HC Deb 05 June 1984 vol 61 cc195-214

'1. For the purposes of this Act there shall be a Deputy Registrar (exempt systems) in this Act referred to as the Deputy Registrar.

2. The duties of the Deputy Registrar shall consist of:—

  1. (a) Monitoring disclosures made under Clause 28 herein.
  2. (b) Producing an annual report specifying the number of disclosures, the category of data disclosed, the number of data subjects to whom the disclosures related, the category of persons to whom they were disclosed and the purposes for which they were disclosed and the report of the Committee thereon shall be laid before each House of Parliament.
  3. (c) Applying the subject access provisions of Part III of this Act to personal data exempted from subject access in Part IV of this Act after representations received from a data subject.
  4. (d) Disclosing that personal data to the data subject for the purposes of compensation or rectification and erasure.

3. Any person who discloses personal data of a description to which Clause 28(3) applies for any of the purposes mentioned in Clause 28(1) shall, not more than four months after disclosing them, make a return to the Deputy Registrar in such form as the Secretary' of State may by order prescribe.'.—[Mr. Denis Howell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Denis Howell

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 40, in clause 28, 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 H 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. Howell

It is important to have a short, although vital, discussion on national security as it affects data information. The purpose of the new clause and amendment No. 40 should be debated to express that importance. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will agree that some protection is needed for citizens who are aggrieved about information kept about them in terms of national security. I understand the Government's approach to national security matters and the belief that that information should not be available to data subjects, even though it is of great concern to them.

I recall the Jan Martin case, which was a difficult case and caused great distress to and imposed penalties on a person who was later proved lo be innocent. Information about that lady, based entirely on false identification, was kept in the files of the special branch. That information said that she was a potential security risk. For 10 years, she was unable to obtain work, and suffered great hardship and distress. That information would not have come to light but for the fact that her family had a connection with the police service and were able over a long period to burrow into the matter, persisting in their work because of the knowledge that Jan Martin was innocent and was not, as suspected, a member of the Bader-Meinhof gang. It was put right finally, but it raises a real issue. We discussed the point in Committee.

The new clause is in accordance with an idea that I floated in Committee. I asked the Minister whether he would kindly consider it. The proposal is that there should be someone —in Committee I described him as a national security or data protection ombudsman—who was of impeccable reputation, with all the necessary security clearance, who would carry the confidence of the Minister and the House. We define him as the "Deputy Registrar (exempt systems)".

At the request of a person who thought that inaccurate information was being recorded and used against him the deputy registrar would have the right to study all the confidential, classified information so that he could say to the aggrieved person, "I have looked at the information against you, and I can assure you that there is no information kept here that is injurious to your interests," or, alternatively, he may say, "I have looked at the information. It seems to me to be relevant, and that is all you need to know."

Such a procedure would create confidence in the system. It seems to be a vacuum in the Bill with which we should deal. We should not just interest ourselves in the new clause with the security of the state. Information about personal affairs could be held in social security records which might be disclosed to the police. I am thinking now of alleged social security fraud cases. They would be exempt.

Most hon. Members receive an increasing number of complaints from constituents about information being held which has led to investigations of alleged social security frauds. Cohabiting causes some anxiety in some of the complaints that I have received. Some ladies who may be divorced or adrift from their partners take new partners or "visitors". Although they are doing something entirely acceptable they find themselves being investigated because someone has alleged that they are living on the earnings of some man. If there is a factual basis for such allegations no one would object to the inquiries being made, but we do not know and cannot find the original information. I have had to go to the DHSS office which serves my constituency on at least four or five occasions over the past 12 months to discover the allegation that has caused an offensive inquiry. When such an investigation takes place there is not just an inquiry of the poor, unfortunate lady, but her relatives are visited and asked what they know about her and her life style. Neighbours are visited and all kinds of inquiries are made which can be distressing and damaging.

The matter must be considered. The data subject—if that is the phrase we must use to describe people in such distress—is entitled to know what information is held about him, and such information should not be covered by an exemption on the grounds of national security or availability to the police.

We are asking that such information disclosed to the police should be made available to a person such as the deputy registrar, a man of impeccable standing, whom in new clause 6 we are asking should have access to the information on behalf of the aggrieved person so that he can satisfy him that his fears are unfounded or tell him that there is some substance in the information, which requires further investigation.

I am sure that the Minister will recognise the problem. He did so in Committee although he could not move towards meeting us on it. I trust that on further reflection he will think it right to include the new clause, or something like it, in the Bill even at this late stage. The Jan Martin type of case needs protection.

6.15 pm
Sir Dudley Smith

I have a certain amount of sympathy for what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said. As he is aware, I fully support the measure, but the old maxim, know your enemies, is paramount here. It surely is the basis of any democracy that national security must be preserved and, even if there is a rare mistake, however regrettable and reprehensible, we cannot make the changes that he suggests just because such a mistake happens.

All kinds of data are kept in the cause of national security, most of which it would be wholly undesirable to disclose to the individual or to third parties. It is necessary to keep it for the maintenance of peace and the nation's well-being. I suggest that it is not the issue that causes most, if any, worry to the individual. The matter that causes anxiety relates to professional secrecy. As has been said in previous debates, people are extremely sensitive about medical records, and their relationship with doctors, banks, accountants, solicitors or any professional person. They want to have the relationship respected. Although I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is getting at, I do not believe that it will be in the national interest to pursue the point and I hope that my hon. and learned friend will reject it.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

The heading for this new clause is "National security", as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) said. While I am happy that the new clause should be discussed with amendment No. 40, our amendment is not related to national security but to whether the exemption from non-disclosure procedures in clause 28(3) can be overriden.

