Clause 70

Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 19 June 2008.

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Disclosure of information

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

I wonder whether I might test the Minister. I allude to a debate initiated by the hon. Member for Stafford. How confident is the Minister that the clause is secure from legal challenge? I think not only of the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 but of human rights legislation. I know that Ministers always have to sign such things off, and it would be helpful to know how confident he is about that.

Would he also tell us how confident the public can be that the disclosure of information by the criminal justice system to the regulators enabled under the clause will at all times be appropriate, confidential and secure? We are all aware of recent mishaps with various forms of data—I am sure that the Minister has his laptop firmly attached, unlike a Cabinet Minister recently. The loss of 25 million benefit records and the dreadful and unfortunate errors with other data concern people, so it is important that the public can be confident that these matters will be handled in an appropriate and confidential way.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

This is a gateway clause that allows the passing of information from the criminal justice system to regulators. It is necessary because those who work in the criminal justice system may come across breaches that are properly dealt with by the kind of civil penalties provided for under the Bill. The clause allows  them to pass information about those breaches or potential breaches to the relevant regulator. Such gateway clauses are not unprecedented. For example, the Enterprise Act 2002 has a similar provision. When making an order under part 3, the Minister concerned will assess the situation to ensure, as far as is possible in the circumstances, that it is compliant with the European convention on human rights.

If it helps the Committee, I have some more facts about the clause. Information may be disclosed only if the regulator has an enforcement function in relation to a criminal offence, and for the purposes of the regulator exercising one of the new powers. Subsection (2) provides that the information that can be disclosed could include information collected before this provision comes into force. Subsection (3) provides that disclosure of information is

“not to be taken to breach any restriction of information”.

However, subsection (4) does not authorise the sharing of information in contravention of the Data Protection Act 1998 or part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that one must be careful with any clause that mentions information sharing and the public have legitimate concerns in that area.

Equally, it is also in the public’s interest for breaches of the law in the regulatory field to be properly investigated. If we relate the clause to the wider purpose of the Bill and part 3 in particular, that purpose is to give regulators a new suite of powers in order to regulate more effectively than they can at present with the one-club option of criminal prosecution. It seems correct to allow for the passing of information from the people concerned with one route, the criminal justice system, to those who, by virtue of the Bill, will be responsible for enforcing the new civil penalties. Information powers should always be treated with care, but clause 70 gives the regulatory system an advantage in ensuring that where there are breaches, the information goes to those who are responsible for enforcing the law and gives them the information necessary to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.