Draft Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) Order 2002

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David Burnside (South Antrim): The Minister's explanatory note states that the order will have no financial impact on the Home Office. Will she clarify the other side of the equation, and confirm whether the cost to check-in men and women, who are not trained in security, will be borne by the carriers, which are in major financial straits? Will she give a commitment that the costs will be borne by the Home Office and some of the security agencies?

Beverley Hughes: No, we do not think that that will be necessary. The discussion on 11 July showed, in a very limited way, how the impact of having to collect information could be managed and spread. For instance, collecting at least some of that information further downstream in the process—perhaps when people book their flights at the travel agents'—might be a way in which some of the information could come into the system without having a cost impact. At some of the points of contact between the passenger, the carrier and the travel industry, that information has already been given. If we were to harness the potential to bring that information together, the cost implications could be very small.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): The Minister fails to understand that there are costs involved in passing that data downstream because the systems that will receive it will not be able to handle it. Has she received any representations from travel agents or airlines about the estimated cost of the systems changes that they will have to make, and about the time scale in which they will have to implement those changes?

Beverley Hughes: No. I am simply telling the hon. Gentleman in an open way that, in the discussion that we have had so far, there was potential for thinking creatively about how the information already given at various points could be used to minimise costs, and

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about the need for carriers and others in the industry to set up new systems. Clearly, we want to avoid difficulties when we can.

The industry is best placed to help us to understand where there are already such points in the system. Those points could enable us to think about how the process is currently managed—how passengers go from thinking about the journey to getting on the plane or the ship—rather than new systems. As I have said, some in the industry are already helping us to do that. We should be thinking about mobilising the potential in existing systems, and not about building new ones.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister was talking about police use of the information that is to be collected. Will she confirm that she and her officials have been advised that the police currently do not have the capacity to process the information that would be collected? Will she also confirm that, in a clear breach of joined-up government, her ministerial colleagues at the Department for Transport are this very week going to the USA with a group of senior people from airlines to protest about the United States' rather less stringent requirements, which are along the same lines but in which slightly different information is requested?

The Chairman: Order. I ask that interventions be brief; they must not be speeches in themselves.

Beverley Hughes: If I could get on with some of the comments that I want to make, I might be able to answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) about police capacity.

Mr. Reid: Will the Minister give way?

Beverley Hughes: No. Could I please answer one intervention before I take another?

It is not my understanding that the police do not have the capacity to utilise the information. The comment of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath may arise from a misunderstanding on the part of some hon. Members that, even when the systems are up and running, the police will want blanket requests for information. They will not; they want specifically targeted requests for information that relates to gaps in their intelligence. The power is precisely about building up intelligence, and about the networks of people in other parts of the world who are either fuelling illegal immigration or are connected in some other way to criminal activity. For example, they will not be in the business of asking airlines for wholesale information about passengers on all flights. At present, they now have the capacity to receive information that is requested in the targeted way that I have described. I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, but I cannot remember his second point.

Mr. Hawkins: It concerned the delegation from the Department for Transport going to the United States of America.

Beverley Hughes: That is important for the industry. I do not necessarily agree with the hon. Gentleman that the demands that the United States is thinking of making are less stringent that those under discussion

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now. I am sure that he has read the list of measures under the schedule. It is small compared with what the United States is considering. Action will be taken internationally to make sure that the information being considered by different countries when drafting such legislation is consistent. We certainly accept the point that it would be helpful to international carriers if the information requested by different countries were consistent.

Simon Hughes: Despite the reasons outlined by the Minister, I am not persuaded that it is right for us to legislate in such a way. Why do not the Government first try to reach agreement throughout the European Union on a common standard? Why are they not sorting out the issue between the Channel Islands, Ireland and the Isle of Man? The order does not deal with that. Why do they not try to reach international agreement with other countries, such as the United States of America? There is no logic in imposing one system in this country, when other countries are considering other systems and there may be grounds for a minimalist agreement to be reached between many countries. Why do the Government want to go ahead of everyone else, instead of working with them?

Beverley Hughes: We are not going against everyone else. We are working with other people. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not an argument for not implementing such a power at an early stage. I say early, but it is already eight months since the primary legislation was passed. We are discussing an enabling power. We do not to have to implement the schedule in full immediately. It will be phased in and, during that time, international discussions on achieving a degree of consistency will continue. The hon. Gentleman's argument is so often rehearsed by Liberal Democrat Members. We do not want to wait to see if European or other countries can sort out such problems before we do anything. It is preferable that we take on a limited power ourselves. We will certainly work with other countries to achieve consistency, which I accept is needed by the industry. That is the way forward. We must operate on a parallel track, as other countries are doing.

I reinforce the point that, when the power is fully operational, it will not be on the basis of blanket requests about all passengers on all flights or ships. The use of the power must be proportionate. It must reflect local circumstances, and those factors always must be taken into account by the police, who favour such action. During the consultation process, officials met a wide range of industrial bodies, including representatives of air and sea passengers, freight carriers, freight forwarders and marine container companies. Furthermore, they visited ports and individual companies to observe the industry in operation and to receive its advice on the possible business impact. Those meetings and visits, coupled with regular meetings with key representatives of border agencies, resulted in a better understanding by both sides of the needs and capacity of each side, which ultimately led to a substantially revised list of information. Substantially less data are listed in the schedule than in the original list, which reflects the consultation process.

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I am aware that several concerns were raised during consultation, and these were brought to our direct attention at the meeting on 11 July. I recognise and acknowledge that the matters are of genuine concern to the industry, and we have given a commitment at ministerial and official level to continue to talk with the industry about how to go forward.

I made it clear that the order is an enabling order. How and the extent to which the power will be applied is flexible. We thought about trying to incorporate flexibility and an incremental approach in the order, but the advice of the legal counsel was not to do that. Nevertheless, that is the way in which we shall proceed.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): What was the reason for the legal counsel's advice?

Beverley Hughes: If the hon. Gentleman has been involved in preparing legislation, he will know that that is quite a difficult question. We had to take the counsel's advice on the matter, which was that it was inappropriate to put the provision for flexibility in the wording of the document because the order relates to primarily national security. I have been satisfied that it is open to us to implement the order in the light of practicalities that we meet and that we will discuss with the industry.

Mr. Tyrie: I was unable to decipher that; it sounded as though Sir Humphrey were speaking. Will the Minister have another go at explaining the reasons?

Beverley Hughes: I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not understand that. The order is a piece of legislation that relates to national security. The way in which legislation is framed is subject to the clear advice of legal counsel, which is the advice that we have taken.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister referred to a continuing dialogue and review process between herself and industry. Has the Minister set up a date for a first review of how the process is working? What frequency of meetings does she expect?

 
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