From time to time, we eagerly anticipate the Answers to Parliamenttary Questions tabled by Members of Parliament. Like so much else, the UK Parliament website does provide a list of such pending Questions tabled in "the Question Book, but you have to teawl through several pages, which reflect the several doucments which contain contain current and future Questions at any one time.
The House of Lords also allows Questions to be put to Ministers, and keep track of any interesting Questions asked there also adds to lack of transparency.
In theory, this process of Questions and Oral or Written Answers should be a major way that Parliament holds the Executive to account, but it seems that the whole process is heavily weighted in favour of Civil Service secrecy and Ministerial political backside covering.
The number, and quality, of the Questions asked by Members of Parliament varies enoirmously. You can check out how many Questions any MP has asked at the TheyWorkForYou website.
A further shield, behind which the Governemnt hides is that the acceptable format for draughting a Question, which should only be for the sake of clarity and brevity, has, over the years been
How not to ask a Parliamentary Question about "wiretapping":
Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead): To ask the Prime Minister, whether (a) he, (b) any UK minister and (c) any official of the UK Government has authorised any warrantless wiretapping since 1997.
Toi can almost hear the snort of derision from the Sir Humphreys, as this badly draughted Parliamentary Question is swatted away with little effort:
Yes of course they have - especially between 1997 and 2000 when Regulation of Investigatory Powers Acct 2000 became law.
There is a huge anount of "wiretapping" not via a "warrant" but, as permitted by via a "Certificate" for bulk operations like GCHQ, signed by or behalf of the Home Secretary.
Such "warrants" or "certificates" are needed for actual electronic interception of the contents of phone conversations or of internet etc. electronic communications, but not for COmmumications Traffic Data e.g. itemised phone bills, internet mail or webserver logfiles etc.
The Question does not ask for any statistics, only if there has ever been a single case.
Our guess at the Written Answer:
"By convention, the Government does not comment on the details of national security matters
Before 2000, phone interceptions "wiretapping" required the authorisation of Police CHief Constables, who are not Government Officials
"wiretapping" is an imprecise word and does not cover "mobile phone" or other radio or "wireless" communications.
a) - No - the Prime Minister delagates such matters to the approroate Secretary of State for the Home Department.
b) Yes, "certificates" as permitted under RIPA signed by the Home Secretary
c) Yes - in an emergency Officials are permitted to sign a "certificate" which is then signed later by the Home Secretary
It has been the established policy of successive Governments to neither confirm nor deny speculation about covert operations or to comment on on-going police investigations.