|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, that is extremely interesting, but will the Minister explain why that cannot be covered by general instructions? In setting up a joint intelligence cell, it seems to me that there would be an element of commonality of disclosures. Therefore, we would be talking about one form of authoritisation, not thousands.
Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, as I indicated, the difficulty is whether one can foresee all the circumstances in which disclosures need to be made. If I were to say that there should be disclosure in any case where there is a joint intelligence cell, noble Lords would view that sort of blanket authorisation as too broad and insufficiently precise.
I am citing only one example. The proposition in support of the amendment, as suggested by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, is that there cannot be that many disclosures in operation. I am told by those who know the position that a large number of disclosures are made. We are not talking about disclosure down to the level of the tea lady. It does not help a responsible department to argue for something that is even more restrictive than the present position, to take the tea lady example.
I made it perfectly clear in Committee that there is no questionit would be astonishing if anyone thought there wereof delegating to the tea lady decisions about disclosure of information on public interest grounds. We are talking about a serious, responsible, public department, which understands its
22 Mar 2005 : Column 153
obligations. It must give proper and due consideration to the disclosure of information because that is what the statute requires.
I can say on the record that class instructions on public interest disclosure will not be delegated below senior Civil Service level. I emphasise the term "class instructions" because there could be individual cases that go below senior Civil Service levelsome of my examples indicate why it may be necessary to deal with matters urgently.
I cannot accept an amendment that would tie us to allowing only commissioners to make disclosures. I ask noble Lords to accept that I shall not be putting forward an approach that is based on irresponsibility or a desire to allow disclosures to be made on an inadequate basis and with inadequate seniority of consideration.
Lord Newby: My Lords, earlier the noble and learned Lord raised the issue of an officer who, in the course of his duty, came across a possible health and safety problem. Under the draft statutory instrument, one area covered in terms of disclosure relates to disclosure to a body exercising public functions in relation to the protection of public health and safety. Can the Minister help me with regard to the situation that applies?
The officer from Customs and Excise is examining a fuel storage depot to ensure that those responsible are paying the duty. He is worried that there is a leakage and that there may be a public safety problem. The statutory instrument has been passed, enabling disclosure to be made to a body exercising public functions in relation to the protection of public health and safety. Is it the case that, having come across a circumstance covered by one of the disclosure provisions, under the current rules the officer would still have to refer it upwards to a senior officer before he could ring up the Health and Safety Executive and say, "Look, I've found a leak. I really do think you ought to come and have a look at it"?
Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the noble Lord asked me what the position is under the current rules. I cannot answer that at present, although perhaps in a moment I shall be able to do so. But I want to say to him that, again as I understand it, Clause 20 makes clear that there are two requirements for a disclosure to be made. The
22 Mar 2005 : Column 154
disclosure has to be for a purpose of a kind specified in regulationsthe noble Lord referred to one of the purposes specified in the draft regulationsbut it also has to be made on the commissioners' instructions, which can be either specific or general.
We have had a debate about "general". If the instruction was specific, it would be specific authorisation of that information on that occasion. "General" obviously allows a degree of class instruction to be given, but, so it seems to me from reading the Bill, it cannot just be a question of the instruction being of a type specified within the regulations.
The answer to the question is: yes. In the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, the officer would have to refer the matter upwards unless it was already covered by a class instruction. It is not enough that it is just in the regulations because they specify the purpose. One has to look at the instruction.
I was about to say in summary, first, that the instructions will always be given by a senior and competent person who has the appropriate trainingthat I can clearly say. Secondly, they will be within the criteria set out clearly either in the Bill or in the regulations. Thirdly, I can also tell noble Lords that commissioners will monitor the instructions by ensuring that there are proper records and audit trails.
I invite noble Lords to accept that those assurances are adequate to meet the concerns, which I understand, and so that this responsible department can do its job in an effective and satisfactory way for the benefit of all the people of this country. Therefore, I invite the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I am grateful for the response of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, except that in many respects he has added to my confusion rather than offered me any reassurance. As I read the Bill, there is a clear distinction between the grant of any individual authority for a disclosure and the issuance of instructions.
I heard what the noble and learned Lord said about the number of individual authorities for disclosure that may currently exist within the Revenue authorities and HM Customs and Excise. I also heard what he said about class instructions. If my reading of the Bill is correct, it seems to me that those are within the terms of the qualification over which my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said they wanted satisfaction.
In addition, in respect of what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred to as the "office cleaner conundrum", I deliberately offered the noble and learned Lord another examplethat of a senior IT managerwhich he singularly failed to address. My concern remains that, as the Bill stands, delegation of these instructions under the terms of Clause 20 could be made to any other person. That is the text of the Bill, and I think that that drafting is far too loose. In those circumstances, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
22 Mar 2005 : Column 155
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|