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4.45 pm

Mr. Duncan: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 7, at end insert--

"(1A) In order to grant an approval the Secretary of State must be satisfied that that person--
(a) will comply, in providing the services in respect of which he is approved, with such technical and other requirements as may be prescribed;
(b) is a person in relation to whom such other requirements as may be prescribed are, and will continue to be, satisfied;
(c) is, and will continue to be, able and willing to comply with any requirements that the Secretary of State is proposing to impose by means of conditions of the approval; and
(d) is otherwise a fit and proper person to be approved in respect of those services.
(1B) Regulations made by virtue of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1A) may frame a requirement for the purposes of that subsection by reference to the opinion of a person specified in the regulations, or of a person chosen in a manner determined in accordance with the regulations.".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in page 2, line 8, after "arrangements", insert "for approval".

No. 7, in page 2, leave out lines 12 and 13.

No. 8, in page 2, leave out lines 27 to 42.

No. 9, in page 2, line 44, after "conditions", insert--

"referenced above in subsection (2)(b)".

No. 10, in page 3, line 12, leave out "(3)" and insert "(1A)".

Mr. Duncan: In effect, the amendments would rewrite clause 2. They would not change the clause's meaning, but would merely put it into better legislative language. It may help the House if I explain, very briefly, the origin of the amendments.

All hon. Members will agree that deliberations on the Bill in Committee were constructive. No member of the Committee indulged in silly party politics, but everyone wanted to improve the Bill wherever possible. That followed Conservative Members' success in forcing

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publication of the draft Bill over the summer, and in arguing for and securing the removal of part III of that draft Bill.

However, Conservative Members in the Committee argued their corner. The House will be grateful to the Minister for her rational approach to the debate. She said that she would examine some of the points that we made and consider some possible amendments for discussion on Report. To that end, I wrote to the Minister on 5 January, making four points which are the kernel of the amendments before the House today. She courteously wrote back to me on 17 January, essentially accepting three out of the four proposals, most of which have now been included in the Government amendments, which we shall come to later.

Amendment No. 5, however, contains a proposal that the Minister did not accept, although I think it fair to say that she sympathised with what we said in Committee. We believe that the structure of the clause is very difficult to understand. The wording is such that readers of the legislation and interpreters of the language have to dart from one part of the clause to another to get the whole picture. In Committee, we moved an amendment to delete clause 2(5), which we felt to be broad-brush and meaningless. It was an example of nonsensical language--a nightmare for plaintiffs and defendants, although lawyers will make money if ever this part of the Bill is referred to in a legal case.

In response to our amendment, the Minister said, quite reasonably, that she would look further at the wording of the subsections to see whether they could be simplified without reducing the necessary powers of the authority. Following our conversations, she advised me that parliamentary draftsmen had not come up with a solution, but maintained that our amendment did not quite achieve what we thought it would. However, I think that it does.

The amendment would rewrite the clause. Instead of its current hotch-potch structure, we have explained the hurdles that those who wish to be registered as cryptography providers have to overcome so that they can be properly understood. We have introduced a sort of "gating" procedure, whereby anyone who wishes so to be registered can achieve one objective, then another, in succession, to the point where, clearly understood by everyone involved and by anyone interpreting the law, the end game can be reached.

The order of our proposals follow a logical process. They establish what is to be proved; the required status of the applicants; the procedures to determine that status; the nature of the arrangements, including the power to impose conditions; the details of the conditions that can be imposed; the restriction on conditions that can be imposed, and the power to enforce one type of condition. They follow a logical progression so that the law, clearly understood, can be followed by anyone so applying.

I hope that, even if the Minister cannot accept the amendment, she will admit that the clause is a bit of a mess. When the parliamentary draftsmen have a little more time on their hands, perhaps they can study it again so that, between us, we can make simple and clear law that will benefit everyone.

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Ms Hewitt: As the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has said, we had a valuable and constructive series of discussions in Committee. I think that the Bill, which had already been significantly improved through consultation, was further improved as a result. I undertook to consider whether we could simplify the clause while preserving the necessary powers of the approvals authority.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for tabling constructive amendments, designed to simplify the clause. They would reorder the clause and add some cross-references without changing its effect. However, whether one arrangement is clearer than another is a subjective judgment, and I doubt that parliamentary counsel would agree with the aspersions cast by the hon. Gentleman on the original drafting. I would like to consider further the way in which the amendments have been drafted, and to discuss further with parliamentary counsel whether a rearrangement of the clause, along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman, or in some other way, would help to clarify it. If we reach that conclusion, we shall table the necessary amendments in another place. I hope that, in the light of that undertaking, the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Duncan: It is always unsettling when sweet reason breaks out across the Floor of the House. However, on this unique occasion, that seems to have happened. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6

Provision of Cryptography Support Services

Mr. Duncan: I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 6, line 1, leave out subsection (2) and insert--

"(2) References in this Part to the provision of cryptography support services exclude the supply of computer hardware or software, or the right to use them, except where that supply is an integral part of cryptography support services supplied by the same provider.".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

Mr. Duncan: It would appear that the outbreak of sweet reason has hit the House once again, so the previous occasion was not unique. The amendment, once again, originated from this side of the House, and the Minister listened to the point that we were making. Our concern is that clause 6(2) is almost incomprehensible. I will not read it to the House, but anyone trying to interpret the contents of the Bill in future would have a great deal of difficulty. Amendment No. 11 would tidy up the clause and make it comprehensible.

In Committee, the Minister undertook to

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    I recognise that the group contains two Government amendments that address exactly the same point, but in a slightly different way. In addition, the Government have the benefit of the advice of parliamentary draftsmen and the Minister's experts--advice which Opposition Members so often lack.

When the moment comes, I may wish to withdraw my amendment, once I hear from the Minister exactly what the effect of the Government amendments will be. I expect them to be almost identical in effect to mine.

Mr. Allan: I, too, welcome the amendments, particularly Nos. 13 and 14. They deal with one of the areas in which we shared the concern of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) in Committee. Not only was the clause confusing, but its logic was reversed. As we explored the clause in Committee, we discovered that the Government intended to ensure that the Bill referred to cryptography service providers and that hardware and software regulation should not be introduced unless that was a core part of the cryptography service.

By including references to supply of hardware and software, the effect of the clause appeared to be reversed. Amendment No. 13 makes that exclusive rather than inclusive, which I think quite sensible. I shall not get into logical uses of "or" and "and", because we spent plenty of time on that in Committee.

This is a deregulatory success. Amendment No. 13 adds two words; amendment No. 14 adds nine, but removes 21. By my inclusive or exclusive mathematics, I calculate that we have taken 10 words out of the Bill, which is a success in itself. However, I invite the Minister to consider whether she can go further and take out another six words. I refer to the phrase at the end of clause 6(2):

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 will get the clause broadly right; they make a lot of sense. But I query whether that phrase, hanging on at the end of the sentence, is really necessary. I invite the Minister to ensure that the Bill eventually has as few words as possible so that lawyers can make as little money as possible arguing about the significance of those that it does contain.

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