I accept that new clause 8 and amendment No. 40 are complementary in a sense because one provides a back-up for the other. New clause 8 provides a mechanism by which we can consider disclosures between Government authorities and Government data bases, or private data bases and Government data bases, after the event, whereas amendment No. 40 provides some safeguard before the event.

The purpose of the new clause and the amendment is to provide a basic control and scrutiny of the passing of information about individuals between the state's computers and from private data bases to state data bases. The power and comprehensiveness of the state's computers have grown to a frightening extent. They are now capable of interlinking with each other in a way which provides the mechanism, if not the reality, of the big brother state.

Further development of the state's computer system is now in hand or planned. It amounts to a quantum leap forward in their power and capacity for linkage. The current control of the exchange of information on the individual between the state's data bases is almost non-existent. These technical changes have, even with the present state of development, increased the power of the state massively, to the individual's cost. Clause 28, so far from addressing itself to the danger, amounts to little more than a charter for the petty bureaucrat to have access to, and peddle in, personal details to which he has no right. It may even constitute a framework within which an unscrupulous Government could bring about the so-called 1984 state.

In due course I shall describe the main elements of the present state computer systems, and the links between them. As I said on Second Reading, one of the key recommendations of the Lindop report was that it was highly undesirable to have what Lindop referred to as a universal personal identifier. That would be a single personal identifier to be held by all the State's computers. The use of a single reference number would give access to all the information held by the State. Lindop said that the universal personal identifier was something that at all costs we should strive against. He also said that there was a safeguard for the individual in his position as against the state in a certain fractionalisation of the state's computers, so that there was no single massive system connecting the computer systems of the DHSS, the police, the Inland Revenue, the driver and vehicle licensing centre and the Customs and Excise. Some separation would be an essential safeguard. We should bear in mind those two recommendations by Lindop.

I do not wish to bore the House or to detain it for too long, but I must go into some detail about the nature of the state's present computer systems. First, there are the police computers. I fully accept, as my hon. Friends will accept, that there is an essential need for the organs of the State to have high-technology equipment of the greatest efficiency. That will not necessarily lead to less personal contact. By taking the drudgery out of work, such equipment may make possible more personal contact. We are not opposed to the use of computers by the organs of the state.

I was not a member of the Committee on this Bill—I was a member of another Committee at that time—but I understand that it was said in Committee that the police computer is very powerful. It was revealed in Committee that there are 13 million vehicle owners on the computer, some 50,000 wanted persons and some 6 million criminal records. There is a terminal in every main police station in the country — that is 600 on the 1980 figure, and there may well be more than that now. Access to the computer is by input of name and date of birth or of car registration number.

As well as that computer system, and running in parallel with it—indeed, there are indications that the two systems may be linked in some ways — there are various constabulary computers on which is kept not just information but intelligence—some might call it gossip rather than intelligence. There is some evidence that these computers are indeed linked to the police national computer in certain cases. There is some evidence that there is the capacity to pass information between the constabulary police computer and the national computers.

That massive computer system runs alongside—it is almost linked to—the DVLC computer system. I shall be happy to give way to the Minister if I am wrong, but I am informed that a daily tape is passed from the DVLC to the police national computer, providing an update. There is some degree of interoperability between the two computer systems.

I also understand from a recent article in New Scientist that cameras have recently been placed by the M1, on an experimental basis, whose task is to record into the computers the registration numbers of vehicles using the MI. That is a pilot scheme, but it extends the use of computers out into the roads of Britain. It is possible to identify vehicle registration numbers and, within a matter of seconds, identify the car owner.

Sir Dudley Smith

The hon. Gentleman's information is somewhat out of date. For some years now the police have been able to follow cars, telephone headquarters and, via the computer, obtain information about those cars within a few minutes. Many criminals have been caught in that way.

Mr. Ashdown

I am well aware of that. However, there is now the capacity for that to be done not by police officers but remotely, by cameras. There is a fundamental difference. A camera operated by remote control is taking down every car number —not just the numbers of selected cars — and feeding it into the police national computer. That must disturb the hon. Gentleman as much as it disturbs me.

There is a massive computer system in the hands of the police, and no doubt that is right and proper. It contains the names and addresses of about half the population, and has a growing capacity to trace the location of any individual.

The second massive state computer system belongs to the DHSS. There are seven or eight computers, including those which can trace the location not just of adults but—in order to deal with child benefit—also of children. The biggest of the computers is the departmental general index. It holds some 53 million records, according to the answer to a parliamentary question which I asked recently. Essentially, it is a population register of the whole of Britain. According to the answer to that parliamentary question, one can either feed in the national insurance number and be given — with a response time of five seconds—the name and date of birth of the subject, or one can feed in the name and date of birth and be given the national insurance number.

The departmental index is kept at Newcastle upon Tyne, and there are 140 terminals there through which access to it can be obtained. The system is therefore limited at present. However, the 1982 Green Paper "Social Security Operational Strategy" proposes that there should ultimately be 20,000 terminals giving immediate access to the index—one in every DHSS office in the country, giving access to every junior clerk. This system will combine all the previous computers within a single system — the departmental central register, the child benefit register, and the others. One will be able to feed in either name and date of birth or the national insurance number. The national insurance number will give access to the file on the subject.

