Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

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Mr. Garnier: I hope that those are a few examples among many, rather than all the information available to the Home Office. Of course the crimes that the Minister mentioned are important and it is excellent that they were detected and convictions arrived at. However, we need to be persuaded that a lot more practical work is happening as a consequence of this order; otherwise, it would be a disproportionate measure.

Hazel Blears: I absolutely assure the Committee that those are simply examples that I have given of counter-terrorism work and serious crime work. Clearly, that kind of access is becoming day-to-day business for many of our law enforcement agencies and is used in a range of cases and investigations. I would detain the Committee for a lengthy period if I were to go through them in detail, but I am happy to give the hon. and learned Gentleman that assurance.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked whether substantial barriers remained in the negotiations. I assure him that there are not, although there are still complex technological issues to be negotiated as the technology changes and develops. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough highlighted paragraph 7.8 of the explanatory memorandum, which gives the absolute reason why we want to extend the initial period. We are dealing with a complex process of conception, design, evaluation and implementation. When we introduced the initial
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voluntary code of practice we thought that within a relatively short time we would be able to see how it worked and whether it gave us enough levers; it does not do so because the area is more complex.

The persons who can have access to the data are primarily law enforcement and police security services for preventing and protecting, and to safeguard national security. Information is also available on a restricted basis for protecting public health and safeguarding public safety in emergencies to protect lives that could be at risk. It is available to trading standards and environmental health officers in certain narrowly defined circumstances under the Regulatory and Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and could be available for medical and health care regulatory bodies in respect of dangerous medicines. That is the information I have and I put it on the record that it is not simply a matter for the police and security services alone; it extends to other agencies but in restricted circumstances.

Mr. Garnier: What the Minister said is rather significant. The list of agencies and contingencies that she outlined were hugely reminiscent of the terms of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, too. There may be a read-across, but before we pass the order it is important that the Government are candid about the full extent of its reach. It is one thing to accept the need for the police and the security services to intercept communications, but another when one starts moving down into the lower levels of Government administration, although it is no doubt done for good reason. We have not quite got down to the weights and measures department, but it looked as if we were heading that way when the Minister read the list just now.

Lord  Commissioner  of  Her  Majesty’s  Treasury (Joan Ryan): This is a long intervention.

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Mr. Garnier: It is a long intervention because it is an important piece of secondary legislation. We are prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, and I hope that the Minister will not leave the Committee Room thinking that she—

The Chairman: Order. I think the Minister has got the picture.

Mr. Garnier rose—

The Chairman: Order.

Hazel Blears: I have it loud and clear, Mr. Caton. We are not debating the order that gives various public bodies the right to access the communications data; we are debating whether we should continue to keep open the initial period within which the Government might give directions to service providers that they have to retain the data. The provisions in the Regulatory and Investigatory Powers Act 2000 have been debated at length in primary legislation and in statutory instrument 2003/3172, which lists the public bodies that can access communications. Parliament will have given that statutory instrument proper scrutiny in terms of confirming the public bodies that were to be included.

I was asked whether private individuals had access to the data. They have access under the Data Protection Act 1998—subject to access rights—so they can find their own data in that regard. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Retention of Communications Data (Further Extension of Initial Period) Order 2005.

Committee rose at nine minutes past Five o’clock.

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