Social Security Fraud Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 21, page 23, line 22, leave out subsection (3).

The subsection is purely technical, and would not be in the Bill if it had not been initially considered in another place. It relates to privilege, and enables the Bill to pass between one House and the other. As there is a money resolution, and consideration in Committee has all but finished, the subsection can be removed.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New clause 2

Request for information

    `(1) Any individual subject to an inquiry under this Act shall be entitled to have access to all relevant information pertaining to that person which is held by the relevant agencies or bodies, except in respect of information which is the subject of a pending prosecution.

    (2) Any reasonable request for information made in accordance with subsection (1) shall be delivered in writing to the person making the request within 21 working days.'.—[Mrs. Lait.]

Brought up and read the First time.

Mrs. Lait: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I shall be brief. This debate is similar to a previous one, but it provides an opportunity to seek reassurance from the Government about the information that is the subject of a pending prosecution. The purpose of the new clause is to provide a further safeguard in the drive to prevent misuse of investigating powers and offer an element of redress for all claimants. A number of outside agencies have sought reassurance on this aspect of the Bill, and Liberty has commented that

    ``Full record should be kept of the use of these powers, both by the investigators and the people or organisations from whom information is requested . . . People should be told at the conclusion of an investigation that information about them has been disclosed and should be able to seek effective redress where powers have been exceeded.''

I would be grateful for the Minister of State's view on that.

Mr. Rooker: I think that I can satisfy the hon. Lady in relation to the new clause. It is drafted in such a way that it covers everybody—not merely the DSS and local authorities, but banks, utilities and the private sector, to which the early part of the Bill refers. That may or may not have been her intent, but there is no need for the new clause. Nothing in the Bill will enable the Government or the Department to contravene the Data Protection Act 1998. Anybody who has been subject to inquiries or about whom records have been kept can ask for access to that information. Indeed, new clause 2 largely replicates the access provisions. Everything that it would achieve is already provided, except that the Data Protection Act allows 40 days for compliance rather than 21.

We have not costed the effect on the private sector of 21 days rather than 40. We struggle to meet the requirement of 40 days. Our best endeavours are used to meet the legislative requirements, so it would be a real struggle to meet them in 21 days. When people have been investigated but no action takes place, the information that was used is destroyed afterwards. We are not allowed to keep information that we do not need. The subject's powers and rights are fully protected under the Data Protection Act. Nothing in the Bill will allow us to get round that or contravene it. I hope that, having said that, the hon. Lady will withdraw the motion.

Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for putting his clear view on the record. I am sure that many organisations will read it closely. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Mr. Rooker: I should like to place on record that this has been a special Committee for you, Mr. Maxton, and for me, as it will be our last—I think; the pension credit Bill could come before the House before the election, as the election is not due until May next year. I thank you for the way in which you have presided over our proceedings. I thank my hon. Friends for their support, and Opposition Members, including both the Liberal Democrats and the hon. Member for Beckenham and her team, although we did not see most of its members.

I hope that no one will believe that we have railroaded the Bill through. We have tried in the time available to tease out—I hope that the Opposition have teased out of the Government—the key aspects about which people are worried. The Bill has had a good going over in Committee and in the other place. I thank you, Mr. Maxton, the Clerk, Hansard and the Department of Social Security team that has put the Bill together on behalf of the Government.

Mrs. Lait: I add my thanks to you, Mr. Maxton. I should like to believe that this is not your valedictory appearance.

The Chairman: I would.

Mrs. Lait: The geniality with which you have chaired the Committee has, I am sure, had a general effect on proceedings.

I also thank the Clerk, the Hansard staff, the Department staff for being able to brief the Ministers on our points, my colleagues—those who are present—the Minister and the Under-Secretary. I doubt that the pension credit Bill will reach Committee before the Minister retires, but we shall return to the subject before any general election. I thank him and the Under-Secretary for the usual courtesy and help. Even though we may disagree, we have teased out some information, and I am grateful to all members of the Committee for allowing our proceedings to pass so smoothly.

The Chairman: I call Mr. Davey.

Mr. Webb: Or even Mr. Webb; I am grateful for the impact that I have made on the Committee.

I thank you, Mr. Maxton, for your genial but fair chairmanship, the Ministers for their responses, and the hon. Member for Beckenham, who has done most of the work in preparing amendments. More in sorrow than in anger, I observe that, when the Bill was considered in another place, it was subject to mature discussion and appropriate amendment. One always feels that that never quite happens in Committee in this House, which is a source of regret. We have had the time that the Committee felt that it needed to scrutinise the Bill and to make key points, and we are grateful for that.

The Chairman: I apologise, Mr. Webb. I was looking at the annunciator and automatically read the name on the screen.

I thank all three of you—the Minister and the hon. Members for Beckenham and for Northavon—for your kind remarks about me. Those who are present in the Room—the Clerk, Hansard staff and others who have to be present for our proceedings—will have heard your thanks, too. It has been a genial Committee, as much as a result of your efforts as anything that I have done. Whatever the Minister thinks about his doing another Committee, I have no intention of doing another.

I thank the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

        Committee rose at twenty-four minutes past Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Maxton, Mr. John (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Burden, Mr.
Burstow, Mr.
Eagle, Angela
Hepburn, Mr.
Humble, Mrs.
Lait, Mrs.
Mountford, Kali
Pearson, Mr.
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rooker, Mr.
Watts, Mr.
Webb, Mr.

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