Under clause 28(3), although the person who makes the suggestion will not have access, it will be possible to transfer the information to an officer of the law. Presumably that will mean a police constable or perhaps a Customs and Excise officer, who is also an officer of the law. Access will be made available to assist in the apprehension or prosecution of an offender or to prevent the prosecution of an offence. There will be 20,000 DHSS terminals and 600 PNC terminals. Any ordinary police constable will be able to tell a DHSS clerk that he has reason to believe that an offence is about to be committed at point X and to request that information should be provided.

At the moment that is done manually and there are certain safeguards, but in future there will be the possibility of that link at the ordinary level between a junior police constable and a DHSS clerk. In five seconds, the whole file on the massive proposed system will be available. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent that from happening.

I should like to measure what is in the Bill against the current practice for the passage of such information. On 7 December 1983 I asked, in a parliamentary question, whether it had been decided to go ahead with the installation of this massive new computer system. I was told, "No, not yet." However, we must recognise that there is evidence to suggest that steps have been taken to go ahead with the computer with 20,000 terminals. I do not accept some of the more sinister interpretations put on the introduction of the plastic national insurance card, but it will enable the process to be more mechanical. Its introduction must show a commitment to the new and massive computer system. I am not arguing against its use, but such massive power available at junior levels requires some safeguards to ensure that information is not too readily accessible to those who should not have it.

6.30 pm

I understand that there are two separate Inland Revenue computer systems—the PAYE system on the employed and another on the self-employed. The former covers anybody with a job and anybody with a pension. I am told that it has been decided to build a national network so that the entire PAYE payroll in Britain is put on one computer. In a pilot scheme in the west midlands, 651,000 people are covered and there are 375 terminals. That represents one terminal for 1,700 people. That is an extraordinary density of terminals. I understand that the system is to be installed for the whole of Britain by 1988. Surveys have already been conducted in Inland Revenue offices to decide where the terminals should go. I also understand that large firms that employ more than 500 people have been visited by the Inland Revenue to discuss how the information can best be put on the new sytem.

Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

I have been fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's description of various computer systems and, on the whole, have been encouraged rather than dismayed by them. However, I cannot understand how amendment No. 40, to which I think he is speaking, will allay his fears.

Mr. Ashdown

I warned the House that I intended to examine all of the state's computer systems so that it can see the size of the threat. Amendment No. 40 provides a minimalist capacity to register an intention so that we would be able to scrutinise what is happening and where. We are discussing provisions that would bring the process out into the open.

It is planned that there will be 20,000 terminals in the PAYE system—one for every clerical officer, not one for every office or outstation. It is being set up with data from the DHSS. It is important to recognise that cross-operability is already being built up between the Inland Revenue system and the DHSS system. That is frightening. A parliamentary answer to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) in March 1982 confirmed that the Inland Revenue is already using data provided by the DHSS to set up its files. I understand that the pilot scheme allows an Inland Revenue operative to key in a national insurance number and, automatically, the entire DHSS file is loaded on to the Inland Revenue file. If, when the computer system is set up, a member of the public goes to an Indland Revenue office wishing to make an inquiry and does not know his national insurance number or gives the wrong one, the Inland Revenue will have to get access to his file by passing through the DHSS computer.

Employers pass on end-of-year details on their employees separately through the DHSS and the Inland Revenue. In future, such details will be sent only to the DHSS which will then pass the entire file on to the Inland Revenue. The information will include the employee's current private address. We are not certain why the address is suddenly being required as I understand that it has never had to be provided before. Previously, the DHSS has maintained addresses that are largely out of date except for those who receive benefit. Under the new system, 53 million addresses will be painlessly and accurately updated with the other information. I remind the House that such information is available to quite junior law enforcement officers if they suspect the commission of an offence or wish to prevent an offence. If, for example, someone is suspected of committing an offence—say allowing his dog to foul a footpath—a police constable will be able, under the Bill, to go to the Inland Revenue and get the necessary information.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

I am five years out of touch with these matters but I find it offensive that a policeman should be able to do that. I suspect what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Can he prove it?

Mr. Ashdown

What I have argued is set out clearly in the Bill. Clause 28(3) says: Personal data are exempt from the non-disclosure provision in any case in which— (a) the disclosure is for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (1) above". Subsection (1) says: Personal data held for any of the following purposes—

  1. (a) The prevention or detention of crime;
  2. (b) The apprehension or prosecution of offenders".
The Bill is quite clear. It is perfectly possible for a police constable who wants to prevent a crime or apprehend an offender to get access to information.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Can the hon. Gentleman assist me and, I suspect, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) by advising the House what amendment No. 40 means? I have read it time and again without success and have waited for a definition.

Mr. Ashdown

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument. I apologise if I am taking a long time, but I have a lot to say and intend to say it because there is a great threat here. Conservative Members might be better advised to pin their ears back and listen because there are some serious problems that have not so far been identified concerning what is happening with the state's computers and what the Bill will do to provide safeguards.

Mr. Hickmet

Perhaps I might advise the hon. Gentleman that it was on clause 28 that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East voted against the Government, so the hon. Gentleman should not start hectoring us. I would like to know what amendment No. 40 means, since, because of the use of the English and the construction employed in its drafting, I simply do not understand it.

