HC Deb 05 June 1984 vol 61 cc229-35
Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 22, leave out lines 21 and 22 and insert— '(a) The disclosure is for the detection of a serious arrestable offence or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders; and'.

As the Bill now stands the disclosure of personal information is allowed for the prevention or detection of crime without there being any indication at all of how serious the crime may be. Personal information of a highly confidential and important nature can be passed to the police, to the Customs and Excise, and to the Inland Revenue for the reasons specified in clause 28 if it be for

  1. "(a) the prevention or detection of crime;
  2. (b) the apprehension or prosecution of offenders; or
  3. (c) the assessment or collection of any tax or duty."

If we are to allow personal information that individuals may regard as highly confidential, which they have volunteered spontaneously to a social worker, priest or other professional person in the belief that that information would be held in confidence and would not be given to any other person, to be disclosed to the organisations that I have just mentioned for the purposes set out in clause 28, the Opposition submit that it must be in relation to a serious crime.

As it stands, any trivial crime or action that could be construed as falling within the definition of clause 28 would allow information to be passed. I do not wish to go over the debates and the ground that we have already covered in Committee but we were trying—we were then supported by the hon. Members for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) and for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) — to ensure that major erosions of individual civil liberties and major invasions of individual privacy could be made only for good and acceptable reasons.

All of us who spoke acknowledged that a fine line had to be drawn, and a balance had to be struck between the police need to obtain information and to be able to detect, apprehend, prosecute and convict offenders, and to retain as much individual liberty and privacy as possible. All of us on the Opposition Benches, as much as Conservative Members, want to see the police successful and effective and to have the ability to catch criminals. We want the police to have the resources and machinery necessary to carry out that function effectively on behalf of all of us and our constituents. I, my right hon. and hon. Friends, as much as anyone in the House, wish to see the rule of law upheld and our streets safe for our constituents. We wish to see criminals detected and imprisoned but there is also a need to ensure that individual privacy is maintained and protected.

We believe that an acceptable balance between the needs of an effective and successful police force, and the demands for individual liberty and privacy was found in the amendment that we debated then and the one that we are now discussing, which says that information can be disclosed if it is for the detection of a serious arrestable offence or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

That definition of a serious arrestable offence is contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, shot through with anomalies, flaws and holes though it is. As I said when I was on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill Committee for a short time, it is nevertheless a concept that the Government have accepted, that they clearly have faith in and which, in later amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, they have tightened.

A serious arrestable offence is the concept that triggers many of the police powers contained within the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill-—he powers to stop and search, to set up road checks or to carry out a search of individuals or premises. If it is thought necessary in those circumstances for those powers to be activated only when a serious arrestable offence has been or is alleged to have been committed, it seems to us to be equally reasonable to ask that disclosure of personal information for the reasons specified in clause 28 should be allowed only in respect of a serious arrestable offence.

As always, we are trying to be reasonable and to do the Government's work for them. We are trying to ensure that the Government's policy and thinking are consistent, and to include in this Bill the sensible provisions already contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

Mr. Waddington

We had a protracted debate in Committee on whether crime prevention should be included in the exemption provision in clause 28. I said then, and I say now, that it is artificial to draw a distinction between those two functions. It would be wrong to exclude crime prevention from the exemption provision. The more important point in the amendment is the matter of a serious arrestable offence.

We have been told that the intention is to adopt a definition used in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I do not want to go through the definition in detail, but it might preclude from the exemptions certain crimes which, in my opinion, should be covered — for example, persistent, non-accidental injuries to children, or petty thieving.

I know that the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill establishes that a loss can be defined as serious if having regard to all the circumstances, it is serious for the person who suffers it.

Are we saying that someone who has a fetish for collecting articles from a washing line should be able to escape detection? In many respects, he is utterly harmless; but such a prowler can engender a great deal of alarm, annoyance and unease in a neighbourhood. Just because we have provided in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill for the exercise of certain powers to be made provisional upon the commission, or likely commission, of a serious criminal offence, there is no reason to carry that concept into a Bill which does a different job in a different context.

