Clause 8

UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 13th March 2007.

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Use and retention of information

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I beg to move amendment No. 81, in clause 8, page 5, line 26, leave out from ‘information’ to end of line 27 and insert

‘by authorised persons for any matter relating to immigration, nationality, terrorism or money-laundering.’.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 23, in clause 8, page 5, line 27, after ‘purposes’, insert

‘in accordance with, and for the purposes of, another enactment.’.

No. 62, in clause 8, page 5, line 27, at end insert

‘but provision must be restricted to matters relating to terrorism, serious organised crime, money laundering and serious fraud’.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Having last week discussed biometric data, we move on to the use to which they can be put and their retention. Amendment No. 81 would alter subsection (2), which is broad and gives the Secretary of State sweeping powers to use information for absolutely anything. Specifically, it states clearly that information may be used for a purpose that does not relate to immigration. Since this is the UK Borders Bill and the Committee is principally concerned with securing our borders, we feel that that notion is far too broad.

The amendment is intended to get the Minister to be a little more specific. We suggest that information be used in connection with immigration and nationality—that is what the Bill is about—and in connection with any issue to do with terrorism, on which there is clearly a need to share information. We do not want to do anything that would tie the hands of the security services. In fact, we hope that one of the consequences of the Bill will be greater co-operation. We also include money laundering, because if there is drug or human trafficking going on we want it to be possible for information to be shared. Later amendments would also deal with that. We seek to be helpful and specific by saying what information should be used for instead of having the broad catch-all notion in the clause.

The amendment is a probing amendment so that we can hear from the Minister what his intentions are. Having heard the concerns expressed in our evidence sessions, we need to ensure that the information collected is used for the right purposes. It is good practice for bureaucracies to be clear about why they are collecting information and what it is used for.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall speak to the amendments in my name, amendments Nos. 23 and 62. Broadly speaking, they are intended to achieve ends similar to those of amendment. No. 81, which the hon. Member for Rochdale has just moved. We too have worries about the wide powers that regulations could give to Ministers, permitting the use of information for specified purposes that are not related to immigration. The clause is extremely open-ended and will entitle the Government to use information for any purpose they wish.

The point of amendment No. 23 is to stop fishing expeditions. With the Government seeking to introduce an era in which more and more pieces of personal data are held on more and more databases, the dangers of such expeditions become ever greater. We therefore seek to limit the use of the power to circumstances that are already enshrined in legislation and have been discussed, at least in some form, by Parliament. The amendment would limit the scope of information to purposes that are set out in statute by another enactment, so the open-ended fishing expedition would not be a possibility.

We have not had any explanation from Ministers—perhaps we will in a few minutes—of the purposes for which the Government would collect and use the information. As the hon. Member for Rochdale said, it  is possible to envisage circumstances in which such information would be useful to law enforcement agencies. I am not saying that it would not be useful; clearly that would be wrong, but we believe that Parliament should be told of the purposes for which the information may be used. There is already adequate scope in existing legislation, under which Parliament has considered what is reasonable in this area.

Amendment No. 62 is similar to amendment No. 81. It provides a list. The Government should have good reason to use for any other purposes data that are gathered for immigration purposes. The amendment lists activities that are dealt with by SOCA, which the Government have already decided are particularly serious and which would cause little controversy between hon. Members on Opposition and Government Benches. The amendment would help the Government to reassure the public that the Bill is not about giving the Government a free ride in collecting data and using them as they wish, but that they would use them in only the most serious circumstances where there is a clear public benefit from doing so.

It would help the Minister’s case to accept the amendments; he would have wide support for the use of the powers created for the immigration system to stop international, serious, organised crime. He will have much less support if there is public suspicion that he or any of successors will be able to use the powers for an as yet unspecified purpose, of which many members of the public might not approve. The amendments would strengthen the Bill by providing a degree of public reassurance that it is not there at the moment, because the clause is so open-ended.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

These are helpful amendments, because they have given me pause for thought and deliberation. I shall start by clarifying the scope and orbit of the clause. It is not about the transfer of the information concerned to other parts of Government or other parts of public service. Parliament has already spoken on that matter, specifically in section 21 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which quite properly put in place a rigorous gateway through which the Home Office would have to go to share information with others. That could be done only in line with obligations already on the Secretary of State set out under the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and other legislation.

The subject of the clause is how the Home Secretary can share the information with other parts of his business, as it were. How can we ensure that that is not being done inappropriately? Amendment No. 23 would curtail the movement of information to the purposes set out in another enactment. Amendments Nos. 62 and 81 would constrain the use of the information for non-immigration purposes. A helpful starter for 10 has been listed.

I said last week that the purpose of the Bill was not to give unfettered power to the Secretary of State. I know that there are some days when that seems desirable, but in the round it is not. It is important to underline the fact that, even if that were the ambition, it would be a forlorn ambition, because the Secretary of State does not have unfettered power to share  information even with other parts of his own operations. The Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act already provide for certain constraints.

Despite the fact that those constraints are in place, there is a case to be explored for whether further constraint is merited. The amendment has prompted me to begin that exploration. We have to think carefully through a number of issues, the first of which is that amendment No. 23 suggests that the sharing and use of the information be curtailed to a purpose set out in another enactment. That is a valuable place at which to start, but a couple of issues warrant slightly further exploration. Some of the Home Secretary’s powers are exercised under royal prerogative, not under “another enactment”. A good example is the fact that the Secretary of State issues British passports under prerogative to several different types of nationality, including British overseas territories citizenship, British national overseas, British subject and British protected persons. It is possible to envisage a situation in the future when the Home Secretary would want to check biometric information that had been filed as part of a biometric immigration document application, as part of the process of reviewing someone’s application for one of those three or four different categories of passport. That would not be possible under the amendment, because it is a power exercised under royal prerogative, and issuing a passport is not in the strict legal sense an immigration function.

The second issue that needs teasing out is that the phrase “another enactment” may exclude the use of the information under clauses 1 to 4. Given that the phrase used is “another enactment”, it may be that under a strict legal definition, it is not possible for the application to be rendered to the Bill. That would need to be teased through with lawyers.

The third issue that warrants a little exploration is particularly relevant to amendment No. 62. The proposed list does not mention nationality, but it is possible to envisage a situation in which we want to make use of biometric immigration that has beenfiled as part of a biometric immigration document application during the naturalisation process. We might want to validate the individual who is applying for naturalisation and use biometric information that has already been filed and checked.

The fourth issue that needs a little more explanation—I hope the Committee will agree—is in the list of applications, which has been helpfully set out in the spirit of probing our ambitions. The list does not refer to prevention of crime. Immigration officershave a number of criminal investigation powers. They might, for example, investigate crimes of forgery, bigamy, theft and perjury. With such criminal investigation powers come associated powers of arrest, search and investigation. It is quite possible that an immigration officer would seek to use biometric information that has been captured as part of the application process for the biometric immigration document. One can particularly imagine that such a facility might be useful where forgery offences were being investigated.

The amendments are therefore extremely helpful, as there is a real case for us to explore how the Bill should be more specific about the limits on the Secretary of State’s power to deploy the information in other parts  of his business. With those words on the record, I hope that the hon. Member for Rochdale will not seek to press the amendment. These have been helpful probing amendments that have certainly started the process of deliberation in my office. Where and if appropriate, I think that we will need to table an amendment of our own to achieve the ambitions that hon. Members rightly have.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 11:45 am, 13th March 2007

With those remarks, I look forward to the new provisions from the Government, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.