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Viscount Simon: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 133, 136 and 137 standing in my name, although there may be a little duplication in my remarks because several points have already been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. For example, the first part of Amendment No. 133 states,
The second part of that amendment seeks to establish the gravity of a request for information from a ferry or airline operator. I believe it is necessary to stress the importance of the need to ensure that such requests are not made frivolously or lightly; are made only when there is a specific need; and that officials should not see this as a power which they can invoke on a casual basis.
Airline and ferry companies understand and accept that, on matters of security, there will be occasions when police officers will need to request information from them. Their concern is that such requests invariably cause disruption and cost to their operation and that passengers do not like the additional bureaucracy. There should be in place safeguards to ensure that the authority to request information is not abused or used as a "catch all" on the basis of "better safe than sorry". Clear guidance must be provided for examining officers that they will need a specific reason for requesting passenger information and that they will need to justify that reason to a very senior officer.
By investing the overall authority in very senior officers--I have suggested that this should be at the level of assistant chief constable or above--they will, by virtue of their position, apply diligence in deciding when it may be appropriate to make such a request. This is a process which should police itself (no pun intended) and ensure that all those involved in the process approach it with appropriate seriousness.
On domestic journeys, albeit over water to and from our islands, passengers have the right of passage, do not require passports and are under no obligation to provide their carrier with personal information of the kind which might form the basis of a request from the authorities. On exactly the same basis, carriers have no statutory right to demand information such as the date and place of birth--available on international services through the requirements of passports--and therefore do not hold such information on their databases. That information has to be gathered on a voluntary basis and co-operation is generally much more easily achieved if individuals understand the specific reason for being asked to give personal details. It makes good sense, therefore, to ensure that the power to make such requests is exercised carefully and responsibly and only by approval of the most senior police officers in respect of the particular circumstances that will ensure the co-operation of the public.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 136 and 137. Amendment No. 137 would be required for sequencing purposes as a natural consequence of accepting Amendment No. 136, which has already been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. The intention of Amendment No. 136 is to provide a defence for airlines and shipping companies in the event that they are unable to comply with a request for information about their passengers. I am inclined to believe that the lack of such a provision in the Bill is simply an oversight. Exactly this defence is extended to financial institutions in paragraph 1(4) of Schedule 6 in circumstances where either the financial institution does not have access to the required information or it is not reasonably practicable to provide it.
It is quite possible that individual passengers, aware of their rights of passage within Great Britain, may decline to provide information to the carrier or even deliberately offer incorrect information, as happens when names such as "Tony Blair" and various others are supplied. In those circumstances it would not be right for the carrier to be held responsible for failing to provide the information required under the terms of this schedule.
There are particular reasons in respect of travellers for requesting a similar defence for ferry companies and airlines. Not least among those are the facts which I outlined in my earlier remarks about the obligation for individuals to provide information and the rights of transport operators to demand it. I believe that there is every reason to ensure that transport operators are afforded a similar defence to that offered to financial institutions.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: I support these amendments and have put my name to three of them. The arguments have largely been made; however, I should like to emphasise one point to the Minister. Within the common travel area there is no requirement to carry any form of identification whatsoever. Therefore, it is hard for a shipping company or an airline to demand this information from passengers.
The airline or shipping company may well have the name of the passenger, and it may be the name in which the ticket was booked. But if there is also a requirement to state the date and place of birth of each passenger, the airlines and shipping companies have no means to ensure the accuracy of the information given. Therefore, it is essential that some defence should be given to the owner or agent for not providing the specified information. That is the purpose of Amendments Nos. 136 and 137.
Mention has been made of false information and false names being given, and that has happened. But when I was a Minister, on more than one occasion, for security reasons, I travelled to the Republic of Ireland on a ticket booked by my officials deliberately using a false name. I do not know whether it still happens, nor do I know whether the Minister has been to the Republic of Ireland on official business, but it certainly applied 10 or so years ago. Would the airline be blamed for the fact that my officials had booked my ticket in a false name or should I be blamed? Who would be blamed? Under this provision, will an airline be held responsible if a ticket is deliberately booked in a false name?
There is a further problem. While in many cases passengers start their journey in this country or in the Channel Islands, for example, they check in, and the airline or shipping company has an opportunity to ascertain the person's name and possibly even the other information--as I said, there is no guarantee that the information will be accurate--many passengers come into Heathrow from further afield, from America, for example. They come in through immigration and then go straight to the gate of the flight that will take them to the Isle of Man or wherever it happens to be. The first the airline sees of the passenger is at the check-in gate. If the airline then has to find out the information that might be required of that passenger, it could result in endless delays. Imagine someone being asked to fill in a form, with 20 or 30 people standing behind him and with the aeroplane about to depart in 20 minutes' time.
The industry has no problem with being as helpful as it possibly can. All that these amendments do is to try to be practical about this requirement and to give the industry some defence against providing information which, although it is thought to be perfectly accurate, may not necessarily be so. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to look with some sympathy at the arguments that have been made.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. The quality and content of the debate reflect well on the operators, with whom we have continued to have a constructive and valuable dialogue.
One of the reasons we have moved from listing on the face of the Bill the types of passenger information that the police will be able to require is our recognition that if we are to go beyond the present requirements we must consult the industry even more fully, and we have already begun that process. I can assure the Committee that in drawing up any orders we shall take careful account of the views of industry and the requirements of the police. For that reason, I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate.
