Clause 80 - Speculative searches

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 8th March 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:30 pm, 8th March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 224, in page 66, line 32, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 67.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 269, in page 66, line 33, leave out `British Islands' and insert

`United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man'.

No. 270, in page 66, line 33, leave out `British Islands' and insert

`United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man'.

No. 271, in page 66, line 36, after `person', insert

`specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 272, in page 66, line 42, after `person', insert

`specified' in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 273, in page 66, line 45, leave out `places' and insert `countries'.

No. 274, in page 67, line 3, at end insert—

`(1AA) Any order made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1A)(e) or (f) above shall be made by statutory instrument; and no such order shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.'.

No. 275, in page 67, line 35, at end insert—

`(1E) Prior to the giving of consent in writing under subsection (1C) above, the person giving the consent shall have the provisions of subsection (1D) above drawn to his attention in writing.'.

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

The clause lists the agencies between which information can be transferred. The presumption seems to be that they can transfer information without further ado. The clause lists ``a police force'' and the ``National Criminal Intelligence Service''. There follows a list of other authorities and agencies, some of which are police. At the moment, police forces in the United Kingdom can transfer information between themselves, including fingerprint, database and DNA information. That relates to the questions that I asked this morning about fingerprinting and sample-holding arrangements, who can have access to them and how.

First, I understand that the clause will extend the power to check fingerprints not only to other organisations within the UK but to foreign police forces and organisations such as the Ministry of Defence police. Secondly, if someone volunteers to give information, fingerprints or samples and they are put into the general database, the clause would allow that permission to be extended to all the organisations listed.

With amendment No. 224, I want to test whether it is justified at this stage and in this one-off way to extend the list as the Government propose. The amendment would stop the list at the National Criminal Intelligence Service and remove the other organisations in the list. Amendments Nos. 269 to 275 were tabled by Conservative Members, and they will speak to them in a moment.

The general proposition that follows from amendment No. 224 is that it is important that the public as well as the police know who are the ``authorities''. I do not argue that we can necessarily and easily rationalise into a smaller number of police forces—although I believe that we should. However, we must justify including all those other forces and authorities in the provision.

I am also worried by lines 32 to 35 of the clause, which would also be removed by the amendment. They state:

``a public authority (not falling within paragraphs (a) to (c))''—

so not a police force, not the National Criminal Intelligence Service and not the National Crime Squad

``with functions in any part of the British Islands which consist of or include the investigation of crimes or the charging of offenders''.

That could be interpreted—although it is not intended to be—as including local authorities. I say that because under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 there are new partnerships, and some decisions about the processes of local action involve local authorities by definition of that Act. A wide interpretation of the definition could allow local authorities to be included for reasons that we have debated—for example, that it is the local authority that has designated an area for curfew purposes, or the like.

If the Minister is being less defensive than normal, he may accept that there could be ambiguity about the definition. If so, would he consider a definition that makes it clear that only public authorities who are, as it were, part of the law and order community are included? Will he clarify which public authorities are included? We should not legislate to include public authorities that are not included in the shopping list that we have in paragraphs (a) to (f) or the even bigger shopping list that we have from subsection (1B)(a) to (o). We do not know which other organisations may be included. We need to know whether other public authorities are involved, and if so, which.

During Home Office debates during the past year—I seem to remember the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) making this point about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—it has been said that we must be careful, when we list organisations to be covered, either to list them all accurately, or to define them by generic type so that we need not list them in the Bill. I wonder whether the clause is in danger of breaching that general, sensible proposition and not learning the lessons of last year, and whether, in any event, consideration should be given to whether the list should appear in a schedule, with a general proposition concerning the type of organisation in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I can be relatively brief about our amendments—Nos. 269 to 275. We want to probe the Minister on several issues. I start with what is perhaps the simplest amendment. You cautioned us, Mr. Gale, against mentioning those who assist all of us, so I will not do so, but I urge the Minister to consider with his officials whether amendment No. 273 is much closer to the normal drafting. One does not normally read in legislation a phrase such as

``the law of one or more places''.

Surely, that should read ``countries'', as amendment No. 273 would provide. Even if the Minister cannot agree to that amendment today, I hope that on Report he will feel that our drafting is more felicitous. That is the simplest amendment, but there are one or two matters of slightly greater substance.

