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This is the United Kingdom and we are the Government of the United Kingdom. It may well have escaped the notice of the hon. Gentleman during his obsession of the past few months, but our writ runs across the whole United Kingdom. We are perfectly
capable of communicating with the citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever part of the United Kingdom they are in, via Royal Mail and other methods. [ Interruption. ] Let me just deal with that issue; I apologise for not doing so earlier.
The story was running on Friday night. I had to get this statement out, because I could not let the story run dishonestly, as it werein terms of the factsfor very long. I set out to speak to certain people, and had then to get the statement out. I accept that I did not speak to representatives of every party in this House. I regret that I was not able to, but I had to correct the misinformation that was running in the public domain.
Having used the Front-Bench spokespersons and Mr. Speaker as a test of the mood of the House on the subject, I took the decision and took responsibility for that. Thereafter, I determined that I would not put any other information anywhere else until I was able to come to the House to give a statement. That is the decision I took. I suspect that that will not cause offence to the people of Scotland, but the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) can rest assured that if I think that any issue requires the engagement of the devolved Administrations, including the minority Administration in Scotland, they will be told. At the moment, my Department and the UK Government are perfectly capable of dealing with the matter.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): If the press reports are right, the theft occurred at institutions where the MOD works together with the NHS, which takes us to a wider issue that does not concern only the systematic protection of MOD data. When the MOD has to work with other institutions, such as the NHS, the Secretary of State ought to look carefully at the sheer extent of access to the databases with which they work and the systemic structures when one Department has access to anothers large database. Will he take that as part of the reviews remit?
Des Browne: The information that I haveI have not physically and personally checked the databaseis that this is our stand-alone database. I have no information to suggest that it is in any way connected with the database of any other organisation. I am quite surprised that my hon. Friend raises that issue. If it arises from the physical proximity of the work, then to be candid with my hon. Friend I am saying the minimum possible in the public domain about the circumstances of the theft. The ongoing police investigation is at a critical point and I do not want to put any information into the public domain that might interfere with or degrade it.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con):
The Secretary of States statement paints a picture of blatant disregard and breach of not only MOD procedures but Data Protection Act principles, too. That is most notable in the size of the database that has been created. Obviously, that is of concern to not only the Secretary of State but the Information Commissioner. The Secretary of State said that other laptops had been secured. What analysis of those laptops has been undertaken to see whether they, too, contain unencrypted databases of such a size
and nature? Are any other officers or personnel subject to disciplinary proceedings as a consequence of such actions?
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman asks a good question, to which the good answer is that securing the laptops was the principal objective. I am not in a position todayalthough I trust that Sir Edmunds investigation will reveal the detailto say how many of the approximately 300 laptops that we have secured had such unencrypted data on them. I am sure that some did and, to the extent that they did, that is a breach of regulations. It is for the chain of command to investigate that and determine whether the existence of those laptops in that state supports any disciplinary action. However, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, it is not for me as Secretary of State to tell disciplined organisations, which have their own structure and, indeed, law how to conduct their affairs. They have procedures for conducting them and I am confident that they will.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I express a small measure of sympathy for the Secretary of State? He is in an embarrassing position today as a result of a culture among public servants that frankly lacks the proper respect for our personal information. With that in mind, will the review consider not only why the information was held on a database but why it was obtained in the first place? Will the Department operate in future on a presumption that the information obtained should be the minimum amount, held for the shortest possible time?
Des Browne: I am grateful for the hon. Gentlemans sympathy but I do not seek it, certainly not for some of the more difficult things that I have had to do in my job. It is my job to get on with the matter and resolve the problems robustly, if possible.
The information gathered should be considered carefully and the necessity for holding each item should be tested. I understand why, at the point of recruitment, it is appropriate to gather specific and detailed information about recruits for transfer to the unit where they are posted or the relevant training organisation. However, after recruitment, the reason for the recruitment authoritys keeping the information once it has been transferred to those who are responsible for the individuals defeats me. The question needs to be askedand it needs to be answered compellingly for me to accept the answer.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Following the comments of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) that no officer or individual has been disciplined for previous losses, and given that it is and always has been an offence under section 8 of the Official Secrets Act to fail to take care to prevent the unauthorised disclosure of similar information, will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that, should the officers concerned be found to be in breach of the Act, they will be charged with an offence? Only then will the House believe that the Department is taking data protection seriously.
