Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Disclosure of Information by SOCA) Order 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Andrew Turner 

Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab) 

Banks, Gordon (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab) 

Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) 

Cairns, David (Inverclyde) (Lab) 

Durkan, Mark (Foyle) (SDLP) 

Gyimah, Mr Sam (East Surrey) (Con) 

Halfon, Robert (Harlow) (Con) 

Hanson, Mr David (Delyn) (Lab) 

Harrington, Richard (Watford) (Con) 

Harris, Rebecca (Castle Point) (Con) 

Herbert, Nick (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)  

Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) (Lab) 

Huppert, Dr Julian (Cambridge) (LD) 

McCabe, Steve (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab) 

Opperman, Guy (Hexham) (Con) 

Skinner, Mr Dennis (Bolsover) (Lab) 

Timpson, Mr Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con) 

Wright, Jeremy (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):

Robertson, Hugh (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport)  

Vara, Mr Shailesh (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con) 

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Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee 

Wednesday 21 July 2010  

[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair] 

Draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Disclosure of Information by SOCA) Order 2010

2.30 pm 

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Nick Herbert):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Disclosure of Information by SOCA) Order 2010. 

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. The order designates the functions of UK Anti-Doping, when acting as a national anti-doping organisation, as 

“functions of a public nature” 

for the purposes of section 33 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The effect will be to establish a legal basis for the Serious Organised Crime Agency to disclose information to UK Anti-Doping. 

The order was laid by the previous Government to improve the UK’s ability to prevent doping in sport. This Government are equally committed to tackling doping. I recognise the importance of opening this gateway to our fight against doping, so I am happy to support the order. 

There is strong public interest in preserving the integrity of sport, which is of particular significance in the run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012. The Government set up UK Anti-Doping for that purpose, and we are responsible for ensuring that we fulfil our legal commitments under the UNESCO convention against doping in sport. That includes taking measures against the trafficking and supply of doping substances. 

The traditional strategy for combating doping involves education and testing of athletes. However, the anti-doping landscape has changed. It is now widely recognised that testing athletes does not always expose cheats; for example, athletes “stack” microdoses of substances to avoid testing positive. There has also been an international shift towards tackling those who facilitate doping by supplying doping substances. That calls for a more investigative and intelligence-based approach. 

Experience in other countries has shown that where partnerships exist between anti-doping organisations and law enforcement, trafficking and supply routes for doping substances have been disrupted and the perpetrators caught. That approach is seen as essential by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which co-ordinates the fight against doping in sport. In order to have an effective, intelligence-led programme, UK Anti-Doping must be able to obtain information from a range of sources. It already receives information through its doping control programmes and from sports governing bodies. In addition, the

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UK Border Agency and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency can disclose information to UK Anti-Doping. 

The gateway with SOCA would greatly improve the situation, as SOCA receives information from a range of law enforcement bodies, including police forces throughout the UK, and from Interpol. Information from those agencies will allow UK Anti-Doping to pursue traffickers and suppliers of doping substances and help it identify threats and trends to inform its testing and education programmes. It will also prevent UK Anti-Doping from having to set up a separate gateway with each of the 52 police forces in the UK. Information sharing for anti-doping purposes is supported by law enforcement and the sporting community. In particular, it has support from SOCA, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the British Athletes Commission. 

Naturally, there are concerns that appropriate systems should be in place to ensure that data protection and human rights issues are addressed. I will therefore explain briefly how the gateway is intended to work and what measures UK Anti-Doping has put in place to ensure that disclosures are lawful and information is handled appropriately. In particular, I draw the Committee’s attention to the privacy impact assessment carried out by UK Anti-Doping. It is available on the UKAD website and explains how information sharing will operate, how data will be handled securely and how disclosures will comply with the Data Protection Act 1998. 

The order will not allow SOCA to disclose all information to UK Anti-Doping; SOCA may disclose only information relevant to UKAD’s functions as a national doping organisation. SOCA will consider each potential disclosure separately and will pass on information only if it is necessary for UK Anti-Doping to have it to carry out its functions, and when it would be proportionate to disclose it. By carrying out those tests, SOCA will ensure that no disclosures contravene data protection or human rights legislation, or jeopardise its own investigations. 

SOCA and UK Anti-Doping will formalise how information sharing will operate via a memorandum of understanding. UK Anti-Doping will have a dedicated intelligence unit, which will receive and analyse SOCA information. It will implement a data security policy based on Cabinet Office guidance, which will set out, for example, how information must be labelled and stored, how long it may be retained for, and how it will be safely destroyed. UK Anti-Doping will use SOCA information as evidence only in a case before a tribunal, or share it with a third party only if it has obtained the prior written consent of SOCA. 

Establishing this gateway will not impose any obligation on SOCA. The order will simply facilitate disclosures when SOCA already holds the information. There is no intention for SOCA to carry out anti-doping investigations. It could make proactive disclosures, but in practice it will normally disclose information only in response to a request from UK Anti-Doping. The Government will work with UK Anti-Doping to monitor how the gateway works in practice. That will be done as part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's ongoing monitoring of UK Anti-Doping. 

