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Third Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Monday 15 July 2002
[Mr. James Cran in the Chair]
Draft Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) 2002
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Mr. Cran. I welcome you to the Chair. I should like to know whether, subsequent to this sitting, certain inquiries could be made. Early this afternoon, I wanted a full copy of the order, but it was not available at the Vote Office. All papers apart from the schedule
The Chairman: I know that members of the Committee accept that the provision of documents is not my responsibility, but members of the Chairman's Panel believe that the provision of information is vital in such discussions. I shall indeed make inquiries.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Information) Order 2002.
It is a pleasure to be in Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Cran. The order relates directly to the events of 11 September; events that clarified for everyone the danger that we face from terrorism and the importance of utilising all possible proportionate means to counter it. Information selected by the enforcement agencies on passengers and goods carried into and out of the United Kingdom is regarded by the police and border agents as crucial in that respect. The power under the order complements and will, over time, incrementally build on the security measures already in force at ports, such as powers to stop, question, search and detain individuals as well as physical prevention security measures, such as body scanners.
The power under the order is important. It will allow the police to build up an intelligence map to target and trap terrorists to disrupt and prevent their activities from taking place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Members of the Committee may be aware that the Home Secretary and I had a meeting on 11 July with representatives of the air and sea carrier industry. At that meeting, my right hon. Friend expressed his belief that the power was essential as a counter-terrorism tool and voiced his commitment to make it work in an agreed and proportionate manner. The representatives also expressed their support of the
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order in principle. I express my gratitude for that support.
Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister confirm that the meeting that she and the Home Secretary held with senior representatives of the airlines last Thursday began with an apology to the airlines by the right hon. Gentleman for the fact that the Home Office had specifically promised the airlines that, before the order was brought forward, there would be further consultation?
Beverley Hughes: The Home Secretary made it clear that there has been a misunderstanding, in the sense that bringing forward the order now did not suggest that we did not accept that it was necessary to have further consultation to ensure that the order was implemented properly in a phased way that met the issues faced by the industry. That had not been made clear to the industry when it was notified that the order was to be laid before Parliament. The Home Secretary and I acknowledged that there must be detailed discussion between the industry and Home Office officials and the police, to ensure that the way in which the power is implemented and operated addresses the competing imperatives of national security and the impact on the industry and its passengers.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): The Minister talks about further consultation on how the proposal would be implemented. Does she not agree that, if the order were passed, any constable would have the power to walk on to any ferry and ask its master for all the available detailed information about the passengers and what they were carrying?
Beverley Hughes: No. If the hon. Gentleman had read the schedule, he would know that that is not the way in which information can be requested under this power.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Is it true that assurances were given at Thursday's meeting that if Parliament were to pass the order, the Government would still not seek to implement it for the time being, so that it would not be implemented by, for example, September 11, the anniversary of the event to which, I gather, reference was made at that meeting? Has the Minister reflected on the points that representatives of the industry made, such as that the addresses of people who are travelling have not previously been collected and that many of them would not wish to reveal their home address, for obvious reasons? It would not be easy to collect that information, and implementing the order would be complicated. That is one of the things included about which the industry is unhappy.
Beverley Hughes: As I recall, no particular date, such as September 11, was raised at the meeting. Everybody—including the Home Secretary and I—agreed that although the order specifies that implementation will happen 30 days after it is passed, because of the detailed discussions in that meeting about the incremental and phased way in which the implementation would proceed, and because that incremental approach and the detail of the phasing would be the subject of further discussion between the industry and our officials and the police,
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the order would not be implemented on day one after the 30 days has elapsed.
Home addresses is one of the two items of data listed in the schedule that we recognise will cause particular difficulty to the industry. Therefore, special discussions will be needed to address how we go forward with regard to it. As I made clear at the meeting, this is an enabling order; it gives border agencies the power to ask for that information, but it does not require them to ask for all of it—or all of it, immediately after the order is implemented. That is why we are able to contemplate with the industry an incremental and phased approach with regard to the items of data that are requested, and when they are requested during the process of implementation.
Mr. Hawkins: As we are addressing the specific concerns that were raised at last Thursday's meeting, will the Minister confirm that Ministers and their officials were under a misapprehension because, on many occasions, they said to the representatives of the airlines that some airlines currently collected data? Ministers and their advisers did not understand that no airline—even UK domestic carriers and so-called no-frills airlines—currently retain data.
Beverley Hughes: I do not think that there was any misunderstanding about that. One of the carriers at the meeting said that the airline that he represented already collected some items of data that are listed in the schedule. That was helpful; he pointed out that the problems that his colleagues anticipated were not occurring because the airline had built the collection of that data into its routine systems and built its systems on the basis that the data will be collected, which shows that there are ways of solving problems that might arise.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I have a related inquiry about people having to give their home address. What would happen if passengers had been advised not to reveal their home address for security purposes? What would happen if people gave a home address that was easily recognisable as not their home address, such as the address of a club? They may not want to give their home address for security purposes so other people did not know that their home was vacant. Does the Minister envisage that problems would arise in those two examples?
Beverley Hughes: As I said, further discussions will be held to consider whether or not collection of all items of data listed in the schedule was feasible or whether the data will be as useful as the police and other border agencies think that they might. I am sure that the hon. Lady has identified other questions relating to home addresses and her examples, and such matters should be clarified.
Paragraph 17 of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was amended by section 119 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, gives an examining officer the power to make a written request for information to an air or sea carrier. Such information could relate to passengers, crew, vehicles and goods on all journeys to, from and within the United Kingdom. The request may relate to a specific ship or aircraft, or to all a carrier's ships and aircraft.
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It may relate to a single journey or to journeys over a time. That is why I could tell the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) that an examining officer cannot simply walk on to a plane or a ship and demand information. A protocol must be followed: the request must be written and made in advance.
Mr. Reid: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that point. However, the Caledonian MacBrayne shipping company is worried that it would not be able to comply with a written request for information if it does not have procedures—which would be very costly—to allow quick collection of information.
Beverley Hughes: That is the core of the discussion that will be held among the police, the Home Office and the carriers; not only the air carriers, but sea carriers. There is no intention that the power should enable border agencies simply to write a letter and expect information. There should be a process of implementation during which it is accepted that carriers that do not have systems to collect information when it is requested will need time to develop them. The police need to understand the processes through which the industry will have to go in order to establish procedures and the time that that will take.