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HOME DEPARTMENT

Family Policy

Angela Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make an announcement on family policy. [58336]

Mr. Straw: On Wednesday 4 November, at 9am, the Government will publish a consultation document, 'Supporting Families'. Copies of the document will be placed in the Library and will be available from the Vote Office.

Telecommunications (Interception)

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will make it a requirement for an application for a warrant to be made where (a) MI5 and (b) the Police wish to obtain information from telecommunications operatives in respect of call origins, destination, duration and frequency; [57571]

Mr. Straw: During the debate on the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill on 2 September 1998, Official Report, column 749, I announced that I had put in hand a comprehensive review of the interception regime, and that a consultation document on this would be published in due course. The consultation document will address private side interception and access to data held by telecommunications operators. Legislation will be introduced at the next opportunity.

Terrorist Attacks (Chemical Weapons)

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what contingency plans are in place to protect

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the public from terrorist attacks involving chemical weapons, with particular reference to the areas around American bases. [57312]

Mr. Straw: A series of classified contingency plans exist for responding to a wide range of terrorist threats including those which might involve the threatened or actual use of chemical weapons. In the interests of national security and the protection of the public these are regularly reviewed, tested and updated in the light of changing circumstances. The same arrangements apply at those sites made available to the United States Visiting Forces as at any other sites in the United Kingdom which might be vulnerable to attack.

Surveillance Systems

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what controls exist to regulate in respect of computer-controlled surveillance systems capable of identifying faces (a) those persons programmed to be identified and (b) the use made of the information gleaned; [57716]

Mr. Straw: The Data Protection Act 1984 regulates the use of automatically processed information relating to individuals. With limited exceptions, holders of such information must register with the Data Protection Registrar and comply with the Act's legally enforceable data protection principles. Among other things, these require personal data to be obtained and processed fairly and lawfully, held only for specified and lawful purposes and not used or disclosed incompatibly with these purposes. I understand that the Data Protection Registrar will be meeting the Metropolitan Police and the London Borough of Newham in the near future to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure compliance with the principles.

Any closed circuit television (CCTV) systems recording images of individuals which do not come within the ambit of the 1984 Act are expected to be covered by the Data Protection Act 1998. This gives wider enforcement powers to the Registrar, who will be re-titled Data Protection Commissioner. They include a new power to issue codes of practice as to good practice. Although these would not have direct statutory force, they would amplify how the enforceable data protection principles should be applied to the data use concerned. I understand that the Registrar has begun preparatory work on the preparation of a code of practice for CCTV.

Security Services

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to ensure that access to personal files held by MI5 is restricted to those with a clear need to see them, and that there are detailed audit trails to identify which officers or sections have had access to that information, and the reasons for that access. [57565]

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Mr. Straw: The Security Service already has in place procedures to ensure that access to its personal files is restricted to those with a need to see them, and audit arrangements which track and record internal access to any file.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make it his policy to require an independent assessment to be carried out before any decision by MI5 to destroy files is implemented. [57567]

Mr. Straw: The case for independent scrutiny of the destruction of Security Service files is under consideration including the circumstances where this might be appropriate and the form such scrutiny might take.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to ensure that files held by MI5 that are marked for destruction or might reasonably be thought to be so classified had they been assessed, are not used for vetting purposes. [57566]

Mr. Straw: Those Security Service files that have been reviewed and marked for destruction have been withdrawn from the Service's central file index and are not available to desk officers for any purpose. Those old and closed files, which have yet to be reviewed for destruction, remain centrally recorded but the Security Service may neither carry out inquiries into the subject nor add substantive information to the file. The current policy is that the Service will not apply information from its records in response to vetting inquiries merely on account of the subject's membership of organisations once considered to be subversive.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many individuals information is held by MI5 by means of computerised indices. [57564]

Mr. Straw: In my statement to the House on 29 July 1998, Official Report, columns 251-54, I made public for the first time information concerning the number of files held by the Security Service, including the number of files on which inquiries may be made. I do not propose to disclose further details about the Service's record management systems.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what rights he proposes to introduce for individuals upon whom files are held by MI5. [57568]

Mr. Straw: In its latest Report, the Intelligence and Security Committee indicated that it intends to consider the question of whether individuals should have rights in connection with any Security Service files held on them. I shall await the Committee's findings before deciding whether to make any changes to the existing arrangements.

Animal Experiments

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to allow renewal of project licence applications to be subject to independent assessment of non-animal alternatives before deciding whether or not to grant them. [57714]

Mr. George Howarth: We have undertaken to delete from the notes, for the completion of application forms for licences and certificates, the phrase "Your application will be treated in confidence at all stages". However, section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures)

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Act 1986 remains in force and we will not be able to disclose information that either has been given in confidence or we have reasonable grounds for believing was given in confidence. It remains the duty of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate to advise on applications.

Section 24 of the 1986 Act will be reviewed under our proposals for freedom of information legislation.

Intelligence and Security Committee

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what response he has made to the proposal of the Intelligence and Security Committee to give itself an additional investigative capacity. [57570]

Mr. Straw: I refer the hon. Member to paragraph 21 of the Government Response to the Intelligence and Security Committee's Annual Report, which was published on 28 October 1998 (Cm 4089).

Drugs

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to visit (a) Switzerland and (b) the Netherlands to study their illegal drug use reduction policies. [56915]

Mr. George Howarth: My right hon. Friend has no present plans to visit either Switzerland or the Netherlands to discuss drugs policies. Home Office officials are, however, in regular contact with their counterparts responsible for drug use reduction policies in those countries, through the Council of Europe and, in the case of the Netherlands, the European Union.


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