HC Deb 29 March 1979 vol 965 cc607-10
5. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there is an entry on the Metropolitan Police computer on the hon. Member for Lewisham, West; and if so, what it contains.

9. Mr. Mikardo

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there is an entry on the Metropolitan Police computer on the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow; and, if so. what it contains.

10. Mr. Arthur Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there is an entry on the Metropolitan Police computer on the hon. Member for City of Paddington; and, if so, what it contains.

19. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there is an entry on the Metropolitan Police computer on the hon. Member for Stockport, North; and if so, what it contains.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I refer my hon. Friends to the reply that I gave to questions by my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) and Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) on 27 March.

Mr. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that non-answer means that he is not saying anything about anything. Will be confirm that this computer has the capacity for 40 million entries and has, so far, cost the taxpayer over £10 million? Is he also aware that in a recent court case it came to light that an individual, with no criminal record, was on this computer simply because he was opposed to blood sports? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Green Paper which he is to issue on Friday about open Government really will not mean much until he starts answering questions of this kind and giving people the right of access to their own records?

Mr. Rees

The report of the committee on data protection makes it abundantly clear that those people whose names appear on computers in this way should not have the right to know what is recorded about them. If they did the purpose of such information would be stultified and the fight against crime could become even more difficult. I can assure my hon. Friends that the political beliefs of individuals are of no interest or concern to the police. What the police are concerned with is the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order. Unless an hon. Member, or anybody else, is involved in fraud or crime they do not have any worry whatsoever.

Mr. Mikardo

We all want the police to have the best possible records about criminals and criminality, but is it not true, contrary to what my right hon. Friend has just said, that the specification for the purchase of the police computer mentions that in addition to crime and criminals, quite outside criminality. 1,150,000 Britons are indexed according to what are called their "areas of interest". There are 27 such areas of interest. Will my right hon. Friend put into the Library a list of those 27 areas? Is not this move to computerisation taking a long step, which will lead this hitherto free country, in the direction of the "Gulag Archipelago"?

Mr. Rees

I have looked very carefully at this subject over a long period. Information is collected by the police on a wide variety of matters. When it is put on computers there is no change in essence. Nevertheless, there are problems about which we should be concerned. The Metropolitan Police computer deals with central drugs intelligence and it is proving its worth. There is an illegal immigration section with names, a fraud department and a serious crimes department. There is also a section for the special branch. I feel strongly about it, and say firmly that nobody, whatever his political views, needs to worry about this. He should be worried if he comes into the other categories.

Mr. Latham

Does my right hon. Friend realise that it would have been very simple and reassuring for him to have said to those of us who tabled this question that there was nothing on those records about my hon. Frends who have raised the question? The fact that he has not done so, despite what he says, is worrying to us and to many other people. My right hon. Friend says that unless one is involved in something fraudulent or criminal one need not worry. However, if there are records for other reasons will be remember his one-time Liberal image—now very much tarnished—and consider whether those of us whose names might be included could be told what the other reasons are?

Mr. Rees

I do not think that my hon. Friend is making the point in the original question. In my view, a Member of Parliament is no different from any other citizen. The Lindop report says that the checking of computers should not take place in the context of revealing the names on the computers. This is a difficult subject. When I consider the problems of fraud and terrorism with which the police are faced. I support that view. I resent being described as anti-liberal because I support that proposition. I am against people who are involved in crime. I believe it to be important that the police have proper facilities to deal with crime.

Mr. Bennett

Will the Home Secretary tell us what provision is made for ensuring that the computer records are accurate, in order to protect the individual from inaccurate information being put on computer and also to assist the police with accurate information?

Mr. Rees

I visited Scotland Yard the other day and I spoke about that aspect of accuracy which is more important in a computer system than with information kept on cards. It is most important that information should be looked at carefully. It is a long job but one of the advantages of the computer system is that information is secure from the eyes of other people. I checked on that very carefully. The point that my hon. Friend makes is an important one and should matter to everybody.

Mr. Alan Clark

All the same, when he looks at the identities of the various hon. Members who tabled this somewhat paranoiac question, is not the Home Secretary tempted to ask himself "If not, why not?"

Mr. Rees

The short answer to that is that "Those who live in glass houses, should not throw stones."