Clause 34 - Disclosure to law enforcement agencies

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 25 October 2005.

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Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington 4:45, 25 October 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 130, in clause 34, page 18, line 18, leave out subsection (2).

Clause 34 gives chiefs of police the power to disclose information to

“any other foreign law enforcement agency.”

The amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) is a probing amendment designed to find out what safeguards will be in place to ensure that information is not shared in a way that breaches UK obligations under the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees. I seek assurances from the Minister as to how he can guarantee that information sharing will not put anyone under further fear of persecution. A number of people who are just passing through this country could be subject to this provision. In fact, people who are not currently subject to persecution may find themselves subject to persecution. The chance of their being persecuted by a foreign Government will massively increase as a result   of information being passed on, and they could end up becoming refugees. I seek reassurance from the Minister as to how that can be avoided.

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

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has introduced his amendment, which he describes as probing, in the way that he has. On paper at least, I was going to refer to it as an “untidying” amendment rather than a tidying amendment, given that, by removing the definition of a foreign law enforcement agency, it would do precisely what he seeks not to do. If we take the amendment at face value, police, without being defined, could pass on information to anybody they so choose. I am glad he does not seek to pursue the amendment.

I am a bit worried, too, by the notion that the hon. Gentleman thinks that people who are “just passing through”, to use his terms, should be allowed to “just pass through” regardless of their position in other jurisdictions or of crimes that they may or may not have committed. I am sure that he did not mean it like that, but that is the way in which he phrased his introductory remarks.

We could almost put a tape recorder here in place of Ministers to respond to any number of the Liberal Democrat amendments. I repeat that anything in the Bill, not least in clause 34 will be implemented—we can do a chorus—entirely in accordance with the UK’s obligations under the 1951 convention, not to mention the 1951 European convention on human rights. That is at the root of the Bill.

I do not blame the hon. Gentleman—he is only here for a temporary four-year term—but I am sure that he will learn that he cannot look at any piece of legislation in isolation. It sits within the terms of all other existing legislation, whether that be human rights legislation, conventions to which we are signatories, an assorted range of other treaties, the Data Protection Act or whatever else. This is not a little game in which one looks at the substance of a Bill on its own without understanding its legislative context.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

I plan to be here for a good deal more than the next four years.

The Minister will be aware that the police in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are used to co-operating at great length and in great detail with different constabularies and with other law enforcement agencies on the mainland. Those islands have a special relationship with the UK. Surely it is not necessary, given that long-standing relationship and the close links among those police forces, to refer to those islands’ police forces in the Bill. Will he elaborate on that?

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

It is entirely necessary. Those police forces are established not only under different jurisdictions but under a different statutory base. Specifically in the context of clauses 27 and 28, it is germane, appropriate and necessary to mention them   deliberately in the Bill. I accept entirely the hon. Gentleman’s point about our relationship and co-operation with those police forces.

I hope, not via a chorus or a tape recorder, that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington will take the assurances given about the 1951 conventions—European and United Nations—in the manner given and will withdraw his amendment.

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

This time, 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 have one or two brief questions. I seek the Minister’s indulgence because, a moment ago, my mind wandered on to the next clause. I missed an earlier exchange, so if my question has already been asked, I hope that he will forgive me. Most of my best family holidays have been on the island of Alderney. I wonder whether, since Guernsey and Jersey have been mentioned, Alderney, Sark and Herm should be mentioned separately.

Although the chief officer of police may disclose information to other foreign law enforcement agencies, I should be interested to hear whether many foreign law enforcement agencies have legislation in place to permit them to exchange information with us, and whether they do so. Can the Minister explain why it was decided not to specify by order the relevant foreign law enforcement agencies, whether by name of agency or by country? Can he also say a little more about the reference in the clause not to police forces but to those with

“functions similar to ... functions of a police force.”

I take it, for example, that in America, we would be talking about the CIA, the FBI, the federal police and the state police. Are those all included? What about other countries?

In relation to the issue of police purposes, have any purposes been specified under section 21 of the 1999 Act? Can the Minister confirm that the sharing of information under the clause will also be limited to sharing for police purposes as defined by that section? Could that limitation as to purpose be specified in the Bill on Report?

Those are my questions on the clause which, otherwise, I think is sensible.

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

On the hon. Gentleman’s final question, we think that there is already sufficient explanation and definition of the information and the sharing thereof in the Bill without including it in this clause.

I am not told, but I suspect, that the formal titles “States of Jersey” and the “Island of Guernsey”, as used in the clause, cover Alderney, Sark and Herm. I am assured by a Government Whip that there is one policeman on Herm, so we may write to him to see whether he can share information with us, and under what terms he can do so. On a more serious note, I think that those areas are covered and captured by the   reference to the “States of Jersey” and the “Island of Guernsey”—[Interruption.] I do not know the policeman’s name, but I am sure that we can find out if we need to know it. I shall write to hon. Members to confirm the general point.

Two other points were made about law enforcement agencies: first, whether we share with everybody or whether we can share specifically with one agency on behalf of the others; and secondly, the degree of reciprocity. I think that I am right in saying that thus far, other states are working towards such a joint sharing arrangement and, as and when we deal with other states, there is a mutuality that would almost demand reciprocity. However, I am not entirely sure—I cannot give chapter and verse—whether other states have reached the level of legislation that we have. However, there has been significant progress at the European Union level in working towards data sharing and to a common standard in terms of biometrics and other dimensions.

I hope that my answers to those valid questions—except for the question about the name of the policeman on Herm—have satisfied hon. Members.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.