Martin Hoskins (10th of July), and four public hearings (10th, 11th, 12th and 17th of July). In the course of its public hearings it had before it 20 witnesses (two who appeared twice).

The committee operates in a non-partisan manner. It follows normal committee procedure in the UK – members are permitted by the Chair to pursue their lines of questioning for as long as they wish within reason with the general aim of keeping within the time they wished to allocate, but not slavishly so. Members can speak again if the chair doesn’t stop them (usually on constraints of time).

The Lord Chairman, Lord Blencathra of the Conservative Party, generally interjects throughout proceedings; usually to follow up on others questions for clarification and appears to be concerned about the scope of requests. He has quoted the passage of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and how the number of organisations using the provisions of the bill to snoop increased quickly and against the statements of ministers and civil servants at the time.

In terms of other Conservatives Michael Ellis MP appears to be right behind the bill’s purpose, but we shall see how the investigation turns. Craig Whittaker MP, from the Conservative benches, appears to be in favour of some form of judicial oversight of the process. Stephen Mosley MP has focussed on the ability of requests to access encrypted data and seems to be fairly behind the principles of the bill and is looking more at its effectiveness.

Liberal Democrats Dr Julian Huppert MP was also robust and has been quite effective in his questioning and attempts to get information about the potential (ab?)uses of the bill. Lord Strasburger, who has IT experience, has asked probing questions about the effectiveness of these measures.

The cross-bench member of the committee, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, is a former permanent secretary of the Home Office, whose Secretary of State is sponsoring the bill, and has focused on restricting the scope of the bill.

Labour’s Lord Faulks has previously sided against putting a tighter rein on the types of crimes covered by the bill and seems to be wanting to toughen up the bill against criminals. David Wright MP has been alert to the problem of fishing expeditions and, along with Lord Armstrong, wants to get restrictions on the face of the bill. Lady Cohen of Pimlico, a lawyer, has also had concerns. Lord Jones wants to increase parliamentary oversight over the bill. Nick Brown MP has also been fairly firmly behind judicial oversight.

Transcripts are available here.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights also decided to hold an inquiry on the draft bill, and so far have received written evidence. They may well hold hearings on the bill, but that remains to be seen.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (not parliamentary, but composed of parliamentarians) is also looking at the bill from the perspective of the intelligence agencies, but it won’t hold public hearings.

A brief update on the other two bills we are following:

Australia’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has yet to hold hearings on the potential reforms, but the inquiry’s page is here with the discussion paper on the reforms.

Canada’s C-38 is still waiting to be progressed to a pre-second reading committee, and it will be interesting to see if and when it does move.

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