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Another argument that was touched on during the debate on this amendment is that we are often criticised for introducing new criminal legislation, particularly serious legislation that has prison as a consequence of someone being convicted. It is right that the Government should be wary of introducing new legislation, and we have to be persuaded of the case. I know, though, that there are many in the Committee today who are persuaded that this should be an exception.
Lord Kingsland: I suppose that, in principle, I should welcome what the Minister has just said, since a great deal of legislation has been introduced in recent years that has not yet been implemented.
In any case, I am most grateful for his reply. It would be useful for the Opposition if, over the summer, the Minister, not in any elaborate way but in a way that indicated the direction in which his mind was working, could let us know the Government's view about the merits of the noble Baroness's amendments because, naturally, we will, at least in part, be influenced by it.
Lord Bach: Perhaps when we surface again in September, I can agree to write a letter in which I set out the Government's position at that stage and circulate it to all those who have spoken in the debate today.
Baroness Young of Hornsey: I thank noble Lords for supporting the amendments and for doing so rigorously with lots of evidence. I also thank again the Minister both for meeting us the other week and for his consideration of the many points that have been made.
As he said, he could anticipate that I would not be satisfied by his response in so far as many of us have responded to his points and given good reasons for another law being needed. None of us wants extra laws for the sake of them, but we should acknowledge that times change and that we encounter situations which need new responses.
The Minister mentioned that existing offences could be used to deal, for example, with the case that we cited earlier. However, theft, fraud, sexual assault and employment legislation are a whole bundle of different
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I agree that it is essential that the police are absolutely clear about the nature of the law were it to be introduced and are given specific guidelines on how to make sure that prosecutions are brought about, because we have all acknowledged that there is a problem. On trafficking, we acknowledge that pieces of that legislation are appropriate, but not everybody who we are talking about has been trafficked-that is a very important point.
I thank the Minister for agreeing to a number of suggestions made by other noble Lords. I shall think about what has been said and decide whether to pursue the matter to a Division on Report. I shall look carefully at Hansard. I will be waiting to hear from the Minister on ACPO and on the other points that he has agreed to take up during the summer break. Bearing that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr David Hanson), entitled, "Newspapers: Surveillance Methods".
"I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the honourable Gentleman's question. I should first of all inform the House that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is today in Manchester at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference and is therefore unable to respond to the question himself.
The original allegations date back to 2006, following which, as the House will be aware, there were convictions. However, serious allegations have appeared in the newspapers this morning, which clearly go much wider than the original case. That is why I have spoken this morning to the Assistant Commissioner Specialist operations, John Yates, and why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has spoken to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner within the past hour. The Metropolitan Police are urgently considering these allegations and will be making a statement this afternoon. It would be wrong for me in any way to pre-empt that statement as this is first and foremost an operational
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Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The story that appeared in the Guardian this morning raises a number of important questions about the individual's right to privacy and how that right is protected.
All sides of your Lordships' House undoubtedly cherish and want to safeguard freedom of the press, but this freedom and the right of members of the press not to have their work interfered with and to pursue stories that are in the public interest also entails obligations and responsibilities. Journalists are obliged to obey the law and conform to the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice, which sets the standards expected of journalists in conducting their work.
There can be no justification for the use of illegal methods to secure a story. Understandably, there have been calls from those who might have been the victims of the reported illegal interception of mobile phones for an explanation of why they were not informed of the investigation and possible criminal wrongdoing-indeed, with a view to prosecution. As the Minister said, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police took prompt action and directed Assistant Commissioner John Yates to, as he put it, "establish the facts" about the allegations.
Since the Statement was made in the other place, the assistant commissioner has reported, about an hour ago. He said that contrary to the impression created by reports, hundreds, not thousands, of people had been potential victims of phone tapping. He also took the view that there was insufficient evidence in the majority of cases to prosecute. He made the important statement that no additional evidence was found to warrant further investigation. That is the police side. Mr John Yates emphasised that the Metropolitan Police were looking only at the interception of phones.
