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Take an employment agency that is being inspected. The inspectors come across information relating to an individual seeking to take up a particular, sensitive job. It is discovered that that person has claimed large amounts of benefit. Let us call him Mr. AQ, just as an example of someone who might seek to do that. According to the framing of the House of Lords proposal, it would not be possible for that information to be shared. No one outside the House would thank us if we so restrained information giving and the sharing of concerns that Mr. AQ continued to draw benefits. It would be illegal to pass on the information required.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I fail to understand the Secretary of State's reasoning. If it were suspected that Mr. AQ is involved in terrorism and a threat to national security, under the terms of the Lords amendment the information could be shared. On the other hand, if we wanted to investigate Mr. AQ for benefit fraud, surely the correct way to deal with that would be through benefit fraud legislation, not anti-terrorism legislation.
Mr. Blunkett: But we would not know; that is the point. A Mr. AQ is investigated for a range of activities, including massive benefit fraud, and discoveredhe may be discovered, let us put it no more strongly than thatto be involved in or even wanted by security and intelligence services elsewhere. That is just a possibility, which even those on the Liberal Democrat Benches might concede to be fairly close to reality.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Does the Home Secretary not realise that a wide gate is opening, through which comes this proposition? Anyone suspected of any crime, or indeed anyone against whom there is evidence of any crime, may have applied to them the full rigour of measures that we could not justify for inclusion in normal criminal legislation. There is just a possibility, unsupported by evidence, that he might have a terrorist intention, but surely that is not the purpose of the Bill. Its purpose is to enable the authorities, if they have such a suspicion of a terrorist involvement, to bring into play powers not normally thought proportionate to the crimes involved.
Mr. Blunkett: I would not dream of doing to the right hon. Gentleman what Lord Ackner did to me on radio on Sundaypatronise him. Let me put it this way: the interchange described by the Leader of the Opposition on 26 September is the one that I am referring to, and I want to send it back to the House of Lords for reconsideration. I have described a tightening of the noose.
Take Customs and Excise rightly intervening on those who seek to smuggle, be it drugs, people or tobacco. It suspects that someone is undertaking a crime, but it needs to be able to share information, even if it has no proof. Remember that, in those particular circumstances, judicial review and the normal protections of the legal fraternity fall into play. There may be no suspicion of terrorist activity, but Customs and Excise needs to be able to share information with law enforcement agencies, knowing that a great deal of drug smuggling and other activity leads to the funding of terrorism, as the Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out.
Mr. Fisher: Can the Home Secretary explain how a suspicion may be arrived at if there is no proof of any sort against such a person?
Mr. Blunkett: Obviously, it must be late in the day and late in the week, because I am struggling to understand why my hon. Friend feels that a body involved in such dealingsas Customs and Excise is day in, day outthat had a reason to pass material to the police would do so other than because it suspected that something was amiss. [Interruption.] No, no. The restriction being imposed, if my hon. Friend would kindly read what the Lords have done, restricts to the point where a body has to suspect that a terrorist act is in the offing.
Mr. Fisher: Will the Home Secretary give way?
I know that my hon. Friend is trying to help me and to ensure that the position is clarified so that the law enforcement agencies can do their job effectively, irrespective of whether he feels that there should have been a separate Bill. I refer him to schedule 4, which contains a list of disclosure powers that would allow investigation, all involving a different time scale and a different premise. Before the Lords amended it, the clause sought to harmonise arrangements for the sharing of information in a way that would assist the apprehending of terrorists. That is where we started on Second Reading, and it is where we are today.
I think that we have made some progress, in that many who were worried are now less worried. In the Lords great confusion arose, rather than clarity, but we have sought to deal with that by discussing the data protection provisions that can be brought into play. It may help my hon. Friend and Opposition Members, however, if I say what I think we should also do.
As well as referring to the Data Protection Act 1998, we have indicated that the Human Rights Act 1998 would protect people from unjustifiable intrusion. Becauseas has just been illustratedthere has been so much worry and suspicion, my colleagues and I feel that we should ask our colleagues in the Lords, when they consider these measures tomorrow afternoon and evening, to clarify what we believed, and still believe, to be automatically the position under the Human Rights Act: that proportionality should apply in relation to the use of the powers we are discussing, so that a judgment can be made on whether those using them have taken into account the proportionality of their suspicions.
Norman Baker (Lewes): Does the Home Secretary accept that there may be disclosures, or sharing, of information of which an individual has and can have no knowledge, and that that individual will therefore be unable to invoke the Human Rights Act?
Mr. Blunkett: Yes. That is why my amendment helps: rather than having to apply the Human Rights Act retrospectively, or rely on agencies' familiarity with the terms of the Act, people would be able to understand the meaning of "proportionality" if it were built into the legislation and the guidance issued to such agencies.
We want to ensure that the Bill stands the test of time, and later we will discuss how Members might be accommodated in that regard. Given that we are trying to
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): The Home Secretary knows that I broadly support what he is trying to achieve in this regard, but I want to ask him a question that has, in part, already been asked from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Lords amendment No. 6 concerns national security and terrorist activity, which, as the Home Secretary says, are frequently linked. However, it uses the word "suspects", rather than referring merely to evidence. I wonder whether the Home Secretary is not going too far in opening the gate wider, and whether his lawyers may not have lead him to believe that the word "suspects" is wide enough to encompass what he is trying to achieve.
Mr. Blunkett: As I have said, we are building the concept of proportionality into the Bill. There are many "suspicions"; the action taken on the basis of those suspicions is the crucial issue, given that we are authorising action through the law. I think that if we can coalesce in ensuring that the suspicion leading to such action is proportionate, we can allay some fears.
We are resisting amendment No. 38, which relates to part 10, and Nos. 40 and 44, which relate to part 11. Our reasons concern the interface between what is needed to tackle terrorism directly and the picking up, as it were, of lines that lead to an understanding of how to pursue terrorists through a knowledge of organised crime and the actions of our services.
Some Members have expressed concern about the extension of powers. As I said in Committee, we have reflected and have sought to allay their fearsfor instance, in regard to the use of Ministry of Defence and British Transport police in areas outside their immediate jurisdiction. We have provided for the involvement of the Police Complaints Authorityin future, the independent Police Complaints Commissionin the event of problems, and the Bill already provides for considerable restraints.
The House of Lordsinadvertently, of course; no one would have done this intentionallyhas made the use of the MOD and British Transport police even more difficult than it is now. This week a British Transport police officer went beyond his jurisdiction at Finsbury Park station to help a serving Metropolitan police officer who was being attacked by a man with a knife. Both were quite seriously injured. British Transport police helped to restrain the man, who is now in custody.
No one, whatever their feelings or suspicions, would want us to constrain the ability of British Transport police to take such action; nor would they want the MOD police to be constrained if an aircraft crashed outside their jurisdiction, and they were called upon to help. Those are the terms in which we describe what we seek to do in regard to the extension of powers. There will clearly be some restraint, and some reference to the jurisdiction of either the emergency or the local police force.
I feel that, in trying to ensure that people did not go too far, the House of Lords has gone much too far itself. Let me give another example relating to parts 10 and 11. Those who have investigated these issues have no doubt that credit fraud, for instance, is a favoured method of fundraising among the terrorists groups with which we are dealing: that is a simple, known fact. Under our proposals, someone who believed that fraud had been committed at a restaurant but had no reason to connect it with terrorism would be able to share information. The enforcement agencies and security services are familiar with such activities, and with the networks involved in them, and can immediately pick up what traditional forces cannot do without the passing on of such information.