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Standing Committee Debates
Identity Cards Bill

Identity Cards Bill


Standing Committee B

Thursday 27 January 2005

Chairmen: Mr. Jimmy Hood, †Derek Conway, Janet Anderson

†Allan, Mr. Richard (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)

†Browne, Mr. Desmond (Minister for Citizenship

and Immigration)

†Casale, Roger (Wimbledon) (Lab)

†Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)

†Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)

Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) (Lab)

Jones, Mr. Jon Owen (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op)

†McCabe, Mr. Stephen (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

†Malins, Mr. Humfrey (Woking) (Con)

†Mercer, Patrick (Newark) (Con)

†Mole, Mr. Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)

†Mountford, Kali (Colne Valley) (Lab)

Oaten, Mr. Mark (Winchester) (LD)

†Prosser, Mr. Gwyn (Dover) (Lab)

†Robertson, John (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

†Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester) (Lab)

†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Salter, Mr. Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)

†Taylor, Mr. John (Solihull) (Con)

†Tynan, Mr. Bill (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

Colin Lee, Committee Clerk

†attended the Committee


[Derek Conway in the Chair]

Identity Cards Bill

9.10 am

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): I beg to move,

    That the Order of the Committee of 18th January be further amended by the substitution, in the Table in paragraph (3), of ''6.30 pm on Thursday 27th January'' for ''5.30 pm on Thursday 27th January''.

I understand that a copy of the motion has been circulated to members of the Committee. It is an amendment to the previous order, the effect of which is that we shall sit for one further hour this evening before the last knife on our deliberations. It has been discussed informally and agreed by all parties. The reason for the amendment is that we made much progress on Tuesday afternoon, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we should give ourselves the best possible opportunity to scrutinise the remaining parts of the Bill before we terminate our deliberations.

I take advantage of this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that I have written to you, Mr. Conway, and copied to members of the Committee a short letter that deals with the three outstanding points that I was unable to answer fully on Tuesday afternoon. The letter is dated 26 January and I made considerable efforts to ensure that it was available to members of the Committee yesterday evening. A copy of it is to be placed in the House of Commons Library.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): We are grateful for the letter that the Minister has supplied and thank him for his courtesy. We accept that it is always difficult when a Committee is in progress to deal with a query in a letter that can be received by members of the Committee in time for consideration at the next sitting. It puts huge pressure on the Minister. It is often considered that all the pressure is on the Opposition parties, but a great deal of pressure is often placed on the Minister.

We cannot object to the programme motion, but it is worth my pointing out that we will have to debate and scrutinise fully something in the order of 20 clauses, from clause 26 onwards, between our start after lunch and our conclusion. Give or take a bit, that is half the Bill and it is difficult to imagine that amount being debated fully in only one sitting of the Committee. Moreover, we must not only deal with those clauses, but discuss the important schedule 2, new clauses 1 and 2 and the new schedule. That will be extreme difficulties but, having said that, the Minister has been kind enough to amend the order to provide us with an extra hour for our discussions. Of course, an hour is not adequate, but it is certainly a move forward, to which Conservative Members cannot object and for which we are grateful.

Question put and agreed to.
Column Number: 322

Clause 20

Further uses connected with the

prevention and detection of crime

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 211, in page 18, line 43, leave out subsection (3).

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Conway. We have a great deal to do this morning, so I want to be very brief in my introduction to the amendment, which relates to clause 20. That is an important clause because it is about what the Secretary of State may do without an individual's consent. It becomes a very serious matter when the state takes powers to do things without such consent. Subsection (3) is very complicated, and the amendment is designed to probe the Minister about what it means.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): This amendment is helpful. Like other Committee members, I have worked through the clauses and the explanatory notes to try to understand the exact scope of this clause. It is difficult and complex.

To what extent are we talking about only the provision of information to people overseas? To what extent would that broaden the scope of our previous discussion on clause 19 about allowing information to be disclosed to other people and agencies in the United Kingdom, separately from the scope of that clause? We would like to discuss such issues more generally in the clause stand part debate.

