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Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I should say that I know that several hon. Members still wish to speak. They will be disappointed unless succeeding speeches are kept succinct.

8.28 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I shall do my best to follow that instruction.

It has been obvious during the debate, particularly from the number of interventions on the Home Secretary, that there is still a great deal of disquiet about the Bill on both sides of the House. The original drafting has been improved, but it is still defective. The Secretary of State said that action should be taken against organised professional criminals. We all accept that that is necessary. The test of the Bill is whether it does that, while maintaining the necessary safeguards for civil liberties.

I shall deal first with the provisions for surveillance and bugging of premises. Everyone who has spoken in the debate has recognised that there are circumstances in which bugging and surveillance are necessary. There is no dispute about that. However, we should also accept that the number of cases and the scope should be limited. There should also be easy redress when the bugging cannot be justified.

I welcome the fact that there will be regulation of an activity that the police have carried out in an unregulated way for many years. However, I still have great concerns about the Bill. Although we are told that there will be amendments, none of us has seen the text of them or the promised codes of practice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) was the first speaker in the debate to raise two issues that I should like to address. They are worth repeating. First, we should consider what is being regulated. With modern technology, it is obvious that bugging techniques are improving all the time. The Bill refers to entry of or interference with property. I suspect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said, that we are close to the point--if we have not already reached it--at which it will be possible to listen to conversations going on inside a property without needing to enter that property to place a bug. It is not clear whether that will be regulated by the Bill. We might end up with

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a measure dealing only with protection of entry to property rather than the central issue of intrusive surveillance.

The second point is what happens to the material collected. Let us suppose that a solicitor is bugged. I can imagine circumstances in which that might be justified, as the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) pointed out. There might be evidence of a solicitor being involved in criminal activity, for example. However, it is impossible to bug a solicitor without also recording conversations with innocent clients who are in no way connected with the crime of which the solicitor is suspected. Those people may never know about that if the information obtained from the bugging is not used in a prosecution. What safeguards do they have? How can we be sure that the information gained in that way does not find its way on to police intelligence computers?

If, for whatever reason, my fingerprints are taken, I know that that has been done. If no charges result, I know that I can see those records destroyed. What happens if information is collected on me without my knowledge because there has been no charge or prosecution? I was far from convinced by the Secretary of State's reply to my intervention during his speech that it will be up to the courts to decide. The issue may never reach a court. It is not good enough to accept that information collected in that way may end up on police intelligence systems. That also relates to the other provision in the Bill that I want to consider--criminal records certificates. The bugging of a solicitor's office is just one example. I suspect that many bugging operations will inevitably involve the collection of large amounts of information irrelevant to the purpose of the bugging. What happens to that is very important.

I do not want to repeat important comments made by other hon. Members about the definition of serious crime and prior authority, because those issues have been adequately covered. My final point about this part of the Bill--the issue crops up again in the provisions relating to criminal records--relates to the complaints mechanisms. The mechanism in the Bill is inadequate. The commissioner's decision is not open to challenge by a court or open to appeal. I understand from the opening speeches that there will be some amendments and we shall not be left in the current position in which all that is at stake in any complaint will be on a judicial review basis. I should be happier if it was clear that the authorisation mechanisms and the complaints mechanisms were completely separate and there was no possibility of the commissioners being involved in both. That would give me more confidence.

On part V, I am less than happy at the growing demands--not just in the Bill--for information about people who have convictions to be made available to the public. We are in danger of losing some principles that we have always had about privacy mattering and people having the opportunity, after having a conviction and serving a sentence, to go back to normal, productive life.

I accept that there must be a balance. It would clearly be wrong for those with certain types of conviction to be able to hide the fact. There are particular problems with organised paedophile activity which have been clearly illustrated recently. If a conviction is relevant to a job, a mechanism is needed for establishing the fact. The current position is clearly not satisfactory. People slip through

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the net of the current mixture of legislation and practices--Thomas Hamilton in Dunblane was mentioned as an example.

I believe that the Bill is too broad and has too few safeguards. I suspect that the criminal convictions certificate--the lower level of certificate--will become the norm. The Secretary of State suggested that there might be a time limit. I do not know what that limit will be. I suspect that some people will be asked repeatedly. Once criminal convictions certificates come into use, there will be an incentive for someone applying for a job to get one. If I were applying for a job and I knew that I had a clean record, I might well want to get a copy of my certificate and enclose it with my application. I suspect that it will not be long before they become the norm for a range of jobs, for many of which convictions will be irrelevant. It has been pointed out earlier that there is a danger of some people becoming unemployable and inevitably drifting back into crime.

Cautions are to be included in the enhanced checks. Many people accept a caution without realising that they are implicitly admitting that they have done something. I suspect that that will change and more cases in which people would currently accept a caution will go to court. The caution might become a less useful mechanism than at present.

Mr. Benn: Has my hon. Friend considered the position of someone who committed an act under the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which would no longer be an offence? He would have to submit a document saying that he had had a homosexual relationship at a time when that was an offence, even though it no longer is. The provisions are grossly biased against some people's backgrounds.

Mr. Gerrard: That is a very good example of an action having been an offence that led to a conviction but ceasing to be an offence. What is the position then?

I am particularly concerned about the enhanced certificates and the inclusion of acquittal information, information that may be acquired in bugging and speculative information from police intelligence. Anyone who has seen the quality of some police intelligence would be concerned. I do not believe that chief constables should be the sole power in deciding what can and cannot be disclosed. If we are to have such certificates, we must have mechanisms for redress.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge raised a constituency case. I recently dealt with a similar case. A constituent of mine, Mrs. Iqbal, applied for a job with the social services department, which asked her to get evidence from the police of her criminal record. She wrote to me and explained that she had no worries about that because she had never been in trouble with the police and had never been convicted. The police responded to the social services department's inquiry telling it that she had a conviction for shoplifting. What proved to have happened was that the police had confused her with someone else of the same name who had a similar date of birth. Fortunately, the social services department was willing to hold open the job offer for four or five weeks until the matter was cleared up. She had resigned from her previous job and could have lost her new job. As it was, she lost several weeks' wages as a result of that trivial mistake.

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How is it possible to correct such mistakes? All we have in the Bill as it stands is clause 107, which states:

I think that that is a completely inadequate mechanism for redress. We need much better safeguards, allowing people to challenge the accuracy of information on certificates. An amendment moved in another place would have set up an independent tribunal to which applications could have been made, which would have been a much more satisfactory mechanism. It is wrong that information can be sent to a prospective employer in an enhanced certificate that the applicant never sees and therefore does not have the possibility of challenging.

As I said at the outset, this Bill is better than the original draft, but it is still full of problems. There are no mechanisms by which people can seek redress, get compensation or challenge what is said about them. What happens if someone loses a job as a result of inaccurate information given about them--perhaps based on police intelligence? I still have very serious concerns about the Bill. I know that we are promised an amendment and that the Bill will come back to us eventually in a different form. It needs to be significantly different from its present form.

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