That is a false test for my Department. There is a constitutional principle in this country that decisions about whether people are prosecuted for criminal offences are made independently of politicians. I would go to some length to honour that. I am not, therefore,
prepared to give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that he seeks. However, I am prepared to give an undertaking that, so far as it is in my power to do so, the matter will be exhaustively investigated. If reports have to go to another authority to determine whether a prosecution is needed beyond the actions that the chain of command of a particular service may take, that will be done. However, I cannot promise that anybody will be prosecutedno Executive Minister should ever do that.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Of the 347 laptop computers lost or stolen from the Ministry of Defence in the past three years, how many have been recovered? If the Secretary of State does not have that figure at his fingertips, will he write to me and place a copy of his reply in the Library of the House?
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman properly predicts that I do not have that informationto be honest, I do not know whether it exists. However, I shall endeavour to the best of my ability to find it. If that is in the bounds of reasonable expense, I will write to him and make the letter available to all hon. Members.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Had the database been on paper, we would be considering approximately 1 million sheets of paper weighing about 5 tonnesnot so easy to steal. Large databases are easy to copy and they come with large risks. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government need to review seriously the holding of and access to large databases?
Des Browne: I accept that, and as I far as I understand it, that is exactly the review that the Cabinet Office is conducting. Hon. Members have asked today whether that review needs a more robust, independent element to it. That is a matter that I shall consider.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that it was promised that Command Papers 3710 and 3711, which were supposed to inform todays Second Reading debate, would be available to hon. Members last Thursday, but that they were not available until 11.45 am today, so hon. Members now cannot make properly informed contributions to the debate. What action can you take to correct this situation? Would it be right to delay the vote on Second Reading, for instance, so that we can have an informed debate?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): It is for the Government to ensure that the documents necessary to inform the debates on the European Union (Amendment) Bill are available to all hon. Members. I was not aware of the precise timing in the Vote Office, but at least the papers are available to all hon. Members now.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I listened to your ruling, but the situation is more serious than that, because protocol No. 9 of the existing treaties, under the heading On the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union, requires documents to be provided to member states in good time for deliberation on those documents. That has not been done, so the Government are in breach of the existing treaties, not just the future treaty. Would you therefore reprimand the Government, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, through Mr. Speaker, look favourably on further amendments to the treaty, if we get that far, to strengthen the role of national Parliaments further and require national Governments to abide by undertakings that they have freely entered into?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not responsible for the instructions to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. As far as the Chair is concerned, the Vote Office has copies of all papers published by the Government relating to the Lisbon treaty and previous treaties. It also has available copies of official EU publications, including a consolidated text in English of EU treaties prior to Lisbon. I think that we now have sufficient papers before us to deal with the debate. I suggest that the sensible thing to do is move on to that debate, if that is the feeling of the House.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you would be kind enough to refresh your memory of the answer that I received from Mr. Speaker on a similar occasion, when we failed to have enough copies of the important White Paper on transport. He took the view that that was not acceptable for the House. It really is not acceptable to have material that we cannot physically read between the time it arrives and the time we have the debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is simply reinforcing the point that the House should clearly have available to it all the papers necessary for the appropriate debate in the right amount of time. The House is agreed on that, and I am sure that Mr. Speaker would agree, too.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has decided not to select the reasoned amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) and other hon. Members.
The Bill will give effect in United Kingdom law to changes agreed last October at the European Council in Lisbon to the treaties establishing the European Communities and the European Union. The Government are convinced that Britains membership and full engagement with the European Union is good for Britain and good for Europe; and we believe that the treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe, too.
