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Lord Renton: The Minister has given an encouraging reply, but he did not mention the possibility of reporting to Parliament, which is important and the essence of the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I believe that I did, because I indicated that, periodically, as the reviews develop there is the opportunity for a short debate in this Chamber and Answers to oral Questions or Written Questions. A short debate in this place, of which there are occasional examples, is beneficial, because specialists in particular areas can ask about the conduct of reviews. We are united in spirit and I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment to the point of having a statutory obligation.

Lord McNally: This is my maiden intervention as home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Benches. I have remained silent partly out of the trepidation of crossing a fluent Welsh Silk, which is why I have come armed with one of my own! However, I find great encouragement in the Minister's comments.

During recent years, there has been the danger of producing a ratchet effect in our laws. The idea has been that more draconian measures and more imprisonment will solve the problem of crime and disorder. We must take stock of such measures, whichever Administration introduced them, so that we do not continue to fool ourselves that we are on the right road simply because we are responding to popular demand. There is a need for cool assessment and Parliament is the place to undertake that.

Lord Henley: Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I am neither Welsh nor a Silk, nor ever likely to be. I, too, found the Minister's answer relatively encouraging. However, at this time of night I should not wish to press such an amendment; nor should I wish to press it on another occasion, although I might wish to raise the matter in respect of a number of other clauses.

The Minister said that the Home Office would keep these matters under review and from time to time make reports. Do I understand that the reports will be available to Parliament and therefore open to my noble friend Lord Renton or myself to find a way to debate them? Our ingenuity is such that we can always find ways to debate them.

Secondly, speaking with authority as a Minister, can the noble Lord go a little further and give the Committee an idea of the timescale within which the Home Office will review such clauses? When will it make pronouncements about the workings of this clause or others?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That would depend on the date of commencement. All noble Lords have welcomed the process of consultation and guidelines.

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However, perhaps I may say without prejudice that it would not be unreasonable to be looking at a review of the way in which the provisions had worked in practice after 18 months or two years of the relevant clause coming into effect. That would give local authorities and police authorities an opportunity to bring issues before the courts. I speak without deep thought or consultation, but that timescale would seem to be appropriate. I notice that two years was the period which the noble Lord had in mind.

Lord Henley: I am grateful for the Minister's response. He went much further than I expected him to go at this stage in offering some kind of timescale. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 27:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Exchange of information between local authorities and police

(" . After section 28(4) of the Data Protection Act 1984 there shall be inserted the following subsection--
"(4A) A local authority is acting for the purposes referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) when investigating any matters which amount to or could amount to a criminal offence notwithstanding that the local authority may be considering civil rather than criminal proceedings as a result of those investigations.".").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment attempts to address a long-standing problem. I have 40 years' experience--your Lordships will be glad to hear that I shall not detail it--of the difficulties of exchanging information between different organisations with different cultures. Mutual suspicion about motivation and what people will do with their precious information can be extremely inhibiting. There are specific legal problems, too. The Data Protection Act, for example, has prevented the exchange of information which may be held on computers. Fear of our draconian libel laws has been another reason for prohibiting the free exchange of information about paedophiles. Sometimes police forces must resort to nods, winks and nudges to inform social workers that perhaps they should look more closely at somebody's background.

Therefore, it is a long-standing problem in relation to the free exchange of information between different organisations. This amendment proposes a way in which, at least under the Data Protection Act, the matter might be dealt with so that information on computers relating to crime prevention can be freely exchanged. But this is intended entirely as a probing amendment. I hope to hear how the Government believe that they can encourage the exchange of information in that field. Common databases could perhaps be set up and formal links established in that way. I hope that the Minister will have some constructive suggestions about how police and local authorities might combine together to set up databases of information to deal with those problems. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling this amendment. As she may know,

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my honourable friend Alun Michael and I had a lengthy and fruitful discussion with the Local Government Association about the legitimate concerns which local authorities have, and, of course, consequentially, police authorities have, about the duties which will be laid upon them as a result of the Bill.

As the Committee will know, the Data Protection Act 1984 will be superseded by the Data Protection Bill currently before your Lordships' House which the Solicitor-General and I are presently conducting.

I accept that the amendment is probing. It attempts to exempt certain applications for antisocial behaviour orders from the full regime of data protection. It seems to me--and I believe that my noble friend confirmed this--that the key point is to make sure that statutory bodies, for example, police authorities and health authorities, can exchange and use information for purposes envisaged in the Bill without fear of legal attack.

At present we are giving careful consideration to see whether there is sufficient legal protection for those authorities which properly share information where it is necessary for the purposes of the Bill. I can say to my noble friend that we are determined to remove any doubt about the extent of the power of such bodies to do so. That is the fundamental point and I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the issue. I hope that I have given my noble friend sufficient reassurance.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I am grateful for that extremely encouraging response. I feared that this amendment might not fit the bill but I am extremely pleased that the Government are addressing the problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Sex offender orders]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 3, line 6, leave out ("serious").

The noble Lord said: This simple amendment is self-explanatory. At present, before orders can be made under Clause 2, it must be shown,

    "that the person has acted, since the relevant date, in such a way as to give reasonable cause to believe that an order under this section is necessary to protect the public from serious harm from him".
We are merely suggesting with this amendment, and Amendment No. 30 which is related to it and to which I also speak, that the word "serious" should be deleted.

I raise the matter partly because I wish to know exactly what "serious" means on this occasion. Secondly, a more substantial point, I wish to question whether the inclusion of the word "serious" is really necessary, bearing in mind the very real danger presented by certain sex offenders to young children. I am thinking of paedophiles in particular. I wonder whether the word "harm" alone would be sufficient. I bear in mind the possibility that certain lawyers may wish to use a considerable amount of court time arguing that although harm might come of whatever was threatened by the individual, it would not be serious harm. I do not believe that we would wish to see that

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happen. I hope therefore that the Minister who is to respond to the amendment will be able to give me some reassurance on both those points. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: In speaking to Clause 1(1) earlier, I sought to persuade the Government to include a reference to alarm or distress being serious. I am sure, therefore, that it will come as no surprise to the Minister that, on this occasion, I wish to support the Government in the retention of the word "serious" and that I cannot support the proposed amendment.

The sex offender order is an extremely powerful one; indeed, it could quite properly be described as draconian. It is therefore an order which should only be introduced and made applicable to a person where there is a real risk of serious harm. The way that the Government have drafted the wording seems to me appropriate on this occasion.

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