Clause 8

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

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:30 am, 13th March 2007

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.