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Lynne Jones: The Committee set the date of 7 February, but it would not have been aware that we would debate the Bill on Report so soon. Obviously, the Committee has not been given sufficient time to report to the House about whether it considers the Home Secretary's response satisfactory.
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. All those observations are truisms, but the workings of the Joint Committee on Human Rights are matters entirely for the members of the Joint Committee, and the timetable for their work and the priority that they give to their work are matters entirely for them. The Bill has been published in draft formsubstantially the same form as at presentfor some months now. I make no criticism of the members of that Committee. Indeed, I was a member of it at one stage
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and served with some members of the current Committee for whom I have the greatest regard. However, it cannot be a criticism of the Government that a Committee of the House adopted a certain timetablethat is the only point that I make.
Mr. Browne I will give way to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), as I understand that he is a member of the Joint Committee.
Mr. Shepherd: I am a member of the Joint Committee. Of course, the drumbeat of Home Office legislation that touches on human rights matters is so great that we are running behind the Government. That is the difficulty that this huge volume of legislation places on us, as well the constraints that lie within it. It is in the Government's gift to make reasonable the passage of Bills and the deliberation of Select Committees. That is what all this is about.
Mr. Browne: I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but I remind the House that, before the Government's incorporation of the European convention on human rights into the law of this land, there was probably no need in the House for the Joint Committee on Humans Rights.
Mr. Bercow: I am afraid that that simply will not do. I have the very highest regard for the Minister's ability, as he knows. Moreover, I do not on a daily basis make partisan points for the sake of itwhen the Government are right, I am quite happy to say sobut what we have just heard in relation to this matter from the Minister is a very shabby piece of buck-passing. No hon. Member on the Floor of the House is suggesting for one moment that the timetable for the activities of the Joint Committee, or those of any other Committee, should properly be a matter for the Minister. Does the Minister accept that one is entitled to say that the Government should operate on a joined-up basis? If the Minister did not know what the Whips Office had in mind when scheduling the Bill's consideration on Report and Third Reading, he certainly should have done. It should have been his priority to do everything that he could to ensure that the Joint Committee's report was available for consideration by Members well before today's debate.
I do not want this to turn into a mutual admiration society, but I have great regard for the hon. Gentleman, too, although he is perhaps inflating the debate on this issue slightly. The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been available to hon. Members for some time. Nothing that the Government have done has interfered in any way with hon. Members' ability to access the report. I thought that I would be able to cover this matter in a few minutes, but it has turned into a mini-debate of its own. However, hon. Members will agree that some comments that were made strongly implied that the Government delayed
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their response to the report and produced it at the last minute. I was merely pointing out that the Government responded within the Joint Committee's requested timetablealbeit one day outand that a further day's delay was required before the Joint Committee gave permission for the letter to be placed in the Vote Office.
Mr. Malins: I never attribute bad faith to the Ministerquite the reversebut now is the time for frankness. Does he think that it would have been helpful to the Standing Committee if it had had the benefit of the report during its deliberations? Does he also think that all hon. Members would have benefited if the Government had produced their report a little earlier? I am sure that he will be frank and say yes.
Mr. Browne: I will be frank and say yes. It would be nonsensical to say anything but that that would have been helpful. I am merely explaining to the House how events arose because although there was a clear implication that timings were manipulated, they were not.
In the few minutes that remain, may I try to reassure hon. Members who want to be satisfied that the Government intend the commissioner to work with teeth and be a formidable person? The Government's response to the report of the Home Affairs Committee made it clear that we accepted the recommendation that the national identity scheme commissioner should have a broader oversight of the whole scheme, which is provided for by clauses 24 and 25. The commissioner's remit will thus include examining the uses to which ID cards are put, the dealings of all recipients of information held on the register and the administration of the issuing of cards.
Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister specify the relationship of the commissioner with the Scottish Parliament and its Committees?
Mr. Browne: The commissioner will have no relationship with the Scottish Parliament and its Committees under the Bill's structure because we are not considering a devolved matter. There would be no reason for the commissioner to have a direct relationship with the Scottish Parliament.
Mr. Salmond: The Minister said that one aspect of the commissioner's remit will be examining the uses to which identity cards are put. Many of the uses to which they will be put in England will not be those to which they will be put in Scotland. How can the Minister maintain that that is of no relevance to the Scottish Parliament and its Committees?
Mr. Browne: I am not suggesting that the commissioner's actions will be of no relevance to the Scottish Parliament and its Committees. The hon. Gentleman asked me a specific question to which I gave a specific answer.
Hon. Members posed questions about the commissioner's ability to listen to specific complaints. The commissioner will of course be able to listen to specific complaints and will have a strong advisory role to the Secretary of State. I understand that there is a clear and established process if there are errors in the
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issuing of driving licences, which eventually ends with the possibility of judicial review, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) pointed out. The commissioner will be able to take individual complaints from people who are affected by the process and from people whose attempts to correct information on the register were not successful.
New clause 4 relates to the status of reports and information from the national identity scheme commissioner in respect of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The most important aspect of the new clause is that subsection (2) would make the commissioner a public authority under that Act. Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act lists all public authorities for the purpose of the Act.
I am grateful to Opposition Members for raising that. They are no doubt aware that it is not strictly necessary for the Bill to be amended because it is possible to add to the list of public authorities by order. The Government could do that later, which was our intention. However, as dealing with that important issue in the Bill has merit, I accordingly tabled Government amendment No. 56 to do just that. I must, however, reject subsections (3) and (4) of the new clause which relate to Freedom of Information Act exemptions for the formulation of Government policy
It being fifteen minutes to Four o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:
The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 233.
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