Mr. Ashdown

I shall explain what it means in good time.

It is worrying that the Inland Revenue and DHSS files are linked to the extent of being just one file. That is of great concern. Not only are 20,000 DHSS computer terminals planned around the country but there will be a further 20,000 Inland Revenue terminals. Therefore, there will be a total of 40,000 terminals at which the information can be obtained.

Essentially, there will be access through a single, de facto, universal, personal identifier of a national insurance number to information about the total population of Britain. The following information will be available on the computer for every individual—name, address, date of birth, family details, income, occupation, children's details, with whom they live, wife or husband, and whether they are working, who their employer is, the job, and how much is earned. All that information is readily obtainable by a police constable who wishes to go along to the local DHSS clerk because he may wish to prevent a crime. There is more to come.

We must add to that the second Inland Revenue computer which deals with schedule D, in other words the self-employed. The House will be interested to know that there are two computers dealing with schedule D, one at Shipley in Yorkshire and the other at Cumbernauld in Scotland. According to a reply to a parliamentary question that I asked on 13 March these two computers became operational in January. They contain a complete index of all the self-employed, 4.2 million, and whether they are paying tax. The time to get a response to an inquiry will be only two or three seconds. Those computers currently provide the name and address of the person, the tax reference number, whether that person is paying tax and how much is being paid.

That is not too bad because there is only a payments system, which merely indicates how much tax is owed. However, I understand that those computers are to be revised and updated. At present the clerk does a taxation calculation and merely loads into the computer the sum owed. After the changes those computers will hold the tax calculation which the clerk has done. At this point it will parallel precisely the PAYE system with full personal details, what the business is and the profits. Again, these details will be available if there is a suspicion that a crime is about to take place, or has taken place or in regard to the prosecution or detection of an offender.

To all that must be added the Customs and Excise computer about which I still have parliamentary questions to be answered. That computer carries full details from the driver and vehicle licensing centre. Again there is a wide dissemination of terminals. Presumably Customs and Excise officers are law enforcement officers since the collection of taxes is covered in the Bill.

The interoperability and the capacity to pass information on suspicion that a crime has been committed are unchecked in the legislation. What then is the current practice upon which the Government are depending? Current practice for the passing of information between the DHSS or another organ of the state and the police is contained in a Home Office circular on crime and kindred matters, paragraphs 177–188. The DHSS is told to exchange information with the police "orally and in confidence". In other words, currently there is no record or check. A police constable may turn up at a DHSS office and ask for information. That information will not be recorded as it is passed over. It will be given orally and in confidence.

The Home Office circular does not give a ruling about the level at which the information may be passed. It could be done at the most junior level by a police constable or a customs officer approaching a DHSS or Inland Revenue clerk.

Sir Dudley Smith


Mr. Ashdown

I shall give way when I have finished this part. The circular says— [Interruption]. I have not finished. There is more to come. This is a very serious subject and I intend to complete it however much hon. Members may seek to interrupt.

Mr. Denis Howell

We are trying to make progress and we gave the hon. Member the facility of discussing this amendment with ours. He started by indicating that he would make a short speech. The hon. Gentleman has now been speaking for 25 minutes. I hope I am not here when he makes a long speech.

Mr. Ashdown

I made no commitment to a short speech. I have a lot to say and I intend to go through with it. I will get through it faster if right hon. and hon. Members do not interrupt.

Sir Dudley Smith


6.45 pm
Mr. Ashdown

I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

The Home Office circular says: In general, requests for addresses should be made direct to manager". Since the information is passed over orally and in confidence who is to know whether the request has been made through the manager? The circular continues: The fact that assistance has been given or information has been passed by the DHSS to the police … should as far as practical, remain confidential". There is a complete lack of scrutiny. I hope the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet), who, I think, is reading the report of the Committee, is paying attention. I make the point to him that one of the important parts of clause 6 is that where information is passed to the police it will at least be recorded. Furthermore, amendment No. 40 requires that a statement is made at the point of registration that the person who is passing the information expects to pass it or, according to a later amendment, that it has become common practice to pass it. Both proposals merely seek to highlight for the public the passsage of the information.

Sir Dudley Smith


Mr. Ashdown

I have given way to a lot of interventions and I should like to come to a close. The Home Office circular may be adequate for the current passing of information between the DHSS or the Inland Revenue and the police, but it cannot be adequate when there will be access by the clerk to a massive amount of information on practically every person in Britain.

The Government have argued time and time again that they do not wish the provisions and safeguards of the Bill to be extended to manual information because there is a quantum difference between manual information and data-processed information; the data-processed information is available more readily and faster. The Government cannot have it both ways. Because they will increase enormously the power of access they cannot say they must not also increase commensurately the safeguards.

Sir Dudley Smith

Interesting though it is, I do not want to prolong the hon. Gentleman's speech. He has beer going at quite a pace and has been giving a lot of facts and figures. One point was challenged by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). Is the hon. Gentleman saying that at the moment, if someone is involved in an accident or a minor offence, a policeman who wants to know, legitimately, whether that person is the owner of the vehicle can put the car number through the computer and at the same time get a printout of all details about the man, including whether he is self-employed, salaried, paying tax and so on?

Mr. Ashdown


Sir Dudley Smith

That is the impression the hon. Member has given.