In summary, I emphasise that this information-sharing gateway will be important if we are to ensure that the UK’s anti-doping programme is effective, efficient and

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intelligence-led, and is able to pursue the traffickers and suppliers who facilitate doping. That will become more important as the landscape for doping continually changes and at a time when the UK is hosting and bidding to host a number of major international sporting events. I commend the order to the Committee. 

2.37 pm 

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I do not intend to delay the Committee too long, because as the Minister said, the order was agreed by the previous Government when my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) was the sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) was a junior Minister in the Home Office and I held the position now held by the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs. Such is life, and we carry on accordingly. 

We support the order—that is self-evident—and it is important to have information sharing between SOCA and the drugs and doping agency. That is a key element in ensuring that we have integrity in sport and information sharing on trafficking and the other issues that the Minister mentioned. As he explained, the Olympic games are approaching quickly, we are bidding for the football World cup, the Commonwealth games will be held shortly in Glasgow and we have a commitment to secure as much sporting activity as possible in this country. Wider than that, it is important that we have information sharing in general. 

I support the order, but I have a couple of questions for the Minister to ensure that, even if he cannot answer them today, we have a record of them. First, when will the memorandum of understanding between SOCA and UKAD be published? I would welcome information on whether the ministerial team see it and agree it as well as officials at SOCA and UKAD. Given the Minister’s appropriate caveats about potential concerns and how the proposal might operate in some quarters, although not in this quarter, will there be any public consultation so that individuals may comment on the memorandum accordingly? Will it have statutory backing? When the order is passed and the memorandum is established, will that be the end of the matter for the House of Commons or will it have a statutory function in relation to the memorandum as a whole? Although I have implicit trust in the Minister, we are giving the memorandum a fair wind without seeing it, without knowing when it will be published, without knowing who agrees to it, and without knowing what informal backing it has. I would like some clarity on that. 

Secondly, I would expect that, in the event of information being shared and prosecutions brought forward, that information sharing would self-evidently have gone into the public domain, because it might form part of a future court case. I wonder what happens if information is shared but no prosecutions result. Is any register made of that information sharing? Would the individual whose information is shared know that it has been shared with SOCA? Would there be any mechanism to test the validity of that sharing, if it became clear that the information had been shared? 

I do not want to cause the right hon. Gentleman any difficulty, but simply to put the point that there might be individuals who are unhappy about the sharing of

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information they have given. They might not even know about it. If it does not lead to prosecution, is there any mechanism by which they would know that in due course? 

I will happily waffle on if the right hon. Gentleman needs more time to secure answers. If he does not, I will sit down and commend the order on behalf of the Opposition. 

2.41 pm 

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):  I want to thank the Minister for clearly setting out the purpose of the order. It is an important matter: that of SOCA disclosing information to UK Anti-Doping. I would like to ask the Minister to clarify a couple of points, which he can respond to later in writing if he needs to. 

Are there any circumstances in which SOCA will be required to disclose information? Is there an appeals process that UK Anti-Doping might invoke, if the information requested is not provided? UK Anti-Doping will clearly receive this information when carrying out its public functions. Will the Minister comment on whether there might be a need for safeguards to operate within UK Anti-Doping as regards possible exchanges of information within the organisation? For example, it might perhaps have carried out something as a public function and the information might move to somewhere further afield within the organisation, where it is perhaps not exercising its public function. 

2.42 pm 

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP):  I, too, recognise the necessity of the order. It is generally proportionate in that it does not provide for SOCA pre-emptively to disclose but to do so responsibly in relation to UKAD’s responsibilities. That seems to strike the right balance. 

I hope that when it comes to the relevant memorandum of understanding—about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn asked—the Minister will make clear that all possible interests of the devolved Administrations have been fully taken into account, and that no wrinkles or complications might arise. From the perspective of Northern Ireland, we recognise that not all sport is organised on a UK-wide basis; we have sports organised on a Northern Ireland, all-Ireland, UK and GB and Northern Ireland basis. I want to make sure that those matters are continually reviewed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that the relevant interests of devolved Administrations are taken into account. 

There is a question about areas where SOCA might move more proactively rather just responsively. If some of the residual groups hanging over from the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland happened to be involved in trafficking these substances—they have had a fondness for that in the past—would SOCA, with its more police-facing function on organised crime, be more active in that direction, rather than waiting for something to come from UKAD, when it knows that such groups are deliberately and specifically involved? 

2.45 pm 

Nick Herbert:  I am grateful for the constructive comments of members of the Committee about the proposals. In response to the right hon. Member for Delyn, the

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memorandum of understanding is in draft now and will be agreed once the order is made, and, as it is being finalised by SOCA and UK Anti-Doping at the moment, we anticipate that that will be in the autumn. The memorandum of understanding will cover what kind of information can be disclosed and in what circumstances, how requests for information and disclosures will be made, how data will be handled securely, what the constraints on the use of the information are, and how data protection and human rights law will be complied with. Those are all areas that I mentioned to the Committee and so it is a matter of public record; I do not expect there will be any surprises in the memorandum. 

