Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Greenway: As the Minister said, I had anticipated his answer, and it was very much the answer that we got in Standing Committee.

Mr. Hoon: Consistent.

Mr. Greenway: It certainly is consistent--and we have been consistent in our argument.

The Minister has not answered on why the word "investigation" appears in the directive but not in the Bill. We must agree to differ, although Conservative Members must take every opportunity to ensure not only that the directive is properly implemented but that the Bill is absolutely clear and as comprehensive as it needs to be.

We clearly disagree, and I thought it right to draw the House's attention to this important issue. Over the past few months, many hon. Members have received letters from the organisations to which I referred about their work in combating fraud and criminal activity. We are disappointed that we cannot persuade the Minister on the amendment, but have no wish to divide the House. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Greenway: I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 18, line 1, after 'offenders', insert--

'(ba) the safeguarding of public security,'.

On 22 June, during the Report stage of the Crime and Disorder Bill, there was an important exchange between the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and the Home Secretary about the extent to which the data protection legislation inhibits the availability and disclosure of information to deal with the vexed problem of football hooligans. I have come across that question before. It was raised seven or eight years ago during the Home Affairs Committee's in-depth inquiry into the policing of football hooligans following the 1990 world cup.

The gist of the problem is that information about certain individuals is available but cannot be disclosed to ferry companies or to organisations and football clubs that are issuing tickets because that would breach the data protection legislation. The Bill gives even more comfort

2 Jul 1998 : Column 590

to data subjects in protecting their rights over sensitive information about criminal matters, especially when that information has not been tested in the courts, and even though the football intelligence unit may have been monitoring the behaviour of certain individuals. Those people may not have been prosecuted even though the police are only too well aware that, given half a chance, they would cause mayhem. Sadly, some of our own people, and others, have caused mayhem in France and Belgium over the past two or three weeks. In his response to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, the Home Secretary acknowledged not only that that is a problem, but that he would like to do something about it, if that was at all possible. The Minister is well aware of that.

I have spent some time considering the extent to which we might improve the position through the Bill. I previously referred to article 13 on the question of the prevention, investigation and detection of crime, which is one of the exemptions permitted in legislation. It also refers to the national security exemption, which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) mentioned, and to our defence. Furthermore, it allows national legislation implementing the directive to safeguard public security through an exemption. That is all that we seek: the amendment would safeguard public security, as provided for in the directive. We believe that, if the amendement were accepted, the police would be strengthened and given opportunities to deal with the vexed problem of these louts and hooligans, who have caused so much mayhem and trouble to all of us.

The Minister, who comes from Liverpool, knows exactly the extent to which people in his city are heartily sick of the handful who cause such trouble and give the rest a bad name. We debated this extremely important matter not long ago in the context of the Hillsborough tragedy. We are not making the suggestion glibly as an off-the-cuff solution; it is a sincere and genuine effort to help in the fight against hooliganism, which the entire country wants the Government to tackle.

I cannot see why the measure would create difficulties for the implementation of the directive. If allowing the police an exemption to deal more effectively with football hooligans does not safeguard the peace and tranquillity of the country, I do not know what does. I can think of nothing that has caused as much alarm and concern to those affected as the antics of those mindless lads.

I hope that I have convinced the House that the amendment is extremely important. The Minister may prefer to change the wording. He has tabled a stack of amendments, some of which we have discussed already. The difficulty is that, once we conclude tonight's Report stage and the Bill returns to the other House, the opportunity to amend the Bill will have gone. If the Government accept the amendment tonight, the other place will at least have an opportunity to put it into a more appropriate form of words with which the Government might feel more comfortable. It is 14 years since the House last legislated on data protection; those of us who served on the Standing Committee, and doubtless all the officials and organisations who have had to deal with this complex Bill, hope to goodness that it is at least another 14 years before we do so again. Clearly, we shall not have an early opportunity to do something about this problem in the future, so I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the argument that we have set out and agree to accept the amendment.

2 Jul 1998 : Column 591

Mr. George Howarth: I associate myself with the sentiment behind the amendment. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) knows from statements that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made that, like him, we consider those hooligans to be a disgrace not just to the part of the world that I come from--Liverpool--but to every town and city in the country. The Government are determined to do all that we can to reduce football hooliganism.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are conducting a review of football-related legislation, which will take account of the lessons to be learned from what happened in France. It is clear that we need to consider implementing measures to deal with the football hooligan element who tarnish our reputation abroad. A number of options will be considered, including the ability to restrict those who cause trouble abroad. I know that, in raising these issues, the hon. Gentleman is sincere about what he seeks to achieve.

Home Office Ministers are sympathetic to proposals to have special checks, for example, on recipients of world cup tickets. We have asked the Association of Chief Police Officers sub-committee on disclosure to explore the legality and feasibility of making those checks. People who apply to join the England members club, which is run by the Football Association, are checked against a National Criminal Intelligence Service database, which holds information about persons who are known to be, or suspected of being, involved in organised criminality associated with football. NCIS is registered with the Data Protection Registrar, and the Football Association is listed as a body to which NCIS intends, or may wish, to disclose data.

8.15 pm

Currently, ACPO has agreed that criminal records should be released only for limited purposes--mainly relating to national security, probity in the administration of the law and protection of vulnerable people, especially children. ACPO concluded that there was very significant legal doubt about its ability to release other information, which could not be resolved within the tight time scale. That was a matter not of data protection, but of its powers under the general law. There was also the practical difficulty of how to be sure that the criminal records released related to the people concerned, rather than to others of the same name.

In any event, there would have been further difficulties about compliance with the Data Protection Act 1984 principles of fair obtaining and processing. The Data Protection Registrar was concerned that nothing had been said to people when they applied for tickets in the first instance, and that the check would have been indiscriminate, without regard to suspicion in individual cases. It appeared that the check would have gone much wider than the particular needs of preventing football hooliganism. The FA's desire to check hooliganism was entirely right and proper; the issue was whether that was the right way in which to do it.

The ACPO sub-committee is looking afresh at the issues involved. It was not possible to resolve the issues in the short time available before the world cup, but there is now an opportunity for ACPO, the FA and, as necessary, the Data Protection Registrar to consult about

2 Jul 1998 : Column 592

the right approach to be taken in future. It is important to have had this debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ryedale for raising the issue.

Mr. Greenway: I think that the Minister is about to invite me to withdraw the amendment. I entirely understand why he may not wish to accept it, but can he assure me that if the outcome of the discussions--I am grateful for his offer that we should continue to be part of them--is that an amendment to the legislation is required, there would not be a bar to making such a legislative change?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, and I am anxious to be as constructive as possible. Once all the consultations with the Data Protection Registrar, ACPO and others are complete, we shall be required to take some action. The Government, particularly the Secretary of State, have made it plain that we are committed to taking whatever action is sensible and necessary to eradicate the problem. If data protection principles are involved, that necessarily implies some action in that direction as well. I do not know exactly what the vehicle would be and I do not want to give assurances on that, but the Government certainly wish to take action and I am sure that the whole House would support us. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels able to withdraw the amendment.

Next Section

IndexHome Page