Clause 27 - Passenger and crew information: police powers

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 25th October 2005.

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Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington 12:30 pm, 25th October 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 116, in clause 27, page 13, line 30, leave out ‘generally or’.

I shall be brief. The effect of the amendment would be to prohibit the Secretary of State from making orders that apply generally. Will the Minister clarify whether passenger information orders under paragraph 17(2) of schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, as amended, and the Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) Order 2002, include the power to make orders that apply generally, rather than requiring that a specific written order be made in respect of each vehicle? If that is the case, why was it felt necessary to take a different approach as far as this clause is concerned?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

Broadly, the powers under schedule 7 of the 2000 Act are restricted to the counter-terrorism context and to an officer’s role as the examining officer. They also allow only specified information to be requested. Through clause 27 we seek to broaden those powers, not just in terms of moving beyond counter-terrorism to include serious crime and general policing powers and requests, but also in terms of experience. It might be the case that the information required concerns a specific flight, which would already be covered under the terrorism legislation. However, if we are to move to a proactive intelligence-led approach, we should take into account that the information required might in some cases—rare cases, I would think—relate to the carrier rather than to a specific flight. More generally, the difficulties and problems in terms of serious crime—immigration-related or otherwise—or terrorism might be specific to a route rather than a specific flight on a route. We think that if the clause were limited in the way intended by the amendment, that would not only undermine all that we seek to do in relation to e-borders and the border management programme and gathering information in general, but work against what the entire Committee sees as right in terms of gathering the information.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

On that point, can the Minister clarify whether he means a specific airline or route? Surely the word “specific” could have been included, rather than “generally”?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

I do not think that that is the case, given that we are talking about one or more specified ships or aircraft. Clearly, by definition, that would be time-limited, or if not, so open that it might as well be general anyway. We need a broader definition so that there is no confusion. In some cases, it might be a general requirement under subsection (2), but in others, it may be specific to one or more specified ships or aircraft. All that we are doing with e-borders and border management is to afford the police and the immigration services as much flexibility as possible. I do not see any need or desire—short of undermining   what we are trying to do with e-borders and border management—to get so narrowly defined as to leave out “may apply generally”.

We want to get to a stage at which, by using technology and this sort of information request, we can remove any potential notional threat as far away from our borders as possible. As I say, it is more often than not the specific route that affords that flexibility, and the concentration on a route, based on broad intelligence. However, in some cases, for completeness, I include the point about carriers. That is something above and beyond simply a specified number of ships or aircraft.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

May I push the Minister a little further on that point? Is he thinking about every aeroplane coming from a specific destination, or about specific airlines or specific routes? Is he thinking about every aeroplane coming from destination x coming into the country?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

In many cases, without going into substantive detail, that happens now. It is simply a matter of fact: the gangs involved in serious crime and drugs are invariably ahead of the curve and change their routes accordingly. It is a matter of fact that at any given time, some routes in and out of the country are more prone to specific criminal activities than others, be it drugs, trafficking or whatever else. We think that the flexibility afforded by the simple little phrase “apply generally” allows the police the flexibility to, on the one hand, pursue particular routes on an intelligence-led basis and, frankly, on the other, to build up and generate that intelligence in the first place. It will then not be on an ad hoc and anecdotal basis; once e-borders are in place, the intelligence basis of activities will be substantially different.

With other dimensions, we have an excellent network of airline liaison officers—we do not have enough of them by any means, but I have seen plenty of them, although I am not a globetrotter—that is strong and growing. They are entirely voluntary professionals, working with carriers, which enhances and boosts our intelligence-based focus on specific flights or routes. Although I am sure that it is not the intention, the amendment would narrow the scope and potential for e-borders to work as effectively as we want them to do. I am sure that that is not the hon. Gentleman’s intention, so I ask him to withdraw the amendment and allow clause 27 to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

With the Minister’s reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Shadow Minister, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers)

I shall attempt to be brief. I have a few specific questions first. The Minister will know that the partial regulatory impact assessment says:

“The timescales involved in bringing forward this legislation have meant that we have been unable to consult fully with industry on the specific detail of the provisions prior to introduction.”