Amendment No. 272 deals with proposed new subsection (1A)(f) of section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which concerns

``any person with functions under any international agreement which consist of or include the investigation of conduct which is—unlawful...prohibited... or contrary to international law''.

We think that there should be a requirement for such people to be specified by order made by the Secretary of State, and that is what the amendment seeks to do.

Amendment No. 274 is similar. It seeks to include a new subsection (1AA) at the end of the existing subsection (1A) saying that no order shall be made

``unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.''

We think that there should be an affirmative procedure, so that there would be some democratic scrutiny before such orders took place. On the Conservative Benches, we always believe that to be important, and we do so in this regard.

The same is true of the wording of our amendment No. 271, in that we are asking that the person be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 269 and 270 are close to my heart, as an officer of the all-party Isle of Man group, or Manx group as it is sometimes called. Too often, this Government treat the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands with something that can only be described—and has been described within the House of Keys—as contempt.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

In a moment.

The Home Office got into terrible trouble early in the life of this Government when it was trying to get itself out of a temporary bind relating to the former Paymaster General. Suddenly, without any consultation with the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, it introduced new provisions in relation to banking regulation—my own field as a lawyer—and there were emergency debates seeking secession in the Isle of Man Parliament and in Jersey and Guernsey. For the Government to ignore the significance of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is, we believe, a grave mistake that will only lead to further offence. The peculiar phrase ``British Islands'' is a novel one to me and perhaps to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). We strongly urge the Minister, on Report if not today, to revert to the traditional wording of ``United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man''.

Mr. Gale, you will stop me if I trespass too far down the line of wondering whether some deference is being attempted towards those who wish to refer to the island of Ireland, as it may not be germane to these amendments. However, we are suspicious of any redefinition of this country as ``the British Islands'', for which there might be any number of reasons. Perhaps it is part of the Government's sinister regionalising agenda, or it could simply be due to the misunderstanding of our history that is prevalent in this Labour Government.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Surely the words ``British Islands'' will include, for example, the Falkland Islands and those islands in the Caribbean that are British protectorates. They are not covered by this Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

My hon. Friend is right, and reinforces my point. We are anxious to retain the traditional formula of the

``United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man''.

That phrase has been used repeatedly in Bill after Bill, Act after Act. The Minister may have some justification for his novel phraseology. If he does, I will certainly give way, but before that it is important to place on the record the substantive point of our belief in the traditional description of this country and, indeed, that description itself. The Minister is not going to intervene. Perhaps he has been persuaded by my argument although that, too, would be novel.

Finally, we come to amendment No. 275. It touches on another important point, but a rather different one. We seek to insert a new subsection (1E) which suggests that before giving written consent, the person concerned should have the provisions of subsection (1D) drawn to his or her attention in writing. That is important, because we are concerned with the protection of the citizen.

Subsection (1D), which would make it impossible for consent given under subsection (1C) to be withdrawn, is not unique, but such provisions are not all that common. Any person who is asked to make an irreversible commitment, to which consent cannot subsequently be withdrawn, should always be informed of that fact in writing beforehand. That is why I have left amendment No. 275 until last. The issue that it deals with is particularly important and separate from the others. Whatever the Minister may think of the other amendments in the group, I urge him seriously to consider that one above all. It is an important safeguard for the liberty of the subject.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:45 pm, 8th March 2001

Does my hon. Friend also want the Minister to explain the implications of the change for arrangements for police co-operation in Europe?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

That is a good point. It would help if we might hear about that. My hon. Friend, having been a distinguished Minister in the previous Government, has more experience of cross-border ministerial meetings than I have. My experience was limited to being a Parliamentary Private Secretary in two Departments, although in one of those, the Ministry of Defence, the work had significant international implications. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. No doubt the Minister will have something to say on the matter.

We are of course aware of the important briefing provided to all members of the Committee by Liberty. I shall not repeat all the concerns rightly raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about clause 80. However, they are important issues, and the points that Liberty raised and the hon. Gentleman so ably summarised deserve a detailed response from the Minister.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the phrase ``the British Islands''. The Minister rolls his eyes and looks heavenwards as if I am deranged.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I had intended to leave this point until I replied to the debate, but to try to cut short continued discussion of it, I remind the Committee that the meaning of the term ``the British Islands'' is set out in the Interpretation Act 1978 and was, of course, current throughout the term of the previous Government. It has exactly the meaning set out in amendment No. 269, of the

``United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man''.

