New Clause 1

Serious Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 10 July 2007.

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Exempted data

‘Nothing in this Part authorises—

(a) the disclosure of data contained in—

(i) the National Identity Register (as defined in the Identity Cards Act 2006 (c. 15)), or

(ii) any database established pursuant to section 12 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) (information databases), or

(b) the use of such data in data matching exercises.’.—[Mr. Browne.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause was suggested by Liberty, so perhaps the Minister will be sympathetic to it as he now quotes that organisation approvingly in his favour. It is designed to ensure that data from the national identity register and the children’s index cannot be used in data matching exercises under the Bill. Our concern is that allowing data from those sources to be used will lead to data mining. It is difficult to see the justification in arguing that that type of information is needed to detect fraud. On that basis, I put forward the new clause for the Committee’s consideration.

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

As the hon. Gentleman has explained, this provision is intended to prevent data mining. The Minister was keen to correct me as soon as I used the words data mining, saying that that was not the intention of the Bill and that it was about data matching rather than data mining. In the context of the remarks of the hon. Member for Taunton and the Minister’s clear desire to ensure that there is no confusion between mining and matching, I look forward with interest to the Minister’s comments on the new clause.

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

I shall ask, at the end of my remarks, for the hon. Member for Taunton to ask leave to withdraw the motion. He has tabled an amendment that would prevent the use of information from the national identity register and ContactPoint in either the data sharing provided for in clause 63 or the data-matching exercises provided for in schedule 7.

I should like to make a general point about ContactPoint and the national identity register in relation to the data sharing and data matching provisions enabled by the Bill. In neither case will the public authorities responsible for the database or register be compelled to disclose information from them for the purpose of the prevention and detection of fraud. Therefore, the owners of the data—the Home Secretary in respect of the national identity register and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families for ContactPoint—will retain absolute control over whether they choose to disclose or not.

The national identity register will hold identity information relating to everyone who is issued with an ID card. It is intended eventually to include everyone who is aged 16 and over and resident in the UK. As my noble and learned friend Baroness Scotland explained in the other place, the national identity register will  comprise identity information such as name, address, date of birth and nationality. Although it will include photographs and biometric information, such as fingerprints, it will not comprise every single piece of personal data held by Government. That means that it will not contain criminal, medical or tax records.

It is possible that, through an order under section 20 of the Identity Cards Act 2006, information specified in an order and contained in the national identity register could be supplied to the Audit Commission or to a specified public authority, but only for purposes also set out in the order. It should be noted, however, that any order made under section 20 will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, requiring debate and agreement by both Houses of Parliament. Given the rigorous procedures that are already built into the 2006 Act, I can see no reason why we should include in the Bill a prohibition against ever using data from the national identity register. In the Government’s view, it would be short-sighted not even to contemplate the possibility that the national identity register might help in the prevention and detection of fraud in future, particularly given that one of the express statutory purposes of that register is the prevention and detection of crime.

ContactPoint will be a national online directory that will be available in local authorities in England by the end of 2008. It will consist of basic demographic data relating to children and the contact details of those who provide specialist services to them. ContactPoint has been designed to facilitate the provision of care and services to children in a co-ordinated way. Its purpose is expressly linked to the duties on local authorities and their partners to co-operate in improving the well-being of children and to safeguard and promote their welfare. The database will be subject to restricted access, confined to those who need it in connection with their work with children.

The Children Act 2004 gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations governing the disclosure of data to and from ContactPoint. Those regulations have been laid before Parliament and are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It is difficult to see how the data contained in ContactPoint would be relevant to the specific task of assisting in the prevention and detection of fraud. So even if the Department for Children, Schools and Families took the decision that data from ContactPoint should be included in data-matching exercises, the Audit Commission would still need to decide if that was appropriate. As things stand, the answer would be no. We cannot envisage circumstances in which ContactPoint would wish to become a member of a specified anti-fraud organisation under clause 63. Nevertheless, the Government think that it is unnecessary and perhaps would be unwise now to rule out once and for all the possibility of using ContactPoint data in the future for preventing or detecting fraud. I also made that point in respect of the national identity register.

As with the Identity Cards Act, important policy considerations have been carefully balanced in the Children Act, resulting in the decision to give the Secretary of State the task of making regulations,  subject to the approval of Parliament, which set out the circumstances in which information from contact points may be disclosed. The Government would be loath to fetter or undermine in the Serious Crime Bill the way in which the provisions of the Children Act operate.

I remind the Committee that, following a Government amendment in the other place, the Audit Commission will not be able to undertake data matching in order to profile the propensity of individual adults or children to commit offences in future. The point was made by a number of Opposition peers, and the Bill has been changed in order to take into account their worries. That cannot, therefore, be held out as a reason for preventing the Audit Commission from accessing contact points or the national identity register. For those reasons, I would ask the hon. Member for Taunton to withdraw his amendment. It might be necessary in future to use the data, but there is nothing compulsory about it and it would have to be done with the agreement of the appropriate Secretaries of State.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 11:45, 10 July 2007

I hope that you will allow me a couple of minutes, Mr. Benton, to talk about the particulars that will be recorded on the national identity register. I do not want to go far outside the scope of the debate, but perhaps you will allow me three sentences that might do that. I have always been surprised that we have not been prepared to consider a DNA database. Having worked in the criminal law for many years, and been in the Home Office when DNA first came on stream, I have always thought that a national database for DNA would be the single most effective instrument for the prevention and detection of crime. While I recognise that there are considerable civil liberties issues to address, all parties should consider a DNA national database. We need to debate that; it would be much more effective than the identity card.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister concluded his helpful remarks by saying that he thought that it might be necessary in future to use the data. That touches on a wider public concern about the increased cross-referencing of information and data, and so-called function creep. For that reason, I am keen to test the views of the Committee by pressing the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 9.

Division number 26 Nimrod Review — Statement — New Clause 1

Aye: 1 MP

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.