It would be wrong to think that the issues raised by the Guardian's story or the report by the Metropolitan Police are particularly new, or indeed that they cover only the area that the police have just looked at. These issues have been going on for several years and extend more widely than the police's investigation. In 2006, an investigation was conducted by the Information Commissioner. He found and exposed,
This is about the right to privacy. In his report, What Price Privacy?, the Information Commissioner discovered that at least 305 journalists, to his personal knowledge-as a result of his investigation-had been involved in the illegal trade in confidential or personal
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other cases have involved finance companies and local authorities wanting to trace debtors, estranged couples with one party seeking the details of another partner's whereabouts, or criminals intent on fraud, witness or juror intimidation. He states that the industry of discovering information that should be personal and private extends into many walks of life for other purposes.
The reports today are obviously dominated by the allegations of interception of mobile phones, which constitutes only a portion of the market in illegal activity. The Information Commissioner's report makes clear that government databases are also being sourced illegally. They include the DVLA database and the police national database. The private sector has also been targeted, with people accessing records of ex-directory numbers from phone companies to convert phone numbers into private addresses. It would be helpful to know whether the Minister is satisfied that the DVLA database and the police national database are now secure from such misuse.
The Information Commissioner did a thorough job in his report, but there are questions today about his role, because of reports that he has not made public all the extensive documentation relevant to his investigation. It would be helpful to know if the Minister is aware of whether the Information Commissioner will make any further statement about his inquiries.
There are also some longer-term institutional issues which we on these Benches think need to be addressed. There are questions about the action taken by-or perhaps, the inaction of-the Press Complaints Commission, which is a self-regulatory body for the industry. In his 2006 report, the Information Commissioner made a number of recommendations, including that the PCC amend its code of practice and issue warnings about the use of illegal methods. That did not happen. In this context, it is worth citing the view of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which stated in 2007:
We know that information is often sourced through the private investigation industry, members of which work loosely in chains that may include several intermediaries between the ultimate customer and the person who actually obtains the information, as was illustrated earlier. For that reason, the Information Commissioner criticised the laxity of the licensing regime of private investigators and made recommendations on the subject to the Security Industry Authority, the Association of British Investigators and the Office of Fair Trading, recommending that
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Finally, there is one issue of a cultural nature. It is fair to say that there will always be attempts to acquire personal information through illegal means for purposes for which the information should not be spread and was not intended. Essentially, this is a cultural issue. It is imperative that those in possession of our personal information in both the public and private sectors behave as responsible custodians and are circumspect about requests for data.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I am sorry that it has put him in a rather difficult position. Since the Statement was made, the Met has ruled out the need for any further investigation, which seems astonishing as it has had barely six hours to establish whether there was anything to investigate further. Six hours does not seem anything like an adequate amount of time to do that.
Is the Minister satisfied with the role of the police? The original investigation into the News of the World bugging scandal was carried out by the anti-terrorist police because of the security implications around the fact that royal phones had been bugged. Counter Terrorism Command, CO15, took the controversial decision not to inform the other public figures whose phones had been targeted. Why was that? Was that under the guise of counterterrorism and things that need to be kept secret, but that should not have been? What did the police tell the Director of Public Prosecutions at that time? What did he know about the volume of tapping that had been going on? Did he know and decide not to take action, or did they not tell him? The Met still faces a large number of questions about whether senior officers intervened not only in phone tapping but also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, has pointed out, as regards the amount of illegal buying of data that has been going on. Were the police aware of that?
There could be about an hour's worth of questions on this incident and on the roles of many individuals and institutions, including the role of the PCC. Sir Christopher Meyer was chair at the time of the Coulson debacle. The PCC's subsequent report failed to uncover any substantial evidence. But the Information Commissioner, who was the only person to come out of this with any credibility, asked the PCC to issue a clear public statement warning journalists and editors of the very real risk of committing criminal offences. The PCC resisted doing that and just produced guidance which the Information Commissioner at the time found very disappointing.
Now I turn to the role of Parliament and this House. In 2008, during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, under Clause 75, we debated whether there should be a prison sentence of two years for people, including journalists, who were caught unlawfully obtaining personal data. But we also debated whether there should be a special defence
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At the end of the debate on that Act, the conclusion was that we would not include it in the Bill, but that it would be brought in by order if necessary. Will that order now be brought in urgently so that when those who have been organising these appalling systematic intrusions into people's private lives have been on trial, they will get the punishment that they deserve, rather than a paltry fine? The fact that we did not pass this to go in the Bill seems a tremendous mistake now. That order needs to be brought in urgently. When the News International chairman, Les Hinton, was giving evidence to the Select Committee, he said that the phone hacking was a one-off case. If the Guardian evidence is to be believed, there is a lot of disdain for Parliament, and an immense amount of illegal action has been going on, which should result in a criminal record for a large number of people.
