"Wilson Doctrine" does apply to Members of the House of Lords


Yet Another Blog Posting about the "Wilson Doctrine", which may be of some relevance to the "loans for peerages" scandal, where according to the The Independent, the Police are now investigating a "Downing Street email trail".

One of the questions we have asked about the "Wilson Doctrine" is whether or not it applies to extends to the House of Lords as well as to the House of Commons.

After a bit of research, is does appear that the Members of the House of Lords are also encompassed by the "Wilson Doctrine".

One of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Written Answers seems to imply that in 2001 the "Wilson Doctrine" applied also to Postal Interecption, but later ones seem to deny this. Has there been a change in policy ?

It appears that in 1966, a few days after Harold Wilson's declaration of the "Wilson Doctrine" on 17th November, there was an Answer given in the House of Lords, on the 22nd November 2000:

Written answers Wednesday, 27 September 2000

Members of Parliament: Telephone Tapping Prohibition

Lord Roper (Liberal Democrat)

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the prohibitions by Mr Harold Wilson, when Prime Minister, of tapping the telephones of Members of Parliament remains in force; and whether such a prohibition also applies to the telephones of members of the House of Lords; and

Whether they will extend the prohibition on tapping the telephones of Members of Parliament to the interception of any form of electronic communication.

Lord Bassam of Brighton (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office)

With permission, the reply covers both questions. As stated in the Prime Minister's answer to the honourable Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) on 30 October 1997 (Official Report, col. 861) the Government's policy on interception of telephones of Members of Parliament remains as stated in 1966 by the then Prime Minister, and as applied by successive governments since. In answer to questions on 17 November 1966, the Prime Minister said that he had given instructions that there was to be no tapping of telephones of Members of Parliament and that, if there was a development which required such a change of policy, he would at such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country, on his own initiative, make a statement in the House about it.

Further, pursuant to the answers given to the Lord Balfour of Inchrye by The Lord Privy Seal on 22 November 1966 (Official Report, col. 122) stating that, exceptionally, the statement made by the Prime Minister extends to the House of Lords, the Government can confirm that the policy described in previous answers applies in relation to the use of electronic surveillance as well as to telephone interception.

So it appears that in the year 2000 Members of the House of Lords were also covered by the "Wilson Doctrine"

The term "electronic surveillance" is very vague.

Does it mean

  • Electronic bugging devices, tracking devices, CCTV cameras, backscatter X-Ray or passive millimetre wave "see through your clothes" imaging systems, or email or other internet surveillance ?

  • Automatic Number Plate Recognition

  • Communications Traffic Data from mobile phones or internet connections ?

  • Passenger Data Records from airline booking systems ?

  • Financial transaction tracking data as snooped on in the SWIFT scandal or under the Treasury's financial sanctions regulations ?

All of these unquestionably come under the heading of "electronic surveillance"

  • Directed, Covert or Intrusive surveillance regulated under the auspices of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ?

    The wording of Lord Bassam's Answer in 2000 implies that the restriction on "electronic surveillance" must also apply to Members of the House of Commons as well as to Members of the House of Lords.

    Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed that the House ofLords was still covered by the "Wilson Doctrine" in his Answer in 2001:

    Written answers Wednesday, 19 December 2001

    Prime Minister

    Interception of Communications

    Norman Baker (Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

    To ask the Prime Minister

    (1) in respect of the allegations made by Lord Ahmed of telephone tapping, for what reason his spokesman departed from the normal policy of neither confirming nor denying; and if he will make a statement;

    (2) if it is his policy that in respect of Members of the House of (a) Commons and (b) Lords, no authorisation will be given for the interception of communications; and if he will make a statement.

    Tony Blair (Prime Minister)

    As I informed the House on 30 October 1997, Official Report, column 861, Government policy remains as stated in 1966 by the then Prime Minister, the Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. In answer to questions on 17 November 1966, Lord Wilson said that he had given instructions that there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of the House of Commons and that if there were a development which required a change of policy, he would at such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country, on his own initiative, make a statement in the House about it. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord Bassam, confirmed on 27 September 2000 that this policy extended to Members of the House of Lords.