That phrase has been in standard use in legislation for 22 years. I thought of intervening on the point earlier, and then thought that I would leave it, but as questions such as whether the definition includes the Falkland islands have been raised, I thought that I should place the explanation on the record to help the Committee.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I am sure that the Minister is right in the assurance that he gives the Committee. However, I find the term an extremely odd use of language, when it would be possible to be specific. If the jurisdictions set out in amendment No. 269 are what is meant, it would be infinitely preferable for them to appear in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Of course I heard the Minister's intervention, but I found it surprising. If the Minister is telling the Committee that the phrase ``the British Islands'' was used in every Bill of the previous Parliament, I am amazed. That is not my recollection, although of course I have not had the chance to check. My recollection is that on several occasions we debated Bills that contained the phraseology used in the amendment.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I note that my hon. Friend has tabled two alternative amendments, Nos. 269 and 270, the second of which includes a reference to the Republic of Ireland. I understand from what the Minister said that the phrase used in the Bill does not include the Republic of Ireland. However, I remain concerned. On a normal reading of ``British Islands'', anyone would clearly think that the term included the Republic of Ireland.

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

It is like the phrase ``the British Isles'', which has always included Ireland. The Irish are obviously not keen for that to be used.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

The fact that a definition is floating about from 23 years ago does not reassure me much when we could put known and clearly understood terms in the Bill. Something as vague as ``British Islands'' is no substitute for an accurate term.

I am especially concerned about proposed new subsection (1A)(d) of section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It states:

``a public authority...with functions in any part of the British Islands which consist of or include the investigation of crimes or the charging of offenders''.

If, on reasonable reflection, I believe that ``British Islands'' includes the Republic of Ireland, my understanding would be that the provision would cover public authorities nominated by another country.

If we do not mean the Republic of Ireland, the Minister should accept amendment No. 269, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), as it at least is clear. I would not want him to accept the alternative of amendment No. 270, which includes the Republic of Ireland, simply because of the authority that would then be given to that country to nominate public authorities without the permission of the House and the wishes of the Government. Such authorities would be given power and responsibility under the clause.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am slightly surprised that we should devote so much time and energy to discussing the meaning of ``the British Islands'', given the shortage of time of which the Opposition complain.

It might help the Committee if I responded to a point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey this morning about the process of access to fingerprint and DNA records. I said that I would write to him, but I can now give him an answer, and doing so will help our debate.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, an individual has a right to a copy of details of any personal data relating to them that is held on a computer. Fingerprints or DNA profiles are considered personal information. Individuals who want to exercise their right under the 1998 Act, or their representatives, need to apply to the main police station in their area for a subject access application form. Once the form is completed, it needs to be returned to the police with an appropriate form of identification, so that the police can establish that the individual is the relevant person, and that he or his representative has the right to the information. Apparently, there is a fixed charge of £10.

The form will then be sent to the subject access office in New Scotland Yard, which will check the details of the individual against the records held on the PNC—the police national computer. If no information is held, a standard letter will be sent by the subject access office directly to the individual. If any information on the individual falls within the provisions of the 1998 Act, the information will be checked and sent directly to the individual who requested the information. The police are under a legal requirement to respond to such requests within 40 days.

Similar arrangements exist for the DNA database, but because it is currently not linked to the police national computer—we are developing that relationship—the requests are dealt with by the forensic science service on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

As far as multiple sets of fingerprints are concerned, each set is recorded and given a unique arrest summons record number on the police national computer. The ASR also includes minimum basic details, such as the name of the person, details of the officer taking the prints, the officer investigating the case, the offence and the charging station. The fingerprint bureau then enters the record on to the national automated fingerprint identification system, known as NAFIS. It is not possible to create a record on NAFIS without the full information that I have summarised.

NAFIS will retrieve the ASR from the Phoenix criminal name database on the PNC. Checks are then made to ensure that the data captured on the new form match those on the ASR. If the subject has a criminal record, the Criminal Record Office—CRO—number is added to the relevant field in the ASR together with a unique NAFIS fingerprint identification number. When a fingerprint record is added to an existing or a new record, the information goes automatically to the PNC to update records. ASRs are attached to existing records.

The unique fingerprint identification number allows tracking through the NAFIS system. For any individual there may be several sets of fingerprints taken for different offences. NAFIS also uses the best prints to compile the ``ten print'' complete fingerprint record, so that might be a composite of individual prints taken from different sets and records. That allows for an audit trail to be created, enabling all prints to be kept and accounted for even though the set shown when the record is interrogated may be a composite.

