Closer scrutiny of army surveillance needed, Lib Dems argue

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Lib Dem backbenchers have sought changes to the Defence Reform Bill that would require the Interception Commissioner to have oversight of monitoring and transmission of data by all military personnel in the UK, including foreign armies.

An amendment to that effect was introduced by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who told the House: "The ability to intercept communications has leapt ahead of the regulations governing them," and that her proposal would help us to scratch the surface in terms of activities being undertaken at US bases in the UK."

She received backing from party colleague Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, who argued the reduction in the size of the regular Army made the need for surveillance to be "reported and transparent" all the more important.

On behalf of Labour, Lord Rosser signalled the opposition's belief that US Army activities are currently covered by UK law.

Nonetheless, he stressed: "Government has a responsibility to make sure appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure that we do know what is going on in our own country in the field of military and security operations."

Subsequently, Defence Minister Lord Astor of Hever offered an "unequivocal assurance" that surveillance carried out by US forces in the UK is covered by "the full rigour" of British law.

Lady Miller's amendment would "introduce the risk of commissioner losing focus and could therefore, perversely, impair the commissioner's ability to perform its primary role", he continued, and she was persuaded to withdraw her amendment without a vote.

Peers later voted 227 to 169 against Labour amendment to give oversight of single-source defence contracts to the business secretary.

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