Standing Committee F
Thursday 8 March 2001
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Gale. The Official Report of our 13th sitting, at column 561, contains an inaccurate transcription of the name of one of our senior researchers. I do not make this point of order by way of criticism, but he was given the name Steve Radford; for the sake of history, his name is Bradford. Some may regard that as an improvement, not least the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe). I should be grateful if the record could be corrected.
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman has made his point. It is now a matter of record.
Mr. Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 224, in page 66, line 32, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 67.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 269, in page 66, line 33, leave out `British Islands' and insert
`United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man'.
No. 270, in page 66, line 33, leave out `British Islands' and insert
`United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man'.
No. 271, in page 66, line 36, after `person', insert
`specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.
No. 272, in page 66, line 42, after `person', insert
`specified' in an order made by the Secretary of State'.
No. 273, in page 66, line 45, leave out `places' and insert `countries'.
No. 274, in page 67, line 3, at end insert
`(1AA) Any order made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1A)(e) or (f) above shall be made by statutory instrument; and no such order shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.'.
No. 275, in page 67, line 35, at end insert
`(1E) Prior to the giving of consent in writing under subsection (1C) above, the person giving the consent shall have the provisions of subsection (1D) above drawn to his attention in writing.'.
Mr. Hughes: The clause lists the agencies between which information can be transferred. The presumption seems to be that they can transfer information without further ado. The clause lists ``a police force'' and the ``National Criminal Intelligence Service''. There follows a list of other authorities and agencies, some of which are police. At the moment, police forces in the United Kingdom can transfer information between themselves, including fingerprint, database and DNA information. That relates to the questions that I asked this morning about fingerprinting and sample-holding arrangements, who can have access to them and how.
First, I understand that the clause will extend the power to check fingerprints not only to other organisations within the UK but to foreign police forces and organisations such as the Ministry of Defence police. Secondly, if someone volunteers to give information, fingerprints or samples and they are put into the general database, the clause would allow that permission to be extended to all the organisations listed.
With amendment No. 224, I want to test whether it is justified at this stage and in this one-off way to extend the list as the Government propose. The amendment would stop the list at the National Criminal Intelligence Service and remove the other organisations in the list. Amendments Nos. 269 to 275 were tabled by Conservative Members, and they will speak to them in a moment.
The general proposition that follows from amendment No. 224 is that it is important that the public as well as the police know who are the ``authorities''. I do not argue that we can necessarily and easily rationalise into a smaller number of police forcesalthough I believe that we should. However, we must justify including all those other forces and authorities in the provision.
I am also worried by lines 32 to 35 of the clause, which would also be removed by the amendment. They state:
``a public authority (not falling within paragraphs (a) to (c))''
so not a police force, not the National Criminal Intelligence Service and not the National Crime Squad
``with functions in any part of the British Islands which consist of or include the investigation of crimes or the charging of offenders''.
That could be interpretedalthough it is not intended to beas including local authorities. I say that because under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 there are new partnerships, and some decisions about the processes of local action involve local authorities by definition of that Act. A wide interpretation of the definition could allow local authorities to be included for reasons that we have debatedfor example, that it is the local authority that has designated an area for curfew purposes, or the like.
If the Minister is being less defensive than normal, he may accept that there could be ambiguity about the definition. If so, would he consider a definition that makes it clear that only public authorities who are, as it were, part of the law and order community are included? Will he clarify which public authorities are included? We should not legislate to include public authorities that are not included in the shopping list that we have in paragraphs (a) to (f) or the even bigger shopping list that we have from subsection (1B)(a) to (o). We do not know which other organisations may be included. We need to know whether other public authorities are involved, and if so, which.
During Home Office debates during the past yearI seem to remember the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) making this point about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000it has been said that we must be careful, when we list organisations to be covered, either to list them all accurately, or to define them by generic type so that we need not list them in the Bill. I wonder whether the clause is in danger of breaching that general, sensible proposition and not learning the lessons of last year, and whether, in any event, consideration should be given to whether the list should appear in a schedule, with a general proposition concerning the type of organisation in the Bill.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I can be relatively brief about our amendmentsNos. 269 to 275. We want to probe the Minister on several issues. I start with what is perhaps the simplest amendment. You cautioned us, Mr. Gale, against mentioning those who assist all of us, so I will not do so, but I urge the Minister to consider with his officials whether amendment No. 273 is much closer to the normal drafting. One does not normally read in legislation a phrase such as
``the law of one or more places''.
Surely, that should read ``countries'', as amendment No. 273 would provide. Even if the Minister cannot agree to that amendment today, I hope that on Report he will feel that our drafting is more felicitous. That is the simplest amendment, but there are one or two matters of slightly greater substance.
Amendment No. 272 deals with proposed new subsection (1A)(f) of section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which concerns
``any person with functions under any international agreement which consist of or include the investigation of conduct which isunlawful...prohibited... or contrary to international law''.
We think that there should be a requirement for such people to be specified by order made by the Secretary of State, and that is what the amendment seeks to do.
Amendment No. 274 is similar. It seeks to include a new subsection (1AA) at the end of the existing subsection (1A) saying that no order shall be made
``unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.''
We think that there should be an affirmative procedure, so that there would be some democratic scrutiny before such orders took place. On the Conservative Benches, we always believe that to be important, and we do so in this regard.
The same is true of the wording of our amendment No. 271, in that we are asking that the person be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State.
Amendments Nos. 269 and 270 are close to my heart, as an officer of the all-party Isle of Man group, or Manx group as it is sometimes called. Too often, this Government treat the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands with something that can only be describedand has been described within the House of Keysas contempt.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hawkins: In a moment.
The Home Office got into terrible trouble early in the life of this Government when it was trying to get itself out of a temporary bind relating to the former Paymaster General. Suddenly, without any consultation with the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, it introduced new provisions in relation to banking regulationmy own field as a lawyerand there were emergency debates seeking secession in the Isle of Man Parliament and in Jersey and Guernsey. For the Government to ignore the significance of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is, we believe, a grave mistake that will only lead to further offence. The peculiar phrase ``British Islands'' is a novel one to me and perhaps to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). We strongly urge the Minister, on Report if not today, to revert to the traditional wording of ``United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man''.
Mr. Gale, you will stop me if I trespass too far down the line of wondering whether some deference is being attempted towards those who wish to refer to the island of Ireland, as it may not be germane to these amendments. However, we are suspicious of any redefinition of this country as ``the British Islands'', for which there might be any number of reasons. Perhaps it is part of the Government's sinister regionalising agenda, or it could simply be due to the misunderstanding of our history that is prevalent in this Labour Government.