Access to fingerprint records by police forces was an issue raised in this context by the hon. Gentleman. When the roll-out of NAFIS is completed in April 2001—as hon. Members will know, it has been a recent major project—police forces in England and Wales will have direct access to the national fingerprint collection through their force fingerprint bureau. Access to the collection by other police forces will continue to be through the national fingerprint bureau in New Scotland Yard. All access to the DNA database is through the forensic science service. I thought that it would help the Committee to place on the record the nature of that process, because of the points that have been raised in debate.

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

The Minister's comments are extremely helpful, informative and positively interesting. We are grateful for that explanation.

I have a question for the Minister. A person may have a speeding conviction and an endorsement on their licence. That is dealt with by magistrates—it is not a fixed penalty matter. In such a case, does that person acquire a criminal record at the CRO as a result of their conviction, and does that record remain on the computer permanently, irrespective of the fact that after a certain period, when the offender is considered to be rehabilitated, it will be erased for other purposes? I ask that because if, years afterwards, the person with the conviction is still on the database as having a criminal record, that might have an influence on their life.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I shall respond to that in due course, as I do not want to be misleading in the information that I give. I was particularly concerned about the question of fingerprint and DNA databases, because that is the issue with which the clause deals. I will respond to the hon. Gentleman on that later.

We wish to clarify the position of other law enforcement agencies in relation to their ability to cross-search records, and the reciprocal arrangements that will allow police forces in this country access to records held by other police forces.

The United Kingdom is a world leader in the field of DNA and we were the first country to establish a national DNA database. As other countries develop DNA databases, we wish to ensure that the appropriate mechanisms exist to allow sharing of vital information.

Crime is not limited by national borders. The police may have reason to believe that a fingerprint or a DNA sample that has been recovered from a crime scene relates to a foreign national. They may wish to try to confirm the suspect's identity by checking with the relevant country's fingerprint or DNA database. A similar logic applies to overseas forces seeking assistance from our police service. It is an obvious point that Dover is closer to Calais than it is to Manchester, and we live in a world where travel is more and more common. Sadly, an increasing number of crimes are committed by UK nationals abroad or by people from abroad in the UK.

This clause will not give the persons and bodies listed access to our databases. It will enable the police to check our records against the records of the law enforcement agencies that have their own records of fingerprints and samples, but only for the purposes of the prevention and detection of crime or the investigation or prosecution of offences. The police will also need to comply with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

I shall now respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. The exchange of fingerprints and DNA currently takes place under the authority of the European convention on mutual legal assistance of 1959 and the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990. One of the effects of clauses 80 and 81 will be to place these exchanges on a clearer statutory footing, which will give a better basis for that form of co-operation. I think that all members of the Committee would wish to encourage that.

The primary gateway for requests for intelligence information from overseas police forces is through Interpol, and ACPO does not intend to change that arrangement. The requests for exchange of information relating to DNA or fingerprints would be dealt with using existing procedures. In considering requests for such information, Interpol would look at a full range of factors, including the validity of the request, the purpose to which the information is to be put, compliance with data protection guidelines and security of the information. The request would be granted only if the criteria were satisfied.

Amendment No. 224 would limit the power to check samples to records held by other United Kingdom police forces, NCIS and the National Crime Squad, removing the power to check samples held by other public authorities with crime investigation functions, including police forces in other jurisdictions and international tribunals.

Most public authorities that have prosecution functions will not have their own records of fingerprints or samples, but the police should be able to check their records against those that do, such as the immigration service or Customs and Excise. I do not accept that the wording is ambiguous; it is important for the clause to be relatively flexible to meet the development of new agencies. As to whether a local authority fits within that category, in theory, it could fall within paragraph (1A)(d) in so far as it has a prosecution function, which is an important limitation in that respect. However, it is unlikely that it will have any fingerprints or sample records that the police would want to check against the database.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:00 pm, 8th March 2001

As the Minister knows, I am interested in the detection of benefit fraud. I understand that the Government have plans to increase the powers available to the benefit fraud service, which is welcome. Is it intended that it will be able to hold fingerprints and will it fall within the public authority category?

Will the Minister please explain what

``unlawful under the law of one or more places'' means? Does ``the law'' in that context mean criminal law?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question about places when we discuss the relevant amendment.

