Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Viscount Astor: We are grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the amendments. However, before I ask him a number of questions in that respect, I have before me the text of Clause 29 where subsection (4)(d) refers to,


The reference to other public authorities in the clause is very definitive; for example, there is reference to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad and the Ministry of Defence, and so on. Therefore, when the Minister responds, can he tell me whether the phrase,


    "any of the intelligence services",

is a definitive or legal term? Now that the intelligence services publish booklets stating who and where they are and, indeed, are subject to parliamentary scrutiny, I wonder why the Bill does not set out the intelligence services involved. It seems to me that that leaves the matter open to debate as regards what is and what is not an intelligence service. As they are now subject to Parliament, would it not be better to define them as such?

Lord Bach: Perhaps I may deal with that point now. As I understand it, Clause 72 defines "intelligence services". Yes, indeed, the definition is to be found at lines 8 and 9 on page 77. I hope that that answers the noble Viscount's question.

Viscount Astor: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for pointing that out. I am glad that, like me, it took him a little time to find the actual wording.

I turn now to the amendments. I have a number of questions about the list, the first of which is general and relates to a matter that was touched on earlier. We are adding local authorities and various other bodies to this list, but I am rather concerned about how this

28 Jun 2000 : Column 939

will work. Presumably, some local authorities will not have the resources to do this on their own. Will local authorities be allowed to use private contractors for this purpose; for example, will they be able to use private detective agencies? Alternatively, will this have to be done by employees? Can such activities be contracted out? If that is the case--I do not know whether it is--how will this be organised to ensure that those concerned keep within the rules that apply to such activity?

I note that the schedule in Amendment No. 159 includes a reference to the National Assembly for Wales. As far as I understand it, the reason for its inclusion is because the Assembly is an executive body, as opposed to the Scottish Parliament, which is a Parliament. The amendment simply refers to "The National Assembly for Wales". Can the Minister say whether that implies that the Assembly could have a wider remit when it comes to using these powers than, say, the Department of Health or the Home Office, which are confined within a rather narrow remit? It is purely a probing question, but I should be grateful to receive an answer from the Minister.

Further, under "Other bodies" in the schedule set out under Amendment No. 159, one sees that the Food Standards Agency and the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce have been included in the list. I am not quite sure why those bodies are there. I understand that there may, perhaps, be a reason for including the FSA because the Bill talks about the economic well-being of the country and, indeed, about protecting public health. I should be interested to know how the agency will use its powers. Similarly, I am rather puzzled as to why the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce has been included in the list. It seems to me that we are opening up farmers in this country to some kind of intrusive--or even unintrusive--surveillance. I do not know how this will work. I believe that the Government need to explain why these bodies have been included in the list.

Looking further down the list in the schedule, one finds reference to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. I am not aware that that is either a public body or a quango. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain why the society has been included. I may be wrong and it may indeed be a public body; but, if it is not, I do not understand how it will be subject to any form of control. That seems to me to raise some interesting questions.

I have asked specific questions about the listings, but I have a more general question about local authorities. As the Minister said, I understand that the Government will be looking to see how this works in the future. However, it would be helpful to know just how many local authorities will actually sign up to start with--for example, will it be a small number and, if so, how quickly do the Government think it will grow? It would be most informative to know what evidence the Government have in that respect.

Lord Lucas: I hope that in the course of his inquiries the Minister will ask the Department for Education and Employment whether it ought to be on the list.

28 Jun 2000 : Column 940

During my time as an education spokesman several enterprising frauds of Nigerian origin that obtained money from university grants when they should not have done so were investigated. Presumably the whole matter of the repayment of student loans will at some stage require some kind of checking up on the financial status or whereabouts of former students.

Lord Desai: What about the drugs czar? Is the drugs czar independent of the Home Office? Is he a separate agent? I can think of many other examples but that of the drugs czar worries me because he should be included in the list.

Viscount Goschen: Perhaps czars could comprise another category to be defined at a later time.

I welcome the Minister's attempt in these government amendments to try to be more specific in regard to what kind of agencies will fall under the provisions of the Bill. My intervention relates to points that I raised at an earlier stage of today's proceedings.

