Draft Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) Order 2008

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Mr. Gray: What my hon. Friend is saying is fascinating. Am I right in thinking that there is a risk that relatively low level information or criminals may, by these means, become available to overseas legal authorities? Is that not part of a gradual increase in information held by the state and shared with other persons—the sort of thing that David Davis, the candidate for Haltemprice and Howden, is making a fuss about?
Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and I know that the Minister will want to pick up on his comment when she answers my very specific question—why are the threshold tests in the two orders different? One is serious criminal conduct and the other is not. Can she furnish us with an explanation of the rationale behind the differences in the protocol? What did the British Government do at the time of the negotiations in Brussels?
We are here to test propositions and to look at the detail of sensitive issues. We all want the best possible legislation to crack down on terror. We all want to be tough on terror, but it does the House no good if we cannot understand or sign up to specific measures. The orders have different threshold tests. We are entitled to an explanation why Brussels negotiated in the way that it did and what the British Government did at the time of those negotiations.
Section 44 of the 2003 Act enables judicial and prosecuting authorities to make outgoing requests—in other words, to other countries—for account monitoring orders. Section 45 provides that those requests will be forwarded to the participating country by our Secretary of State.
I shall make a general point, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire touched upon earlier. Those people following the debate will probably have at back the back of their minds the thought that the United States authorities, for understandable cultural reasons, are quite hyperactive when it come to exercising their extraterritorial reach. There is no question but that that is a matter of public interest, as we saw in the debate about the NatWest three. I shall not detain the Committee with the rights and wrongs of that complicated issue or challenge the Government’s response to it. I am making a separate point. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wrexham is chuntering. Does he wish to intervene?
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the NatWest three pleaded guilty to criminal offences in the United States?
Mr. Ruffley: I will confirm that. I just said that I was not seeking to go into the rights and wrongs of that extradition process. I was making the separate point that in the newspapers, as the commentariat pointed out, there was a certain amount of regrettable anti-Americanism in the debate. It was suggested that the Americans were trying to exercise powers that we did not have commensurately. There was a great deal of concern, which was perhaps misplaced—I am not making a judgment on that—about the alleged extraterritorial reach of the United States authorities. That issue is likely to be triggered again when people look at the order. It reached the pages of the Daily Mail within the last week and has been represented in a way that I will go on to describe shortly. We do not need Ministers grimacing; we need them to listen and answer the questions, please, because the matters are extremely serious. This is not just a lazy Wednesday afternoon on which to nod stuff through. If the Minister shakes her head and starts grinning, I get the impression that she is not terribly interested in this serious debate.
Meg Hillier: I am concerned that the record in Hansard will suggest that I am not taking the debate seriously, not listening and not concentrating, and that, while taking notes[Interruption.] I think that somebody dares to suggest from a sedentary position that I was laughing. That was not the case. I want it to be clearly on record that I take this matter very seriously. I am the Minister responsible for mutual legal assistance. That is essential to protect the public in this country, just as it is essential to have proper international co-operation that is on a good legal footing and with safeguards. I have laid that out and I will happily answer the hon. Gentleman’s other points in my closing remarks.
Mr. Ruffley: I am delighted to have got the Minister’s attention. The matter of extraterritorial reach, as raised by the case of the NatWest three, potentially arises regarding this order. Will the Minister tell us how many requests for customer information orders have been received by Her Majesty’s Government? How many requests have been received for account monitoring orders in the past three years? How many have been granted by a judge, and how many have been refused? Before we amend the law through this order, we should have those basic facts.
When the 2003 Act passed through the House, the British Bankers Association highlighted concerns that customer information and account monitoring orders might be used for speculative inquiries. Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State has taken a hard line against such fishing expeditions from other countries so that private sector time has not been wasted and citizens’ rights have not been affected? Perhaps she could answer that question by giving me specific figures on the number of orders granted and the number of requests that have been chucked out.
The civil liberties issues that are prompted by the order appeared on page 2 of the Daily Mail on 30 June—I am sure that the Minister will have read that and will be prepared. I do not necessarily support the comments that I am about to read out, but they pose a question for the Minister. The report said:
“American intelligence agencies may soon be able to access the most private and personal details of British citizens”.
Referring, we assume, to the order, it went on to say:
“The deal will make it easier for American law enforcement organisations to obtain private information from banks, credit card firms and other companies...But the deal came under attack from former shadow Home Secretary David Davis,”
who made a point in relation to civil liberties. On 30 June, he said:
“Given this Government’s disastrous failure to protect data, whether losing 25 million child benefit records in the post or laptops containing sensitive security information, the public”
The Chairman: Order. I am not quite sure of the relevance of that.
Mr. Ruffley: That is a comment from the former shadow Home Secretary about the order that we are discussing. I am happy to be guided by you, Mr. O’Hara, but the comment is not a general one; it is in relation to the order.
The Chairman: It is a quotation.
Mr. Ruffley: It is a quotation and I hope that it will be in order for that reason. The former shadow Home Secretary went on to say:
“the public will have real concern about the wholesale transfer abroad of its personal data, under a set of diluted safeguards negotiated in Brussels”.
That is the reference to the order.
The report stated that the director of Liberty said:
“We can barely trust our own authorities with sensitive personal information. What redress will we have on the other side of the Atlantic if our details are lost or abused?”
The report concluded—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central, who is a former Minister, is chuntering. If he has anything sensible to say, I would be grateful if he would intervene.
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman sounds like he is making a party political broadcast for somebody who is running in an election in this country in a few weeks’ time—[Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. I have ruled that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is quoting from a reference to the order in a newspaper. That is in order.
