Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 55, 57, 59, 60 and 61, tabled in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for his support on Amendment No. 57.
 
17 Jan 2006 : Column GC208
 

Even if we were on the Floor of the House these would be probing amendments. They raise issues about sharing information. We do not object to those provisions. We recognise that in the changed world in which we live there may be some good reasons for such measures, so these amendments probe the operation of the system.

Clause 32 provides powers for the police to acquire information in respect of ships and aircraft arriving in—or at least expected to arrive—or leaving the UK. A duty is placed on passengers and crew to provide the owner or agent of a ship or aircraft with any information that he requires so that he can then comply with any requirement placed upon him by the police to provide them with information.

Subsection (6) states that the requirement to provide information must be made in writing and can apply for a maximum period of six months, and that the period must be specified.

Amendment No. 55 would permit information required by a constable to be provided orally rather than in writing, provided there is the backup that it is confirmed within 48 hours. We wonder where the harm might be in providing that flexibility.

Amendment No. 57 would limit the time for which a requirement to provide information remains in force from six months to one month. That amendment has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Amendment No. 59 suggests that a breach of Clause 31 as well as the breach of Clause 32 should be an offence. As the Bill stands, we cannot see that breaching Clause 31 by not providing information to an immigration officer is an offence. Why is that?

Amendment No. 60 would strengthen the provision on the disclosure of information for security purposes so that a person "shall" rather than just "may" disclose information. Amendment No. 61 would reduce the test to one of thinking that the information "may" rather than "is likely to" be of use for a specified purpose.

When these amendments were moved in another place by my honourable friend Mr Humfrey Malins, on Report on 16 November, pressure of lack of time meant that he agreed to let the Minister respond by way of letter. I have willingly offered the Government the opportunity to respond by way of letter to me today as we are at Committee stage. I then have the opportunity to table amendments later if I think it appropriate. The difficulty for my honourable friend in another place is that he had no choice other than to offer a letter, not only because of lack of time on Report, but also because in another place there is no further stage; there is no equivalent to our Third Reading. He had no further opportunity to take the matter forward or, indeed, have the Minister respond on the record. Certainly, although I know the Minister promised to respond in a letter, I think it would be useful if the Minister today could put on the record the Government's reflection on these issues and make clear whether their response is the same as it might have been then. What that response was we know not, but we may find out now.
 
17 Jan 2006 : Column GC209
 

I hope that we can reflect on the Minister's reply and consider whether it might be necessary to respond to any matters. I suspect that just Amendment No. 57 will require further elucidation. I look forward to the response.

Lord Avebury: I think we require further elucidation on all these matters. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for raising them, particularly in Amendment—

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right: all of the matters need further elucidation. What I should have said in closing was that I suspect noble Lords may be keen on just bringing back Amendment No. 57 on Report and the others may perhaps be settled by way of explanation. I used the wrong word. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for picking me up on it.

Lord Avebury: We are not quite sure whether the Minister is in listening mode this afternoon. She certainly did well on the previous amendment, and she may be able to satisfy us on these amendments. We particularly look forward to hearing the explanation for the seemingly onerous requirement of six months rather than the one-month period in the noble Baroness's amendment.

I want to add to what my noble friend has said about Amendment No. 62, on the power to share information with any foreign law enforcement agency. That power could affect the position of an asylum seeker, putting him at risk if his application fails, because nothing in the clause prevents disclosure to agencies such as it mentions in states that do not respect human rights and where a person may be at grave risk of persecution if he goes back. Secondly, nothing in the clause prohibits disclosure to agencies in states that do not have data protection regimes as effective as those that we have in the European Union. Therefore, the Minister should give us some more information about what is meant by "foreign law enforcement agency". Does it mean in any state whatever, such as Zimbabwe or Burma?

Lord Dholakia: Or Kazakhstan?

Lord Avebury: Kazakhstan, my noble friend says. Are there limits on the nature of the state in which the foreign law enforcement agency might have to be? My other question is whether the phraseology includes Europol and Interpol, which are international agencies to whom we now disclose specified information. As noble Lords may be aware, one of Europol's functions is to provide information to national police forces that they need for preventing and investigating crime. Where information is disclosed to them for those purposes, member states may place restrictions on passing it on to named third parties. That is a useful safeguard, which I would like to see in this clause. The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, later on, are prompted by similar considerations.
 
17 Jan 2006 : Column GC210
 

Lord Hylton: I will be raising the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just referred to, under Clause 39 and in my Amendments Nos. 63 and 64.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am very grateful to the noble Lord for indicating that. I will try to address all the concerns that have been raised and to be as helpful as I hope I was in the previous group. I will begin with Amendments Nos. 53 and 54, which are tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. We seek to ensure that those seeking asylum are properly documented as soon as possible. There are four main reasons why we want to do that. First, to check quickly whether there has been any other claim for asylum in the UK and if so under which identity, if that was an important issue. Secondly, to more quickly identify whether there has been a claim for asylum elsewhere in the European Union and whether therefore the claim may be the responsibility of another member state. Thirdly, we hope that a reduced notice period would enable asylum seekers to be documented more quickly and therefore their applications to be processed faster—that is as much a benefit to the asylum seeker.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): I am advised that there is a Division in the Chamber, so the Committee will be adjourned for 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.33 to 4.46 pm.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: The Minister was speaking on Amendment No. 53.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I will try to recap where I got to, but I was wondering if I might address a couple of points that were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on Amendment No. 62, while I have the opportunity. When the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, rejoins us, I will be able to deal with the issues he raised. I wanted to say something about the questions of data protection and human rights.

I am the Minister responsible for data protection as well. Any disclosures made will have to be in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998, which requires us to look at the eighth data protection principle subject to exemptions. That means that we have to consider the data protection regimes in other countries. There is quite a wide exemption, which is to do with substantial public interest providers. I would like to look at that with my officials and write to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, specifically on that so that I can cover the points that have been raised. We are considering a draft framework decision on data protection from the European Union, which I will have a meeting about tomorrow. That concerns, for example, the protection of personal data in the police sector. I might have more to say to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord after that meeting and after I discuss with officials how we will consider the eighth data protection principle in that context.

Regarding human rights, Section 6 would apply to anyone making a disclosure under the Act, and that would be the most relevant convention right to
 
17 Jan 2006 : Column GC211
 
disclose where Article 8 is engaged. We would have to ensure that there is a legitimate aim under Article 8(2); that disclosure is in accordance with the law; and that any interference is proportionate to the legitimate aim. In both cases those are well engaged, both in data protection and human rights, in disclosure of information in the context of Amendment No. 62.

While I am on Amendment No. 62, I shall deal with it in its entirety and then go backwards. We are very mindful—the Committee recognises this—that the partnership that exists between law enforcement agencies has become increasingly important. We were discussing at the justice Ministers' meeting in Vienna over the weekend the issue of Europol and how we deal with ensuring that data is properly shared but properly stored and looked after.

There are issues across the European Union, which I will define in two ways. First, there are states that are concerned about the quality of how information received by a state is looked after and stored and not able to be got at by those who might use it for negative means. Secondly, there are states that have concerns about the sharing of data, perhaps particularly those who not long ago found themselves released from a yoke where data were used consistently as a means of repression, if I can describe it as such. So even across the European Union, there are lots of debates about how to make sure that data are securely and properly shared. If the noble Lord were party to those debates, it would give him great encouragement that those issues are being taken seriously. Those issues are feeding in to the work that we will be doing on the data protection framework decision to make sure that the sharing of data is balanced with data protection at all times. I hope that that gives the noble Lord some encouragement.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page