I cannot accept that, because a definition appears in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, it ought to appear in this Bill. We are not considering what powers there should be in the hands of the police to obtain property from someone against his will. We are considering the circumstances in which a person should be able, if he so wishes—and only if he so wishes—to give information to the police. We are not compelling people to disclose information. We are merely trying to leave the door open to them to do so if they wish. There is no question of giving the police power to gain access to information which the holder wishes to withhold.

There have been fears that sensitive medical data could be disclosed in connection with trivial offences. I hope that those fears have been allayed by today's debate. For the rest, we must leave it to the individual user to decide whether or not he thinks that he has a public duty to make a disclosure in order to avoid prejudicing the detection of a crime. We should hesitate to make things even more difficult by leaving the data user—not, as in the other context, a police officer — to work out whether an offence is serious or not in accordance with the somewhat complex definition in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The constable on the street has to work out, before he can make use of many of the powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, whether or not what is at issue is a serious arrestable offence. The Minister's second point is not substantial.

Why does the hon. and learned Gentleman consider that it would be appropriate to leave to the good sense of the data user the decision whether to pass on information to the police? We accept that the Bill allows the data user to disclose information to the police. It does not compel him, but it helps to disclose information by exempting him, as it were, from the non-disclosure provisions and penalties. Clearly the data user is encouraged to help the police and to provide information. So why is he left to use good sense when, in the guidance provided by the DHSS for its own officers, the question is not left to the good sense of the officers, but clear and specific guidelines are given—they were quoted in Committee — about the circumstances in which information may be disclosed to the police? The DHSS says that information shall be disclosed only where a serious arrestable offence has been, or is thought to have been, committed, and to some extent it defines a serious offence.

If that is appropriate in those circumstances, clearly it would be reasonable and appropriate in these circumstances not to leave the question to the good sense of the data user—in which case a multiplicity of different practices would result—but to provide guidelines in the legislation.

8.45 pm
Mr. Waddington

There is nothing in the Bill to prevent any data user or body of data users from laying down their own rules and deciding what practice they should follow. That is no argument for laying down in the utmost detail the precise circumstances in which a person should or should not disclose information to the police.

The hon. Gentleman's example of the police officer is unhelpful. If it is difficult for the police officer to decide whether the offence that he is investigating is a serious arrestable offence, surely it is impossible to expect a civilian with no experience of such matters to make that distinction? We are talking about an exemption which applies not only to the activities of police officers, but to every citizen. It is wholly unrealistic to say that the individual citizen must ask himself, "I wonder whether this is a serious arrestable offence within the meaning of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill? By gosh, if I reveal this information to the police and it turns out not to be a serious arrestable offence under that Bill, I shall be committing an offence under the Data Protection Bill. It would be midsummer madness to take that road.

Mr. Hickmet

Is my hon. and learned Friend's objection to the amendment based on the inclusion of the word "serious"? If the word "serious" did not appear in the amendment, would his objection disappear? the concept of an arrestable offence is well known.

Mr. Waddington

These are deep waters. I am not asked to debate what might or might not be acceptable. I am asked to address my mind to the present amendment, which is clearly not acceptable.

We went to considerable trouble to decide what exemptions should be set out in the Bill in order to ensure that society was protected against wrongdoers and that the prevention and detection of crime were not impeded. Earlier, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said that he did not recognise that clause 28 limited the powers of the police far more than was necessary in order to comply with the European convention. It is sometimes forgotten that, in the interests of the individual, the powers are limited beyond that point.

We have struck a reasonable balance. We have more than conformed to the requirements of the convention, but we have been careful to see that we do not impede the legitimate needs of society to protect itself.

Mr. Ashdown

The Minister and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) rightly agree that there is a need to ensure that the police can operate efficiently. However, there is a commensurate need to protect the individual from the power of the state. A balance needs to be struck at an appropriate level. Many hon. Members regard the level in the Bill as inappropriate.

