|Draft Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) Order 2002
Beverley Hughes: I want to reiterate what I said earlier. I emphasise that the Home Secretary made such an acknowledgment, but on the basis that bringing forward the order today did not obviate or circumvent in any way the further consultation on implementation that we agree is necessary.
Mr. Hawkins: I have already accepted that consultation will continue. Nevertheless it was made clear in writing that, before any legislation was introduced, further consultation would take place. The view of those in the industry, which we share, is that a lot of security experts have given advice to the Government, but that, as yet, the airlines have not been given an opportunity to give the other side of the story. We and the airlines consider that they should have been given that opportunity before the enabling measure was brought forward. It is not as though last Friday it was too late for consultation to take place. It is not as if the House were about to rise for the summer recess. We have more than a week to go before then. Last Thursday, it would have been wiser for the Home Secretary to delay bringing forward the enabling order. It could have been debated in Committee in a week's time. The consultation that was promised could have then taken place in the interim, as urgent and important consultations often do. We share the view of the airlines.
I have specific questions to ask of the Minister. How much consultation has taken place between the Home Office, the Department for Transport, Her Majesty's Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry before the enabling legislation was brought forward? In particular, it seems strange that the Department for Transport is taking so many senior people from the airlines to the United States of America specifically to express worry about the way in which that country is bringing forward similar provisions in the same week as the Home Office is bringing forward the order. There seems to be a lack of joined-up government. Given that many months have passed since 11 September, more consultation should have taken place. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
Will the Minister put on the record her Department's current position in respect of the USA's proposals to introduce a slightly different and less stringent requirement in that country? The hon. Lady said she anticipated another meeting in September, but can she give a firm guarantee of specific dates, even in advance of the first anniversary of the terrorist atrocity on 11 September, of meetings between her Government and their advisers and representatives of the aviation industry and passenger transport groups? Can she guarantee that there will be talks at every stage of the implementation process before further measures are brought forward?
Will the Minister confirm that the implementation of requirements to collect additional data will be proportionate, targeted and carefully planned in line with consultation with the industry? Will she give us more detail about how she envisages the phasing-in process working in practice? Can she tell us specifically why the Government have not published a full regulatory impact assessment on the order? It is
Column Number: 014unacceptable that an explanatory memorandum simply says:
I hope that the Minister will tell us much more about regulatory impact assessments and the cost to the industry.
What guarantees will be in place to ensure that information collected is accurate? The Minister responded to an intervention by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey by explaining difficulties of lack of machine readability. There was an exchange about questions of home address. I am advised—this fits in with what the chief executive of the United Kingdom Passport Service told me on Monday last week—that there are several issues that relate to place of birth in addition to home address.
Will the Minister give the airlines a clear assurance that if the provision disrupted passengers to such an extent that there were huge queues and delays and the commercial activities of international carriers, especially, were hugely disrupted, she would immediately review the way in which the system operated? Conservative Members and representatives of the industry have a great fear that the Government—as a representative of the industry may have said at last Thursday's meeting—are creating a haystack in the hope of trying to find a needle.
The Minister knows that my constituents include many senior airline people and pilots because my constituency is close to Heathrow airport. I knew that we were discussing the order and I spoke to several of my constituents who have specific expertise at the weekend. Many of them stressed that however much legislation the House passes and however carefully steps are taken it is impossible to make airports and check-in procedures entirely secure—I think that we understand that. It would be a great shame if pursuit of the entirely laudable objective of preventing terrorism caused hundreds of thousands of UK citizens to have their holidays and travel arrangements disrupted while those in charge of security say that the order will not help. The Minister fairly acknowledged that long queues might hinder security, and I hope that she will say more about that.
The Minister has, to an extent, addressed the question of whether carriers will be required to collect all schedule 7 information regardless of congestion or inconvenience to travellers, something that airlines were particularly worried about. Will she tell us more about the categories of information that the Government anticipate would be required first in a phased introduction? What are we concentrating on at the beginning of the process? Which bits do the Government envisage implementing at the beginning of the process?