I can completely understand why Members on the Conservative Front Bench do not want to mention Mr Coulson. Undoubtedly, they feel contaminated by their association with him. There is no doubt that some of this custom and practice developed on his watch. No one could seriously believe that it suddenly developed overnight after he had left. For the sake of their credibility on privacy issues and law and order, I hope the Conservatives will join me in calling, at least, for the order to be enacted. I hope the Minister will confirm tonight that it will be enacted, so that when an investigation takes place-as it should and I hope he will press the police on this matter-and, eventually, when this comes to trial, there will be a proper punishment.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I apologise for being overdressed but I have just come from a wonderful party, given by Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace, for the Fleet Air Arm on its 100th year, which I know the whole House will want to celebrate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, quite rightly said that this action is quite unacceptable. The judge in the Goodman trial said that is not about press freedom: it has nothing to do with press freedom. We all believe in press freedom but this is a grave and serious invasion of privacy and data belonging to single individuals. That is exactly what it is. Under RIPA, it is against the law to intercept and take data in this way and the penalty can be up to two years' imprisonment or a fine. One can already put people away for two years under RIPA. It has been a fast-moving scene today. I was first aware of this story when I listened to the "Today" programme this morning; that is probably the same for the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend David Hanson in the other place. Since then, this afternoon there was a statement by the assistant
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I did not hear him make the statement but I take that to mean that there is more work going on, and he is still looking at this in more detail. I do not believe that it was his final statement. I assume that that is correct but I will certainly check later to make sure that it is what is happening. There has also been a statement from the DPP. He has said that the CPS will look at this whole issue again. John Whittingdale, the head of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee is reopening the investigation. A number of people will be looking at this. I want to be very wary of making quick statements because I have learnt from bitter experience that, when something sudden and urgent happens, the worst thing possible is to make snap judgments and statements about it. We need to sit back and get all of this information to see exactly what happened and then take some balanced decisions.
I am afraid that I am not fully au fait with the Information Commissioner's report of 2006. I will certainly make sure that I look at it and I know that the Government will look at it because these are extremely important issues. We would be silly to pretend that, over history, people have not tried to find out information about each other. There are ways of doing it that are probably acceptable and there are ways that are not. We must draw a clear line, realising that when they are not acceptable and allowable, we need to ensure that we are able to protect people. Indeed, for electronic data and so on, the recent cybersecurity strategy that we produced tries to achieve exactly that for the individual as well as for the nation, big industries and so on.
The noble Baroness made a very good point about government databases. I am not sure of the answer as regards the DVLA database but I shall get back to her in writing on that. The police national database is absolutely secure and is very well looked after. A lot of work has been done on that. Indeed, a lot of work has been done to tighten up databases. Let us not kid ourselves: we do not have a good record as regards looking after data. That applies not just to this Government but to our nation, companies and everyone. As I have said previously on the Floor of the House, we all need to get a lot better at this because data are where we are today and we must make sure that we look after them properly. As I say, I am happy as regards the police national database and will get back to the noble Baroness about the DVLA database.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Jones and Lady Miller, both referred to the Press Complaints Commission. Again, I am not exactly sure what was said about that at the time. This is part of what we will have to look at
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I have touched on the fact that I think the Met will look at this further. That is what I assume from the Statement. I will check that and if I am wrong about it I will get back to the House on that issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to the role of Parliament and imposing sentences on people who invade the privacy of others. I am afraid that I was not privy to the debate about the two-year sentence. As I say, there is a two-year penalty in RIPA.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, to clarify, the Data Protection Act is the relevant Act, given that lots of data have been bought and sold. The Government are supposed to introduce an order under the Data Protection Act.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as I say, I am not up to speed on that. I shall look at it and get back to the noble Baroness because I am not aware that we are intending to move forward rapidly on that. When we have considered the impact of this matter we may change our view on that, but first we need to determine exactly what that impact is. No doubt if anything arises from further investigations of Mr Coulson by the Met, the DPP and the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, something will be done. Other than saying that, I do not wish to comment on that further. I hope that I have answered the questions that were asked.
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