At present, the Department of Social Security relies on the police; it does not have its own database and prints. The clause would, at some stage in the future, if policy were to change, allow a public authority such as the Benefits Agency to come within the provision. However, we have no such intention at present. That is not what the proposal is about, but it gives flexibility for the future.

We have already discussed amendment No. 269, and I explained that the meaning of ``British Islands'' is set out in the Interpretation Act 1978. It has exactly the meaning that the amendment would give it: it means the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. I have not myself read every Act passed since 1978 to check the exact meaning of the words in every circumstance, but I believe that it is the standard wording. The Government are advised on the wording by parliamentary counsel—there is no secret meaning. It is not something for the CAFE society—Conservatives Against a Federal Europe. I do not know if the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is a member of that organisation, which wants to pull out of the European Union. The term has no special meaning, it is merely the wording that is customary in our legislation.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

If the amendment states exactly what the clause intends, is clear about the jurisdiction and does not cause confusion, the wording in the amendment should be in the clause. People should be able to read and understand legislation, so far as that is possible.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I think it better to use the tried and tested language.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am second to no one in acknowledging the advantages of codifying legislation and drafting it in ways that people understand. I agree with the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) that that would be a good thing. I am a conservative individual, as my hon. Friends know, and I am not in favour of a radical new departure of the type proposed.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Whatever may have been the position under the previous Labour Government of the Interpretation Act 1978, this is not something that would fall within any definition approved by the Plain English Campaign, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate said. The wording in our amendment is much clearer and has been used for many generations, not just in one Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire helpfully points out, the words ``United Kingdom'' are used in the Police Act 1997, which is sufficiently recent to be provided by the excellent servants of the House for the use of all members of the Committee, so we have proof positive from an Act of this Government that they have not always used ``British Islands'', which rather proves my point.

Finally, I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray): the Minister attempted to misdescribe the Conservatives Against a Federal Europe as in favour of withdrawal from the European Union, but that is certainly not the case.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I certainly would not dream of going any further down that line.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am interested in the focus that the Opposition are giving to the phrase ``British Islands'', and I agree that it would be as well for Parliament to consider how we use such geographical definitions so that people understand the situation most clearly. However, I intend to urge my colleagues to vote against the amendment if it is pressed to a vote.

Amendment No. 270 would add the Republic of Ireland to the list, which we discussed earlier, but police forces in the Republic will already be covered by new subsection (1A)(e) and we see no reason to include it and it alone in addition to British island authorities. I therefore urge hon. Members not to insist on that amendment.

Amendments Nos. 271, 272 and 274 would limit the exchange of information only to those persons specified by the Secretary of State by affirmative resolution. It is an unnecessary safeguard because of the other measures that are already in place and because none of the bodies will have direct access to our records. All requests from abroad will be mediated through the Interpol desk at NCIS. Any disclosure will be limited to the purposes of prevention and detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or the conduct of a prosecution, as contained in clause 81. I do not know whether the key point will be a vote about the question of affirmative resolution on the matter, but we do not need the process that is described and affirmative resolution would not in any case be the right way to go about it.

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

If I wanted to know tomorrow which French organisations—to take a random example—came within the definition in proposed new subsection (1A)(e), which starts:

``any person with functions in any country or territory outside the United Kingdom which—''

and so on, would I be entitled to know which organisations Interpol regarded as fulfilling that requirement? Is that a matter of public knowledge? If not, there is a problem with giving authority to nomination by a country and agreement by an organisation to which there is no public access.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I think that I can be both helpful and unhelpful. I have been accused of being a Jekyll and Hyde figure. Now I will try to be such a figure in a single answer.

The unhelpful part of my answer is that, as I have made clear, we are not giving other organisations access to the database. The police here will have access to the data in the way that we have described, so the precise issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised will not arise. I will also try to be slightly helpful. I cannot say absolutely that we can list the organisations as described. However, if it helps, I will write to him with a perception of how we might address the question. Interpol is, of course, an organisation that has members in different forces in different places, and there are different legal structures in different countries. I return to my unhelpful answer: we will not give a French police force, for example, access to our data. It is all controlled by our police in the way in which we operate. I think that that answers the point.

