New clause 42 - Powers of authorised officers executing warrants

Part of Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 6th July 2004.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office) 2:30 pm, 6th July 2004

I do not want to detain the Committee for long. I have said before that I would like the collection of fines to improve, and the Minister has told me that the level of collection under his jurisdiction has improved, which is a matter for great rejoicing.

However, I know from other Front-Bench utterances that the Government will seek to rely increasingly on fines. It seems to me that these provisions are fairly draconian, in order to back up that policy; the level of fine collection must remain the same or improve, so that the Government's intentions are not defeated.

I am particularly worried about one aspect. On 30 June, the Minister sent a letter to me explaining these latest amendments, and it says that they would establish certain powers. One is a primary data-sharing power to enable the courts to demand access to data held by credit reference and financial institutions. I appreciate that that is a limited amount of information, but the demand itself may have unintended consequences. Therefore, I want to probe a little further what is in the Minister's mind.

It seems to me that the very act of demanding access to data held by a bank, a financial institution or a credit reference agency might in itself cause that bank, financial institution or credit organisation to draw adverse inferences about the individual who the courts have in their sights. How does the Minister view that demand from the court? Will it be accompanied by a proviso to ensure that the institution of which the inquiry is being made draws no adverse inferences from the inquiry? How will the citizen be protected? When the state takes for the courts powers that allow any financial institution and any credit reference organisation to be accessed, we have to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.

In the past—even some Committee members might know this—if people did not make payments on their American Express cards, the company was particularly vociferous in ensuring that their credit ratings went down all round the world. When someone is travelling a long distance and is away from home for six or eight weeks, that can be a bit embarrassing, because if they pay their credit card by cheque they have not been at home to do so. When they find that they have a bad credit rating that has followed them to the other end of the world, it can cause difficulties. I seek assurances from the Minister, because that is important.