Clause 21 - Use for correcting inaccurate

Identity Cards Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 27 January 2005.

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Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:00, 27 January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 177, in page 19, line 22, at end insert—

'(2A) In such a case, the Secretary of State shall notify the individual in writing that he has taken action under subsection (2).'.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 194, in page 19, line 22, at end insert—

'(2A) The Secretary of State shall notify the individual concerned in writing and within 30 days.'.

No. 179, in clause 23, page 20, line 14, leave out 'and'.

No. 180, in page 20, line 17, at end insert

'and

(c) notifying the individual of the fact that the information has been provided.'.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Amendment No. 177 seeks to ensure that where the Secretary of State is correcting information, he will notify the individual in writing. I hope that we will get some additional clarification on that from the Minister and examples of where it might occur. For example, I understand that if somebody comes forward with some evidence about their registrable facts, perhaps because they have applied for a passport or something else, and some of the information held by Departments is incorrect, that information will be corrected. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could authorise that information to be corrected on behalf of the individual.

It would also be helpful to understand the scope of the clause. Is it intended simply to relate to the information that the individual has provided to demonstrate the registrable facts, or will it be broader? If an error is picked up, can the Secretary of State go to a range of Departments that might be using the identity register and seek to correct their information? We have sought in this group of amendments—particularly in amendment No. 177—to ensure that the individual is told where that occurs.

Amendment No. 177 is important in the context of the data protection principles, which are clear: an   individual has a right to have data about them corrected if it is inaccurate and the data subject, the person, has a set of rights in relation to the data that is held about them. We are concerned that the clause would allow the Secretary of State to amend an individual's personal data—potentially across a range of Departments—without them being told about it. That would be in breach of the principles of data protection.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the individual is told in writing that a correction has been made. Amendments Nos. 179 and 180 would ensure that the rules that will be established by regulation on how an individual's data is used without consent, to which we will come in clause 23, also ensure that an individual is told about that.

It is important in data protection and potential legal liability terms that when we come to clause 30 we discuss the provision of false information. An individual is liable to prosecution if they knowingly, recklessly, or in some way, with some criminal intent, present registrable facts incorrectly. There has to be a question as to whether the Secretary of State's correcting data about registrable facts will lead to criminal proceedings against an individual. An individual needs to be able to clarify whether they are seen as an innocent party who simply inadvertently provided inaccurate information, or whether they will be treated as potentially a criminal suspect under clause 30 and prosecuted for the provision of that inaccurate information. From the individual's point of view, it is important that there is transparency and clarity. If the Minister is unable to accept our amendments, it would be helpful if he would give a little more detail about how the measure will work in practice.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality) 10:15, 27 January 2005

I do not want to make a mountain out of molehill in relation to this. Clause 30(2) states that a person is guilty of an offence of providing false information only if the circumstances at the time of the provision of that information are that he

''(a) knows or believes the information to be false; or

(b) is reckless as to whether or not it is false.''

The answer lies in clause 30.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. However, there are difficulties with the test of knowing or believing that the information is false, and we will discuss that later.

Let us start with the facts. An individual presents some information to the authorities and that information is deemed to be incorrect. Someone then needs to determine whether the individual knew or believed it was incorrect when they presented it. There is a potential interaction with clause 21, which says that the Secretary of State must ascertain that the information is incorrect. The question that our amendment poses is, should the individual be told at that point, so that whether there was knowledge or belief can be clarified by the individual engaging in a   discussion with the Secretary of State about that false information in an open and transparent process? Of course, if the Secretary of State comes to the view that the individual knew or believed the information to be false when they presented it, the Secretary of State might wish to pass that on to the Crown Prosecution Service.

However, our concern is that a considerable process of correction and examination of inaccurate data might take place without the person about whom that inaccurate data has been presented being told. It would be more consistent with data protection principles if they were told up front. That would in no way preclude the Secretary of State from launching a prosecution if it turned out that the clause 30 threshold had been reached, but in order to establish that, the individual would need to be in a dialogue about the inaccurate data at an early stage. Our amendments would ensure that that dialogue took place. That would be a better regime to have than one in which the Secretary of State was arbitrarily, or without the individual's knowledge, correcting data about them. That might create problems.

I hope that the Minister can at least accept the principle that, in ideal circumstances, an individual should be engaged in discussion about their inaccurate data. I hope that he can clarify further how things will work in practice when I or you, Mr. Conway, or anyone else, has presented a document and the Secretary of State feels that it is inaccurate and wishes to use the clause 21 powers to correct it. What information will be provided to the individual?

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has done the Committee a service by tabling his own amendment to this clause, but I want to speak to my amendment.

Amendment No. 194 would insert:

''The Secretary of State shall notify the individual concerned in writing and within 30 days.''

The Minister will take the view, which many people will understand, that there must be occasions when information is provided about an individual—to the security services, perhaps—and that individual is not informed about it; reasons of national security might be involved. However, this clause addresses a different matter. It deals with correcting inaccurate information about an individual, which is an entirely different scenario. It strikes me as exceedingly odd that the one person who is kept blissfully unaware of any such transaction, which is merely a correction in terms of accuracy, is the individual concerned. They are kept completely out of the loop.

