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Norman Baker: Opposition Members do not draft legislation. We draft amendments and point out faults in the Government's proposals. It is for the Government to produce measures that are proportionate and meet the objectives that they have set out. Opposition Members' duty is to point out disproportionate measures that could have a huge impact on civil liberties. It is up to the Government to respond to the concerns expressed in this debate, among Labour Back-Benchers, in the other place and elsewhere that the Bill is disproportionate and could have deleterious effects.
Beverley Hughes: I should like to press the hon. Gentleman a little further on the second question that I put to him. Representations received by the Home Office from communication service providers deal with the question of how they could make work measures that are limited only to national security. The Bill gives service providers a legal power to retain data, but their problem is how to distinguish data that might be shown to be linked to national security from data that are not. The providers say the amendment is not workable.
Norman Baker: The Minister advances an odd proposition. The Government must produce a code, and they must consult to ensure that it meets the objections that the Minister has expressed. She proposes that, because one person may be caught in a particular net, we should catch all information relating to any person who happens to be near that net because that person may fall into the category that the she has set out. That is an odd suggestion. It confirms the unease felt by many hon. Members that the Government are less than focused when it comes to the question of who should be caught by the Bill.
Simon Hughes: Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), I am a lay person on this issue. However, if I were a user and transferrer of data, I might one day send entirely innocent communications that were totally unrelated to crime and the next day send information that might be related to crime. How would the providers be able to distinguish
Norman Baker: My hon. Friend makes the point very well, and the Government have to respond to it over the next 24 hours or so if they are to convince us and others that theirs is the right way forward.
I do not wish to take much more of the House's time, because I know that other Members wish to speak. However, the House of Lords has done us a favour by considering the Bill in rather more detail than we have had the time for. If the House authorities had provided more time for Second Reading and the Committee stage in this House, we would not have had to consider the range of amendments that the Lords have made to the Bill. I hope that the Government will learn the lesson that they should give the Commons more time for Second Readings and Committee stages and should not rely on the House of Lords to do the work that should be done initially in this place.
I hope that the Government will also reflect on the fact that the new and modified House of Lords, which is the Prime Minister's own creation, has inflicted a huge number of defeats on the Government in relation to this Bill. Even though there was agreement on the principle as to where we want to get to, it inflicted those defeats by very large majorities. I hope that the Government are listening to thatI think they areand will reflect on the specific, focused points that the House of Lords has made. We are not convinced that it is appropriate to have such a wide-ranging definition in the Bill. We therefore support the Lords amendments and we hope that the Government see their merit.
We welcome the movement that the Government made in the House of Lords on third-pillar matters and particularly on sunset provisions and on the improved and more specific wording. We, too, are at loss as to why the Government have tabled amendments to the Lords amendments and, in particular, want to insert paragraph (e) to Lords amendment No. 48. Such provisions are too far reaching and are not merited under the emergency provisions in the Bill. As the hon. Member for West Dorset said, I hope that the Government will consider withdrawing that provision.
We support the Lords amendments. We hope that the Government will take a few more steps towards making the Bill the one that we all want it to beone that deals effectively with terrorism, but without taking away our civil liberties.
Mr. Fisher: I join others in thanking the Home Secretary for his constructive and courteous attitude. It set a helpful tone for the debate and recognises that both sides of the House agree with his objective, which is to get at terrorists and ensure that they do not go undetected. That aim unites us all.
When the Minister responds to the debate, will she say something more about the relationship between suspicion and disclosure? Surely, for a variety of reasons, if suspicion is to be targeted on the objective that we all share, it has to be based on evidence. If it is not, it will
Such an approach involves not only a good principle of legal practice but, as Opposition Members have said, makes good practical sense. Of course, the Home Secretary made the perfectly fair point that the relationship between crimeand sometimes even misdemeanourand terrorism is complicated and that the one may lead to the other. We all agree that there is a link that may be helpful in detecting terrorism and in bringing terrorists to justice.
When the Home Secretary gave the example of credit card fraud, he appeared to encourage the idea that anyone who identified such fraud should bring it to the attention of the security forces. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) pointed out, that would lead to the most absurd situation in which the police and the security forces would be deluged with unhelpful and unfocused information that would all have to be sifted just in case those committing fraud were involved in terrorism.
Surely, to provide practical help to the security forces and to the police, there must be a more evidential base to suspicion than simply the existence of a misdemeanour or crime. Unless we support the Lords amendment and focus more on the problem than the Bill's wording does, we will not assist the security forces and the police to focus their concerns on the things that matter and not on generalised suspicions.
I may have misunderstood the position. As the Home Secretary knows, I am not a lawyer. However, because of that real danger, I intend to support the Lords amendment unless he can reassure the House and those of us who still have reservations about, as the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said, relatively few aspects of the Bill. We need to be reassured that the provisions for suspicion focus on the main objectives and will not lead to a trawl through many types of crime in a way that will not help the security forces to achieve the aim that we all share of identifying terrorists and bringing them to justice.
Mr. Burnett: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we cannot live in a Stalinist world in which every Tom, Dick and Harry reports this, that or the other? Something must precipitate the inquiries. There must be suspicion and that suspicion will almost always be related by the security forces to the police, who will then be able to act according to the terms of the Lords amendment.
Mr. Fisher: I concur entirely with the hon. Gentleman. However, as I have nothing more to add, I shall draw my remarks to a close.
Beverley Hughes: I wish to reply to some of the points that hon. Members have raised. Clearly the common thread in these Lords amendments is the extent to which there is a link between terrorism and non-terrorist crime. However, the fettering of the proposed powers in the Bill to deal with only those crimes that relate to national security or terrorism would be a serious impediment to the police and the other law enforcement agencies getting at terrorists.
Simon Hughes: We just do not accept that the current terms of the Bill, with the width of the door through which
Beverley Hughes: The Government disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that. The key issue is the point at which public authorities, communication service providers or the police have to make the decision about using the powers in the Bill. They will or will not be able to foresee a link between terrorism and crime. The point that the law enforcement agencies strongly stress is that, at that stage, faced with information or a body of evidence, an assessment is often extremely difficult, until pieces of information from different sources start to be put together and the picture of the jigsaw that might point to terrorism can emerge.
Simon Hughes indicated dissent.