Clause 65

Serious Crime Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at on 5 July 2007.

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Penalty and prosecution for offence under section 64

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 178, in clause 65, page 36, line 6, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘four’.—[James Brokenshire.]

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:00, 5 July 2007

When we adjourned, I was halfway through explaining that amendment No. 178 was tabled on the assumption that we will ultimately reach a resolution on the matters that we were discussing. The amendment is reasonably straightforward and sets out the Committee’s clear intention on how data protection issues will be addressed and the seriousness with which they are treated. I need say no more.

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

Good afternoon, Mr. Benton. It is good to see you chairing our Committee again.

I ask the Committee to resist the amendment, which would increase the penalties in clause 65 for the clause 64 offence of making

“certain further disclosures of information”.

The existing maximum penalty of a two-year custodial sentence would be increased to four years.

Clauses 64 and 65 were included in the Bill in recognition of the fact that a specific additional safeguard is needed to protect against improper onward disclosure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs information. That is to conform with the safeguards attached to HMRC information in other circumstances. Clause 64 allows for the same additional safeguards to be applied by order to public authorities’ information. I hope that it is evident that the penalty in clause 65 applies in a very narrow set of circumstances relating to wrongful onward disclosure of information shared by public authorities through a specified anti-fraud organisation. Currently, that applies only to HMRC information.

The maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment is consistent with the maximum penalty for all other comparable data-sharing offences—for example, under section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 and section 10 of the Official Secrets Act 1989. In addition, the Government have proposed an amendment to the Data Protection Act 1998 to include a maximum custodial penalty of two years for the offence of unlawfully obtaining personal  data under section 55 of that Act; the measure is in the recently published Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The Government do not accept the case for doubling the penalty in the limited circumstances of clause 64.

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

I hear what the Minister says. The amendment is in some ways different from the measures that he has highlighted. We tabled the amendment to make clear our view that the offence must be treated seriously, and to provide confidence in the way in which the system will operate. I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division; the point of tabling it was to set out for the Committee that breaches of data protection rules and the rules in clause 64 will be treated seriously and punished accordingly.

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

I agree absolutely with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

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

I welcome that assurance from the Minister because it is important that that message is sent out. I know that the Information Commissioner has made representations to the Home Office and other parts of the Government to emphasise that, and that responses have recently been given in relation to the issue, as the Minister mentioned.

In the light of what the Minister has said, and the changes that have taken place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.