Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hughes: If I wanted to know tomorrow which French organisations—to take a random example—came within the definition in proposed new subsection (1A)(e), which starts:

    ``any person with functions in any country or territory outside the United Kingdom which—''

and so on, would I be entitled to know which organisations Interpol regarded as fulfilling that requirement? Is that a matter of public knowledge? If not, there is a problem with giving authority to nomination by a country and agreement by an organisation to which there is no public access.

Mr. Clarke: I think that I can be both helpful and unhelpful. I have been accused of being a Jekyll and Hyde figure. Now I will try to be such a figure in a single answer.

The unhelpful part of my answer is that, as I have made clear, we are not giving other organisations access to the database. The police here will have access to the data in the way that we have described, so the precise issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised will not arise. I will also try to be slightly helpful. I cannot say absolutely that we can list the organisations as described. However, if it helps, I will write to him with a perception of how we might address the question. Interpol is, of course, an organisation that has members in different forces in different places, and there are different legal structures in different countries. I return to my unhelpful answer: we will not give a French police force, for example, access to our data. It is all controlled by our police in the way in which we operate. I think that that answers the point.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful, and I understand the direction of the inquiry. Let me put another, perhaps more realistic, option. I may have been on holiday in Spain and ended up having a row with the relevant regional statutory body in control of tourism about the inadequacy of my bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Let us say that a penalty was imposed because it was regarded that I had not paid for my booking, and I was recorded on that Spanish public authority's register. If I had a concern when I returned here that I might be on that register in Spain as an offender or undesirable, could I check that, and the fact that Interpol or the UK police force could have access to that database, so that I could explain the situation if I needed to, and satisfy myself that I was not being misrepresented?

Mr. Clarke: I do not think that the Bill will give UK citizens the power to find out what data exists about them in other countries, simply because we cannot legislate for other countries. If the hon. Gentleman were on a Spanish tourist authority's database, the clause would not allow him to see his record. The clause is only about cross-checking fingerprints in such circumstances.

No organisation will have direct access to our records; all requests from abroad will be mediated through the Interpol desk at NCIS. That provides a strong safeguard for individuals in circumstances such as the hon. Gentleman described. I agree that the Bill does not deal with the way in which other countries legislate, but, as we are gradually increasing co-operation on data across the European Union, I would be surprised if he did not begin to enjoy such rights. However, the Bill does not cover that.

Amendment No. 273 would change ``places'' to ``countries''. ``Places'' in this context is deliberately vague—perhaps an alliance of the plain English campaign and the Criminal Bar Association would help us—because the subsection is designed to cover international tribunals that might be set up to deal with war crimes and other crimes against international law. It might be a moot point in such situations whether the areas involved are ``countries'', ``states'', ``provinces'', ``territories'' or just ``places'', whose status in international law is unclear.

Clause 81 deals with voluntary retention of samples given for the purposes of elimination. If volunteers consent to their fingerprints or samples being retained in such circumstances, that consent must be in writing. Before individuals give consent, it is right that they should be made fully aware of the circumstances under which it is given and that, once it is given, it cannot be withdrawn.

Therefore, we fully accept the spirit of amendment No. 275, on which there is no disagreement in principle between the parties. However, if it were accepted, parallel amendments would be needed to new section 64(3AC), which is inserted by clause 81, and to the parallel provisions for Northern Ireland in clause 82. The clauses already require written consent for the retention of volunteers' samples, and I can assure the Committee that guidance will be issued to the police to ensure that consent is fully informed and includes an acknowledgement that consent cannot be withdrawn once given.

The existing Home Office circular 16/95 will need to be updated to address the changes made by the Bill. I can also give the assurance that, following the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I will re-examine the Bill to see whether there is a better way of drafting the provisions. There is no argument in principle about them; the question is about the most effective way of proceeding. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn.

