|Draft Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) Order 2002
Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who is Liberal Democrat spokesman on transport and aircraft matters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute, with his particular knowledge and expertise in sea-borne travel around the UK—I believe that his constituency has the most ferries, and the most ferry journeys in the UK are made in it—have reached the same conclusion as mine: the order is not sufficiently precise or right for the Committee to agree it. We shall press the Committee to a vote.
Beverley Hughes: Shame.
Simon Hughes: Absolutely not. The Minister's remark is disgraceful. The Home Secretary made the point that we can form different views on how to deal with terrorism. The Minister was not in the Home Office team when I served on the Committees that
Column Number: 017considered the Terrorism Bill and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. In debates on those Bills, we made it clear that we did not oppose regulation of these matters in principle, but felt that acceptance would depend on the detail of the order. I can do no better than to cite the closing paragraph of a letter dated 8 July that I received from the deputy managing director of Britannia Airways, Mr. Bob Parker-Eaton, which ends:
We share that view. The order should not be so widespread and enabling.
As the Minister knows, I take a careful interest in the data collection that the Government propose. A data mania appears to be running through Government. They appear to want to collect everything that they can, and every piece of legislation seems to need justification. My questions are therefore along the same lines as some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath about the justification for, and appropriateness of, collecting some of the data that the order requires. We have no option but to oppose the order. Although it is an enabling order, if it is not opposed, but is accepted in its current form, there is no further parliamentary control on all the information being collected.
Once both Houses vote for the order, the authorities will have the power to collect any of the five pieces of information about individuals, the four pieces about their travel document, the one piece about the items placed in the hold, the information about the vehicle, and the seven pieces of information about goods carried on the vehicle. We will have no further control; we lose it once we sign off the order. However, the Liberal Democrats think that the list is too long, and some things too unspecific. In addition, the process has not been gone through properly, so I shall encourage colleagues to vote against the order.
I have two points about the process, which have been alluded to by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and by me in my interventions. Am I right in saying that there was no public consultation on the order? There was consultation with the industry, which resulted in a failure to have a second meeting until after the order's publication; hence last week's meeting and the Home Secretary's apology. I should be grateful if the Minister confirmed on the record that there was no public consultation on the order, and that only those in the industry were consulted.
I do not understand why the Government sought this enabling power when, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and I were informed, the Government and the industry had already decided to make representations to the United States that the proposal should not go forward by secondary legislation in the US to the same standard as currently proposed, because it was too widely drawn. I understand that a different set of information is already required to be collected by the American authorities and by the Canadian authorities. The UK
Column Number: 018authorities will now collect a different set of information.
In addition to the apparent contradiction in policy vis-à-vis the US and the Department for Transport, why has there not yet been an attempt to secure an agreement in Europe about the enabling legislation, and not about the power? Why has the Transport Council or the appropriate Council not been the subject of consultation? The Minister will know that, since 11 September, these matters have been discussed at many meetings at European ministerial level. Indeed, I understand that the issue was on the agenda, formally or informally, of the G8 leaders' meeting the other day.
Why can we not wait until the enabling provisions in secondary legislation can be agreed throughout the EU? The great benefit of that would be the maximum agreement about what was necessary and the maximum understanding of the issues, difficulties and practicalities, from the point of view of people in the EU member states—who are the most common participants in journeys in and out of the UK—and of the industry.
Am I right in thinking that the provision does not deal with the common travel area issue? The Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are the common travel area with the UK. From what I have read, the order deals with journeys to and from the UK—people arriving in and leaving the UK—but we cannot enforce a control mechanism without separate legislation in each of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Ireland.
That is an immediate and obvious loophole for people to exploit. People could come in, without giving the information, through Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. If I am wrong, will the Minister tell me? If we pass the order before the summer holidays, what would prevent someone from using that loophole? Why would entering by those other routes not be a loophole?