    With this long-standing exception in relation to Members of Parliament, it remains the normal policy of the Government neither to confirm nor deny allegations in respect of interception matters.

    Prime Minister Tony Blair again referred to Lord Bassam's Answer in 2000, in his own Answer in 2003, whilst evading the actual Question put to him about the Sinn Fein MPs who have been elected but who have not taken the oath of allegiance, who therefore do not sit as Members of Parliament.

    Written answers Wednesday, 7 May 2003

    Prime Minister

    Telephone Tapping

    Andrew MacKinlay (Thurrock, Labour)

    To ask the Prime Minister whether the Wilson doctrine applying to tapping the telephones of hon. Members includes Members who have not taken the Oath.

    Tony Blair (Prime Minister)

    The position is as I informed the House on 19 December 2001, Official Report, column 367W, and confirmed last Wednesday, 30 April 2003 in an oral reply. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, Lord Bassam, confirmed on 27 September 2000, Official Report, column 137W, that this policy extended to Members of the House of Lords. It applies to all Members of Parliament.

    With this long-standing exception in relation to Members of Parliament, it remains the normal policy of the Government neither to confirm nor deny allegations in respect of interception matters.

    In 2006:

    Written answers Thursday, 16 February 2006

    House of Lords

    Interception of Communications: Parliament

    Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay (Liberal Democrat)

    asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Wilson Doctrine on tapping telephones of Members of the House of Commons also applies to Members of the House of Lords.

    Baroness Amos (President of the Council, Privy Council Office)

    I refer the noble Lord to the reply given by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord Bassam, to Lord Roper on 27 September 2000 (Official Report, col. WA138). Lord Bassam notes in his Answer to Lord Roper that the Wilson doctrine applies equally to both Houses of Parliament.

    So the policy of including the Members of the House of Lords under the "Wilson Doctrine" still stood in 2006.

    Of course things are not that simple !

    Written answers Monday, 21 January 2002

    Prime Minister

    Interception of Communications

    Norman Baker (Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

    To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Lewes, of 19 December 2001, Official Report, column 367W, whether his policy in respect of telephone tapping of hon. Members extends to (a) other methods of interception of communications and (b) bugging.

    Tony Blair (Prime Minister)

    The policy extends to all forms of warranted interception of communications.

    As to bugging, the position remains as I informed the House on 4 December 1997, Official Report, column 321, the policy applies in relation to the use of electronic surveillance by any of the three security and intelligence agencies as well as to telephone interception.

    Does "all forms of warranted interception of communications." include the bulk certificates used by GCHQ for long term mass surveillance, of, say, transatlantic phone lines or satellite links, as well as individual warrants ? There is distinction under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) Section 10 Modification of warrants and certificates.

    Presumably, since RIPA Section 5 Interception with a warrant.
    applies to either a postal or telecommunications systems, this statement by Tony Blair means that the interception of letters, postcards and parcels to and from MPs or Lords is also forbidden under the "Wilson Doctrine".

    (a) the interception in the course of their transmission by means of a postal service or telecommunication system of the communications described in the warrant;

    Does "all forms of warranted interception of communications." also include Communications Traffic Data e.g. itemised phone bills, mobile phone location based services, internet web browsing or email logfiles etc., under RIPA Section 22 Obtaining and disclosing communications data which uses the terms "authorisations" and "notifications" rather than "warrants" ?

    We have to assume that the very short Written Answers given by Prime Minister Tony Blair on the subject of the "Wilson Doctrine" are designed to weasel out of giving out any more than the minimum amount of information on this politically sensitive issue.

