Standing Committee A
Thursday 18 January 2001
[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 83, in page 20, line 6, leave out
`such information of a particular description' and insert `specific aspects contained therein'.[Mr. Bercow.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind hon. Members that with this we are considering the following amendments: No. 84, in page 20, line 8, after `the', insert `specific'.
No. 85, in page 20, line 10, after first `the', insert `specific'.
No. 86, in page 20, line 11, after `disclosed', insert `to interested parties'.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I want to respond to the observations made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). First, in my 50-odd years of life
Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): On a point of order, Mr. Sayeed. Several members of the public are waiting to get into the Committee Room, but the door is locked.
The Chairman: That is a genuine point of order.
Mr. Miller: Rare as it is, a genuine point order. I have been insulted by experts during my life, so the trivial observations of the hon. Member for Buckingham while trying to be rude
Mr. Bercow: I was not trying to be rude; I was being rude.
Mr. Miller: That just proves my point that there is no civility on the Opposition Benches.
If the hon. Member for Buckingham had read the data protection legislation, he would understand that his amendments are pointless. Any data holder who is required to make data available to a third party under a statute, or who chooses to make it available to a third party, is required to advise the data subjects of that fact when the data is collected. Therefore, the amendments, in so far as they affect data protection legislation, would be irrelevant to the Bill.
Mr. Bercow: The answer is simple. The clause lacks specificity, of which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) is patently unaware, or, even, woefully ignorant. Were he aware of the deficiency of the clause, he would not object to the propriety or wisdom of tabling the amendment. He took two or three minutes to make a bad point, to which I have tried to respond. Perhaps the Committee can now proceed to a more constructive consideration.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I am tempted to comment on the length of time taken by some Committee members to make exceptionally bad points, especially on Tuesday. However, it would not be appropriate to descend to the gutter in such a way.
I want to make a couple of preliminary points. First, a remarkI do not think that it was meant offensivelywas uttered, although I may be mistaken, by the hon. Member for Buckingham. That comment was that the Secretary of State's issuing of a certificate, in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998, was a relatively formal, simple or straightforward process. In fact, it is a serious document, on which the Secretary of State receives substantial and considered legal advice, which he considers carefully before deciding whether it is appropriate to put his certificate on a Bill. It is not a trivial matter; I would be surprised if, during the next 10 years, the House did not consider Bills for which such a certificate had not been signed. It has not arisen so far, but it is a considered and important matter.
Secondly, I want to make two points in relation to the debate about regulations, although I do not want to return to it in great detail. I have occasionally felt while watching Government in action that there is some substance in the suggestion that, sometimes, draft regulations could be made available earlier for the Committee's consideration, and I have always tried to ensure that that happens. However, there are also circumstancesthis is one such circumstance, as I shall point outin which it is not possible to make draft regulations available because one foresees events in the future that will create a different set of circumstances for the draft regulations.
My final preliminary point is that data protection is a serious matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, in his usual cogent and considered way, described correctly the way in which data protection and data sharing is dealt with.
Mr. Bercow: The point is the specificity of the clause.
Mr. Clarke: No, he put the point correctly. Howeverthis is an important issuehow data is shared across Government and between Government and the private sector using an insurance database is difficult and complex. As the Committee is aware, the performance and innovation unit and the Cabinet Office, under the ministerial sponsorship of my noble Friend Lord Falconer, are working so that we can come to a series of conclusions about how to deal with such matters.
With your permission, Mr. Sayeed, I should like to raise some points on clause 35. Important matters have been raised and I should like to place on record what the clause seeks to achieve. It enables the police to have bulk access to a motor insurance industry database, which will improve their ability to identifyand take appropriate action againstpeople who drive without insurance.
I was grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). Driving without insurance is a big problem that needs to be tackled more effectively. In 1998, there were 254,951 convictions for driving while uninsureda substantial number. The Association of British Insurers estimates that at least 1 million people drive while uninsuredabout 5 per cent. of drivers. Driving while uninsured is a crime in itself, but may be associated with vehicle theft and other forms of criminal activity.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): While we have this moment of agreement between usand I trust that it will be more than a momentdoes the Minister agree that driving while uninsured is also a crime against the victims of road accidents, who are often unable to get full compensation?
Mr. Clarke: That is precisely correct. It often causes tragedy and hurt to victims. That is one reason why we give high priority to attacking that part of the problem. The Motor Insurers Bureau meets the cost of accidents suffered by victims of uninsured drivers; clearly, that does not deal with the trauma of which the hon. Gentleman spoke. In the year 2000, the levy on insurance companies towards that end was expected to be about £215 million. In addition, the costs borne by insurance companies directly were thought to be at least as much again. Both sums are passed on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums, ranging on average from £15 to £20 per policyholder. That is substantial.
Giving the police bulk access to the motor insurance database will enable them to identify uninsured vehicles more easily and check the insurance status of the drivers. When records show that they have insurance, motorists will be spared the inconvenience of having to produce the necessary documentation at a police station. The police need bulk access to the database because the information is expected to be available to them at the roadside from July 2001, but access will be limited to individual inquiries. Bulk access will enable the police proactively to identify uninsured vehicles and drivers. That is why the proposal has the full support of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of British Insurers, the AA, the RAC Foundation and the Motorists Forum. It is widely supported by the industry and by motorists' organisations, for the reasons that I have set out.
It is intended that the police will have bulk access after January 2003I hesitate to provoke the hon. Member for Buckingham yet againwhen the fourth European Union motor insurance directive is implemented. The insurance database will contain a complete record of all insured vehicles and drivers. The database will hold all the information found on the insurance certificate, together with the address of the policyholder and information about additional drivers.
Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Clarke: I will just complete my presentation and then give way. The database will be matched against the DVLA vehicles register held on the police national computer to produce a subset of data that will consist of a list of registered, but uninsured, vehicles and can be used in conjunction with automatic number plate recognition systems. The technology is developingit was first used to deal with terrorists potentially threatening buildings in the City of Londonto detect uninsured vehicles and drivers.
Mr. Bercow: Has the final form of the European directive to which the Minister referred been determined in respect of its transposition into United Kingdom law? If so, can he tell the Committee the extent of the consultation and say whether the principal features of that process were published?
Mr. Clarke: I cannot answer that question off the top of my head. I should have prepared myself for that question, in the knowledge that anything with the initials EU would send the hon. Gentleman into a minor frenzy. I apologise for not doing so. However, as I am writing to members of the Committee about the directive that we discussed this morning, I shall enclose with it a copy of the directive under discussion now and set out the consultation process.
Mr. Bercow: I appreciate the good-natured reply of the hon. Gentleman, but he was anxious this morning to have some matters on the record and other matters removed from it. I therefore take the opportunity to confirm what any observer would detect, which is that I am not in a frenzyminor or otherwiseabout the matter. The directive might have merits; I was simply anxious to know the final form of the consultation. I am a model of passivity.