Has it now been possible to consult industry fully on these matters? Has the Small Business Service said anything about these provisions? There is an element of rush. If the Minister cannot deal with any of these matters now, I would be happy for him to write to me.

Secondly, how long will data collected under the clause be kept and stored and with whom could those data be shared? This is a very wide clause, obliging the owner or agent of a ship—I raise the point about the captain again—to comply with any requirement imposed by a police officer to provide “passenger or service information”. Interestingly, passenger or service information is defined as information that relates to passengers—that does not help us much.

There are one or two issues in this regard. The limit, under subsection (4), is that the information must be “for police purposes”. I looked up what police purposes means in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; I remember the debates on the issue quite well. Police purposes are defined under section 21 of that Act as any of the following:

“the prevention ... of criminal offences”— which is perfectly proper—

“safeguarding national security”— which is also perfectly proper—and

“such other purposes as may be specified.”

That strikes me as an extremely wide provision. How many other purposes have been specified pursuant to that section and what is the overlap with the clause? Can the Minister assure me that the information to be provided is limited to dates and places of birth and full names and addresses, or how wide could the information be? Is there a time limit on providing it? One is not set out in the Bill. Is there the danger that a badly intentioned Government—not that this is one—or authorities could go on a fishing expedition? The question is a parallel to that about the Identity Cards Bill: for what purposes can the information be collected? Is it limited to suspected immigration issues, crime and terror, or is there a wider network of persons who may be able to share in the information provided?

Finally, do the persons about whom the information is collected have a right to know that information about them has been collected and passed on to authorities, or will they be blissfully unaware of that for ever?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

Again, the hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points. Let me try to deal with them. There has been a meeting with key industry stakeholders. As I implied when responding on the previous occasion, those talks are ongoing and have been very productive. In addition, a letter summarising the proposals and providing details of where to access the legislation and the partial RIA was sent to many stakeholders. A number of follow-up meetings took place with air, sea and rail carriers, trade organisations, handling agents and airport and seaport operators. The meetings considered the provision in more detail and discussed a number of the more practical issues, and there were comments on the partial RIA as well as further discussions on e-borders as it moves into a new phase.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those discussions will continue. Clearly, we need the industry onside in these matters. The consultation process on the Bill finished on 30 September, but discussions are continuing. Because these things are interwoven, let me say now that specific concerns of the freight industry, rather than more general passenger carriers, have since been discovered through consultation. Many of the Government amendments to clause 28 are a direct response to that consultation. The point on consultation is therefore well made.

Many of the hon. Gentleman’s other points are entirely fair. It is not the same as the debate on the Identity Cards Bill, in the sense that advance passenger information is entirely time-limited. As I have already confirmed, extremely limited information is available in advance on what passengers are on what plane at what time on any given day of the year. The wider issue of people travelling, and the nature and regularity of that travel, can be garnered from elsewhere.

Clause 27 is about broadening the nature of the information available to include e-borders and the border management programme system. The clause goes beyond the information acquisition powers that are currently available under the Terrorism Act 2000. Those powers are extremely limited.

There has been that degree of consultation. Concerns about data retention are unfounded in the sense of the limited and immediate nature of the data. Industry’s concerns have been recognised, and we shall continue to work with it. It is entirely fair to say that, as e-borders and the border management programme unfold, we must make people aware that the authorities are likely to hold advance passenger information and passenger record information.

We can talk about the practicalities of that and about making people aware in advance that that information is held. However, rather like the constant repetition of themes in the debate on the Identity Cards Bill, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the provisions in the Data Protection Act 1998 are as relevant to this Bill as those in the Identity Cards Bill are. In accordance with the Data Protection Act, the information cannot lawfully be stored for any longer than is necessary. That is the braces part of a belt-and-braces approach. It is very time-limited information, which we want to use proactively and in an intelligence-led fashion. We do not wish to use it for fishing.

The bulk of the information is potentially enormous, and that will be a complete waste of valuable time and resources. Having given those assurances, I urge that clause 27 stand part of the Bill. I shall mention the specifics about consultation with the freight lobby when we look at clause 28.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.