The amendments before us this evening narrow down the circumstances in which passenger information must be provided by the owners or agents of ships or aircraft. No doubt in each case the concern is the effect that the requirements could have on the operations and costs of the carrying companies and, understandably, the practicality of carrying them out. As I hope I have already indicated, we understand the underlying concerns and shall work with the industry to minimise any unnecessary burdens and disruption.
I turn to the detail of the amendments. Amendment No. 132 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, provides that information may be requested only in connection with specific counter-terrorist operations. While I recognise the underlying reason for the amendment, I must advise the Committee that such an approach will constrain the ability of the police to obtain the information which, understandably and rightly, they require. The gathering of such information from carriers may not always be confined to a specific investigation but form part of ongoing police activity at ports that is intended to disrupt terrorist movements and help prevent terrorist outrages.
As the Committee appreciates, police work does not always fall into neat little compartments of specific investigation, and that is precisely so in the case of preventive and intelligence-led policing. Although it is perhaps a technical point, for security purposes it may not always be possible for the police to disclose the reasons why information is requested. In short, police operations would be damaged if the limitation imposed by this amendment applied. I am sure that that is not what the amendment seeks to achieve but that may be its unintended effect.
I turn to Amendment No. 133 in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. The amendment introduces two additional concepts and also reiterates the link between a request for information and the existence of a specific terrorist investigation, which I have already discussed. The first point is that owners and agents should comply with requests "as soon as reasonably practicable", and the second is that such a request may be made only after consultation with a police officer of at least the rank of assistant chief constable. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has tabled amendments similar to Amendment No. 133. However, the noble Lord proposes that consultation should be at the level of chief constable.
On the first point, we recognise that that part of the amendment picks up the current language of the PTA. It is not envisaged that carriers will be asked to provide information to an unreasonable timescale. Even if such a request was made the courts would be unlikely to have sympathy with any ensuing prosecution. We therefore took the view that it was unnecessary to carry over that part of the provision from the existing legislation. I note the view that the industry may derive some comfort from an explicit provision to that effect, and I shall take away that particular point and give it more detailed consideration.
On the second point, the Government are not attracted to the proposition that very senior police officers should be drawn into the decision-making process about what passenger information should be requested from whom, when and in what circumstances. These are operational decisions which, rightly in my view, rest with those officers at the ports in the front line of counter terrorist operations--as is the case now under the existing PTA. It would inhibit and hinder the police operation if each time they felt they needed information it were necessary for the operational officers at the port to seek higher authority from their headquarters and to request it--particularly if it were information needed quickly. What is important of course is that good relationships are built up and maintained at ports, with the police and the carriers working together. Each must recognise their responsibilities to the other in the wider interests of all. To add layers of bureaucracy--I fear that seeking the permission of a senior officer would do so--is not, we believe, the answer.
Amendment No. 134 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, focuses on the information that may be specified in any order under this provision. There is still a debate to be had at Clause 122 about whether
In this amendment the noble Lord proposes that the order may only specify information which the owners or agents have in their possession or may be reasonably be expected to obtain. I understand the concern which carriers may well have about the difficulties which they might encounter if they are asked to provide information not already in their record systems; or if unreasonable demands for other information are made of them. Currently we have no plans to specify by order anything which is not already contained within the present legislation; that is to say, the name, date and place of birth. As I have said, that has potentially been a requirement on carriers for many years now and it is important that the police should be able to continue to obtain that information. We would only envisage specifying information above and beyond that in any order after close consultation with all parts of the industry. Let me stress, therefore, that we shall not specify in an order passenger information beyond that already required under the PTA without consulting the industry on its availability. Furthermore, there will be an additional opportunity for your Lordships' House to consider the requirements in the order when it is laid. For those reasons we think the amendment unnecessary and we hope it will not be pressed.
Amendments Nos. 136 and 137 in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and Amendment No. 136A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, create a statutory defence for use if charged with failing to provide specified information. This ties in with the earlier amendment suggesting that information should be requested only if it is in the possession of the carriers, or they may be reasonably expected to obtain it. I have stressed already that we shall not add to the present requirements without taking account of the views of the industry. Equally, I should stress the importance of maintaining the ability of the police to secure the information which is already specified under the PTA. We believe that it is the responsibility of carriers to obtain such information if it is requested, but equally it is the responsibility of the police to act reasonably and recognise the practicalities which carriers face from time to time when a request is made. As we have already said, a partnership approach is required enabling the law enforcement authority's own carriers to work together to combat the threat of terrorism. A prosecution under this part of the Bill would only be as a last resort where a particular company was wilfully or persistently failing to co-operate; and any order or request for information by the police could, of course, be the subject of judicial review proceedings, which after 2nd October of this year should take into account whether convention rights have been observed. We
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked specifically about the responsibility for information and its accuracy. It is the carriers' responsibility to pass on accurately information provided to them, but it is not their responsibility to verify the accuracy of the information itself. I hope that that clarifies the point he raised.
I trust that Members of the Committee will want to reflect carefully on the points I have made in response to their considered amendments. I am sure that they will take note of the matter which I said I would take away and consider further. I trust that in the light of the explanations I have given they will not pursue their amendments.
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