Clause 17 — Extension of existing disclosure powers

Orders of the Day — Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 11:19 pm on 26 November 2001.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:19, 26 November 2001

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 7, line 10, leave out "criminal" and insert "terrorism".

Amendment No. 1 is the same as amendment No. 85, which we wanted to discuss in Committee last week but which we did not reach. The provisions of clause 17 represent some of the most major transfers of power by the state in terms of—[Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members who do not wish to hear the remainder of the debate should leave the Chamber quietly and quickly.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Clause 17 provides for the extension of existing disclosure powers to enable the exchange of information between Government agencies and Departments in a way that is unparalleled in our history. There is no restriction or fetter on the exchange of information, which is contained in schedule 7, and the provision can be applied in any criminal investigation from a speeding offence to high treason. Schedule 4, annexed to it, shows that the information cuts right across Government. Much of that information concerns matters that are, at present, surrounded by specific confidentiality clauses relating to the information imparted to the particular Government agency or Department.

Thus it will now be possible for the Inland Revenue to share information with any other Government agency. Medical information, including the records of individuals, will be capable of being shared. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, with which I am particularly familiar, contains a specific clause which provides that statements may be obtained from individuals—indeed, they are compelled to provide them. That information, too, may now be shared, even though the 1974 Act specifically provided that it could be made available only for legal proceedings relating to the Act or in circumstances in which the individual consented.

Conservative Members wish to assist the Government in the fight against terrorism. [Interruption.] If the Home Secretary would like to stop yawning, perhaps I can proceed with the points that I wish to make. Given the short amount of time that we have, the more he yawns, the longer this will take. We wish to help the Government to fight terrorism. That is why we have tabled this short amendment, which would confine this exchange of information to terrorism and terrorist offences.

The manner in which this measure has been introduced gives rise to considerable concern. Last year, the Government attempted to do exactly this in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, in which a very similar provision was introduced. It was hotly disputed, and by the time the Bill reached the House of Lords, the level of resistance was so great that, to save the legislation before the election, the Government agreed to drop the provision.

The other place was right to be concerned about this issue, because it concerns such a fundamental shift in the way we conduct our affairs. Historically, we have been self-regulating and that has implied a willingness by the individual to supply information to Government agencies and Departments in the belief that confidentiality would be maintained. Only in exceptional circumstances has interdepartmental confidentiality been broken or agreement been reached for the sharing of information.

Labour Members who may consider this a small matter should bear it in mind that the entire panoply of information sharing will be unfurled as a result of the changes and that we have been given precisely 25 minutes in which to consider them. They will not be considered in major legislation at all.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Has sufficient time been given to considering clause 47(1)(a), which refers to a

"person who— knowingly causes a nuclear weapon explosion" being guilty of an offence?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that that particular provision is not under discussion.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Tempted as I am, I shall follow your recommendation, Madam Deputy Speaker, and refrain from developing what would be an interesting line of debate.

The Bill and clause 17 go further than the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. It was at least provided in the 2001 Act that any information exchanged would be subject to the Data Protection Act 1998, but that provision will be removed under the Bill. We have had no explanation from the Government as to why that should be.

We urge the House carefully to consider the amendment. We believe that it would in no way prevent the Government from fighting terrorism, but it would prevent us from agreeing to a massive change in a brief debate on emergency legislation when the Government know that their previous attempt caused considerable concern. I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In the time available, it has not been possible to debate retention of data and only through the speedy footwork of Mr. Grieve, his colleagues and my colleagues have we been able to bring the matter before the House for a few minutes. We are aware, too, that if we are to resolve the issue, we must finish the debate in a matter of moments so as to allow any discussion on Third Reading. Therefore, I support what the hon. Gentleman said to remind the House of what it will agree to if it does not accept the Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendment, which I believe will be supported by others.

It is proposed that the powers of disclosure be extended in relation to any public authority so that the authorised purposes will include

"any criminal investigation whatever which is being carried out or may be carried out, whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere".

