Clause 79

Serious Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 10 July 2007.

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Orders of the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers

Amendment proposed: No. 188, in clause 79, page 43, line 18, after ‘Secretary of State’, insert ‘, the Treasury’.—[Mr. Coaker.]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments Nos. 189 to 191.

Government new clause 14—Disclosure of information by Revenue and Customs.

Government amendment No. 197.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 189, in clause 79, page 43, line 20, after ‘Secretary of State’, insert ‘or the Treasury’.

No. 190, in clause 79, page 43, line 25, after ‘Secretary of State’, insert

‘or (as the case may be) the Treasury’.—[Mr. Coaker.]

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

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in clause 79, page 43, line 26, after ‘58(3)’, insert ‘, 63,’.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment

No. 11, in clause 79, page 43, line 34, leave out ‘or 63’.

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

These amendments, taken together, would require affirmative resolution for the Secretary of State to be able to specify an anti-fraud organisation, such as the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance Scheme, under clause 63. Clause 63 currently allows the Secretary of State to specify by negative resolution an anti-fraud organisation to which a public authority may disclose information. In the other place there was some concern at the arrangements surrounding the Secretary of State’s ability to designate anti-fraud organisations, and what the criteria for acceptability would be. As sensitive issues of privacy, secrecy and security surround these data matching powers, and the likelihood is that only a handful of organisations will be capable of appropriately undertaking the task, the change from negative to affirmative resolution will allow an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny.

On Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Government repeatedly indicated that they would not wish to have a monopoly of one organisation processing this data sharing and going forward with this initiative. Although that is welcome, it should be within the remit of Parliament to scrutinise and approve other organisations that the Secretary of State may name. That is why I have tabled amendments Nos. 12 and 11.

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

I rise to support the amendments on the general basis of parliamentary control. Wherever I see provisions for an order, I like to see it subject to an affirmative resolution procedure. Whenever I see that provisions relate to the affirmative resolution procedure, I say that such measures are not amendable and that they are therefore bad news. If we have to have such procedures at all, why can we not have the super-affirmative procedure? That might be going too far on this occasion, so I back the amendments.

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

The hon. Member for Taunton made an interesting point on the mechanism by which anti-fraud organisations will be specified. The Minister will be aware that concerns were expressed about data sharing when we debated chapter 1 of part 3 of the Bill. It is therefore relevant to consider having a mechanism to ensure that specified organisations are subject to a greater degree of scrutiny. Certainly, the positive procedure would appear to be the appropriate way to provide an element of control. I therefore look forward to the Minister’s response.

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

The provisions were scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which found that the negative procedure for the specification of anti-fraud organisations represented an

“appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny”.

As far as I am aware, the order-making powers in the Bill conform to that Committee’s report.

I shall resist the amendments, but I should say something about clause 63 to explain why. Clause 63 provides a new legal gateway for those public authorities that need  it to allow them to disclose information to a specified anti-fraud organisation for the purpose of preventing fraud. The gateway is necessary because fraudsters do not limit their criminal activities to either the public or private sector; rather, they are opportunists who seek to exploit any weaknesses that they can. Enabling public sector organisations to share information in a clearly-defined and secure way—namely, through a specified anti-fraud organisation—will allow the private and public sector to work together to prevent fraud and associated losses.

The amendments would change the order-making power for specifying an anti-fraud organisation from negative to affirmative resolution. The data-sharing provisions in clauses 63 to 66 were scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It found that the negative resolution for the specification of the anti-fraud organisation or organisations represented the

“appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny”.

As the Government seek to specify such bodies, we will ensure that any anti-fraud organisation that facilitates sharing between public authorities under clause 63 has appropriate safeguards, not least so that it complies with the relevant data protection and human rights legislation.

In addition, Government new clause 11 will introduce a requirement on the Secretary of State to produce a code of practice. Public authorities sharing information through a specified anti-fraud organisation will have to have regard to the code when using their powers. The specification process will in part depend on whether a potential specified anti-fraud organisation operates in compliance with the code. In short, specified anti-fraud organisations will have to prove that they are capable of sharing and protecting information in an appropriate manner.

In those circumstances, I question the need for the specification of anti-fraud organisations to be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament. That would be an unnecessary degree of parliamentary oversight—that view is shared by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Taunton to withdraw the amendment.

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

Although I am grateful for the Minister’s contribution, I wish to test the views of the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Division number 24 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 79

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 163, in clause 79, page 43, line 27, leave out from ‘8,’ to end of line 28 and insert

‘except under the super-affirmative resolution procedure as set out in section 18 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 (c. 51).’.—[Mr. Hogg.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Division number 25 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 79

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 200, in clause 79, page 43, line 34, after ‘29(6) or (11),’, insert

‘(Powers to wind up: supplementary),’.

No. 191, in clause 79, page 43, line 34, leave out ‘or 63’ and insert

‘, 63 or (Disclosure of information by Revenue and Customs)’.—[Mr. Coaker.]

Clause 79, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 80 and 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.