Will the Minister confirm that her Department's officials will adopt a flexible approach when demanding information and will not ask for data that carriers are not able to provide for good reasons?
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Beverley Hughes: Perhaps I can clarify that my Department's officials will not ask for data. The police or border agencies will do that.
Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful for that, but this afternoon, the Minister is answering for her Government, and it would be helpful to have a little more detail. From the Minister's response to my earlier intervention, it still seems that, as the airlines have told me, a misunderstanding remains on the part of the Minister and her officials about the information that is collected. Most Committee members will have seen that there has been a lot of press publicity about some no-frills airlines getting photo identification. However, it was confirmed to the Minister and her officials that the information is purely for internal bookings checks and is never retained. The Minister said that some of the airlines say that they collect the information anyway, but that is not my information. Will the Minister, who I know is extremely diligent in such matters, clarify with her officials whether they have correctly understood what happens now and, more importantly, what does not and would be difficult to make happen? That is particularly important for international carriers, from which the greatest concern comes.
A Home Office letter to carriers, dated 4 July 2002, said that the border agencies have undertaken to establish a system whereby carriers receive only one request for data on behalf of the joint agencies in respect of any inquiry, which would avoid duplication of work and receipt of multiple identical requests. In the light of that clear understanding by her officials, will the Minister say how she expects the UK immigration service or other services' ''authority to carry'' proposals relate and cross-cut with schedule 7 requirements?
I raised with the Minister the international carriers' belief that the police do not have the capacity to process the information. The Minister said that that was not her information, so will she check that carefully? I understand that no police representatives attended the meeting last Thursday.
I am concerned about the data protection issues that the order will raise for airlines and carriers. We have seen, in relation to measures under the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, that obligations put on companies with the best of intentions can be difficult to implement without those companies falling foul of the laws relating to data protection and the data protection registrar. Have the Minister and her officials had detailed discussions with the data protection registrar in the light of the proposals? If they have not, will she undertake to have discussions with the registrar, as well as with carriers, to establish what they perceive to be the data protection implications?
There been a lack of consultation with not only airlines in the UK but other countries—a point rightly raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The airlines perceive a lack of consistency, both among Government Departments and between this country's proposals and those of the United States and other countries in the EU. The
Column Number: 016airlines believe that it is sometimes forgotten that a lot of passport data can be taken by officials without involving the carriers. Indeed, the collection of passport data, for which the powers already exist, is not enforced. Have the Minister, her advisers and the Home Secretary examined the powers that already exist and discussed with the immigration service and the United Kingdom Passport Service whether further steps could be taken using pre-existing powers? The concern is that many of the powers are not used, and if the Government did their work properly, they might not need to impose the new burdens on carriers and passengers.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government understand that 80 per cent. of major international carriers' bookings come through travel and other agents and that many are taken from overseas? The order will impose much greater burdens on international than domestic carriers. I ask the Minister to confirm that she and her officials understand that and will take account of it in further discussions.
There are many concerns. I have set out some of them: the industry can, and no doubt will, raise others in further discussions. I ask the Minister to confirm that she will meet her ministerial colleague responsible for the delegation from the Department for Transport to the United States, and that the Home Office and the Minister' officials will learn the lessons that arise from that delegation.
In summary, the debate has been rushed. There are many unanswered questions, and it would have been much better to leave the debate at least until next week to allow more consultation before the order was presented to the Committee. However, we will not oppose it, as we share the Government's desire to combat terrorism. Opposition Members believe that the Government have gone so far beyond the limits of what is acceptable with this order, even with its virtuous aim, that they will have to be careful to satisfy hon. Members who are concerned about these matters, as well as those outside who want to work with the Government to ensure that terrorists are caught, that they will conduct future consultations better and more fully.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 15 July 2002|