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

I am grateful, and I understand the direction of the inquiry. Let me put another, perhaps more realistic, option. I may have been on holiday in Spain and ended up having a row with the relevant regional statutory body in control of tourism about the inadequacy of my bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Let us say that a penalty was imposed because it was regarded that I had not paid for my booking, and I was recorded on that Spanish public authority's register. If I had a concern when I returned here that I might be on that register in Spain as an offender or undesirable, could I check that, and the fact that Interpol or the UK police force could have access to that database, so that I could explain the situation if I needed to, and satisfy myself that I was not being misrepresented?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I do not think that the Bill will give UK citizens the power to find out what data exists about them in other countries, simply because we cannot legislate for other countries. If the hon. Gentleman were on a Spanish tourist authority's database, the clause would not allow him to see his record. The clause is only about cross-checking fingerprints in such circumstances.

No organisation will have direct access to our records; all requests from abroad will be mediated through the Interpol desk at NCIS. That provides a strong safeguard for individuals in circumstances such as the hon. Gentleman described. I agree that the Bill does not deal with the way in which other countries legislate, but, as we are gradually increasing co-operation on data across the European Union, I would be surprised if he did not begin to enjoy such rights. However, the Bill does not cover that.

Amendment No. 273 would change ``places'' to ``countries''. ``Places'' in this context is deliberately vague—perhaps an alliance of the plain English campaign and the Criminal Bar Association would help us—because the subsection is designed to cover international tribunals that might be set up to deal with war crimes and other crimes against international law. It might be a moot point in such situations whether the areas involved are ``countries'', ``states'', ``provinces'', ``territories'' or just ``places'', whose status in international law is unclear.

Clause 81 deals with voluntary retention of samples given for the purposes of elimination. If volunteers consent to their fingerprints or samples being retained in such circumstances, that consent must be in writing. Before individuals give consent, it is right that they should be made fully aware of the circumstances under which it is given and that, once it is given, it cannot be withdrawn.

Therefore, we fully accept the spirit of amendment No. 275, on which there is no disagreement in principle between the parties. However, if it were accepted, parallel amendments would be needed to new section 64(3AC), which is inserted by clause 81, and to the parallel provisions for Northern Ireland in clause 82. The clauses already require written consent for the retention of volunteers' samples, and I can assure the Committee that guidance will be issued to the police to ensure that consent is fully informed and includes an acknowledgement that consent cannot be withdrawn once given.

The existing Home Office circular 16/95 will need to be updated to address the changes made by the Bill. I can also give the assurance that, following the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I will re-examine the Bill to see whether there is a better way of drafting the provisions. There is no argument in principle about them; the question is about the most effective way of proceeding. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn.

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

I just want to be sure that I have heard accurately and understood. Is the Minister saying that there will be no retrospective change to the law and that, prospectively, the law will reflect the terms of amendment No. 275? Will that mean that, before people are asked to give their consent to fingerprints or samples, or to the checking of them through the search provision, they will be told that, once they give that consent, they will not be able to withdraw it? If so, will there be a guarantee to confirm objectively that those people have been told and have understood?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Guaranteeing objectively that people have been told is perhaps easier than guaranteeing that people understand. Proposed new subsections (1C)(a) and (b) are explicit, which is why I said that the clauses already require written consent for retention of volunteers' samples.

I repeat my earlier assurance that guidance will be issued to the police to ensure that consent is fully informed and includes an acknowledgement that consent, once given, cannot be withdrawn. In that sense, the law will be prospective and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it cannot be retrospective. I can say nothing further on the matter. We have the law and the guidance, and I have given a clear commitment to accept the principle in the amendment. The guidance will have to deal with the burden of ensuring that there is some kind of objective test of the process or of consent having been given. As I emphasised, in principle there is no difference between us on the issue.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 8th March 2001

I understand that, but something should be included in the Bill. Guidance is fine but people should know beyond doubt that that is something to which they are entitled. Guidance does not have the same status.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

As I tried to say, it is a question of how the legislation is drafted. Proposed new subsections (1C) (a) and (b) provide clarity on the point. I can see that the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, but I think that it is the case. I have nothing further to say on the matter. I urge the Opposition to withdraw their amendment in the light of my assurances.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I am sorry to detain the Committee and the Minister on the question of nationality but it is extremely important. The matter is of particular importance to Conservatives because issues of nation and identity are central to our policies.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

My hon. Friend may not have heard the sedentary intervention from the Minister who, in response to the earlier point about the Conservatives being interested in patriotism, said that the Government have a Minister for patriotism.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Of course—the Government need one.