If that is not a wide provision, we do not know what is. The Government make it clear in schedule 4 that it already applies to 66 pieces of legislation—66 existing powers—and the clause proposes that they should by statutory instrument be able to extend it to any other legislation as well.

As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, that is why it is no surprise that this place and the House of Lords, which had inadequate time to debate the proposal when it appeared in a straightforward criminal justice and police Bill, not a terrorism Bill or an emergency Bill, said that holding such a debate was inappropriate. Lord Cope and Lord McNally made it clear that the Bill needed to be properly considered and controlled in order for us properly to do our job as legislators.

The Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit, which is the source of the proposal, recommended that there ought to be a wider power to disclose information for the purpose of criminal investigation. To take one example, the Revenue keeps records on 32 million people, and that information could be transferred as a result of the proposal. We are not told to whom that information could be passed, at whose request, the seniority of the person making the request, to what use it would be put and for what purposes it would thereafter be used.

Even if we were happy that this power should exist, and that it is a proper power for a police Bill, a criminal evidence Bill or a criminal justice Bill, Parliament was not willing to rush this provision through last year in such legislation. I hope that the House will agree that it is entirely inappropriate to rush it through under a guillotine in an emergency anti-terrorism Bill only a few months later.

When Miss Widdecombe spoke on Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill a year ago, she said that this provision should be used only in connection with serious investigations. Liberal Democrats said that it should at least require judicial authorisation. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, there is not even a limit on powers such as those which allow the Data Protection Registrar to hold information. From now on, that can be passed on.

This legislation should at least require a reasonable suspicion of serious terrorism-related crime for the House sensibly to agree to the proposals. There is no prior authorisation, no subsequent checking or auditing, and no guarantee that the person to whom the information relates is ever told what is going on. I hope that, even at this late stage, the House will realise that the amendment would hugely protect the citizen and that, unamended, the clause is not justified by the original purpose of the Bill. I hope that the amendment will be agreed.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury 11:30, 26 November 2001

Mr. Grieve fundamentally misunderstands the nature of these clauses. Clause 17 is designed to clarify for public officials in what circumstances they may disclose information. I think that many Members will recognise the need for that clarification. If the clause were restricted to terrorist offences, it would be a significant impediment because the public official in each case would have to satisfy himself in advance of any disclosure whether the information was directly related to a terrorism investigation. That does nothing to harmonise requirements or to make it simple for public officials to understand what they are supposed to disclose.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We do not want to make it simple. I am sure that the Minister will agree that each of the sections of each of the Acts listed in schedule 4 contain specific protections. She can read them. I quoted section 28(7) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Protection exists, but she intends to get rid of it. That is hardly a clarification.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it again shows that he fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the clause.

The hon. Gentleman disputes the fact that the clause contains safeguards. I guarantee that it provides strong safeguards for the disclosure of information. I emphasise that all the gateways in clause 17 are pre-existing: they have already been approved by the House, and nothing new is being debated today. They refer to specific information covered by existing statutory restrictions on disclosure. Safeguards are provided by the Human Rights Act 1998 and by the Data Protection Act 1984, and they still apply, so any information that is disclosed must be proportionate, necessary and lawful.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If the Data Protection Act is supposed to apply to clause 17, why is it cited specifically in respect of clause 19 but not in respect of clause 17?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

Such provisions could have been included, but it was decided that that would confuse certain other issues—[Interruption]. Not in relation to this clause, but in relation to other measures. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however—I see that Mr. Letwin, who is sitting beside him, agrees—that the Data Protection and the Human Rights Acts apply to clause 17. If he disputes that, we can perhaps continue to debate it, but it is the case. What we are talking about is widening gateways to include criminal investigations and proceedings, and harmonising various Acts.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

The Minister says that the Human Rights Act applies to the provisions she has just described. Following very limited debate, the Government disapplied the European convention on human rights only the other day. What guarantee have we that they will not do the same again?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