During our discussions on this amendment it would be helpful to be given a greater understanding of the precise scope of the provisions in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Does the Minister see the clause as being specifically about the disclosure of information from the identity register to people abroad for overseas proceedings, or as applying more broadly?

Explanatory notes are usually very helpful. However, paragraph 132 of those for this Bill pretty much repeats the wording of the clause, and does not leave us any more enlightened. It also has an interesting variation on the spelling of ''overseas''—it spells it ''oversees'' twice. It is important that we get a statement from the Minister on the precise intention of the clause. Clearly, people will have additional concerns about the provision of data held by the UK Government to people overseas; when such data goes overseas, it will not be under the same control mechanisms as when it is held in the United Kingdom only. That is a natural area of concern, which I hope the Minister will clarify in his response.

Mr. Malins: I have little to add, save that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is entirely right. We are dealing with an important clause about the provision of information without the consent of the individual, an issue to which we shall no doubt return during the stand part debate.

Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), I had spotted the mistake in the spelling of ''overseas''. I am afraid to say that, having read subsection (3) and paragraph 132 of the explanatory notes two or three times, I was very little the wiser. The
Column Number: 323
amendment would omit subsection (3), on which we seek a full explanation from the Minister. Paragraph 132 is helpful in that it draws our attention to the ability to prohibit the provision of information without consent for use in overseas proceedings.

I shall make two points, to which I hope the Minister can respond. What sort of overseas proceedings are we talking about? Would they be those that deal solely with criminal charges and the like, and would the provision apply to every other country in the world? Will the Minister focus a little on the issue of control?

It is not unknown for certain matters not to be able to be published in our own press in this country, because of our domestic laws. That is very proper; matters might be subject to privilege or injunctions. Nevertheless, no such provision can extend to foreign websites and newspapers. Sometimes a person otherwise protected from the provision of information in this country, finds himself totally unprotected because it can be provided abroad. It would be helpful if the Minister took us through examples of what subsection (3) means, and we look forward to hearing from him.

Mr. Browne: This is an important clause. I will try to contextualise it and I may stray into a broader debate than the amendment demands. My comments can be carried over into the clause stand part debate if appropriate.

The clause sets out the relationship between the Bill and another important piece of legislation, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Specifically, the clause deals with how information from the register could be provided without consent for the purposes set out in that Act. Therefore, it is not restricted to the provision of information to overseas authorities, although that is the issue on which the amendment has concentrated.

To understand subsection (3) one must understand the context. Section 17 of the 2001 Act was enacted to ensure that public authorities could disclose information that was otherwise subject to statutory restriction on disclosure for the purposes of a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings.

Under section 17(2) of the 2001 Act, information that is subject to a statutory bar may be disclosed for the purposes of carrying out, initiating, bringing to an end or facilitating a determination of criminal investigations and criminal proceedings in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. That answers the hon. Gentleman's query about the sorts of proceedings. The 2001 Act restricts provision to those purposes I mentioned.

Clause 20 of the Identity Cards Bill ensures that information can be provided without consent for the purposes specified in the 2001 Act, provided the rules in clause 23 of the Identity Cards Bill are complied with. I will discuss those rules in due course. Subsection (3) would allow the Secretary of State to give a direction prohibiting the provision of information for use in specified overseas proceedings. That is a limitation on the power that exists in the 2001 Act and it mirrors the corresponding power in section
Column Number: 324
18 of that Act. All we have sought to do in subsection (3) is mirror the restriction and I will come on to give one example of where the restriction might be applied. The effect of the amendment would be to remove that power and that restriction.

The grounds on which the Secretary of State might prohibit information from being provided for overseas purposes under section 18 of the 2001 Act include where the Secretary of State considers that it would be more appropriate for any jurisdiction or investigation to be exercised or carried out by a court of the UK. Where, for example, the Secretary of State takes the view that it would be more appropriate to proceed with a prosecution in the UK rather than abroad, the Secretary of State can quite rightly withhold that information from the authorities abroad, so that it does not facilitate a prosecution. They are exactly the sorts of circumstances in which I think hon. Members would want the Secretary of State to be exercising such a power.

That simple response answers the point that was raised, although hon. Members might want to explore it further.

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Prepared 27 January 2005