My amendment would rectify that unfortunate omission. I firmly believe that the correction of something inaccurate on the register, is—I use the word perhaps not in its true meaning—an innocent exercise. There can be nothing sinister behind that or, if there is, the Minister has a duty to tell us. Therefore, plainly, the individual should be told.

I feel strongly about the amendment. Opposition Members speak, as so often in debates in this House, on behalf of the individual. That is what we strive to do, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam has a similar distinction. He too has tried to represent the   interests of the individual against the interests of the state on many occasions.

The Minister has a great deal of explaining to do to justify not accepting our amendment. Looking at the history of amendments tabled during consideration of the Bill, my hon. Friends and I regret that many have not been accepted. This could genuinely be accepted by the Minister. He could simply say, ''Yes, all right, if we are correcting inaccurate information on the register, we can see no justification for not telling the individual in writing what we have done.'' After all, it might reassure the individual.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

It would be opportune if I gave slightly more information than I have hitherto been able to about my understanding of the Data Protection Act 1998 and its interaction with this Bill, and I will do so at the appropriate point in my remarks.

Amendment No. 177 would make it a requirement to notify an individual in writing if information has been provided about him to another person under clause 21. Amendment No. 194, which is similar in effect, would require the written notification to be given within 30 days. In principle, both of these amendments are much the same. Amendment Nos. 179 and 180 together would add a power to make regulations about notifying an individual if information has been provided without his consent under clauses 19 to 22.

First, I will take the two amendments on the correction of information. The clause was drafted so that where the identity checking process has identified inaccuracies or omissions concerning information provided, the Secretary of State may notify the person or organisation who provided that information of the details of those inaccuracies or omissions.

Dealing with one of the points of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, corrections can be made only to the person or organisation who provided the information and not across Government. The relationship of communication is between the organisation that provides the information and the register. It may be as simple as if a person gives a proper spelling of a name and, in verification, an organisation has another spelling. That can then be corrected and the organisation told which spelling of the name is appropriate—for example, ''Allan'', with two l's, not one. That is logical and not disputed. The concern is whether or not the person involved should be notified that that communication has taken place.

The Government's position is that any person concerned that information has been provided without their knowledge or consent, or, indeed, any information provided at all, has data subject access rights under the Data Protection Act. That is entirely appropriate. At this stage I will explain to the members of the Committee what those obligations under the Data Protection Act are. I will show what already pertains in plain language—the Act is not always the most immediately accessible piece of legislation.

Under the Data Protection Act, the obligation to notify applies ''so far as practicable''. Where the   information has not been obtained from the data subject, the obligation does not apply where the provision of information would involve a disproportionate effort, or the recording of the information to be contained in the data by, or the disclosure of the data by, the data controller is necessary for compliance with any legal obligation to which the data controller is subject, other than an obligation imposed by contract.

Furthermore, the obligation to notify is subject to the general exemptions under part IV of the Act. I refer, for example, to the first data protection principle, to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam referred, including the right to notification, which does generally not apply where non-compliance is necessary for the purpose of safeguarding national security or for the prevention and detection of crime. The Government are content to rest with that obligation being on those who have responsibility for the register because the obligations to notify have already been enacted by Parliament in the legislation to comply with the European Union directive. The standards have been set for such organisations and it would not be appropriate therefore for a series of different standards to apply to data in respect of the register, when complying with the Data Protection Act could be the appropriate standard.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

Like the rest of us, the Minister lives in the real world. He and I could travel 100 miles before we found anyone who had a clue about what the Data Protection Act was about, far less about what duties or obligations apply to the Government. However, we could travel 100 miles and find 1 million people who would be concerned if they were not told by the Government when the correction of an inaccuracy was made to the register. Is there a sinister background to why I should not be told that? I do not believe that the Data Protection Act helps individuals.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but I disagree with him. The Data Protection Act is important legislation. It provides significant protection for individuals. It is applied daily throughout the country to protect data about individuals and ensures that they are notified when important changes are made to those data. I am content that those obligations are accepted by those responsible for the register and are applied. If we draft another set of obligations, that will not make any difference to individuals. The appropriate obligations have been debated and considered by Parliament and legislated for, and should be applied to the database as much as they are to any other database.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

We have debated fairly draconian clauses under which, if an individual makes an inadequate entry on the register, he is subject to severe fines. We now have a position in which the state can get things wrong, but the individual will not even know about it.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it is the opposite. The purpose of the provision is to allow the state to correct errors in other databases and places where information is held, when the fact of the error comes to the notice of those responsible for the register. If, for example, a mis-spelling of a name is   discovered at the point of verification to be in use by the Department for Work and Pensions, it is common sense that those responsible for the register and the Secretary of State should be able to tell the Department that the correct spelling of the name is ''Alan''—[Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Cotswold asks why the individual cannot be told about that. I am not saying that the individual cannot be told about it, just that he should be told about it, subject to the usual data rules. We are making it crystal clear that the normal data rules will apply to the register. I do not want to write a separate set of rules on data when a comprehensive piece of legislation, the Data Protection Act, covers the circumstances in which people should be notified.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), Home Affairs

If we are to make such matters crystal clear, should not a duty be laid on the Secretary of State under the Bill?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

The duties of the Secretary of State are set out in the Data Protection Act. I rest my argument there. It is up to members of the Committee whether they accept that it is the right framework in which the information should be communicated. It is the Government's argument that it should be.

