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Communications Data Consultation

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I have today published a consultation, “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment”, which addresses the issue of communications data. The consultation explains how existing access to communications data by the police, security and intelligence agencies and by others helps protect and safeguard the public; how the rapidly changing communications environment will make it harder for these agencies and other authorities to obtain access to these data when they need to do so; and the measures we need to take to maintain existing police and agency capabilities in the future. It rules out the option of creating a central database to collect and hold communications data. I am inviting views on the changes we propose and how we will continue to strike the balance between respect for individual privacy and protection of the public.

Communications data are information about a communication not the content of that communication. For a given telephone call, communications data can include the telephone numbers involved, and the time and place the call was made, but not what was said. For an e-mail it might include the e-mail address from which the message was sent, and to where it was sent, but not the content of the message.

Used in the right way, and subject to important safeguards to protect individuals’ right to privacy, communications data can play a critical role in keeping all of us safe. It enables investigators to identify suspects and their associates; provides vital clues in solving life-threatening situations such as kidnaps, and evidence supporting alibis and prosecutions; supports lawful interception of communications; and assists the emergency services to help or locate vulnerable people. It is also critical to safeguarding our national security, and in particular to countering the terrorist threat.

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Communications data are currently retained by the communications companies for their own business purposes and access by public authorities to any of that data is tightly regulated under the safeguards specified in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and overseen by the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

The existing regulatory framework which governs access to communications data is based upon the principles of necessity, proportionality, oversight and accountability. Communications data are as vital a tool for investigating and prosecuting crime for our international partners as they are for the UK. Many other countries will face a loss of this capability due to the technological changes in the communications industry. Although other countries will face the same challenges as the UK, we will be among the first to be affected for several reasons:

Some of these new services will be offered by the companies in the UK that operate the existing communications networks, but many others will be offered by overseas companies outside of UK jurisdiction. They have no need to retain data or provide agencies and the police here with access to it. Consequently, it will become increasingly more difficult to obtain the communications data needed to support public safety. We therefore need to take action to maintain this crucial capability, ensuring that the necessary strict safeguards are retained.

The consultation rules out creating a central database of communications data. However, doing nothing in the face of these changes is also not an option. Therefore I am inviting views on other ways in which current capabilities can be maintained in future. Communications companies will continue to be at the heart of the proposed system. They would continue to store data as they do today. But we will need to find ways of collecting and storing data relating to communications services provided from overseas providers.

Any reduction in communications data capabilities will seriously impair the effectiveness of our police and other services to protect the public. Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles are often among early adopters of new technology. We must ensure that our law enforcement agencies can continue to obtain communications data in the face of great technological change.

Copies of the consultation are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.


Family Courts

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I made an oral statement and laid in Parliament the Government’s response to the recent consultation on improving the openness of family courts
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in December 2008, entitled “Family Justice in View”. In that paper I announced that we would make a number of changes to current court rules to make family proceedings more open and transparent.

The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) laid before Parliament on 6 April the Family Proceedings (Amendment) (No.2) Rules 2009 and the Family Proceedings Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) Rules 2009. These rules provide for the media to be present at family proceedings but give the courts limited discretion to exclude in set circumstances prescribed in the rules. The rules also make it easier for parties and their legal advisers involved in family proceedings to be able to disclose information for the purpose of advice and support, mediation and the investigation of a complaint. The rules will also make it easier for the person to whom the party has disclosed information to make onward disclosure of it for the same purpose, and with the party’s consent, without seeking permission of the court. These new rules of court, which are the first phase of the wider package of measures I announced in December, will come into effect today.

The media attendance rules are supported by practice directions issued by the president of the family division.

The second phase of the measures will be the information pilots, which will test the provision of written judgments in more cases than now, and put anonymised versions in the public domain. These pilots will start when the necessary procedures and security arrangements have been agreed and are in place.

A revised reporting restriction framework will be the third phase. Primary legislation is needed to give effect to a clearer and more consistent reporting restriction framework applicable across all tiers of family courts, which will support the wider objectives of the transparency programme whilst respecting the rights to privacy of parties to proceedings, and children. This is because key existing restrictions on reporting are contained piecemeal in primary legislation, and the balanced, flexible and simplified framework which is our aim cannot be achieved through rule changes. We will do this as and when parliamentary time allows.

In December I also announced that we would be reversing the effect of the landmark judgment made in Clayton v Clayton. Since making that statement I have taken the time to reflect and reconsider my position on this issue. I have now come to the conclusion that unless good evidence can be provided to show me that by not reversing Clayton v Clayton the effects to the child will be harmful (and so far no such evidence has been forthcoming), I will not disturb the effects of Clayton v Clayton. I will of course keep this decision under review should evidence emerge of a negative impact. I will also consider the implications of the judgment with interest groups as part of wider discussions on legislative requirements to introduce transparency in the courts.


Legislative Competence Order

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence)
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(Environment) Order 2009 has been laid today, as Command Paper (Cm 7608). Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Library from 12 noon. I have written to the Welsh Affairs Committee and to the House of Lords Constitutional Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.

Women and Equality

Equality Bill

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): Some people experience discrimination because they have a combination of protected characteristics. For example, black women can face discrimination because of stereotyped attitudes or prejudice, which white women and black men in the same circumstances would not encounter. This type of discrimination is known as multiple discrimination. Currently discrimination claims can only be brought in respect of a single protected characteristic. This means that for some people who experience multiple discrimination it is difficult, complicated and sometimes impossible to get a legal remedy.

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In the Government response to the consultation “Discrimination Law Review: A Framework for Fairness Proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain”, published on 21 July 2008, we committed to exploring whether provisions for multiple discrimination could be included in the Equality Bill.

Following this consultation, we have developed a proposal, enabling claims combining two protected characteristics. We are now seeking views from industry, business and all interested organisations on the impact of our proposals through the publication of our discussion document, “Equality Bill: Assessing the impact of a multiple discrimination provision—A discussion document”.

This document outlines our proposals in detail. It will form the basis for discussions seeking broad views, particularly from business and organisations, on the impact of a multiple discrimination provision. In particular, we are asking specific questions on the burdens the provisions may impose, particularly on employers, and the steps we can take to minimise those burdens.

The discussion will take place over the next six weeks. In the light of the discussions, we will decide whether protection from multiple discrimination should be introduced and if so how, taking into account progress on the Equality Bill which we have published today.

I am placing copies of this document in the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available on the Government Equalities Office website at:

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