Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 19

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 29th April 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 5:45 pm, 29th April 2008

If I may, I will start with amendment No. 11. Given that there is nothing in the subsection that could be taken to mean that an individual could be required to disclose information, the amendment is redundant. Although I understand the point about probing to establish that fact, the amendment is unnecessary because there is nothing in the clause that compels or requires an individual to give information to the service. I understand the point but the amendment is not required.

The substantial part of the Bill, and that covered by amendment No. 89, is more interesting. I do not say that to be offensive but the subject matter of the clauses is more interesting. They are not about deficiency in any areas of the intelligence services work as defined by the Act. Rather we have afforded, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 sections 33 to 35, to those who disclose information to the Serious Organised Crime Agency explicit protection from any duty of conflicts or other restriction to keep matters private. Our concern is that that facility should at the time probably have been afforded to the intelligence services too. So the difficulty now is that there is a higher benchmark and encouragement for SOCA to be able to do what it does, regarding the disclosure of information to it and protection under law for such disclosure. We should mirror those provisions for the intelligence services. That is all that clauses 19 to 21 do. They mirror sections 33 to 35 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. Our concern is that the absence of similar explicit protections for the intelligence and security agencies may cause doubt in the minds of those wishing to give information that it is safe to do so. Given the vital work of the intelligence and security agencies it is important that nothing should dissuade those wishing to protect our society by giving information to the agencies, so that the agencies can carry out their vital statutory functions. It is important that nothing gets in the way of that, and that is why those clauses are offered.

Amendment No. 89 would remove the explicit relief afforded by clause 19(6) to a person properly giving information to any of the intelligence and security agencies, that is, relief from any duty of confidence owed by the person making the disclosure or any other restriction on that disclosure. Although a person could still rely on common law to justify disclosing information in breach of a duty of confidence or other restriction on the ground that it was for higher public interest purposes, that falls well short of the explicit relief provided to our intelligence and security agencies in clause 19(6), which mirrors the same relief afforded to SOCA in sections 33 to 35 of the 2005 Act.

The amendment would perpetuate the anomaly that we are seeking to correct whereby a person would get explicit relief in law from the duty of confidence if they gave information to SOCA for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, but not if they gave it to the intelligence and security agencies for the prevention or detection of serious crime or even terrorism. Individuals fulfilling their responsibilities towards the security of society by properly providing information to such agencies should receive the relief and confidence provided in clause 19(6). For that reason, and because that relief is already established for SOCA under the 2005 Act, it is more than appropriate not to accept amendment No. 89. It challenges the raison d’être of much of the Bill. As I have suggested, although amendment No. 11 is probing, it is utterly irrelevant.