Mr. Ashdown

If that was the impression he got, either the hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening carefully or I may have imperfectly described it. It is possible for a police constable to go to a DHSS office and say, "I suspect that an offence was being committed. Will you please give me the total information you have?" The Bill will allow him to do that. Indeed, current Home Office law allows it. He can say, "I should like information on this person." There is nothing in the Bill or in current Home Office practice to stop that. He does not get that information automatically at the time, but he can certainly request it.

Mr. Steve Norris (Oxford, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown

I think that this ought to be the last intervention as the whole House seems keen that I should bring my remarks to a close.

Mr. Norris

None can be keener than Ito see the hon. Gentleman bring his remarks to their long-awaited close, but he touches on a particular difficulty with the often misunderstood idea that the Bill will somehow allow a police constable to do things that he was not previously permitted to do. That fundamental misunderstanding has run through all that the hon. Gentleman has been saying for the past half hour. The Bill confers no such rights.

Mr. Ashdown

I am not making that claim. I am saying that there is a quantum difference involved. The Government themselves have said that the Bill does not cover manually held data because there is a quantum difference between the safeguards needed for data which can be transferred only in fairly small amounts, with some difficulty and quite slowly and the safeguards needed for data protection. The hon. Gentleman nods, so I assume that he takes that point.

The growth of the state computers and their capacity to interlink will allow more massive and easier transfer of data than ever before. That is why the existing safeguards are inadequate and new safeguards are required. My point is not that the Bill gives powers that were not allowed before but that it will permit damage that was never possible before because it deals not with manual data but with automatically processed data.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Everyone accepts that at present this information is uncontrolled and without the law. Amendment No. 40 would limit the exceptions provided for when the Bill is passed. The Bill restricts certain areas but not this one. The state has enormous powers and will continue to have them if nothing is done to limit them.

Mr. Ashdown

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the point. I have sought bluntly to point out the nature and scale of the problem and of the threat that has grown up under our noses as computer systems have become interlinked, easier to use and more widely disseminated. That is why further safeguards are needed.

Finally, it is important to understand not just the scope of data holding by the state at present but the way in which it has been developed. There has been very scant regard to the necessity of data protection. I understand that the new systems will require codeword access, but that is not a very sophisticated safeguard. Any firm using the new data processing equipment for a payroll system is required to log in every key stroke when seeking to extract information, but I understand that no such audit trail is required by the DHSS or Inland Revenue system.

The scale and nature of data processing by state computers has grown massively and must be controlled. New clause 6 and amendment No. 40 together go some way towards that end. The Labour proposal tries to bring the interchange of information out into the public arena so that it can be assessed. One will then know how many exchanges have taken place and presumably questions can be asked in the House about the nature of those exchanges. Our amendment would require firms to include the possibility of the transfer of that data being registered in their initial application or afterwards if it is proved that they carry out that kind of operation.

The power of the state computers has increased, is increasing and, if the Government have their way, will shortly further increase by a quantum leap into a dangerously expanded capacity for universal data holding and access. They are now capable of linking up to form a fabulous big brother machine with access to more than 40,000 places throughout the country and with a response time measured in seconds from the inquiry to the production of full personal details on practically every person in the land. In short, the mechanism for the big brother state is either with us already or about to arrive. I do not accuse the Government of trying to create such a state. The Minister may not even realise the potential of what is happening. It is possible that no one realises it. Like the rary, the system is just growing and growing.

The Bill does nothing to safeguard the individual against that potential which massively shifts the balance of power between state and individual in favour of the state. We have, as it were, a de facto universal personal identifier of the very kind that Lindop warned against. The amendments are at best minimalist and fall far short of what many of us want—a proper system with tighter control of the exchange of information between the state's data bases. The new clause and the amendment provide only for a process of registration and scrutiny and for the recording of instances when state computers exchange personal information or the state organ demands such information from private data bases.

I hope that the Minister will accept at least one, if not both, of the proposals. I should make it clear at this point that if new clause 6 is not carried we shall probably press for a Division on amendment No. 40.

Mr. Waddington

I have listened with great attention to all that has been said by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). I think that the whole House will agree that very little of it had any bearing on amendment No. 40, which in turn has very little to do with new clause 6. I have thus had to make some rapid adjustments to my notes so as to do justice to the points made by all hon. Members who have spoken. I am sure that the House wishes me to deal with the terms of each proposal.

New clause 6 seeks to establish a deputy registrar with certain duties relating to data which are exempt both from subject access and from the non-disclosure provisions. I shall deal first with subject access as that was the burden of the new clause that we discussed in Committee. It is suggested that the deputy registrar should have two specific duties. As I tried to explain in Committee, however, I do not see either adding significantly to the armoury already at the disposal of the registrar.

7 pm

First, the deputy registrar has a duty to apply the subject access provisions to data that are exempt from subject access. I do not think that that will gain any prizes for clear drafting. Does it mean that the deputy registrar must be given access to data on request, although it is covered by the subject access exemption, or that he can, as it were, override the exemption in a particular case to enable a data subject to have access, despite the likelihood of prejudice to, say, the detection of crime? I do not know.

