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Mr. Heald: The Minister will agree that throughout the proceedings on the Bill, there has been considerable discussion of the position of business and the way in which it is influenced--I have gone on about that a lot. Does the Minister have any evidence in connection with Mr. Virgo's point about companies leaving the UK?

Mr. Clarke: None at all. I have heard that assertion only from Mr. Virgo. It would be of concern if it were true, but we do not have evidence of that. Obviously, we consider issues of the overall commercial environment with colleagues from the Department of Trade and Industry. The reverse of the assertion is true: the regime that we are establishing will increasingly be seen as one that strengthens e-commerce, rather than weakens it, because it strengthens public confidence in the whole of e-commerce.

Amendment No. 14 is an attempt to restrict the purposes for which communications data may be required from eight to five. That matter was fully debated in Committee, but I am happy to restate the main reasons why we need to retain the three purposes in question. Clause 21(2)(f) includes the purpose

and so on. That is a reflection of section 29(4) of the Data Protection Act 1998, and although not used extensively, it is currently used by agencies such as Customs and Excise to investigate the shadow economy.

An example of a situation in which such a provision is used is when flyers promising cheap cigarettes or tobacco, and giving a phone number to call, are pushed through letter boxes. An investigation at that early stage may very well not be a criminal investigation, but merely to ascertain whether the supplier had a tax liability. Another example is that of a tradesman who advertises in a newspaper, but is not VAT registered. If he earns enough to advertise, the chances are he is close to the VAT threshold and might have a tax liability, but an investigation would not necessarily be a criminal investigation.

The second purpose, set out in clause 21(2)(g), is that of

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The most serious of the three points relates to clause 21(2)(h), which contains the broadest framework, starting with the words "for any purpose". Although I accept that that provision means that new purposes could be added fairly easily, I should like to make two points. First, we are dealing with a new area of legislation and, despite all the effort that my colleagues and others have put into the Bill, we are still not absolutely certain that the existing purposes cover everything which may be required. It is possible that the purposes will have to be extended in future, especially if other Government Departments apply to be subject to those provisions, rather than relying on the Data Protection Act. However, I stress that the Government have absolutely no plans to do that at present. My second point should reassure anyone who believes that subsection (2) gives the Government a blank cheque. It does not, since any new purpose would, of course, be limited by article 8 of the European convention on human rights; that imposes a serious restriction.

If I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) or any other member of the Committee the impression that I do not consider communications data important, I did so inadvertently: I believe that such data are important. However, during our discussion in Committee of the hierarchy of intrusion of different forms of data collection--including someone standing in one's front room, someone listening to one's phone conversations and so on--I suggested that the collection of communications data is not as individually intrusive as some of the other forms of surveillance. I firmly believe that communications data are important, and if I gave the contrary impression in Committee, I correct it now.

The amendment would restrict the purposes for which communications data may be used or disclosed to purposes for which it may be required under the Bill. Although the Bill does not address that particular issue, we believe that to a large extent, the purpose of the amendment is met by the Data Protection Act. My hon. Friend made that point in Committee. Several of the data protection principles are relevant, especially the second principle, which is that

Processing includes using or disclosing. That clear principle offers protection.

I do not believe, therefore, that there is any need to add further restrictions on the use or disclosure of communications data, although I perceive the merit in explaining the relevant data protection principles in the code of practice to ensure the proper handling of communications data. The Government accept the principle that data should be used only for the specific purpose for which they are collected.

It is true that there is an exemption for national security under the Data Protection Act. However, each of the three security and intelligence agencies is bound by statutory

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arrangements under the Security Service Act 1989 and Intelligence Services Act 1994. Those arrangements mean that they may not disclose material that they have obtained except for the purpose of properly discharging their functions, or for the purpose of criminal proceedings. I hope that I have now responded adequately to the points that were clearly made and well put by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead, and that he draws comfort from my remarks.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked about the question of time--an interesting and characteristically existential point. I have no detailed answer to offer, but I believe that we discussed that point in Committee when, if memory serves, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) raised it. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if he wants me to, but I believe that data are collected for a specific purpose, not for a specific period of time; the key question is what period of time is appropriate for that purpose. As I said, we debated the matter at length in Committee, and I shall not repeat what I said there on the hon. Gentleman's final point. I shall write to him further if my remarks have been misleading.

9.30 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes: I, too, stand to be corrected, especially in relation to part III and clause 47. I understand that there may still be an unanswered time question.

With regard to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), did the Minister say that the Data Protection Act 1998, rather than any code or subsidiary legislation, was clear about all such

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matters? I would be troubled if it were suggested that something other than legislation were being prayed in aid as a higher authority than the Bill, which will become law.

Mr. Clarke: I believe that the Data Protection Act 1998 is clear. That is why I quoted the data protection principle established in it. I believe that it is compatible with other legislation, including the Bill. It is incumbent on us to explain the relevant data protection principles in the code of practice, to make them clear to everyone.

I hope that on that basis, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead will withdraw their amendments.

Mr. Heald: We are not entirely satisfied, but I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division. The matter may be raised again in another place. Accordingly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29

Persons entitled to grant authorisations under

ss. 27 and 28

Mr. Maclean: I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 31, line 39, leave out subsection (4) and insert--

'(4) In subsection (1) "relevant public authority" means any of the organisations listed in Schedule (Relevant public authorities).
(4A) The Secretary of State may by order add any other public authority to Schedule (Relevant public authorities).

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 40, 41, 65 and 45.

Amendment No. 5, in page 47, line 11, leave out Clause 44.

Government amendments Nos. 46 to 48 and 44.

New schedule 2--Public Authorities Designated for the Purposes of Sections 27 and 28--

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'Relevant Public Authorities Designated for the Purposes of Sections 27 and 28

Public Authority Directed Surveillance Use of Covert Sources
Police forces, including:YY
British Transport PoliceYY
Ministry of Defence PoliceYY
Service PoliceYY
National Crime SquadYY
National CriminalYY
Intelligence ServiceYY
HM Customs & ExciseYY
Security ServiceYY
Intelligence Services (Secret Intelligence Service, GCHQ)YY
Ministry of Defence/Armed ForcesYY
Home Office: Prison Service Immigration ServiceYY
Department of Social Security: Benefits AgencyYY
Inland RevenueY\Y
Department of Health: Medical Devices AgencyY
Food Standards AgencyY
Medicine Control AgencyY
High Security HospitalsY
NHS EstatesY
NHS FraudY
Royal Pharmaceutical Society Department of Trade and Industry:Y
Radio Communications Agency
Export Services DirectorateY
Post OfficeY
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: Transport Security (Transec)Y
Vehicle InspectorateYY
Environment AgencyYY
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: Sea Fisheries Inspectorate
Centre for Environment Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
Veterinary Laboratory
Veterinary Medicines Directorate,Y
Farming & Rural Conservation AgencyY
Central Science LaboratoryYY
Pesticides Safety DirectorateYY
Meat Hygiene ServiceYY
Health and Safety ExecutiveY
Serious Fraud OfficeYY
Financial Services AuthorityYY
Local authorities (as defined in Local Government Act 1999)

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8 May 2000 : Column 603

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