Mr. Hughes: I just want to be sure that I have heard accurately and understood. Is the Minister saying that there will be no retrospective change to the law and that, prospectively, the law will reflect the terms of amendment No. 275? Will that mean that, before people are asked to give their consent to fingerprints or samples, or to the checking of them through the search provision, they will be told that, once they give that consent, they will not be able to withdraw it? If so, will there be a guarantee to confirm objectively that those people have been told and have understood?

Mr. Clarke: Guaranteeing objectively that people have been told is perhaps easier than guaranteeing that people understand. Proposed new subsections (1C)(a) and (b) are explicit, which is why I said that the clauses already require written consent for retention of volunteers' samples.

I repeat my earlier assurance that guidance will be issued to the police to ensure that consent is fully informed and includes an acknowledgement that consent, once given, cannot be withdrawn. In that sense, the law will be prospective and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it cannot be retrospective. I can say nothing further on the matter. We have the law and the guidance, and I have given a clear commitment to accept the principle in the amendment. The guidance will have to deal with the burden of ensuring that there is some kind of objective test of the process or of consent having been given. As I emphasised, in principle there is no difference between us on the issue.

3.15 pm

Mr. Hughes: I understand that, but something should be included in the Bill. Guidance is fine but people should know beyond doubt that that is something to which they are entitled. Guidance does not have the same status.

Mr. Clarke: As I tried to say, it is a question of how the legislation is drafted. Proposed new subsections (1C) (a) and (b) provide clarity on the point. I can see that the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, but I think that it is the case. I have nothing further to say on the matter. I urge the Opposition to withdraw their amendment in the light of my assurances.

Mr. Blunt: I am sorry to detain the Committee and the Minister on the question of nationality but it is extremely important. The matter is of particular importance to Conservatives because issues of nation and identity are central to our policies.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend may not have heard the sedentary intervention from the Minister who, in response to the earlier point about the Conservatives being interested in patriotism, said that the Government have a Minister for patriotism.

Mr. Blunt: Of course—the Government need one.

We discussed the inclusion of ``British Islands'' in the clause. The debate has been positively Kafkaesque. When the Minister was asked to explain what it meant, he had to refer to another piece of legislation, passed 23 years ago, to give the definition. Our amendment proposes a form of words that express what the Minister purports to mean.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I wonder if the hon. Gentleman can cite any example, in the past 18 years, of when he or a member of his party proposed a similar amendment to a piece of legislation?

Mr. Gray: No—in a word. During the previous Government's term of office, I was serving my country in the armed forces—for which issues such as the one that we are discussing are of immense importance. A number of former colleagues in my Army regiment laid down their lives for such concepts as national identity. We have in the Bill a phrase that is defined in an Act that was passed 23 years ago—but are told that it is better than an amendment that says what it means.

It is extraordinary that the Minister will not accept the amendment. What is going on? I am no more paranoid than is usual for a Member of Parliament but I do not understand why the Minister is sticking on that point. If ``British Islands'' means what my hon. Friends propose in amendment No. 269, then let us, for goodness sake, put that in the Bill. Everyone will be able to read that and know what is being talked about. Anyone coming to the legislation for the first time and reading ``British Islands''—unaware, as I was, of a definition that was laid down 23 years ago, meaning something other than what one would think—would assume that the phrase means the British Isles, including the Republic of Ireland. It is bizarre that the Minister will not accept the amendment.

Mr. Clarke: The Police Act 1997 was cited. That Act applies to the United Kingdom; that is not the same as the British Isles—which is why the phrase was used. Why do we have the Interpretation Act 1978? It is a comprehensive statute that sets out how legislation is to be interpreted by giving a long list of terms and their definition in schedule 1. The purpose of the Act, with which I would have thought all hon. Members would agree, is to achieve consistency and clarity, and to obviate the need for repetitive definitions in each new Act of Parliament.

Of course there is room for the argument that the Interpretation Act 1978 should be amended and that we should accept the hon. Gentleman's definition of the phrase in question. However, I believe that we should stick with the consistent system that we have. If the hon. Gentleman wants to amend the Interpretation Act, he could use the House's time—through private Member's Bills or other means—to bring it into line with whatever political or national spasm preoccupies the Conservative party at any given time.

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