The Minister was good enough to say that the Bill regulates for the first time the use of surveillance, be it covert or intrusive, and that previously a number of these activities were not regulated in any way. If the schedule applies only to public bodies--there has been much discussion about those public bodies--will the Minister clarify what is its effect on those bodies that are not covered by it? Can they continue as before? Are they in a more advantageous or a less advantageous situation than those bodies which are classified as public? That relates to the point made so ably by my noble friend Lord Astor; namely, whether a public body is able to find a loophole here. Can they use a non-public body to perform their work for them?

I have a final question on the amendment we are discussing although the noble Lord may say that it applies to another part of the Bill and that we may pre-empt the clause stand part debate. What happens to information that is obtained using covert or intrusive surveillance? I am sure that the noble Lord will point out the relevant provision in the Bill. Are there definitive restrictions on the use to which such information may be put? Earlier my noble friend Lord Cope spoke of the BBC carrying out investigative surveillance. One has often seen on television film shot by the customs agency, for example, in pursuance of an investigation. That may involve covert surveillance. Will it continue to be appropriate for such material to be used for public entertainment, as has occurred in the past, or are there additional restrictions in the Bill to cover such eventualities?

5.45 p.m.

Lord Bach: These government amendments have elicited many questions from Members of the Committee, all of which deserve an answer. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, asked again how bodies that are not public authorities are affected by the Bill. He deserves a fuller response than he obtained on the previous occasion he raised that matter.

28 Jun 2000 : Column 941

Clause 71 states, in terms, that nothing is made unlawful by Part II of the Bill. This part of the Bill is designed solely to allow only public authorities to comply with the Human Rights Act, which deals with public authorities and not with private individuals. It places a duty on public authorities to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act. The authorities that are affected are listed in Amendment No. 159. It is a matter for individual organisations to take a view as to whether they are public authorities. If they believe that they are, they can be added to the list by order.

Bodies that are not public authorities are not affected in any way by the Bill or by the Human Rights Act. Their position in law will be exactly as it was before the Bill becomes law. In other words, their position remains unchanged. If their activities are caught by the criminal law, so be it. However, if their activities are not unlawful, that will continue to be the case.

Viscount Goschen: I am grateful to the Minister for those helpful comments, which have certainly assisted my understanding of the Bill. However, I referred to a private detective agency being able to pursue an activity that is lawful under the criminal law. A public authority, however, would be subject to all kinds of restrictions in pursuing that activity. Could the public authority contract out that work?

Lord Bach: I do not believe that a public authority could contract out fully because, in the end, it would remain liable and it would be caught by the provisions of the Bill; in other words, it would have to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, queried some of the names on the list. The National Assembly for Wales is in the same position as any other public authority mentioned in Amendment No. 159. The noble Viscount referred to three bodies and asked why they were included in the list. At the risk of speaking for longer than I had intended, I should explain why that is the case. The noble Viscount may not be aware--I was certainly not aware of this--that the Food Standards Agency is responsible for the enforcement of meat hygiene and related controls in licensed slaughterhouses. Surveillance is used to target individuals or premises, such as purchases at markets or activity at premises; for example, deliveries to farms where illegal activity is suspected to be taking place. The Food Standards Agency needs to be able to undertake such investigations to carry out its function as an enforcement authority for meat hygiene.

The Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce has an anti-fraud unit which uses surveillance to monitor milk quotas. Under the CAP, the UK is permitted to produce a specified quantity of milk a year. If that quantity is exceeded, a levy is raised. Therefore, all producers and purchasers of milk are meant to be registered and have their own quota. If that quota is exceeded, they become liable to levy. There is a market in black market milk where farmers produce milk and sell it to dairies without declaring it

28 Jun 2000 : Column 942

to the intervention board as they are meant to. It follows that surveillance operations are conducted where farms have been observed to ascertain whether milk tankers have collected milk.

The noble Viscount mentioned the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which is considered to be a public authority and is therefore included in the list. That society has the power to enforce various sections of the Medicines Act 1968 and the Poisons Act 1972. It uses covert surveillance to ensure that there is no breach of the Medicines Act or the Poisons Act by pharmacists or businesses registered with them. As I say, it appears that not only have the Government learned more about public authorities but we are now sharing this information with the Committee. More bodies may need to be added to the schedule in due course. I believe that I have answered most of the questions that have been asked.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page