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House of Lords

Wednesday, 5 December 2007.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Manchester): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Gambling: Gibraltar

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there have been no formal discussions with Gibraltar on this issue. The Government have had wide-ranging informal discussions with a number of jurisdictions about the regulation of online gambling. For example, in October 2006, we hosted an international summit on remote gambling, which was attended by representatives from Gibraltar and 30 other jurisdictions. The aim of the summit and subsequent discussions was to promote and share best practice in consumer protection.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does he agree that the rigour of gambling regulation in Gibraltar falls well short of that insisted on by the Gambling Commission here and by the white-listed authorities of Alderney and the Isle of Man? May I urge my noble friend to do all that he can to persuade the Gibraltar authorities of the value of information exchange agreements between betting operators and sports governing bodies, so that irregular betting patterns, allegations of improper interference in the running of events and downright cheating are properly investigated? There is strong evidence that, in the case of operators based in Gibraltar, this is not happening.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, one case has certainly given rise to concern and my noble friend has brought it to the attention of the House in the past. However, we are not greatly exercised by the regime that obtains in Gibraltar with regard to these issues. It is quite clear that Gibraltar wants to reach the standards expected for online gambling in those areas over which we have more direct control, but we could do damage by leaning on the authorities in Gibraltar too greatly in areas where they are jealous of their own authority. However, we have made it clear that our Gambling Act and our Gambling Commission have set very high standards. As far as possible, we want to ensure that other jurisdictions that provide facilities of which British citizens take advantage operate the same high standards.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, if Gibraltar is less rigorous and effective than this country, will the Minister assure us that children will be as well

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protected, which was the intention of encouraging gambling organisations to register in this country? This is a vital area.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that it is an important consideration of our gambling legislation and the Gambling Commission. I assure the noble Baroness that we have no anxieties on that score as far as Gibraltar is concerned. If we did, it might be necessary for additional action to be taken. We should recognise that the Gibraltar authorities have the advantage of someone who is closely connected with the Gambling Commission in this country and who is therefore more than well equipped to advise them on the standards that they need to obtain.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, following those remarks, does the Minister agree that Gibraltar has self-interest in firm and strong regulation? It is hard to believe that it would not be keen for such regulation, because it derives considerable economic benefit from having these sorts of operations. Can we do anything to encourage Gibraltar to strengthen those areas highlighted by the noble Lord who asked the Question? We can help it with what knowledge we have gathered to maintain its integrity and its tax base, which is pretty irresistible to the companies that want to go there.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, Gibraltar attended our summit meeting on these issues and therefore was able to participate in proceedings that emphasised the standards that we have set. As the noble Viscount rightly said, Gibraltar has a very small domestic market. Therefore, if it is going to be successful with its gambling regime, it must attract punters from other European states. Obviously there is an affinity as far as the United Kingdom is concerned. Gibraltar is not going to get people using its online gambling facilities if there are doubts about the standards that obtain. It is in its interests that such standards should be as high as possible.

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as there is ample evidence that offshore online bookmakers are not taking steps to validate the age of gamblers applying for credit lines, they should be brought legitimately within the compass of British law, without breaching EC law, by being banned from advertising in the UK markets?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, only certain online areas are able to advertise in the United Kingdom, so we can to some degree limit that in any case. The noble Lord is right. If we had great anxiety about children being brought within the framework of online gambling and if we thought that the processes did not stand up to proper scrutiny, we would want to explore those issues further. Although online gambling is a significant new development, it still represents a very small percentage of gambling. The Gambling Act and the Gambling Commission have appropriate

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regulation for this country and we set out to set standards for others who seek to encourage people to gamble from this country.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, British bookmakers contribute to and help British racing. Do the profits from gambling in Gibraltar aid British racing in any way?

