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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to start today's proceedings by recording my gratitude to all noble Lords opposite for the constructive way in which they have approached debates on this Bill to date. I know that some noble Lords have had considerable difficulties with the Bill as regards its drafting and introduction. I know also that the importance of this Bill and of early Royal Assent are well known to noble Lords opposite. In the light of these potentially conflicting concerns, I have greatly appreciated the spirit in which noble Lords have approached the difficulties. That was particularly the case as regards a number of amendments to Part III of the Bill tabled at short notice by the Government at Committee stage. I know that these amendments were moving in the direction favoured by noble Lords opposite, but none the less the amendments were tabled very much at short notice and I was grateful for the general tolerance of that fact.
Things have been no less easy in respect of the short time period between Committee and Report stages. Again, I have particularly appreciated attempts by noble Lords opposite to explain their position to us and indeed to give us prior warning of amendments, where possible. I hope that noble Lords believe that we on the Government side have been able to return the favour although I still feel some need to express apologies for the late tabling of some of our amendments.
I must also mention the codes of practice supporting the Bill which were published on Monday of this week. I had undertaken to publish them in advance of Report stage. I regret that it was not possible to publish them sooner. I also regret the imperfect state of the preliminary drafts: there is still some considerable amount of work to be undertaken. None the less, I hope that the publication of the drafts is appreciated as giving considerable information as to the Government's intentions in this area.
There are still issues to be resolved and the drafts were published before consultation with key constituents was possible. In particular, these drafts have not been shared with colleagues in industry before publication. Experience tells us that we would normally expect to amend the drafts, possibly in some significant areas, once we have had the benefit of input from experts in industry. We have greatly appreciated that input all the way through the Bill. None the less, I hope that the effort in publishing them at this time is helpful and appreciated and that the general input of the codes informs the deliberations of this House rather than confuses it.
There are some particular areas in the codes which we know require further informal consultation before we can release them for formal consultation under Clause 69 of this Bill, once enacted. These are in addition to the issues that may well be of most interest to industry. I am aware that we also require further work in consultation on the provision affecting legal, medical and spiritual confidentiality. That is one issue which is relevant to all four codes. Separately, we do appreciate the need to develop further appropriate wording to reflect the well developed arrangements which already exist between agencies and telecoms operators regarding the supply of communications data. In this respect, the extant ACPO codes are rather more developed than the codes we were able to publish on Monday. But I can give a commitment that we shall be seeking to develop the codes published on Monday more in line with the ACPO codes on communications data, perhaps explicitly reflecting higher levels of authorisation for particular types of access to communications data.
That concludes my opening remarks in respect of the debate on this Bill. I look forward to further debates today and tomorrow. I record once more my gratitude to noble Lords opposite for helping us with the background to some of the amendments that have been tabled in order that we can have a positive and constructive debate on the main issues.
In moving government Amendment No. 1, I speak also to Amendments No. 2 to 4, 6 and 99. These cover the definition of "communications data" which has been the subject of much debate and press interest, particularly since the Government introduced the amendment to tackle dial-through fraud. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was the first to voice his concerns, and his views were supported by industry representatives as well as other noble Lords.
We believe that the amendments more closely defining "traffic data" as a sub-category of "communications data" which stand today in my name do just that. They ensure that the definition cannot be interpreted to include any content of communication or interaction with websites.
Because the new definition is necessarily fairly complicated, it may assist noble Lords if I explain what each part is designed to achieve. For all of the data in paragraphs (a) to (d) to count as communications data, they have to meet the test in Clause 2(5)(a)--that is, they have to be comprised in or attached to a communication for the purpose of a telecommunications system by which the communication is being transmitted. The first two parts are relatively self-explanatory: new paragraph (a) covers subscriber information; and new paragraph (b) covers routing information. New paragraph (c) is the provision covering data which actuate apparatus--this is the part designed to address dial-through fraud. New paragraph (d) catches the data which are found at the beginning of each packet in a packet switched network which indicates which communications data attach to which communication. Finally, the tailpiece to the new definition puts beyond any doubt that in relation to Internet communications, traffic data stop at the apparatus within which files or programs are stored, so the traffic data may identify a server but not a website or page.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, we are grateful for the Minister's remarks. Perhaps I may refer to them as the noble Lord's "apologies" for some of the difficulties with the Bill. I am grateful also for his understanding of our severe difficulties in dealing with the Bill. For those us who are neither lawyers nor electronics experts, trying to translate the arguments of one group of persons to another and to draft amendments capable of being discussed in your Lordships' House has been a great test.
The Minister referred to the codes of practice. We are also grateful to him for publishing them although in a highly draft state. Nevertheless, it is still valuable to have sight of them at this stage.
The Bill is also in a fairly highly draft state although we are moving towards the end of our consideration of it. It is still being severely criticised by a wide range of bodies and companies, not only those operating in the field of the Internet, and so on, but also charities, organisations and trade unions of every kind. For that reason, we and others outside the House appreciate the willingness of the Minister and his colleagues radically to amend the Bill. The attitude of the past few days has been in sharp contrast with that of Mr Charles Clarke at the end of consideration of the Bill in another place when he expressed the view that your Lordships' House would be offered only minor and technical amendments. We are a long way from that.
We are all agreed--I mentioned it at Second Reading--that dial-through fraud needs to be tackled. That is part of the basis of what is being done. But we also recognise that the Government have moved very considerably in terms of the definitions by introducing the new definition of "traffic data", leaving other types of communications data subject to the full rigours of the remainder of the Bill. Although it does not divide data into quite as many different categories as many, including myself, would have wished, that is a move in the right direction.
On the main amendment describing traffic data, while we can criticise it in detail we welcome the move in principle. We are all agreed on what should be achieved by these definitions. As the Minister said, we wish to exclude content from traffic data or other data which can be got at readily. We understand the need to get hold of what are properly called "traffic data".
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