Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Clarke: I shall certainly give the hon. Gentleman the information he seeks. Behind his placid exterior, it sometimes difficult to detect what degree of frenzy is taking place.

Specific mention was made of the compatibility of the provision with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. It is compatible and the Home Secretary made a statement to that effect under section 19(1)(a) of the Act. I reinforce what I said earlier; there is a considered statement and it is not something that comes automatically. While the provision authorises the disclosure of personal data such that article 8 is engaged, article 8(2) of the European convention on human rights permits interferences with the right to privacy when, as here, it is necessary in a democratic society for the prevention of crime or the protection of the rights or freedoms of others; that is the essential issue at stake.

The provision is a proportionate measure to achieve the crime prevention objective. Information that is subject to the provision is targeted as that which is necessary for the prevention and detection of uninsured driving. There are additional safeguards, in that subsections 2(b) and (c) further provide for regulations that can limit the purposes for which the police may be given access to the information and the onward disclosure of that information. The measure helps to tackle uninsured driving by giving motor insurance information to the police; such information is relevant to help the police to enforce that law.

Similarly, the provision complies with the Data Protection Act 1988, a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. While the Human Rights Act 1998 requires disclosures of data to comply with the data protection principles, exemptions from any of those principles that would otherwise prevent disclosure are permitted by virtue of section 35(1) where, as here, there is a legal obligation to make the disclosure.

I apologise for taking up the time of the Committee, but I wanted to set out the background to the provision before referring to the amendment.

Mr. Bercow: The Minister is making a better job of accurately explaining the provision than the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston who made a ham-fisted attempt at doing so. Nevertheless, I am not absolutely clear about the matter and I should be grateful to receive clarification. [Interruption.] The sedentary chunterings of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston do not assist the considerations of the Committee at all, unlike those of the Minister. Will the Minister establish the circumstances in which disclosure would not take place?

Mr. Clarke: I cannot foresee any circumstances in which disclosure would not take place, if required. Obviously, the measure is concerned with crime prevention and circumstances will have to be taken into account. However, I shall take advice on the matter before responding in detail to the hon. Gentleman's question.

The hon. Member for Lichfield gave examples from other countries of the disc and asked to what extent that had been considered in the process. The ABI confirm that insurance is this country is attached to the driver, whereas on mainland Europe it is often attached to the vehicle, which is a significant distinction. An insurance windscreen sticker system is viable in continental Europe because cars can be driven on the owner's insurance policy with the owner's agreement. However, because the risks being accepted by the insurance company are greater, the ABI considers that that leads to higher motor insurance premiums than would otherwise be the case.

In deciding how best to make insurance information more readily available to the police, the motor insurance industry considered advocating a windscreen sticker system along the lines that the hon. Member for Lichfield suggests, but it did not believe that that was viable or would be as effective as a computerised database. Police bulk access to a computerised database of insurance information will enable the police to be proactive in identifying uninsured vehicles and drivers, including making use of technology in a way that would not be possible if they were restricted to making visual inspections of windscreens.

2.45 pm

I am aware that that touches on the point made by the hon. Member for Lichfield about whether the process is quicker than it might otherwise be, which has some substance.

Mr. Fabricant: I am totally satisfied with the Minister's response to my question, but I should like to ask him a separate question about the bulk database. To what extent is he comfortable with the idea that smaller vehicle insurance companies may not be as quick to put data from their databases on to the bulk database as some of the others? As a consequence, police officers may assume innocent drivers to be breaking the law if the bulk database gives a nil response, suggesting that a driver is not insured, when he or she is.

Mr. Clarke: I understand that the motor insurance database is tightly organised by the ABI, which brings the entire insurance industry together, and that the regulatory system would not permit the problem that the hon. Gentleman describes. I shall check, and I will tell him if that response is not accurate.

Mr. Fabricant: Does that mean that all vehicle insurers are members of that association?

Mr. Clarke: That is my understanding, but I am answering off the cuff. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if I have misunderstood in any important respect. Certainly the overwhelming majority are—and I believe that they all are. I shall double check and let him know.

The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Buckingham and his hon. Friends are designed to provide a more specific definition of the information required. The wording

    such information of a particular description

in subsection (2)(a), which the hon. Member for Buckingham asked about, is designed to enable the Secretary of State to limit the obligation to disclose information to PITO to a subset of the relevant information required to be held under section 160(2)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It should not be necessary for all information on the insurance database to be given to the police, only the part of that information that is involved, which will enable the police to fight crime more effectively.

Mr. Bercow: I do not want to labour the point, but specificity is exactly what is required in this case. I hope that, even if the Minister believes that our amendment is redundant or undesirable, he would agree that it would help him to explain the merits of the unamended clause if he could elucidate his case with an example. Will he give us an example of the sort of circumstance that he has in mind, in which our requirement would be too all-embracing and his wording would more appropriately define the particulars required in such a case?

Mr. Clarke: I had intended to be helpful at the end of my explanation, but I shall say now what I intended to say then. The hon. Gentleman refers to the need to be more specific about the information to be disclosed in regulations. We have set out the parameters of that information under the definition of ``relevant information'', which is in the Bill and available for the Committee to scrutinise, and the regulations may specify only that information or a subset of it, not any additional information. The concession that I intended to make, and the assurance that I intended to give, is that the hon. Gentleman made some good points, and I am prepared to consider the definition before Report, to establish whether I could provide further clarification, and to think about whether further amendments might be tabled on Report relating to more specific information, as he suggests. He reasonably put the point that clarity is required about the total range of data on the database, compared to the subset that we would seek. I will consider that matter carefully and come back to it on Report.

I say too, ``as advised'', as we like to say in this Committee, that the police are as concerned as anyone else that the database be complete, accurate and up to date. The fourth European Union motor insurance directive—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Buckingham going into a frenzy? The directive will require all insurers to notify details to the MID. If necessary, after consultation, arrangements can be made to omit details when a policy has expired only a short time before—a month or so before, for example. I want to be helpful and take the debate further, because I understand the seriousness with which the hon. Gentleman makes his point.

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister mentioned the European Union again. One advantage of European Union membership, I suppose, might be cross-border co-operation. Is there a plan—and does it fall under the ambit of the Bill—to include information on the bulk database about the many drivers who come here from member states and drive vehicles insured by European Union but not British insurance companies? To put it another way, is some form of co-operation planned to ensure internetworking between similar databases in Europe, so that if someone arrested for an offence in the United Kingdom was driving a Dutch vehicle, a British police officer could discover whether that vehicle was insured?

Mr. Clarke: The co-operation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is being developed but is not there yet. That is the short answer. He is right to make the point, as cars are sometimes transported in and out of the country with different plates. [Interruption.] I think that the hon. Member for Buckingham really has gone into a frenzy now, perhaps because he sees that my officials are getting worried about what I am saying.

Mr. Bercow: ``Frenzy'' seems to be the Minister's word of the week—perhaps he has recently discovered it. I am not in a frenzy; I was mildly amused—I apologise for my visible amusement—because the Minister was having some difficulty with his trousers.

 
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