I shall now deal with the specifics. The Home Office was rushing towards all this data collection, but then the Home Secretary realised that he had to back off in relation to some of the proposals. I understand that the Passport Service is thinking about a screenable card-type passport, with the information imprinted on it and readable. That may be the case. My passport and, I assume, everyone else's has a place and date of birth on it. That would be available from the Passport Service. Clearly, my passport also has my nationality on it, and a number, country of issue and expiry date.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the other agency that collects and holds information about us, has a home address as part of its requirements. We will have discussions about entitlement cards, identity cards and common identification in the House in the future, but we should debate those matters when deciding whether there is to be an exchange of information into and out of the Passport Agency, DVLA and any other agency. Logically, we should discuss all the issues at the same time; that might answer some of my questions.
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I am advised by the airlines that many people are currently not asked for their home address, and I understand that completely. Many people will have changed address since they got their passport, or have no permanent address. That is quite apart from those whom the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) mentioned, who would not want to reveal their home address, such as members of the Special Air Service, the Special Boat Service and the security services.
I am reliably informed by the airline industry that people often do not want to reveal their home address for personal reasons. They may have been away for the weekend and not want someone to see where they have been. That is perfectly natural and normal. We must not have a big brother state in which we collect all sorts of information about people's every movement, unless the collection of that information is absolutely justified. That is why we must be careful about signing away such powers to the authorities.
As the Minister conceded, a lot of the information in the ''goods carried'' list is not currently collected, and would certainly not be in a data-readable or electronically readable form. It would have to be manually collected, and could not necessarily be checked by the airlines. Either it would not be possible to check it, in which case it would have no immediate use, or it would take time to collect, in which case there would be consequential delays.
I have a real concern that the same issues arise under the order as in debates about authority to travel and authorisation to carry. The Minister will know my concern about those matters. Who exactly will have access to such data? I asked the airline representatives what the score is now. When passengers are asked for their passport along with their ticket, it is not because the airlines want information from the passport. They check two things; whether the name on the passport is the same as that on the ticket, and whether the passport is still valid, and has not expired. There is no other checking purpose.
As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath argued, and as my hon. Friends know, that information is not retained; the immediate check is made in order to ensure that there is no inconsistency, and that no issue is thrown up straight away. The suggestion is that the information will be collected for tracking purposes, so that we can build up pictures of people's travel patterns around the world. That is what the Minister said. If that is the case, I should want much better information on guarantees about the data than that which the Minister has offered to us today.
Who within the airline will get to know that information, and what will be their level of seniority? What guarantees would I have that the airline would not pass it to others in the same company, or to other airlines? What protection would be given to any information collected, nationally or internationally? Unless we have answers to such questions, we cannot sign away another set of information-collecting at the instigation of authorities who will always want more information, and will always find a reason for asking
Column Number: 020for more. We should resist doing so unless a case for it is made.
What would happen to the process in other countries? If each country develops a slightly different system, how can there be a proper and easy correlation between other countries and us? That is quite apart from the concerns of the industry, which is trying to fly more flights ever more quickly—sometimes at peak times—and is using up the time-allocated slots at airports.
There is a case for co-ordinating the information carried by airlines and other carriers. Since 11 September, there has also been a case for reviewing whether we do that adequately. We should make sure that we have as good a system as that of our neighbours in the European Union and the best examples of good practice in the world. The Government should not have brought this outline proposal before Parliament without having completed a proper consultation process or having consulted the world at large when there is still great concern about the matter within the industry and outside it. The proposal includes the longest list that the Government can think of and reasonably get away with, and I was perturbed when the Minister said that it had been whittled down from an even longer list; that shows the extent of the Home Office's desire to get increasing amounts of information into the system.
The Minister and her colleagues may win the day today, but I would like them to think twice about going ahead with this order and to decide not to proceed with it this side of the summer holiday. They should wait until we have an order that enjoys the support of the Conservative Opposition and my party, both in this House and in the other place, so that everyone can say, ''We think that this is a justified proposal.'' If we are to have counter-terrorism legislation, it is much better if it has the support of all three main parties, rather than the unhappy assent—potentially—of one Opposition party and the opposition of another. The measure will not carry nearly as much credibility or conviction if it is driven through by use of the Government's majority in the House of Commons. I remind the Minister that the Government do not have a majority in the House of Lords.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 15 July 2002|