We discussed the inclusion of ``British Islands'' in the clause. The debate has been positively Kafkaesque. When the Minister was asked to explain what it meant, he had to refer to another piece of legislation, passed 23 years ago, to give the definition. Our amendment proposes a form of words that express what the Minister purports to mean.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I wonder if the hon. Gentleman can cite any example, in the past 18 years, of when he or a member of his party proposed a similar amendment to a piece of legislation?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

No—in a word. During the previous Government's term of office, I was serving my country in the armed forces—for which issues such as the one that we are discussing are of immense importance. A number of former colleagues in my Army regiment laid down their lives for such concepts as national identity. We have in the Bill a phrase that is defined in an Act that was passed 23 years ago—but are told that it is better than an amendment that says what it means.

It is extraordinary that the Minister will not accept the amendment. What is going on? I am no more paranoid than is usual for a Member of Parliament but I do not understand why the Minister is sticking on that point. If ``British Islands'' means what my hon. Friends propose in amendment No. 269, then let us, for goodness sake, put that in the Bill. Everyone will be able to read that and know what is being talked about. Anyone coming to the legislation for the first time and reading ``British Islands''—unaware, as I was, of a definition that was laid down 23 years ago, meaning something other than what one would think—would assume that the phrase means the British Isles, including the Republic of Ireland. It is bizarre that the Minister will not accept the amendment.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The Police Act 1997 was cited. That Act applies to the United Kingdom; that is not the same as the British Isles—which is why the phrase was used. Why do we have the Interpretation Act 1978? It is a comprehensive statute that sets out how legislation is to be interpreted by giving a long list of terms and their definition in schedule 1. The purpose of the Act, with which I would have thought all hon. Members would agree, is to achieve consistency and clarity, and to obviate the need for repetitive definitions in each new Act of Parliament.

Of course there is room for the argument that the Interpretation Act 1978 should be amended and that we should accept the hon. Gentleman's definition of the phrase in question. However, I believe that we should stick with the consistent system that we have. If the hon. Gentleman wants to amend the Interpretation Act, he could use the House's time—through private Member's Bills or other means—to bring it into line with whatever political or national spasm preoccupies the Conservative party at any given time.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On the question of national identity, referred to by the Minister as a spasm, I profoundly disagree with him. I see no reason why the legislation should not be clear to someone reading it for the first time. Why is there no reference or footnote in the Bill to make it clear what ``British Islands'' means? The Government's refusal to accept the amendment is simply beyond me. I do not accept the Minister's arguments. When reference to the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man was intended, legislation over the past 18 years referred to those terms? Can the Minister provide examples where the term ``British Islands'' has been used? If not, Conservative Back Benchers, for whom clarity in these matters is important, would regard it as unacceptable.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I can be brief. We do not accept some of the Minister's arguments and I shall urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote on amendments Nos. 269, 271, 272 and 274. We recognise that the Minister has moved some way in our direction and agreed to reflect further on amendment No. 275, but we remain concerned about it. I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that some issues remain outstanding. We would prefer them to be built into the Bill, but the Minister has undertaken to examine the matter further and he may table amendments on Report. In those circumstances, we shall not press amendment No. 275, but we may—in common with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—want to return to the matter on Report. If the Government fail to respond to our concerns, we shall raise the matter again.

Similarly, on amendment No. 273, the Minister explained the reason for adopting ``places'' instead of the more usual ``countries''. I understand his explanation, but it reinforces the argument about consistency of meaning, which partly supports my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate. Let us not go back over that argument. I shall not press amendments Nos. 273 and 275 only.

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

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument about amendment No. 275, although I still believe that it would be better if the matter were built into the Bill. I also accept the Minister's explanation of amendment No. 273, and understand that ``places'' that are less than countries, territories and protectorates can still be governed.

I approach amendment No. 269 from a different perspective than the hon. Member for Reigate, but I share his view. The issue is not about the Interpretation Act 1978, which clarifies the meaning of ``British Islands'' in statute. That is fine, but ``British Islands'' is not a correct term and people do not usually use it. The phrase is not used to explain the complicated alternatives between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and all the islands on the north-west of mainland Europe. It is not a phrase that immediately suggests the meaning in the Interpretation Act.

