HC Deb 23 May 1973 vol 857 cc573-5
Mr. Moyle

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 6, line 4: leave out paragraph (a). The House does not need to be detained an undue length of time on this point. It appeared during the course of the Committee stage that paragraph 16 of Schedule 1 of the Bill maintained the coverage of the Manpower Services Commission by Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, and it was explained to us at that stage that the object of including that provision was to allow the Manpower Services Commission to collect statistics and information but to prevent its employees—although they ceased to be civil servants—from disclosing any of their information unless they were authorised to do so during the course of their employment.

On this side of the House we have come to the conclusion that although this is a peculiar extension of Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, in the circumstances if the Manpower Services Commission is going to operate properly we would accept that.

But what we are also interested in is the existence of Clause 4, and especially Clause 4(3) of the Bill which will exist alongside Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. We want to know why that clause is included, in view of the protection given to all and sundry—both to people supplying information to the commission and the officers of the commission in carrying out their duties—by the 1911 Act.

The clause contains reference to the Statistics of Trade Act 1947. Perhaps that is the answer. When we debated paragraph 16 of Schedule 1 we were promised an explanation of Clause 4, but when we debated Clause 4 Ministers did not volunteer an explanation. The object of the amendment is to provide Ministers with the opportunity of making that explanation.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

This is a lawyer's paradise into which I do not intend to stray far for fear of getting lost. One reason why I shall not detain the House for more than a moment is that I think the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) will find that the amendment does not do quite what he thinks it does, but it may be a convenient vehicle for answering his question, if I do not meet with your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman is really asking why we need the safeguards of Clause 4 as well as the Official Secrets Act. I am advised that as the Official Secrets Act will apply to the commission and agencies it will be an offence for any of their employees to make any unauthorised disclosure of information obtained in the course of their duties. Disclosure is an offence only if it is unauthorised. It might be authorised by a Minister or by a senior official.

Information collected under the Statistics of Trade Act is collected compulsorily and there are more extensive safeguards against its disclosure. Except with the written consent of the person who supplied the information it may not be disclosed at all save in certain limited circumstances which are specified in the Act. There is no concept of authorisation as there is in the Official Secrets Act.

In the Bill we are extending the circumstances in which information collected under the Statistics of Trade Act may be disclosed in the ways which will be necessary when the commission and agencies are set up. Clearly, we should not extend those circumstances wider than is strictly necessary. Therefore, we must specify in the Bill the cases in which disclosure is right notwithstanding the Statistics of Trade Act. I am advised that it would not be sufficient to rely on the Official Secrets Act because that will not give safeguards against disclosure which had been authorised under that Act even if the person who supplied the information did not want it to be disclosed.

I recognise that I have strayed from the path of virtue but I was tempted. Unless I am pressed by the hon. Gentleman I will not deal with the point which his amendment really concerns.

Mr. Moyle

The Minister has taken the hint, and I am grateful to him for his explanation which makes an opaque situation somewhat clearer.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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