The treaty is the fifth such treaty since the late Edward Heath negotiated the UKs entry to the EU in 1973. Lady Thatchers Single European Act of 1986 set out the blueprint to complete the single market, provided for co-operation in foreign policy and created the concept of the convergence of economic and monetary policies. John Majors treaty of Maastricht in 1992 created economic and monetary union, the common foreign and security policy, and co-operation on justice and home affairs. Tony Blairs 1997 treaty of Amsterdam streamlined decision making and added provisions on social policy and employment, while the treaty of Nice in 2001 adjusted the EUs institutions to pave the way for enlargement. As I will describe, the treaty will improve the way in which the EU works. It will adapt the EUs institutions to a Union of 27, and ensure that the voice of Europes nations is heard more loudly in foreign policy. It brings national Parliaments into day-to-day decision making to strengthen subsidiarity and focuses the EU on the big external challenges from climate change to migration.
This treaty is unique, however, in one regard. It marks the end of a process of institutional reform. That process has gone on too long and taken too much energy, but, if this treaty is ratified around Europe, it will be well and truly over [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members ask me to prove it. If they will wait one second while I finish this paragraph, I will do so. As the preamble of the treaty says, its purpose is to completeto finish and to stopthe institutional reform process started by the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. The European Council concluded in December that the amending treaty
provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework. We expect no change in the foreseeable future.
the tide of Euro federalism has turned decisively.
Mr. Redwood: Why will the Secretary of State not give us a referendum, given that his party promised one and that all the powers that we worried would be transferred under the constitution are now being needlessly and recklessly given away in this document?
David Miliband: For the same reason that the right hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty in 1992namely, that we are a parliamentary democracy and this is an amending treaty.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary might find himself alone in holding that point of view. May I ask him a simple question? He cited the preamble as though it had the effect of the treaty. Is it not true, however, that in all European legislation a preamble is clearly understood not to have legal status?
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary now cut to the chase and spell out the specific transfers of power in the original constitution that, in the Governments opinion, justified a referendum, but which are not in this treatythus, in the Governments view, nullifying their promise to hold a referendum? Will he spell out those specific powers?
David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman will get details of specific powers and of how this is a different treaty in structure, in content and in consequence. It has more similarity to the Maastricht treaty and other treaties.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): A number of Committees of this House have reported that there is no substantial difference between what was the constitution and is now the treaty. Apart from those other Governments who do not want to face their electorates to test their views, what bodies of equivalent standing do our Government have on their side saying that this is a treaty and not a constitution?
I take my right hon. Friends position on this matter very seriously. If he looks at the minutes of the meetings of the Committees that he refers to, he will see that they have voted decisively on many occasions against having a referendum. The Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee have both voted against a referendum. In respect of my right hon. Friends question about other authorities, I am happy to cite independent legal authorities, including the Dutch Council of State, and independent investigations from other countries, some of which are governmental,
and some of which are not. The issue at hand here is whether this treaty constitutes fundamental constitutional change, and my case to the House tonight is that it does not.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The specialist Committees that reported and did not mention whether there should be a referendum did not do so because it was not within their remit. On a more specific point, the Foreign Secretary has said on a number of occasions that this treaty will bring an end to institutional changes. Does he really mean that the new treaty, if accepted, would no longer require national Parliaments to be involved in such procedures because it allows self-amending mechanisms, which would mean that we would no longer have a say on certain things?
Left of centre parties in all 27 European countries support the treaty; liberal partiesas well as social democratic and socialist partiesin all 27 countries support the treaty; and conservative parties in 26 countries support the treaty. Only in Britain do we have a major party opposed to the contents of the treaty. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has pledged its support for the provisions in the treaty [Interruption.] Let me make the point.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. These are very serious matters and I am sure that the House will bear that in mind as we continue this debate. The Secretary of State is clearly not giving way for the time being and he will no doubt indicate clearly when he is prepared to do so.
David Miliband: As I was saying, One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam have announced their support for the measures on development co-operation. Voluntary sector leaders have said that the treaty strengthens the voice of civil society.
Environmental organisations support the treaty provisions on sustainable development and even the commission of bishops supports the treaty. This is a coalition not of ideology, but integrity; not of federalism in Europe, but of realism about the modern world. Only in Britain does one of the two main parties place itself outside that coalition and actually oppose the contents of the treaty root and branch.
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