Draft Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) Order 2002

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Beverley Hughes: I cannot recall whether we set a time scale but I expect to meet with the industry, if it wishes, in perhaps September to find out how the dialogue is going and to take a further sounding of its views. In the meantime, discussions will continue among the industry, the Home Office and representatives of the police. The Association of Chief Police Officers has offered to meet directly with the industry and to work through issues with it. We are committed to continuing to work with the industry.

We must think creatively about how to work through some of the concerns. It is accepted that there will not be a short-term solution to everything and that we must focus on an incremental phasing-in of what is workable and of operational use to police initiatives to counter terrorism. It is important that both sides recognise the principle behind the power and that both sides have undertaken to continue consulting and working together on the implementation framework, as that is very constructive. Although the power will come into

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force 30 days after the order is made, we will not attempt to implement anything before further discussion and agreement.

In addition, the police have made it clear that there will be no requirement for domestic carriers to undertake routine collection of information requirements specified in the order.

Mr. Hawkins: In the press release following last Thursday's meeting, the Home Secretary said that he was prepared to guarantee not only future ministerial meetings, but an acceptable trigger mechanism at each stage of the phased requests to the industry for additional information. Will the Minister confirm that now, so that we have it clearly on the record?

Beverley Hughes: We do not expect that we would want to implement whatever the next phase might be until we and the industry are clear that it was feasible. At the meeting, I acknowledged to the industry that we need two things; a timetable and a framework for implementation, and a mechanism for ensuring that that is adhered to. We must guarantee that that is adhered to. Requests will be made to the police at the local level. Therefore, we need to ensure that what is discussed at the meetings is communicated to local police forces and border agencies, so that the timetable is also adhered to at the local level. That is what the Home Secretary was referring to.

Mr. Reid: If I understood the Minister correctly, she gave an undertaking that the police would not use certain of the powers that this legislation gives to them. However, as she has ministerial responsibility only for the police forces in England and Wales, how can she give any assurances on behalf of police forces in Scotland?

Beverley Hughes: That is a weak attempt to raise something that is not really an issue at all. The entire police force accepts its part in this process, and I have no doubt that officers will adhere to it, regardless of whether they are in Scotland or England. Once the power is in place, it will be necessary to take those kinds of local circumstances into consideration, and the enforcement agencies intend to work closely with carriers at the local level—wherever that might be—to ensure that there is a proportionate, triggered and timely implementation of the powers.

I remind hon. Members that these powers fall under the Terrorism Act 2000. Therefore, they will also be scrutinised by the independent reviewer of that Act, Lord Carlisle. He is currently in the first year of a three-year review cycle of the Act; that will provide another mechanism for ensuring a specific review.

David Burnside: If I correctly understood what I heard, domestic carriers will face different requirements with regard to security information from international carriers. Will the extra requirements on international carriers produce bottlenecks at international airports?

Beverley Hughes: As it is currently worded, the order does not differentiate between international and domestic carriers. What I said—I wanted to put it on the record—was that the police have indicated that they will not request any information from domestic

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carriers for within-UK flights unless there are very exceptional circumstances.

David Burnside: That is not very good security.

Beverley Hughes: I am not sure whether the industry would take that view.

Simon Hughes: Does the Minister accept that the industry's current position is that a lot of the categories of information that are listed in the schedule cannot be electronically scanned, that therefore there would have to be data-inputted collection if those categories were asked for and that the industry does not currently have the facility to check whether the information that is provided in those categories is correct? If that is the case, what does the Minister propose should happen, and what is her best estimate, having taken advice, of the delay—either per flight or per day—that this will cause to boarding an airline?

The Chairman: Order. Interventions should be brief. I have castigated the hon. Member for Surrey Heath with regard to that and, as I must be even-handed, I also remind the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) of that requirement.

Beverley Hughes: I accept that two pieces of data listed in the schedule are not in the machine-readable zone of documentation, so there will have to be special consideration of those. Home address, which we have mentioned, is one of them. I also accept that not everyone has machine readers, and that factor should be considered for even those items of data in the travel document that are machine-readable.

However, in working out with the industry how we can operationalise the schedule, it is important that we do not consider mechanisms that would lead to long queues in airports and ports, as that would clearly be an inconvenience to passengers. Also, as members of the industry said at our meeting, it is not a benign situation from a security point of view to have many people waiting for a long time. Certainly, we would not want that.

There were suggestions at the meeting that we should collect the information in ways that build on current practices, and we want to explore that with the industry. In general, I accept the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey makes. However, we do not want the kind of mechanisms that result in long queues. I am confident that we can find ways forward on that issue.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being very generous in accepting interventions. I should like to make an important point. Some representatives of the industry have suggested that one way to deal with passenger queues is to ensure that many of the requirements are not checked at the check-in desk. Will the Minister confirm that on 14 April 1998—in the year after the Government came into office—outbound passport control was removed? In practise, the order puts back some of the outbound checks that were previously made by an arm of the Government, but

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it now places all the obligations on the private sector industry carriers.

Beverley Hughes: As the schedule relates to journeys in and out of the UK, and as we are moving towards collecting information on inward and outbound traffic, we need the information in both directions. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the motivation for the order is to transfer a job that the Government used to do on to the private sector. The measure offers a more coherent way of getting information from people going in both directions. As I have stressed throughout this debate, we want to do that in ways that minimise the impact on the industry, and we want to help it as much as we can.

I am grateful for both sides' continued involvement in, and contributions to, the consultation and am grateful that they have helped us to get this far in our list of requirements. I look forward to working with them on the implementation. At all stages, the emphasis has been—and will continue to be—on co-operation and proportionality, on enabling the legislation to work and on enhancing national security. That is what the order is all about, but we must work in feasible ways that relate to the issues that the industry will face in assisting us.

To summarise, the Home Secretary, together with his Ministers, has heard the concerns of the industry, and intends that the consultation should go on. He makes it clear that consultation about incremental phasing will take place and will involve discussions between the industry and the enforcement agencies on how to make the measures work, and about drawing up a blueprint for taking them forward. I commend the order to the Committee.

5.9 pm

Mr. Hawkins: Although we recognise that the Government are seeking to take important steps in relation to combating terrorism, Opposition Members are concerned that, from what we are told by the most senior representatives of the airlines, much of what has been done has been rushed. We would not want to oppose something that the Government—on advice—believe may help in combating terrorism, but we would like to place on record our serious worries and those of senior people in the industry, and in the airlines in particular. The strong suggestion is that there has been a failure to consult properly, even though a clear promise was made in writing from ministerial officials to the industry that, before the measure was brought forward, there would be further consultation. That clear promise has been broken. At the beginning of the meeting with the industry last Thursday morning, no less a person than the Home Secretary apologised to the industry, and explained that he had pressed the accelerator pedal to bring the measure forward and that that promise of consultation had been broken.

I accept that the order is only an enabling measure, as the Minister has explained, and that further consultation will now take place. However, even in such an important area as anti-terrorism measures, if a clear promise had been made by senior officials that there would be further consultation before legislation was brought forward, it should have been kept.

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