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the ministerial team would agree the memorandum of understanding. Home Office and Department for Culture, Media and Sport ministerial teams—the Minister for sport is here—will agree it before it is signed off; it will not just be agreed at official level. He also asked whether there would be any public consultation on the memorandum. There was a full public consultation last year, and those who responded, as I mentioned, supported information sharing. I am sure that officials will consult appropriately with sporting organisations if necessary, but I do not detect any anxiety about what will go into the memorandum. We have set out clearly the principles that should guide it. On whether it will have statutory backing, UK Anti-Doping would obtain SOCA’s permission if it wants information made public. The right hon. Gentleman particularly asked about a register of information sharing and how an individual would know the extent to which information about them had been shared. An individual would know if the information was used in a case before a tribunal. 

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked a number of questions, the first on whether SOCA would be required to disclose information. As I said in my opening remarks, it is not required to disclose the information. The gateway is merely facilitated, and my understanding is that there is no appeals process in respect of that. He also asked about safeguards within UK Anti-Doping when it is not exercising its public function, and I understand his concern about ensuring that UK Anti-Doping uses the information appropriately. 

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):  I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I want to ensure that I understand what he said about an individual knowing whether information was being held or passed. Can an allegation be made about someone and no charges brought, and that information lie on a file somewhere without the individual knowing that a Government agency is retaining a record of the allegation? 

Nick Herbert:  The point is that this information was already being held by a law enforcement body—SOCA—so we are not talking about new information, simply about that information being shared by the two bodies. As I said, all the normal safeguards of the Data Protection Act and so on will apply. 

In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, only security-cleared staff will have access to the information, and that will be on a need-to-know basis. If UK Anti-Doping wanted

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to share that information further, it would need to obtain SOCA’s permission before doing so. It is important that the Committee appreciates that all the data protection principles that are already enshrined in law will be adhered to in the sharing of information between the two organisations. 

Mr Hanson:  I do not oppose the order, so I will not make trouble for the Minister. In Committee, when I was the Minister, we discussed DNA data sharing. The Government oppose retaining innocent people’s DNA and are bringing forward legislation shortly to ensure that we cannot retain the DNA of innocent people on databases. Without teasing the Minister too much, how does he square his intellectual circle in relation to that? 

Nick Herbert:  I have just been passed a helpful note, which does not answer the point about DNA directly—I will not be drawn down that path—but informs me that UK Anti-Doping will implement a data security policy setting out procedures for labelling, processing, storing and destroying personal data, retention times and procedures for preventing and detecting breaches of security and unlawful processing, and that UK Anti-Doping will destroy any information that is not relevant to its functions. That broadly meets our concerns about DNA retention. 

Mr Hanson:  Will the Minister inform the Committee at some point, if not today, about how long that retention period will be? He will recall that he opposed my proposals, which we put through in the legislation on DNA, to retain innocent people’s DNA for six years. 

Nick Herbert:  The right hon. Gentleman raises a fair point. I am happy to get back to him about that. I agree that the broad principles on data not being held unnecessarily should apply, particularly where the case relates to any matter involving intrusion, which is a particular concern in respect of DNA. 

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab):  This is the first time in this Parliament, either in the House or in Committee, that I have not heard a Tory Minister blame their predecessor in Government. Here we are with a Bill—and the money—passed by a Labour Government, but the Minister has not yet found the words to blame the Labour Government for landing him in this mess. With the multitude of sports at the Olympic games and the many thousands of participants involved, it will cost a lot of money. Can he tell me and assure Committee members, in view of the fact that there will, for example, be cuts all around the Home Office—the police are already playing merry hell and chief inspectors are already meeting Ministers—how much this will cost? 

The Chair:  Order. Will the hon. Gentleman sit down? 

Mr Skinner:  Oh, don’t get excited. 

The Chair:  I’m not. May I just ask the hon. Gentleman to finish, and then we will go on with the Minister? 

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Nick Herbert:  There has been an outbreak of cross-party consensus on the measure. In spite of the enjoyable attempt by the right hon. Member for Delyn to goad me about DNA—[Interruption.] I am sure that we are consistent, too. There is agreement between the two sides about the importance of this measure, because there is agreement on the importance of tackling doping, and I am sure that there is huge willingness on both sides to ensure that that is dealt with and that a successful Olympic games and other international sporting events are delivered. 

The hon. Member for Foyle mentioned the interests of the devolved Administrations, which sit on the Government’s cross-departmental working group on anti-doping. The devolved issues are therefore taken

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fully into consideration. The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us about that. The order covers all of the United Kingdom, as I mentioned in my opening remarks. 

I have been passed another extraordinarily helpful note on retention times, which the right hon. Member for Delyn asked about. I am advised that the World Anti-Doping Agency will publish guidelines on retention of data in the autumn. Retention times will vary, depending on the information, and UK Anti-Doping will follow that guidance. 

Question put and agreed to. 

2.56 pm 

Committee rose.