I am not clear whether I have dealt with all the amendments. I think that I have, but if I have not, Committee members can intervene on me. I shall rest my argument at this point, but I encourage Committee members not to press the amendments.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:30, 27 January 2005

The Minister has helped to crystallise and focus the arguments. I am quite a fan of the 1998 Act, which is a good piece of legislation. However, concerns remain about what the Minister said.

As somebody whose name is spelled ''Allan'', I am the victim of constant misspelling. The propagation, based on one register, of a version of my name by the Secretary of State would be of concern to me. The Secretary of State might propagate an incorrect version, depending on whether it had been got right in the first place. Perhaps the person who typed in my identity card register entry would type ''Allen''. I might not bother to correct that, because I am so used to it that I might correct such things only from time to time or I might not get round to it. The idea that ''Allen'' would be propagated to all my entries that are correctly spelled ''Allan'' fills me with trepidation.

Computers are stupid; a search for ''Allan'' will not find ''Allen''. When I ring up certain agencies, I say that my name is spelled ''Allen'' because I know that they will find the record, and that if I say ''Allan'', they will not.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

I understand that the hon. Gentleman might be concerned about the difference between ''Allan'' and ''Allen''. However, if he casts his mind back a little while, he will be able to imagine the confusion that could arise between ''Curry'' and ''Currie''.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

Has the right hon. Gentleman slept with John Major?

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Order. I was distracted by the sedentary intervention from the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter).

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I have certainly never had any difficulty in spotting the difference between the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and the former Member whose surname was spelled ''Currie''. However, computer systems might have the problem that I referred to, and that is the key point.

The point about notification is important. The Minister said that data protection rules applied and then described a lot of cop-out clauses on how those rules apply. It would be preferable to ensure that the Secretary of State had an explicit duty.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I should like to flag up an issue about the spelling of names. I omitted to draw this point to the Minister's attention. When people are convicted of or plead guilty to motoring offences in a magistrates court, it is required that a printout of their licence be obtained from Swansea. Anecdotally, I can say that the spelling of the name is critical to getting an accurate printout, and that in at least 50 per cent. of cases, Swansea's spelling does not match the spelling of the name. It appears to me that full names—the term ''Christian name'' is not necessarily attributable to everybody nowadays—become more complicated in this country as the years pass. There is a huge problem, and that has some relevance to what we are discussing.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and if we move from names to addresses, we get into a whole other area. My local council uses a gazetteer of addresses in which my address does not appear. I have to have an inaccurate address for the purposes of my council tax. I cannot do anything about that; the council cannot record the accurate address because that does not exist within its system.

If one tried to propagate from the national ID register to Lambeth council, there would be all kinds of trouble because that address does not appear within its system. There are substantial grounds for making it a 100-per-cent.-always notification system in the Bill, rather than leaving the issue to the Secretary of State to say, ''It would be disproportionately costly'', or ''I know better''. I think it appropriate that we seek to have the amendment agreed to through a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division number 9 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 21 - Use for correcting inaccurate

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.  

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I beg to move amendment No. 218, in clause 21, page 19, line 31, leave out 'something' and insert 'a specified statement'.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 219, in clause 21, page 19, line 32, leave out 'something' and insert 'a specified statement'.

No. 220, in clause 21, page 19, line 35, leave out 'something' and insert 'a specified statement'.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I shall be brief, because we have an awful lot to get through this morning. These are very simple amendments. If hon. Members would be kind enough to look at clause 21(4), they will see that my amendments would replace ''something'' in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) with ''a specified statement''. The purpose of the amendments is simply to probe the Minister on what is meant by ''something''.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

To understand what is meant by ''something'', one has to understand the purpose of the clause. I remind hon. Members that it provides a power to give information, without consent, to a person or organisation that has supplied information to help verify an entry that is inaccurate or incomplete. The clause has to be read in conjunction with clause 11, which allows provision of information for verification purposes.

I must resist the amendment because it is inconsistent with the wording that we used in clause 11, which we have agreed should stand part of the Bill. However, I accept that we agreed to that clause without the benefit of having any debate on it.

I am asked what ''something'' may cover, and I shall provide as much information as I think necessary to persuade hon. Members of what it means. It covers a wide range of information, but for good reason. The Bill does not set out the information that may be checked because of the security implications that that may have, and because what is checked may differ from person to person. The only information that could be checked is information that could be recorded in the register—that is, the information set out in schedule 1.

I am not sure what is meant by ''a specified statement'', but a statement is just one of the items that could be recorded. It is hardly an apt term to describe a photograph, fingerprints, a security code or other registrable facts. Those are exactly what is meant by ''something''. In any event, the term is subject to the provisions in the Bill that limit what can be registered, although an exhaustive list could not be provided without doing a disservice to the Bill. Consequently, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.