Mark Durkan MP MLA

Mark Durkan MP MLA Social Democratic and Labour Party MP for Foyle. Social Democratic and Labour Party MLA for Foyle. Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

As I said earlier, my concerns—like those of others—are not just about some questionable aspects of the provisions in the Bill, but about its presentation as emergency legislation. The ruling from the European Court of Justice followed a case that had lasted two years, and the flaws and weaknesses that it revealed had been identified by, among others, a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Moreover, a judicial review that is pending in the United Kingdom courts was lodged some three years ago. It is clear, therefore, that the Government should have been aware of the susceptibility of the existing legislation to a court challenge of that nature. There is absolutely no reason why good, due, careful parliamentary consideration should not have been given to the issues before now. Furthermore, it has still not been properly explained to us why—although the judgment of the European Court of Justice was issued as long ago as April, and despite the long notice that is provided by cases that last so long—legislation is being scrambled, or microwaved, through the House just before the summer recess.

The Government have made several claims today. At one point, we heard that the Bill was intended to clarify, or strengthen, the focus of RIPA. In some respects the Bill actually widens that focus in a way that arguably extends its implications, yet the Government are trying to tell us that it narrows the focus, and also contains new protections and new qualifications. As other Members have pointed out, the Bill wears some new words here and there like badges, pretending to recruit the judgment of the European Court of Justice, but the fact is that the existing powers are not being narrowed as Ministers have claimed.

The other assurance that we have been given relates to the sunset clause. It is supposedly emergency bridging legislation, intended to prevent a serious situation in which existing powers are challenged and cannot be used to close a dangerous gap. However, the expiry of the sunset clause is nearly two and a half years away. That appears to be quite a lengthy emergency. If we are saying now that we are happy to pass this legislation on the basis of a two-and-a-half-year sunset clause, and on the basis that it merely continues the data retention provisions that we already have in RIPA, does anyone

really believe that, in two and half years’ time, Parliament will do anything other than say, “Well, we must carry on with what we have already had, and what we have already put up with, because if it has been done before and if it has been done up until now, and if it is what the security services and others say they need, we shall just have to stick with it”?

As for all the other paraphernalia that we are being offered—the furniture of the various reviews that will take place, the privacy and civil liberties oversight boards and all the rest—none of it will convince the public that, when it comes to it, when the security services and others say that they want the essence of these powers and these arrangements to be renewed in 2016, and indeed, if they wish, to be extended, deepened and widened, Parliament will not say that that is OK. Again, the senior parties will feel they have no choice but to go along with it on this basis, and we will have a consensus based on poor consideration by Members who feel they have been whipped by some of the threats, suggestions and inferences that come from the security services.

This House, which often raises questions about the respect in which politics and Parliament and this Chamber are held, has to ask how the public are meant to have any respect for an elected Chamber that is not showing a lot of respect for itself, in the way in which we are receiving and passing this Bill. We are even offering to the public that the things that will protect them will be outside Parliament—that there are going to be those commissioners and oversight boards. That is because we know that the public no longer believe in Parliament as the protector of their civil liberties and of good democratic order.

We should be a chamber of scrutiny and accountability. That is why we should be questioning the way in which we have received this Bill, and it is why we should be pressing the Government further through debating amendments at the next stage of this Bill’s passage.

Internet Censorship

Signed an Early Day Motion Freedom of Expression and the UN Internet Governance Forum 30 October 2006

That this House notes with concern that internet repression is hampering freedom of expression across the world especially in Iran, Vietnam, the Maldives and China; urges companies in China, including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, to reveal which words they have banned from blogs or have filtered out of web searches; requests that they make public all their agreements with the Chinese authorities and publicly call for the release of cyber-dissidents jailed for expressing peaceful opinions online; welcomes Amnesty International's campaign to ensure that the internet remains a tool for political freedom, not repression; and urges the UK Government to make strong representations at the UN Internet Governance Forum in Athens in November to ensure that the internet remains a tool for the free flow of information and respect for human rights and that freedom of expression is a key component to any future agreement on internet governance.

Freedom of Information

Signed Early Day Motion 845 Freedom of Information 06 Febuary 2007

That this House expresses concern that the proposed new fees regulations under the Freedom of Information Act would allow authorities to refuse on cost grounds a high proportion of requests which they are currently required to answer; notes that the Government's consultation document recognises that this will have a greater impact on journalists, hon. Members, campaign groups and researchers than on private individuals; considers that such changes would undermine the Act's contribution to increased discussion of public affairs, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities; and calls on the Government not to proceed with the proposals.

Signed Early Day Motion 2699 Freedom of Information 10 December 2006

That this House welcomes the finding of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (HC991) that the Freedom of Information Act has `already brought about the release of significant new information and....this information is being used in a constructive and positive way' and the committee's conclusion that it sees `no need to change' the Act's charging arrangements; views with concern reports that the Government is considering changing these arrangements to permit an application fee to be charged for all requests or to allow authorities to refuse, on cost grounds, a significant proportion of requests which they currently must answer; and considers that such changes could undermine the Act's benefits of increased openness, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities.