Clause 15

Serious Crime Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 3 July 2007.

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Restrictions relating to other enactments

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I beg to move amendment No. 109, in clause 15, page 9, line 29, at end insert

‘or non-disclosure is authorised under any other enactment’.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, may I congratulate the Minister on surviving the reshuffle? It is always a relief. I remember those days when I had to await the summons.

May I also congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston on taking up her post and my hon. Friend on leading the Opposition in Committee? I look forward to working both for and with him. Let us hope that he votes for my amendments in the way that his predecessor did not always do.

Amendment No. 109 is fairly uncontroversial. It is made to avoid the problems of unintended consequences. It relates to serious crime prevention orders not requiring people to disclose protected documents. At the moment, that protection is limited to disclosure where disclosure is prohibited under any other enactment. It occurred to me that there might be a range of documents where non-disclosure is authorised by any other enactment. I think that there is a slight difference. In order to guard against the law of unintended consequences, we should build in that protection. If the Minister assures me that there is no difference from the present wording in the Bill, I will be reasonably satisfied. However, I personally think that there is a difference.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I support the amendment. As always, it is a question of carefully analysing the context and consequences of these provisions. If the Minister can give some assurance or comfort in relation to the detailed and technical point that my right hon. and learned Friend has highlighted, it would benefit the considerations of this Committee and the understanding of the Bill.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I hope that my brief comments on amendment No. 109 will reassure Opposition Members.

Clause 15 provides an important safeguard. We do not intend such orders to cut across any prohibitions on disclosing information that might be contained in other legislation. However, the amendment goes further. It means that in cases in which there is a discretion or restriction on disclosure in another piece of legislation, such disclosure could not be provided for by an order.  Discretions or restrictions are specifically drafted as such because disclosure might be appropriate in some instances. I do not think it necessary to extend the provision into such areas; the High Court will be able to decide whether the circumstances of a case make disclosure appropriate.

In addition, clause 37 includes a protection for anyone making such a disclosure. That ensures that actions for breach of a restriction on disclosure cannot be brought against the subject of an order. I hope that, with that reassurance, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 10:45, 3 July 2007

I remain uneasy. I shall not press the amendment to a Division but it would be helpful to have examples of the instances of discretionary power to withhold that the Minister says exist in legislation. That would put the Committee in a better position to determine whether it wants to insist on the provision, either on Report or in another place. If the Minister can give us an example now, so much the better, but I shall understand if he cannot; the matter is complicated and I would not blame him for not being able to do so. I would, however, expect to have some examples later. If he would be good enough to write to me, we could reflect on the way forward. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.