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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I hope that I can be even more helpful to the noble Viscount. I understand that we shall be able to publish a draft form of the code by the end of the month. When considering the timetable for this legislation, it is likely that the House will have an opportunity to look at the draft code before the beginning of the Report stage. Furthermore, public consultation is to follow.

Viscount Astor: I am even more grateful to the noble Lord. As I said, this will be to the advantage of the Government because it will mean that we shall be able to conduct a far speedier Report stage.

Lord Lucas: I am grateful to the Minister for answering at least one-half of my question. I am beginning to understand in general terms why we need these three lines. However, it seems an odd concept to include in legislation and I hope that the Minister will be able to write to me giving further information on why, having said that an action is lawful, we need to say that it is specifically lawful for all purposes and how we expect to see this put forward in further legislation, if only from the point of view of better understanding the Human Rights Act.

However, I do not believe that the noble Lord has addressed my question as regards the words,

I am still unclear as to their meaning or why it is necessary to include them here. Without those words, the clause would read:

    "and conduct ... which has lawful authority for the purposes of this section by virtue of paragraph (a) or (b) shall also be taken to be lawful for all other purposes".

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That now seems to me to be reasonably straightforward. However, any conduct "prohibited" by this section is still to be,

    "lawful for all other purposes".

That implies that conduct prohibited by Clause 5 is lawful for all other purposes. In any event, I cannot see the point of the wording here. If it has a point, it seems to me that it could be extremely dangerous. I sure that there is an innocent explanation, but given that I gave the Minister's officials several days' notice of what I meant when I tabled the amendment, I had hoped to receive a clear answer today.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am always willing to try again. Clause 1(5) allows only conduct authorised by Clauses 3 or 4 or by an interception warrant. That conduct can be only interception, but it may be interception that is not prohibited, for example, the interception of a private postal system. I think that I understand that. If, on reflection, the noble Lord finds that he, too, understands it, I shall be delighted. However, if on reading Hansard he is still not certain, perhaps we shall need to address the finer detail of his point in correspondence or return to it at a later stage.

The wording may be a little opaque, but I think that it is in fact more transparent than perhaps we believe it to be. Perhaps we are being a little too suspicious of it.

Lord Lucas: I shall not detain the Committee for any longer than is necessary. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord could write to tell me what would happen if the words set out in brackets were deleted from this paragraph in the Bill. What harm would accrue to the Bill? I shall then be able to consider sensibly what provision to put down when we return to the Bill on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 2, line 48, at end insert—

("and the interception is in accordance with provisions of regulations made under section 4(2) with the object of ensuring that the senders and recipients of such communications are made aware of the purposes for which, and the circumstances in which, those communications may be intercepted").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we move to one of the first areas in which concerns have been expressed about the treatment of individual rights in the Bill. We are trying to establish what might be described as the legitimate expectations of privacy for employees when they operate a private system. There is a danger that overly inquisitive employers could bug their own staff; indeed, in the past we have seen examples of that kind of behaviour, using older technologies. We need also to consider the circumstances of whistle-blowers and how they need to be protected.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the arrangements for the interception of communications in the course of transmission by means of a private telecommunications system are compliant with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Again, I suspect that the compatibility with the human rights convention of some of the powers conferred by this Bill will be a recurring theme throughout our deliberations in Committee.

The European Court of Human Rights has decided that the definition of "private life" can extend to business activities and to the office. A case that comes to mind is that of Deputy Chief Constable Halford, who was bugged by her own police force. The European Convention on Human Rights requires that any interference with rights set out in Article 8 must be prescribed by law. In its current form, Clause 1(6) provides too wide an exemption when it refers to,

    "The circumstances under which a person makes an interception ... by means of a private telecommunications system".

However, if it were subject to the arrangements we propose under Clause 4(2), this difficulty would be removed.

This is a probing amendment to see whether Ministers have considered such an approach. However, I think that it covers a far more fundamental issue as we begin to embrace quite breathtakingly new technologies. I freely admit that the Minister and I are soul brothers in this area—when the parliamentary draftsmen meet the Internet geeks, simple souls like us need to look for protection. Nevertheless, this issue deserves clarification and I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor: If I happen to telephone the Minister in his office, he is in effect "bugged" in a rather old-fashioned way. The private secretary will listen to the telephone call on the extension to make sure that after the call I am unable immediately to telephone the press and say that the Minister agreed to something to which he did not agree. That practice exists for the Minister's protection.

More sophisticated techniques are used in modern offices. In my place of work—the "day job"—the telephones are regularly taped on all the trading floors or in any part where business is done. That is a protection not only for clients, but for those who work in the building, so that what they say is not used by anyone else. Indeed, the e-mail system in my office—if it works properly, which it does not very often, because we keep being attacked by outside things—has a capacity for copies to be retained for certain purposes. It is perfectly reasonable for that to happen in a commercial environment.

But the noble Lord, Lord McNally, refers to a form of protection for the individual. The very least that the individual must know is that the interception is taking place. The second point relates to the uses to which the e-mail copies or taped conversations can be put by an employer or anyone else. It is a theme to which we shall return throughout the passage of the Bill. We do not need not to be frightened by the concept; however, we do need to pay careful attention to the safeguards that

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should be in place for the protection not only of employees but also of employers. This is an important issue. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: This short exchange has been quite useful. It has set out the parameters of the debate and some of the awkwardnesses in terms of legislation with which we are attempting to deal.

The effect of the amendment would be to replace the civil liability for a person making an interception on a network that he has a right to control or use with a criminal offence unless that person had carried out the interception in accordance with regulations made under Clause 4(2). I believe that my interpretation of the amendment is correct. The noble Lord attempts to ensure that every person who may be monitored is made aware of the purposes and the circumstances in which that might happen.

The Government are as keen as anyone present to ensure that the privacy of the individual is protected—hence Clause 1(3), which enables a civil action to be brought against anyone who intercepts a communication on a private network. One of the key drivers for this legislation is that such interception should be in accordance with the law. It must be within the legal framework and for a lawful purpose—hence also the lawful business practice regulations, which will govern the actions of businesses in this context and of any public authorities which monitor calls to the switchboard or the communications of the staff. These will contain the stipulation that businesses have reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to any communication are aware that monitoring may take place.

However, applying these regulations to the general public at large is an entirely different matter. The amendment would place a legal obligation, for instance, on all parents to inform every person who called them on the telephone. The same would apply to the circumstances described by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, where ministerial conversations are monitored. In such circumstances the child, the Minister's private secretary, or any individual present might conceivably pick up a second handset and listen in. We do not believe that the amendment is either reasonable or realistic. Such communications are already protected by the civil action provision in Clause 1(3). I trust that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord McNally: I shall readily withdraw the amendment. However, perhaps I may point out to the Minister's advisers as much as to the Minister himself that I hope that the response every time we put forward an amendment will not be one of reductio ad absurdum. We are not worried about 10 year-olds listening to their parents' conversations—although I am desperately trying to stop mine doing just that! We are moving into the use of awesome new technology. The amendment attempts to express concerns about the rights of the employee in the working environment.

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The Minister referred to the civil redress that is contained in the Bill. I shall ponder on his reply. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Meaning and location of "interception" etc.]:

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