Mr. Waddington

It is clear from what the hon. Gentleman has said that he regards the balance as inappropriate. We think that it is appropriate. We have taken great pains to try to arrive at a proper balance between the interests of the data user and the subject and between the interests of society and the data subject. It is difficult to achieve precisely the right balance, but we feel that we have done so, and we are sure that the amendment would upset that balance in an absurd and destructive way.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 40, in page 22, line 30, at end insert— '(3A) Subsection (3) above shall not apply to a disclosure made by or on behalf of a data user who—

  1. (a) allows the person to whom the disclosure is made direct access to all or some of the personal data held by him; or
  2. (b) regularly or habitually makes such disclosures; or
  3. (c) at the time of applying for registration under Part II of this Act intended to make such disclosures but failed to include a sufficient indication to that effect in the information furnished to the Registrar in connection with his application for registration; or
  4. (d) at any time after becoming a registered data user formed such an intention but failed within a reasonable time to apply to the Registrar for an appropriate alteration of the particulars included in the entry relating to him, or to make an appropriate fresh application for registration.'.—[Mr. Ashdown.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 174.

Division No. 345] [8.48 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Kennedy, Charles
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Beith, A. J. Kirkwood, Archibald
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Loyden, Edward
Bidwell, Sydney McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bray, Dr Jeremy McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Maclennan, Robert
Bruce, Malcolm McWilliam, John
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Madden, Max
Campbell-Savours, Dale Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Maxton, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Meadowcroft, Michael
Clay, Robert Nellist, David
Dalyell, Tam O'Neill, Martin
Dixon, Donald Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Rooker, J. W.
Eadie, Alex Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Eastham, Ken Spearing, Nigel
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Steel, Rt Hon David
Ewing, Harry Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Fatchett, Derek Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
George, Bruce Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Godman, Dr Norman Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Gould, Bryan
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Tellers for the Ayes:
Home Robertson, John Mr. Paddy Ashdown and
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Mr. James Wallace.
Howells, Geraint
Amess, David Bright, Graham
Arnold, Tom Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Bryan, Sir Paul
Batiste, Spencer Buck, Sir Antony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Budgen, Nick
Braine, Sir Bernard Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Cash, William Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Conway, Derek Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Cope, John Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Dicks, Terry Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dorrell, Stephen Montgomery, Fergus
Durant, Tony Moore, John
Eggar, Tim Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Moynihan, Hon C.
Fallon, Michael Mudd, David
Favell, Anthony Murphy, Christopher
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Nelson, Anthony
Fookes, Miss Janet Newton, Tony
Forth, Eric Nicholls, Patrick
Franks, Cecil Norris, Steven
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Onslow, Cranley
Freeman, Roger Osborn, Sir John
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Page, John (Harrow W)
Glyn, Dr Alan Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Gow, Ian Parris, Matthew
Gower, Sir Raymond Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Greenway, Harry Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Ground, Patrick Powell, William (Corby)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Powley, John
Hampson, Dr Keith Proctor, K. Harvey
Hanley, Jeremy Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Harris, David Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Harvey, Robert Rifkind, Malcolm
Haselhurst, Alan Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Hawksley, Warren Roe, Mrs Marion
Hayes, J. Rowe, Andrew
Hayhoe, Barney Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hayward, Robert Ryder, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, David Sackville, Hon Thomas
Heddle, John Sayeed, Jonathan
Henderson, Barry Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Hickmet, Richard Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hind, Kenneth Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hirst, Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Holt, Richard Shersby, Michael
Hooson, Tom Sims, Roger
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Skeet, T. H. H.
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Hunter, Andrew Speller, Tony
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Spencer, Derek
Jessel, Toby Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Key, Robert Stanbrook, Ivor
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Stern, Michael
King, Rt Hon Tom Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Knowles, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Knox, David Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lang, Ian Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lawler, Geoffrey Terlezki, Stefan
Lee, John (Pendle) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Thornton, Malcolm
Lester, Jim Thurnham, Peter
Lightbown, David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Lilley, Peter van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Luce, Richard Viggers, Peter
Lyell, Nicholas Waddington, David
McCurley, Mrs Anna Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Macfarlane, Neil Walden, George
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Maclean, David John Waller, Gary
McQuarrie, Albert Ward, John
Major, John Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Malone, Gerald Watts, John
Marlow, Antony Whitfield, John
Mather, Carol Whitney, Raymond
Maude, Hon Francis Winterton, Mrs Ann
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy Tellers for the Noes:
Woodcock, Michael Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Mr. Douglas Hogg.

Question accordingly negatived.

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