For the avoidance of doubt and clarity of interpretation, is it not better for everyone to say what they mean rather than something that will be interpreted differently? I join the hon. Gentleman in asking the Minister to reflect further and I encourage Government Members not to vote on the amendment. Ministers may be obliged to vote in support of the Bill, but Labour Back Benchers could decide not to vote on the amendment. It is ridiculous that we have spent so much time on something that should not be an issue between us. Amendment No. 269 is perfectly proper and, of the two amendments—Nos. 269 and 270—it is the one that should be accepted.

Amendment No. 274 is an appendage to amendments Nos. 271 and 272. I am still unhappy that the system does not provide the ability to know which person—``person'' does not mean person but relevant law enforcement authority—might, in another country, be an agency whose records our authorities can search against. We should have that information, especially in our modern age of information flow and transparency and, allegedly, freedom of information.

The information about those organisations abroad should be open to any member of the public. It should not be difficult to provide it: each country would submit its list of organisations, and that list would be published. The information should automatically be available to our Government, as well as to Interpol and NCIS. For example, I could wake up one morning and learn that the Iranian Special Defence Force is such an agency. I might have been arrested on my holiday in Iran—had I been on holiday in Iran—and had no choice about having my fingerprints taken. I make my point seriously. The provision is extraordinary: it allows our police, who seek to do their jobs properly, to search information from organisations that have been designated by an undemocratic, unelected or authoritarian Government. That could mean all sorts of strange and undesirable law enforcement authorities, such as those in Pakistan until democratic government is restored, in Zimbabwe under President Mugabe or in China. That is not acceptable, if we have no means of knowing what those organisations are and we give carte blanche under the proposal. Therefore, although it might not be a perfect way of identifying such persons, should the Conservatives press the amendments that require that they are specified by the Secretary of State and approved by us, we would be happy to support them.

That leaves our amendment No. 244. Again, the Minister's answer confirmed that we will greatly widen the area of uncertainty if the clause is not amended. Collaboration is perfectly reasonable in a modern age when crime is committed by more and more people in countries other than their own and on an international basis. We completely support such collaboration. We also support the democratic accountability of collaboration across the European Union. None the less, the difficulty is that the proposal includes not just all those persons who might be working for undemocratic Governments around the world, but public authorities, such as local councils, that do not follow the same security regulations for held information. They do not act in the same way as the police, although they are all prosecuting authorities. District councils, borough councils, London boroughs and the City of London are certainly prosecuting authorities, as I think are county councils, but I do not know about local government in Scotland. They are all prosecuting authorities, except for the lowest tier of local government.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I wish to clarify exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If I have it right, he wants to leave out paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) under the new subsection (1A) in clause 80. Does he think that there should not be an international exchange of data in relation to international crimes? Does he think that organisations other than the police force, NCIS and the National Crime Squad should not keep fingerprints and DNA samples?

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

No, I do not think that there should not be such collaboration, but I would rather that we removed the over-widely drawn paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) and replaced them with more narrowly drawn and accurate provisions. If we remove them today, I have no doubt that an attempt will be made to put back something more acceptable. That would improve the clause and the Bill. I shall therefore press the amendment to a Division, and I hope that others will join me. I anticipate that other Divisions will follow, which I shall be happy to support.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 8.

Division number 37 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 80 - Speculative searches

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

If I understand the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, he now wishes to move amendment No. 269. Before he does so, it might help if I explain the process once again. Only the lead amendment is moved initially. The amendments that are grouped with it are debated but not moved. Hon. Members may say that they have moved them, but they have not; and the Minister may ask them to withdraw their amendments, but they cannot be withdrawn because they have not been moved. Amendments are moved in the order in which they would affect the Bill. Others may be grouped with them for ease of discussion, but they are moved in the order in which they would occur within the legislation.

Amendment proposed, No. 269, in page 66, line 33, leave out `British Islands' and insert

`United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division number 38 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 80 - Speculative searches

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

If I understand the hon. Member for Surrey Heath correctly, we now come to amendment No. 271—[Interruption.] I know that time is short, but the Committee will have to wait a moment before voting. Amendments Nos. 274 and 272 are linked to amendment No. 271. If either of amendments Nos. 271 and 272 falls, amendment No. 274 must fall because it is dependent upon one or other of those previous amendments. Amendment No. 271 would establish the principle that would be reflected were we to agree to amendment No. 272. I therefore propose to treat the Question as being on all three amendments together.

Amendment proposed, No. 271, in page 66, line 36, after `person', insert

`specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division number 39 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 80 - Speculative searches

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of the debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 80 ordered to stand part of the Bill.