24 Jul 2015

Sturgeon wants assurances MSPs are not spied on

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has written to David Cameron asking for assurances that MSPs’ communication has not been intercepted by the intelligence agencies.

Ms Sturgeon wrote a letter to the prime minister after reports were published that GCHQ is not applying the “Wilson doctrine” in relation to the devolved nations.

This doctrine bans the interception of MPs’ phone communication and was later extended to cover emails. Because it was introduced in 1966, it does not cover the communications of members of devolved parliaments and assemblies – because these bodies did not exist at the time.

In her letter Nicola Sturgeon has sought “immediate confirmation” that the intelligence agencies will treat MSPs in the same way as MPs in Westminster.

Although the Wilson doctrine was never officially extended to cover the Scottish parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies when they were set up, representatives from these nations had previously been treated in the same way as MPs in Westminster.

Reports now suggest that guidelines have been changed and that is no longer the case.

‘Not consulted’

In her letter to David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon says the Scottish Government has “not been consulted” about any new guidelines.

She asks the prime minister:

  • Are these reports correct in stating that there has been a change of policy and that GCHQ has ceased to apply the Wilson doctrine to the communications of MSPs?
  • If so, why was this decision taken, when and by whom was it taken, and was there any ministerial knowledge or approval?
  • Has there in fact been any interception of MSP communications?

In an additional point, she asks for MSPs in future to be “treated equally to MPs by all of the intelligence agencies.”

‘Utterly unacceptable’

Scottish Labour’s acting leader Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is utterly unacceptable for the communications between devolved representatives across the UK and their constituents to be monitored by GCHQ.

“For the rules on spying on elected representatives across the UK to change without any sort of public scrutiny or accountability is a democratic outrage.”

At the same time as Nicola Sturgeon has called on the prime minister to clarify situation regarding the interception of MSPs’ communications, the investigatory powers tribunal has been told, according to the Guardian, that the Wilson doctrine “simply cannot work sensibly” when data is being intercepted in bulk. The tribunal is being asked to look at whether the Wilson doctrine is legally enforceable.