Lord Davies of Oldham: No, my Lords, I do not think that that is the case. There has been a levy on British-based bookmakers to contribute to racing, which has been an important part of the development of racing in this country for a long time. The noble Baroness will be all too well aware that that arrangement has been the subject of intensive discussion over recent months and the issues are not resolved at this point in time. However, I do not think that I can bring Gibraltar within that framework.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, are parents and guardians responsible for the debts of underage online gamblers?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a most interesting point. I asked a series of questions of civil servants, but I did not think of that one. Let me make the point pretty obvious. I should have thought that, if an online provider is not having his debts fulfilled because the person at the other end is not of a legal age to be sued, the obvious conclusion that he would draw is that he had better ensure that there are regulations to make sure that such debts can be fulfilled. From my experience, bookmakers are very careful to make sure that people can honour their commitments.

Crime: Rape

3.09 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we published our response to the public consultation Convicting Rapists and Protecting Victims last week. We intend to legislate when parliamentary time allows to strengthen the law on first complaint evidence and special measures for witnesses in court, as well as taking forward a wide range of other non-legislative measures to combat rape.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, why is it that the conviction rate for rape in New Zealand is four times—I repeat, for the benefit of the sisters: four times—the rate in the United Kingdom? Could the answer be that New Zealand has two separate offences: sexual violation and aggravated sexual violation? Why do the Government not reconsider the

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amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, during proceedings on the Sexual Offences Bill in 2003, which would have adopted within the United Kingdom the New Zealand system and, in the view of many, would have led to a substantial increase in the number of convictions?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is clear concern about the low conviction rate in this country, which, according to the latest figure I have, is 5.7 per cent. As for New Zealand, clearly the Government will always look at international experience. I am aware of the New Zealand system. My noble friend is right to say that there are two different crimes. However, I have to say to him that the Government do not plan to adopt the New Zealand model, which we think creates the risk of a two-tier offence. Rape can be extremely traumatic, whatever the circumstances, even when none of the circumstances applies relating to aggravated sexual violence. That is particularly the case when the offender is in a position of trust; for example, with a partner.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, is there any evidence that the reform of the law in 2003, which was designed to increase the rate of conviction, has made the slightest difference?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is very difficult to give a concrete answer to the noble and learned Lord. Certainly, there has been a slight increase in the conviction rate and more victims are coming forward. There is no doubt that we need to do more and we hope that our response last week to the consultation will help. But it is also clear that a lot more needs to be done in relation to the performance of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and in encouraging victims of rape to come forward.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, can the noble Lord help me regarding the Minister responsible for criminal law policy in this respect? I am rather anxious that at one stage it looked as though the law officers might be responsible. It is important that the law officers are law officers and that responsibility for the policy on the substantive criminal law should rest with the Home Secretary.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is a very interesting point. The noble and learned Lord will know that there is a consultation on the role of the Attorney-General, who, I am sure, will take that point into account. Clearly, when it comes to criminal justice matters there is responsibility across government. The Home Office has a vital role to play in that, particularly in its relationship to the work of the police, but other parts of government also have a role.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, is not the answer to the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, that there has been no significant difference in the conviction rate under the Sexual Offences Act 2003? Is it not time that the noble Lord revisited the amendments that I put forward at that

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stage to adopt the much more successful New Zealand model? That would result in many more people being brought to book for the crimes that they had committed.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I made no claim in responding to the noble and learned Lord. We are presented with a major challenge in relation to the conviction rate, which is very low indeed. On New Zealand, all I would say to the noble Lord is that I have already given the Government’s response. Of course we will continue to look at experience in other countries, but our law on rape was developed following five years of extensive consultation and there was widespread agreement on all sides of the House. It is not just a question of the law, but of how the various authorities involved do their jobs effectively at local level.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I am not sure what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours meant when he referred to “the sisters”, but I was one of the women who took part in the debate on sexual offences last week and I mentioned the New Zealand experience. When I was there, I found that the difference in the conviction rate was not so much to do with the difference in the law but with the difference in attitude in New Zealand, where women who complain of rape are not immediately judged on their sexual history or their dress or on how much they had been drinking.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is a very important matter. There is no doubt that we have a problem with the perception of rape among some members of the public. Figures show, for example, that a third of the population believes that women are partially or totally responsible if they behave flirtatiously. There are other aspects, too, where public perception needs to be changed. That matter was the subject of the consultation document response published last week. Clearly, much needs to be done in public education.