That is completely separate. It has nothing to do with clause 17. The fact is that the existing safeguards in regard to the existing gateways—the Data Protection and the Human Rights Acts—apply. They are strong provisions, and we are merely widening them to include the disclosure of information for the purposes of criminal investigations and proceedings.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Is there not a strategic issue here? The question of disclosure underlies what we feel is the erosion of civil liberties and privacy. At what point will the Government accept that preserving civil liberties is more important than their hunger to legislate in this way?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

The safeguards in the clause are very strong, and I believe that they protect existing civil liberties. Information that is disclosed is disclosed voluntarily, and disclosure must be necessary, proportionate and lawful.

I consider that restricting the wording to "terrorism" would limit and severely weaken the Bill. Those who accept the need to widen the gateways to include investigations as well as proceedings will see that it is difficult for public officials to know whether specific acts are related to terrorism. Serious crimes such as drug dealing and money laundering, for instance, are often intimately linked with crimes of terrorism. Restricting the wording in this way would severely inhibit our ability to pursue anti-terrorism measures and to conquer terrorism.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I have two questions. First, if there is a contradiction between clause 17 and the Data Protection Act, would the clause—given that it would be passed after the Act—supervene? Secondly, how could restricting the wording to "terrorism" cause difficulty in the pursuit of an investigation relating to terrorism?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

I do not believe there is any contradiction between the Data Protection Act and clause 17. It is clear that both the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act apply in this case.

I forget the hon. Gentleman's second question. Will he remind me? [Laughter.]

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

No, that is perfectly fair. I am sorry for having asked two questions in one.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Secretary (Home office)

The hon. Gentleman should not be patronising.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am not trying to be patronising; I am trying to be fair. How could restricting the clause to cases of terrorism restrict an investigation of terrorist activities?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

We are widening existing gateways to include disclosure of information relating to instances of pursued investigations, and helping authorities to decide whether to instigate such investigations. It is not at all clear that, if the provision were linked directly to terrorism, it would be easy for a public official to determine whether a serious crime such as money laundering or drug trafficking would turn out to be related to terrorism. We aim in clause 17 to make it as easy as possible for the authorities to tackle terrorism effectively.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Surely the Minister recognises that the Opposition are simply trying to restrict the provision to cases in which there is a reasonable suspicion of terrorism and therefore an investigation into terrorism. She has not yet addressed the issue of how such a restriction could possibly restrict an investigation into terrorism.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

As I said, it is quite clear that many serious crimes are intimately linked to terrorism. It is potentially even more difficult for public officials to determine whether certain acts of a criminal nature that are committed abroad are linked to terrorism. [Interruption.] I feel that I have dealt fully with the hon. Gentleman's interventions.

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Labour, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I mistakenly thought that the Bill dealt with terrorism, not crime. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are not narrowing the legislation to take targeted action on terrorists, which everyone tells us is necessary, except that the Government wish to bulldoze civil liberties at a great rate of knots in the little time remaining for consideration of the Bill. We should not simply throw the net as wide as possible to catch everyone including criminals within it. That is what is being proposed. Consequently, in the years to come we shall undoubtedly face umpteen injustices—[Interruption.] The legislation is badly thought out, and the Minister has the lamentable task of implementing it—[Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members are expected to be heard when they are making a contribution.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

There is nothing new in the Bill other than the widening of existing—[Hon. Members: "Gateways."]—gateways for the disclosure of information—[Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. The Minister is responding to an intervention.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

The clause widens provision for the disclosure of information to include criminal investigations as well as proceedings.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Economic Secretary, HM Treasury

No; I have already taken a significant number of interventions.

We see clause 17 as fundamental to the fight against terrorism. It is essential that we use all the means at our disposal to crack down on terrorism. It is absolutely right that information should be disclosed to us by public authorities in that manner.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I simply ask that the Question be put.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 330.

Division number 85 Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill — Amendment to Clause 17 — Disclosure Powers

Aye: 213 MPs

No: 330 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Absent: 112 MPs

Absent: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.