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Baroness Hamwee: There would be little point in sending out further copies through the same delivery network. Perhaps the Government will consider alternative means of delivery through commercial companies other than Royal Mail.
Baroness Buscombe: At the risk of sounding a little flippant, I can inform the Minister that Bremner, Bird and Fortune certainly received their copy of the leaflet. I am not sure how one should take it, but they certainly made light of the leaflet. The point of a skit that they did last weekend was that the only advice is to stay at home. It was very funny but rather unfortunate because that is not the British way. I hope that people will have taken it lightly. The difficulty is the extent to which the public, in particular young people, take notice of any leaflets, whether national or local. No matter how much hard work local authorities may do through local education and information programmes, I am afraid that I remain sceptical that their information will hit home. There should be more information in schools and more broadcasting.
I do not believe that there is a danger of being too prescriptive. Our approach should be plain, straightforward, simple and commonsense. I am therefore disappointed by the Minister's response. I believe that any form of modernisationthat dreaded
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wordof our legislation on emergency powers and civil protection should have embedded in the Bill the insistence on a continuing programme of what to do, in simple ways, in an emergency. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Lucas: Although this matter arises at several points in the Bill, it is most concentrated here. The Bill gives certain authorities several powers to swap or obtain information. They must obtain the information for the purposes of the Bill but there is no further restriction on its use. Such a further restriction is common in other legislation; why is it missing here?
There seems to be no provision for the transfer of information to government. To return to the subject of an earlier amendment, if government are not bound into the Bill they do not have any right to obtain the information they need to do their own planning. Since they are supposed to be part of the planning network, in the airy-fairy way described by the Minister, surely they will be hampered if they cannot get the data they need.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think that the noble Lord would accept the premise that sharing information is essential to ensure that we have a coherent structure for emergency planning and a coherent response. It is crucial that plans and assessments are based on robust information about hazards and the procedures and capabilities of partner responders.
The noble Lord asks what limits there are on the use of sensitive information. The regulations provide that sensitive information, which may relate to national security, are to be used only for the purpose of performing a duty under the Bill where the information was obtained to support another emergency function. The only exception that I can see is where consent has been obtained to use the information for other purposes. It is clearly a sensitive issue. Ultimately, we must take a lot on trust because the situations that we are discussing are likely to involve sensitive issues that are difficult to resolve. But we have to operate on the basis of trust and ensure that the information we have is there and is doing the job of advancing the cause of public protection and acting in the public interest. That is why the legislation is framed and phrased in that way and why the clauses work in the way that they do in order to ensure that sharing of information is connected to the performance of the duties under those clauses.
Baroness Hamwee: One of the public interests is the proper protection and the right balance of civil liberties. I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing
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the Committee's attention to that point. I should add that my noble friend Lord McNally also opposes Clause 6 standing part of the Bill.
It would help us all if we could have a greater understandingit may be that it cannot be given todayof how the restrictive use of information that the Minister has described will be monitored. What will happen to the information after the time when it is required? Will it be retained? Within the proper constraints of civil liberties, will limits be applied? Similar issues have arisen so often in recent legislation; for example, the use of samples taken for DNA purposes, the use of CCTV cameras, the police filming video records at demonstrations, and so on. It is not a novel point, but it is certainly one to which we on these Benches and clearly the noble Lord need to have answers. I shall put it as strongly as that.
The Earl of Onslow: The reason why I find the noble Lord's answer rather disturbing is not because of the tone or even the substance of what he said, but it is what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is saying. It goes to the root of an enormous amount of legislation that is coming through now; be it that which is coming through in respect of the Children Bill and the great, enormous computer. It is the amount of information that the state is feeling it is necessary to get to itself.
The state now is so capable of having these things and individuals, in a way, are getting so small. The balance of individual liberty is in serious danger of being undermined. Of course, I do not accuse members of the present Government of being Gauleiters or anything like that. But if we give people all those powers someone, as night follows day, will abuse them. That is why we should be awfully careful, at all stages of legislation, to say, "Are you absolutely sure you need it? If you are not, I still do not think that you need it and we, as a Parliament, should check it". It is worrying and is going through all the body politic at the moment. I suspect that it would apply to my own side were they in government. It is a temptation for all governments.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for not thinking that we would abuse information and that we have acted in good faith in the way in which we have framed this legislation. We have been quite careful. We have had a lot of discussion withto use the jargonthe stakeholders. Clearly, their reaction to this is very important.
It is worth saying that we have data protection legislation in place. We have the human rights legislation in place. Those things offer protections against abuse, which are very important. In addition, there will be regulations on the disclosure of information which will regulate the way in which that information is sought and disclosed. In this situation, it is the intention of government to use sensitive information sensitively. We will obviously have to respect the providers of that information, whether they be another part of the public service or a private utility.
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It is only on the basis of useful information and information given gladly to respond to an emergency situation that this will work. We do have to generate some good faith on that. I hope that we can all play our part in dispelling any cynicism on the Government's part. I know that people think that the state is overweening, but we are talking about circumstances where these are dire emergencies, where the information is essential and where people need to share information, trust one another and work together to the common good. In recent emergencies of which I am aware, I think that people have fairly done that and that government and local government have worked well.
Lord Lucas: Yes. But that is not what is worrying us. Quite: there are powers in this Bill for extensive information gathering and sharing in connection with emergencies and the planning therefor. I do not think that that gives us any cause for concern. The question that we are asking is: what else can happen to that information? Why, when in other legislation, one finds protections to say that that is all the information can be used for and that it should not be held beyond the time when it is useful, are there none in this legislation? Can we have them? If the noble Lord says that they are already there in some way, due to some other piece of legislation, can he please spell that out in a letter to us? I do not require it now.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The draft regulations make plain that sensitive information obtained pursuant to the regulations may be used only for the purposes of performing a duty under the Bill or another duty that relates to emergencies. Without appropriate consent, it cannot be used by a local responderto enter into the jargonfor other purposes. Sensitive information cannot be disclosed to the public unless appropriate consent has been obtained. That will be set out in regulations, which are there in draft now. So that is the answer to the particular point that I think the noble Lord is making.
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