Mr. Caborn: I was asked to intervene. I make the point again very clearly: the quotation sounds like a party political broadcast, and that is quite deliberate in my view.
Mr. Ruffley: I think that the record will show that we are talking about a former shadow Home Secretary in reference to this order. The report continues:
“One source at the department said that as a result of the deal, the U.S. was likely to ask for full details on everyone visiting from Europe.”
That was attributed to the US Department of Homeland Security. I wonder whether the Minister could put all our minds at rest and tell us whether she is aware that that is the intention, if this order goes through. If the answer is no, as I hope that it will be, we will be delighted to hear that. The report is out there, so she will no doubt want to put it on record that the Department of Homeland Security is not looking to acquire information from everyone visiting from Europe. This is far from a party political set of questions. I am asking for specific answers, on record, to questions that are in the public domain and that relate to this order.
The BBA represents 251 banks in the United Kingdom, including 99 designated small or micro-businesses, as determined by former Department of Trade and Industry definitions that relate to numbers of employees in those businesses. Will the Minister tell us what the impact of customer information orders on a micro-bank might be and what assessments she has made in relation to micro-banks?
There will be extra costs to all British banks as a result of their obligations to meet requests from the United States of America, subject to that order being granted by a UK judge. Banks will have to carry some costs because in complying with these measures, they are helping in the fight against terror and also complying with British law.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has made much of medium-sized and micro-businesses. Is he aware of those small businesses dealing in currency exchange that manage to channel large amounts of money through their books without it showing on the books? Is he aware of such enterprises? The nominal size might have little or no relevance to the degree of criminal activity that takes place within them.
Mr. Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. If the order goes through, costs will be imposed on businesses, be they big, small or medium, but we make no special pleading for businesses. They must comply with the law. If there is a cost attached to complying with the law, they will pay it. No one has any difficulty with that. Be they big or small, businesses must help in the fight against serious organised crime and terrorism. However, it would be useful if the Minister could tell us whether she or any other Government Department has had discussions with the BBA about what the estimated future costs might be.
When the original mutual legal assistance agreement was made between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the Home Office conducted a partial regulatory impact assessment to assess the costs to business of implementing that agreement. Has the Minister undertaken an up-to-date impact assessment, or does she plan to undertake a further assessment in relation to the additional costs that will undoubtedly arise as a result of the United States entering into the arrangements as a participating country?
3 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
3.15 pm
On resuming—
Mr. Ruffley: I was coming to regulatory impact assessments.
Mr. Gray: I was about to raise a point that my hon. Friend might not have noticed. Paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum states that
“An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as it has no impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies.”
I shall leave aside the general point of principle, which is that, if no impact assessment has been prepared, how it is known that the order has no impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies? I just thought that my hon. Friend might like to know that that is the conclusion that has been reached.
Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend has made an important point, to which I am sure that the Minister will respond.
The total cost of the mutual legal assistance agreement to the private sector was placed at between £1.262 million and £2.518 million. Does the Minister have any information about the new figures or is that work being undertaken? The Small Business Service suggested in the Home Office assessment that there
“should be a limit for the amount of time spent per bank per search, and this could be considered in more depth while guidelines are produced”.
Will the hon. Lady confirm that the guidelines have been produced and say whether they contain a limit, as suggested by the Small Business Service?
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): If, during the Division, the hon. Gentleman reflected on what he had said moments before, I am sure he would have realised that he was scaremongering to little end. Of course, it is possible under the order for the Americans to ask for any information they like, but they will receive such information only if it is within the terms of the order and approved by the British authority. The hon. Gentleman seems to have started the second part of our proceedings in a more sober mood. I hope he accepts that the Orwellian rant that we heard a few minutes ago was not appropriate and that it served only to demonstrate that the Conservatives support anti-terrorist measures such as the order reluctantly, if at all. Will he support the order?
Mr. Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman has not appreciated an important distinction. Of course, he was correct that orders monitoring customer information can be granted only by a United Kingdom judge. If the four tests are not met, there will be no question of an order being granted or a person’s details being disclosed to American authorities. That is clear, but that was not my point.
I was arguing about the number of requests that might come from the United States authorities. A source was quoted. I shall repeat it because the hon. Gentleman has clearly not understood the distinction, so I shall refresh his memory. I am referring to the number of possible requests that might be made by the US authorities that we will then have to sift. There could be tens of the thousands because the source from the Department of Homeland Security who was quoted in the Daily Mail on 30 June said that, as a result of the order, the US was
“likely to ask for full details on everyone visiting from Europe.”
I hope, as the hon. Gentleman probably does, that British judges will chuck out many such requests. To be more precise, the Secretary of State will receive the requests and, hopefully, she will chuck them out. [Interruption.] Is the hon. Gentleman paying attention? He asked a question and I am happy to give him an answer.
Do we want the Home Secretary to be bombarded with requests? Let us consider the circumstances if the statement from the source—unnamed, unfortunately—at the Department of Homeland Security in the United States is correct. Does the Minister have any knowledge of the alleged proposal that details of everyone visiting from Europe could be the subject of a request from the US authorities to the United Kingdom? That is a perfectly fair question.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I do not know the emanation of that unattributable quote from an anonymous person in the Daily Mail, but I am sure the quote is strong empirical evidence for the hon. Gentleman’s argument. Is he persuaded that he is not mixing two things? One is the new arrangements for passenger name recognition, which have been discussed between the Department of Homeland Security and Europe, and the other is the order before us. If he is confusing those two things, that does not contribute to the elucidation of the Committee. My question was genuine.
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