Although either interpretation is possible — and therefore to include it in the Bill would lead to all kinds of trouble—I divine that the Opposition mean that the new clause has the former effect. If it has the former effect the registrar can do that already. If a data subject, in the words of the new clause, makes representations to him, saying that he is worried about, say, the accuracy of data being held by the police about him and he cannot get access to the data because they are covered by clause 28(1), there is no barrier to the registrar becoming involved. Just because data are exempt from subject access does not mean that they are exempt from the application of the other principles. That is why references to "exempt systems" are so dangerously misleading. The nub of the matter is that if data are inaccurate, the registrar can act to remedy the inaccuracy regardless of whether a subject access exemption applies.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does all that the Minister says apply with equal force to files that are held by the national security services?

Mr. Waddington

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, although new clause 6 is headed "National Security", it has nothing to do with it. The new clause refers to clause 28, and we shall no doubt deal with national security in due course. I shall not be tempted by the hon. Gentleman to talk about national security when he has admitted that that is not what the new clause is about.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The Minister has further confirmed the scepticism in my rhetorical question. Is that so?

Mr. Waddington

Not at all. The hon. Gentleman has put his name to a new clause that does not deal with national security, but sets up a deputy registrar who, according to the new clause, has no powers in relation to national security. In those circumstances, it is no use the hon. Gentleman inviting me to tell him now why national security is exempted from the scheme of the Bill. New clause 6 does not make any difference to that exemption. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not recognise that. His new clause deals only with clause 28, which does not deal with national security.

What of the duties given to the deputy registrar in respect of data that are exempt from the non-disclosure provisions? Any user who discloses data to a person who is not registered as a recipient of that data and who, therefore, avails himself of clause 28(3) shall notify the disclosure to the registrar. The registrar must then produce a statistical report on those disclosures for Parliament. That part of the new clause takes us on to different ground. It is familiar. The question of notifying the disclosures was also discussed in Committee. It was then presented in a form that was riddled with defects. The form has changed, but the defects remain.

The requirement to notify disclosures is placed on users without sanctions if they do not conform. No matter. The substance of the argument is whether there is a real advantage in establishing a new regime of form filling in connection with the disclosures. Put briefly, I believe that it would be an unmitigated nuisance to the law enforcement agencies, which have enough on their hands. It would greatly burden the registrar's office. It would be able to make little of the returns that are sent there, without exhaustive accompanying explanation or investigation. It would be of no benefit to data subjects.

Let us assume that the registrar receives many returns from data users, showing that they made disclosures to police forces for crime prevention purposes in respect of one or 100 individuals in a particular category. How will that assist the registrar? He is as likely to hear of abuse of the non-disclosure exemptions without the proposed new bureaucracy as he is with it. When he hears of abuse, he is fully empowered to investigate it.

New clause 6 is, in a sense, two amendments rolled into one. For that reason I have taken time to reply to it. However, I see little merit in either of its parts. The registrar already has ample powers in the areas that the Opposition are concerned about. He can apply the other principles to data that are exempt from subject access. He can consider such data on behalf of a data subject to ensure that users are not in breach of the principles. That includes checking for accuracy.

The registrar has the power to satisfy himself that the exemptions are not being abused. Indeed, he can even prosecute if data are disclosed to a person who is not registered as a recipient, where the conditions of the non-disclosure exemptions are not satisfied. The new clause is not acceptable. It is so defective in its drafting as to be totally flawed on that account alone.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I waited until the Minister reached a logical conclusion on new clause 6 before asking questions. The new clause deals with those files that are exempted from the subject access provisions. Clause 29 enables the Secretary of State to make orders specifying areas where access is restricted. As I understand it, the Minister and his Department are already in consultation with many organisations, including the British Medical Association, about areas where subject access will be restricted to health or medical information. I wonder whether this is the opportunity for the Minister to throw light on the nature of those consultations and what he has in mind, including his perception of the areas in which subject access will be restricted under clause 29.

Mr. Waddington

I am sure that a later amendment on the Notice Paper refers to that matter. In those circumstances, I would not be serving the interests of the House to be diverted into a different realm. It will be more convenient to the House for me to deal with amendment No. 40, which was spoken to by the hon. Member for Yeovil. The hon. Gentleman gave many fanciful examples of how the police can and do obtain information from various Government organisations — for example the DHSS. I must make it plain that if a police constable approaches the DHSS for information in connection with an offence, the exemption from the non-disclosure provisions could be claimed only where disclosure is for the purpose of preventing or investigating an offence. The information requested must be relevant to the alleged offence. It is difficult to believe that DHSS information would be relevant to a parking offence. In any case, the prejudice test must be met. We must consider the reality of the situation.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment seeks to define the circumstances in which prejudice tests, under clause 28(3), are not met. Although the amendment sets out four sets of circumstances, there is a common thread running through them all. The hon. Gentleman is really saying that where a disclosure for one of the specified purposes is planned or envisaged in advance, it cannot benefit from the exemption in clause 28(3). That is what he was saying, although it took him a long time to do so. To imply that where the user knows that he will be making disclosures for the specified purposes, the exemption is unnecessary as he can, and should, register the police, Customs and Excise or Inland Revenue as recipients of his data, is to miss the point of the exemption. It is true that the exemption is designed to allow one-off disclosures, whose need had not been foreseen, to be made without breach of the non-disclosure provisions. The hon. Gentleman obviously accepts that that is right, because his amendment would allow such disclosures to retain the benefit of clause 28(3). However, that is not the only justification for clause 28(3).