    Therefore, when the Questions about the "Wilson Doctrine" and Postal Interception, and Communications Traffic Data, was asked again on 8th February 2006, by Dr. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, and no answer was given to these and other questions, we do have to wonder if there has been an unannounced policy change since 2002.

    Changing the secret policy , without yet informing Parliament or the public, might still fall under the "Wilson Doctrine", if it was not yet "such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country".

    What is so difficult in publishing a general policy, without revealing specific tactical techniques or current investigations ?

    Until Prime Minister Tony Blair does this, answering all the reasonable questions about exactly to whom the policy applies and to which modern communications technologies, then the suspicion must remain, that there is some sneaky Francois Mitterand style bugging interception of political opponents (both within the Labour party and the official Opposition), under the pretence of "national security".

  • About this blog

    This United Kingdom based blog attempts to draw public attention to, and comments on, some of the current trends in ever cheaper and more widespread surveillance technology being deployed to satisfy the rapacious demand by state and corporate bureaucracies and criminals for your private details, and the technological ignorance of our politicians and civil servants who frame our legal systems.

    The hope is that you the readers, will help to insist that strong safeguards for the privacy of the individual are implemented, especially in these times of increased alert over possible terrorist or criminal activity. If the systems which should help to protect us can be easily abused to supress our freedoms, then the terrorists will have won.

    We know that there are decent, honest, trustworthy individual politicians, civil servants, law enforcement, intelligence agency personnel and broadcast, print and internet journalists etc., who often feel powerless or trapped in the system. They need the assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.

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    notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society - blog by Dr. David Murakami Wood, editor of the online academic journal Surveillance and Society

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    Armed and Dangerous - Sex, software, politics, and firearms. Life’s simple pleasures… - by Open Source Software advocate Eric S. Raymond.

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    Spy on Moseley - "Sparkbrook, Springfield, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. An MI5 Intelligence-gathering operation to spy on Muslim communities in Birmingham is taking liberties in every sense" - about 150 ANPR CCTV cameras funded by Home Office via the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) section of ACPO.

    FitWatch blog - keeps an eye on the activities of some of the controversial Police Forward Intelligence Teams, who supposedly only target "known troublemakers" for photo and video surveillance, at otherwise legal, peaceful protests and demonstrations.

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    UK Legislation

    The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

    The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

    Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

    UK Legislation Links

    UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

    UK Commissioners

    UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

    UK Intelligence Agencies

    Intelligence and Security Committee - the supposedly independent Parliamentary watchdog which issues an annual, heavily censored Report every year or so. Currently chaired by the Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Why should either the intelligence agencies or the public trust this committee, when the untrustworthy ex-Labour Minister Hazel Blears is a member ?

    Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

    MI5 Security Service
    MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

    syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
    Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

    cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
    Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

    SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
    Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

    Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

    National Crime Agency - the replacement for the Serious Organised Crime Agency

    Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

    Foreign Spies / Intelliegence Agencies in the UK

    It is not just the UK government which tries to snoop on British companies, organisations and individuals, the rest of the world is constantly trying to do the same, regardless of the mixed efforts of our own UK Intelligence Agencies who are paid to supposedly protect us from them.

    For no good reason, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only keeps the current version of the London Diplomatic List of accredited Diplomats (including some Foreign Intelligence Agency operatives) online.

    Presumably every mainstream media organisation, intelligence agency, serious organised crime or terrorist gang keeps historical copies, so here are some older versions of the London Diplomatic List, for the benefit of web search engine queries, for those people who do not want their visits to appear in the FCO web server logfiles or those whose censored internet feeds block access to UK Government websites.

    Campaign Button Links

    Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
    UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

    NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
    NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

    Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
    Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

    FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

    Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
    Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

    Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
    Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

    Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
    Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

    Open Rights Group

    The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

    Tor - the onion routing network
    Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

    Tor - the onion routing network
    Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

    Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

    BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

    NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

    Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

    Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

    Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

    Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

    No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


    I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


    Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


    Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


    Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme


    WhistleblowersUK.org - Fighting for justice for whistleblowers