Legislation to update the Official Secrets Act is long overdue and was one of the recommendations of the Russia Report, which the UK government sat on for months after its publication.
The SNP support the principle of a more resilient state with espionage laws fit for purpose in the 21st century and which respect human rights.
The SNP have long called for more transparency and parliamentary oversight in Westminster, and if drafted correctly, this Bill provides an opportunity to do just that.
At the same time, there should be efficient checks and balances in this bill to ensure that human rights are complied with
The Law Commission has
recommended the creation of an independent statutory commissioner who could investigate allegations of secret wrongdoing.
The SNP will support this Bill as it progresses through the Houses of Parliament but there must be proper scrutiny to ensure this Bill has appropriate measures to ensure human rights laws and the devolution settlement are being respected in full.
As a Party, we recognise that there are other provisions in legislation that provide protection for those involved in the work of agencies, so we do not think that the case for this new carve-out has been made at all.
We note that just a couple of years ago, with the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, the UK Government initially proposal that they could exonerate British soldiers who had committed human rights abuses abroad, such as murder and torture and war crimes, until such provisions were amended by the Tory Government after intense pressure from SNP Members, campaigners and other parliamentarians.
On the points you raise with regard to court case fees, at everything scrutiny opportunity afforded SNP Members continue to seek reassurances from the UK Government that the breadth of the clauses in the Bill are not worryingly broad, that safeguards exist to ensure that conduct is legal and ethical under UK law and most importantly, that the that the clauses will not be used to evade accountability and redress for complicity in abuse.
SNP MPs have raised concerns following revelations that MI5 and MI6 have been accused of tipping off the Indian authorities about Mr Johal. It is a truly astonishing development which raises massive questions not only for his family in Dumbarton and the Sikh community in the UK, but also for the millions of UK citizens who travel to India regularly. If proven, these allegations risk destroying whatever confidence Britain’s Sikh, and other minority populations, had in the UK security services. We want to find out which UK Government Ministers were in the chain which ultimately led to this intelligence being shared, and what value did that Minister see in this shadowy transaction?
We also note that the Prime Minister, nor his two predecessors, have publicly called for his release.
The SNP supported this Bill at second reading and Committee Stage but will be raising the above points as the Bill goes into Third Reading so as not to foster a slippery slope towards more powers and less scrutiny.