Let us take the case of a data user who is an employer and who had decided that in certain cirumcstances he would be prepared to disclose data about his employees to the police—for example, if they are investigating a particularly serious offence or an offence which, although not serious, is particularly prevalent in the area and about which he feels strongly. Although he might be prepared to disclose data to the police, he might at the same time feel that it would be unreasonable if, in order to do so, he had to state in his registration particulars, to be public knowledge available for his own employees to read, "I shall give the police information about my employees if they ask for information about an offence of this, that or the other nature." If we were to say that such a user had to declare in his register entry an intention to disclose data for the specified purposes in clause 28, that might be enough to tip the balance and to make him decide that, in the interests of good relations with his staff, he would not make the disclosures. The police might thus be prevented from gaining valuable information, the lack of which might seriously prejudice their investigations.

It will be clear from that example that foreknowledge that disclosures may be made does not necessarily imply that they can safely be described in a public register without any possibility of prejudice. Public knowledge that disclosures might take or have taken place might itself be suffcient to prejudice law enforcement or revenue purposes either by discouraging users who would otherwise be prepared to co-operate with the police from passing on valuable information or by alerting possible suspects.

Mr. Ashdown

I recognise that the Minister is scratching around to find an argument for not accepting my amendment, but the clear conclusion is that he is perfectly happy with the way that things are. Is he happy that, with the immense new power that will be in people's hands to have access to information, the current system for controlling it, which is practically non-existent, will be sufficient to provide safeguards for the individual in the situation into which we are now moving?

Mr. Waddington

The Government are not satisfied with the existing protection for the individual's privacy. That is one of the reasons why we introduced the Bill. The Government are equally satisfied that——

Mr. Ashdown


Mr. Waddington

I shall not give way just now.

The Government are equally satisfied that there have to be special exemptions from the access and disclosure provisions in the interests of the detection and prevention of crime. The hon. Gentleman's amendment is, I understand, directed to those exemption provisions. He talked for a long time; I shall talk for a shorter time. We are talking about one simple matter—how extensive the exemption provisions should be to protect society from wrongdoers. If the hon. Gentleman had addressed his remarks to that narrow issue, the past three quarters of an hour might have been profitable.

7.15 pm
Mr. Ashdown

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. I am extremely interested to hear him say that the Government are dissatisfied with the present situation with regard to disclosure, for example, between the police and the Department of Health and Social Security. Will he tell me how the Bill in any way alters the current situation? The Minister said that he was dissatisfied, and that the Bill had been introduced to try to correct the situation, but in this instance it does not provide a further safeguard in any way, unless the Minister can tell me otherwise.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman must not misquote me. I did not say that I was dissatisfied with present practice with regard to disclosure by the DHSS. I was asked specifically whether I was satisfied with the present situation. I understood that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the protection of individuals. I replied that the Government would not have introduced the Bill had they not believed that it was necessary to increase the right of the individual to privacy. The hon. Gentleman is now saying that I was accepting his argument that there was something wrong with the present amount of disclosure by the DHSS. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the provisions in the Bill that allow exemption from the non-disclosure provisions.

Mr. Ashdown

The Minister has now claimed that the Bill increases safeguards for the individual in this instance. Will he tell me how and where?

Mr. Waddington

Again, the hon. Gentleman is misquoting me. When I replied to him, I was not referring to this particular instance. I replied, in perfectly clear terms, that one of the objects of the Bill was to increase the privacy of the individual, but at the same time there had to be exemption provisions to safeguard society from wrongdoers. That is precisely why clause 28 is in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is saying that the exemption provisions in clause 28 should be weakened. He believes that they are too potent and that we are giving too much scope to the law enforcement agencies. I do not accept that that is correct. Most of us in the House, throughout our deliberations on the Bill, have recognised that there have to be exemptions to allow the law enforcement agencies to do their work. That is why clause 28 exists. What the hon. Gentleman asks for in his amendment would impinge greatly on the force of those exemptions, which are so necessary.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I should like to confirm that our interpretation of the new clause, as being related to some extent to national security, is correct and that the Minister is incorrect. Paragraph (c) states: Applying the subject access provisions of Part III of this Act to personal data exempted from subject access in Part IV of this Act". We are applying the duties of the deputy registrar to personal data exempted from subject access in part IV. Clause 27 states: Personal data are exempt from the provisions of Part II of this Act … for the purpose of safeguarding national security.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, because data concerning national security are not exempt from the subject access provisions of the Act. They are exempt from the Act, full stop.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

In that case there is greater force in what we are saying, and we are right in attempting to ensure that the systems and files, whether they are enumerated in clause 28 or do not come within the remit of the Bill, are subject to scrutiny such as that laid down in new clause 6.

We are concerned that there is a whole range of files containing highly personal, sensitive and confidential information on individuals, to which, under the Bill, those people will have no access. Clause 28 states: Personal data held for any of the following purposes—

  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, are exempt from the subject access provisions".
That is to say that the Minister or I, or any of our constituents, will have no entitlement to know what information is contained on any file that is covered by any one of those three areas. They are massive areas. As the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said in his grandiloquent tour de force, anything can be hidden under the umbrella of the prevention or detection of crime".

Mr. Ashdown


Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I shall not give way.

That covers the most serious to the most trivial of offences which the hon. Gentleman described. All those offences are beyond the remit of the individual on whom the information is held.

