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The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 46 responds to a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, during the Committee stage. I agreed to consider this further and report back to the House.
The Government believe that there are sound reasons for the United Kingdom to carry out checks at ports to prevent and detect terrorists and terrorist activity at our borders. The provision of passenger and crew details is a very important part of that process. But the Government also recognise that requirements on carriers to co-operate have to be reasonable, proportionate and conducted sensitively so as to minimise the impact on the travelling public and business. We also recognise that we need to work closely with carriers and operators at ports to achieve this. A partnership approach is required.
But I recognise that there has been some concern on this point and that an explicit reference to "reasonableness" on the face of the Bill may provide additional comfort. As part of our on-going partnership approach in combating terrorism, I am happy to bring forward this amendment today. I beg to move.
Lord Greenway: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister did not wish to omit my name on purpose, but I moved a similar amendment at an earlier stage. On behalf of the other noble Lords, who were not in their places a moment ago, I thank the Government for taking our point on board and for bringing forward this amendment, which achieves what we were asking.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 46A, which is grouped with this amendment, like the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, I am grateful for the government statement made in Committee that carriers would not be prosecuted for passing on information that turned out to be false. However, this still leaves the air and sea carriers without the statutory defence accorded to the financial institutions in Schedule 6. I am at a loss to understand why the Government should consider this disparity of treatment acceptable. Transport operators certainly find it exceedingly odd.
I understand that the board of airline representatives has invited the Home Office officials involved to view its reservation systems in order to ensure a proper understanding of what information is contained about passengers and what is not. Had the carriers been consulted prior to the introduction of the Bill, as the banks were, I suspect that the defence would have been granted to them earlier. Regrettably, consultation did not take place.
I should make it clear that the carriers seek only to have the defence in cases where they are unable to provide the information because they simply do not have it. It is not a case of being obstructive by withholding information. The banks have been allowed this defence in similar circumstances, and I am simply proposing that the air and sea carriers should be treated equally when the police come to invoke their powers.
At the beginning of my remarks I praised the Government for their assurances in respect of carriers passing on information which turned out to be bogus. There is no way in which carriers can verify passenger information because passengers are not required to carry passports with them when travelling within the common travel area. Transport operators' experience suggests that celebrities are among the most loyal of customers, even to the extent of appearing several times on the same passenger list.
The worth of such passenger information must obviously therefore be questioned. I ask my noble friend to consider how information of this kind could be of any help to the police in countering terrorism.
I thank the Government for introducing Amendment No. 46, which is very helpful from the point of view of the carriers. The words used by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in Committee--which are now recorded in Hansard--are also very helpful to carriers.
The Minister will of course recognise the wording of Amendment No. 46A in that it is taken precisely from Schedule 6 to the Bill which gives the financial institutions exactly this kind of defence. If it is allowable for the financial institutions, why should it not also be allowable for the carriers? It seems to me that it is the same kind of information, and the noble Viscount has explained the difficulties that the carriers can have in providing it. As we said in Committee, there is absolutely no requirement within the common travel area for any papers to be carried by passengers. It would seem perfectly reasonable to give the carriers exactly the same defence as the financial institutions have in Schedule 6.
As I understand it--and as the noble Viscount said--the carriers were not consulted during the drafting of the Bill. Had they been so, they would have been able to inform officials from the Home Office exactly how they go about issuing their tickets and run their reservation systems. I understand that that is now happening, but perhaps it is a little late in the day.
I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the noble Viscount's amendment and to explain why the financial institutions should have this defence and the shipping and airline companies should not.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, we had some discussion on these general matters in Committee. The case has been made again by my noble friend Lord Brabazon, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. I rise to express some sympathy with the points that lie behind Amendment No. 46A and to thank the Government for responding in the way that they have done in bringing forward Amendment No. 46.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken on this issue. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for not having mentioned his name in the context of those who have helped us to come to the view expressed in our amendment as a result of what they said at Committee stage.
In Committee we discussed the need for a partnership approach between industry, the police and government in combating terrorism, and the important part that the provision of passenger information can play in this. We debated an amendment very much along these lines. Our amendment, to which I have already spoken, which specifies that passenger information should be provided by carriers and owners
However, I am afraid that we do not think that the amendment brought forward by my noble friend Lord Simon, which is supported by other noble Lords, adopts the right approach in seeking to provide, in addition, a statutory defence that the information requested was not in the carrier's possession or that it was not reasonably practicable for the carrier to comply with the requirement.
A particular concern is that the first leg of the statutory defence--namely, that the information was not in the possession of the carrier--could at least, on a literal reading, allow a carrier to make no attempt at all to collect the requested passenger information. The carrier could then put forward a defence that that information was never in his possession. I am sure that that is not the intention here. An excellent record of co-operation is held between the carriers and the police. But that could be the effect were this amendment to be agreed.
Moving to the second limb of the proposed statutory defence, the debate on the order under the Bill will provide the opportunity to decide what types of information it will be reasonable to require of carriers. Once Parliament has agreed what types of information should be provided, and given that our amendment stipulates that that information should be
The police will ask for this information in the context of on-going counter-terrorist inquiries and investigations. The police will not do this lightly. But when information is requested, information that Parliament has agreed the police may request, and to a reasonable timescale, we think it only reasonable to expect that information to be collected. Surely that reflects exactly what should be the partnership approach in tackling terrorism.
I hope that I have made it clear that we are committed to making the passenger information provisions work for all concerned: for the industry, for the travelling public and for the police. We all agree that the focus should be on working together to combat terrorism.
Before I sit down, I have been asked by a number of noble Lords a question about the defence set out in Schedule 6 to the Bill. In Committee a noble Lord suggested that it might have been an oversight on our part not to provide such a statutory defence regarding the non-provision of passenger information, because a similar provision existed under Schedule 6 in relation to the provision of financial information.
However, no oversight has taken place here. The provisions are different; that is why the related offences are constructed differently. The financial information schedule concerns approaching banks to see whether they hold accounts in certain names. If they do not, clearly they cannot provide the information, which is why that statutory defence is provided. Frankly, it makes less sense in the context of passenger information and could be abused, as I have already pointed out.
As regards the second proposed statutory defence--namely, that it is not reasonably practicable to comply with the requirement--this is provided for in the context of financial information primarily because the police may approach the banks with requests for them to search back through their records for historic information. Depending on the information systems in place, it simply may not be practicable to check that the information is available or to provide it.
However, we believe that the situation regarding passenger information is different. The police will be asking for information about passengers who are about to travel or who have just done so. Thus the wherewithal for collecting information will be to hand. Moreover, the police will be requesting that information,