Revenue and Customs: Data Loss

3.15 pm

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the police continue to have no reason to believe that the child benefit data have fallen into the wrong hands. On 20 November, the Chancellor announced an independent review of HMRC’s data-handling procedure to be conducted by Kieran Poynter, the chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply but since the Chancellor made his Statement two weeks ago, we have heard that both the banks and the National Audit Office have publicly disagreed with his version of events. We now know that none of the data was encrypted and that the letters of apology that were subsequently sent contained confidential information, with some being sent to the wrong addresses; worst of all, the disks have not been found. Does the Minister agree that it would be difficult to find a more comprehensive example of incompetence?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Chancellor made it clear in his Statement how much he regretted this grievous error in data-handling by the department. However, the noble Baroness will recognise that the Government have put in hand procedures to guarantee that it does not happen again, and that is the issue about which the nation is exercised.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have lessons to learn and that is why Kieran Poynter is to produce a report, which the Chancellor will bring to the attention of the other place. However, a new three-step procedure has already been established for staff who handle requests for bulk data transfers. Transfers take place only when, in addition to being lawful, they are absolutely necessary, when written authorisation has been given by a senior manager and when clear instructions have been given regarding the appropriate standard of protection for the transfer. The Government have already taken that appropriate action in response to this grievous mistake.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Minister may be aware of the “Panorama” programme on Friday last week in which a professor of computing at Cambridge said, “We have warned the Government repeatedly that if you have a very large database with a very large number of people having access to it, it is not a question of if but when there will be a breach of security”. Is that not a lesson which the Government should have learnt and which they should not have to relearn now?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl is able to be so categorical about these issues in advance of the report which is being prepared for the Chancellor and which we shall all have the opportunity to discuss. However, if the burden of the noble Earl’s contribution is that the Government should cease to use computers and data collection extensively, how does he think that administration will be carried on in this country?

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, following this debacle, can the Minister give assurances that the powers of the Information Commissioner can be strengthened to prevent further loss of confidential information? Does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for more shared managed services in the

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public sector, which will provide both technical and, just as importantly, best-practice management support to prevent further breaches?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that may indeed be an important point on which Kieran Poynter comments. The Information Commissioner has an important role to play in this respect, and he recognises that he has an important contribution to make to this debate. However, we should not underestimate the challenges presented by data collection. What is important, as the noble Lord suggested, is that we learn from all levels of expertise what needs to be done and then carry that out as soon and forthrightly as possible. The Chancellor has indicated that by the action he has already taken.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, has my noble friend seen the extremely worrying report in today’s Daily Telegraph that the Information Commissioner has had several reports from private industry about the failure to protect data? Does it not show that it is not only the Government who are at fault but that laxity in data protection is widespread?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, other large organisations have had embarrassments in data protection. Nevertheless, we have laws in place to protect the public so far as private authorities are concerned, and the same laws obtain with government departments that handle sensitive information. We have to reassure the public and regain public confidence in the wake of the problem that arose a month or so ago and, as I indicated, that is exactly how the Government are acting.

Lord Newby: My Lords, on reassuring the public, the Minister will be aware that, on 21 November, the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet Secretary and security experts were reviewing the storage and use of data across all government departments. The Government subsequently announced that there will be a Statement when that review is completed. Given the considerable public concern and urgency on this issue, can the Minister give us an indication of the timetable for the completion of that review? In particular, may we have an assurance that, at the very least, an interim Statement will be made before the House rises for the Christmas Recess?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is a very large review and I do not have a detailed timetable on its completion. However, the Chancellor is expecting at least an interim report from Kieran Poynter on the specific difficulties. I understand entirely the noble Lord’s comment that there are wider issues at stake—there are, and they have increased urgency as a result of this development. However, I cannot give him the assurance that we will be in a position to make a report before Christmas-time.

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