The Bill goes further than that. Under clause 29, the Secretary of State is given power to prevent an individual from having access to files about him, even if they contain information about his physical or mental health, or to any information held by government departments or local authorities or by voluntary organisations or other bodies designated by or under the order". Therefore, in a whole range of areas, the individual would not have access to information on files.

I am sorry that the Minister was unable to respond to my perfectly reasonable request for information about the regulations under clause 29, on which he is presently consulting. The reason that the Minister could not respond was that he had not reached that page in his brief. Presumably that is the page that he is reading now. It is important to know what exemptions the Government propose should be applied under clause 29 when the Bill becomes law. It is a reasonable request and it should have been well within the Minister's ability to give that information.

In any event, the Bill clearly states that there are areas to which the data subject will not have access, and there may be a massive range of other areas where the Secretary of State will issue orders not allowing an individual to have access to information about him. Yet those are the areas where there have been abuses. In Committee we heard of cases where information contained in police or national security files was inaccurate, in some cases mischievous, and in many cases highly damaging to the individual. If the individual, or a deputy registrar on his behalf, had access to that information, mistakes could have been corrected and damage to the individual prevented. Yet the Minister refuses to answer even that reasonable request.

We accept that there are some files held by the police or the security services to which the individual should not have access, but we do not accept—nor did the Lindop committee — that those files should be beyond all scrutiny and completely uncheckable. We ask that someone with security clearance, such as a deputy registrar, on behalf of the individual, should be able to examine files that we accept the individual should not see.

We want such a safeguard because we know the damage that can be caused to the individual if inaccurate or mischievous information is contained in those files.

We are extremely upset that the Minister could not, either in Committee or today, give an assurance that the safeguards will be provided. In the absence of such an assurance, I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to support new clause 6 and amendment No. 40.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 99, Noes 187.

Division No. 344] ]7.22 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Janner, Hon Greville
Anderson, Donald Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Ashdown, Paddy Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Ashton, Joe Kirkwood, Archibald
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Lamond, James
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Litherland, Robert
Barron, Kevin Loyden, Edward
Bell, Stuart McCartney, Hugh
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bermingham, Gerald McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Bidwell, Sydney McKelvey, William
Blair, Anthony Maclennan, Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) McTaggart, Robert
Buchan, Norman McWilliam, John
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Madden, Max
Campbell-Savours, Dale Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clay, Robert Meadowcroft, Michael
Coleman, Donald Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Conlan, Bernard Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Corbett, Robin Nellist, David
Cowans, Harry Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Crowther, Stan Pendry, Tom
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Pike, Peter
Dormand, Jack Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dubs, Alfred Redmond, M.
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Eadie, Alex Richardson, Ms Jo
Eastham, Ken Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Sheerman, Barry
Ewing, Harry Skinner, Dennis
Fatchett, Derek Spearing, Nigel
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Steel, Rt Hon David
Flannery, Martin Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Forrester, John Strang, Gavin
Foulkes, George Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Freud, Clement Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
George, Bruce Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Godman, Dr Norman Tinn, James
Gourlay, Harry Torney, Tom
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Wareing, Robert
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Welsh, Michael
Haynes, Frank Wilson, Gordon
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Winnick, David
Home Robertson, John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Howells, Geraint Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mr. Don Dixon and
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bright, Graham
Amess, David Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Bryan, Sir Paul
Batiste, Spencer Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Budgen, Nick
Boscawen, Hon Robert Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bottomley, Peter Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Maclean, David John.
Cockeram, Eric Major, John
Conway, Derek Malone, Gerald
Cope, John Mather, Carol
Crouch, David Maude, Hon Francis
Dickens, Geoffrey Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Dicks, Terry Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Dorrell, Stephen Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Durant, Tony Meyer, Sir Anthony
Eggar, Tim Mills, lain (Meriden)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Fallon, Michael Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Favell, Anthony Moate, Roger
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus
Forth, Eric Moore, John
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Moynihan, Hon C.
Fox, Marcus Mudd, David
Franks, Cecil Murphy, Christopher
Freeman, Roger Nelson, Anthony
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Neubert, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Nicholls, Patrick
Glyn, Dr Alan Norris, Steven
Goodhart, Sir Philip Onslow, Cranley
Goodlad, Alastair Oppenheim, Philip
Gower, Sir Raymond Osborn, Sir John
Grant, Sir Anthony Page, John (Harrow W)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Ground, Patrick Parris, Matthew
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hampson, Dr Keith Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hanley, Jeremy Porter, Barry
Harris, David Powell, William (Corby)
Harvey, Robert Powley, John
Haselhurst, Alan Proctor, K. Harvey
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Rathbone, Tim
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hawksley, Warren Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hayes, J. Rifkind, Malcolm
Hayhoe, Barney Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hayward, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rowe, Andrew
Heddle, John Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hickmet, Richard Ryder, Richard
Hind, Kenneth Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hirst, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Holt, Richard Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hooson, Tom Shelton, William (Streatham)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Silvester, Fred
Hunt, David (Wirral) Sims, Roger
Hunter, Andrew Skeet, T. H. H.
Irving, Charles Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jessel, Toby Soames, Hon Nicholas
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Speller, Tony
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Spencer, Derek
Key, Robert Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
King, Rt Hon Tom Stanbrook, Ivor
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Stern, Michael
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Knowles, Michael Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Knox, David Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lawler, Geoffrey Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lawrence, Ivan Tapsell, Peter
Lee, John (Pendle) Terlezki, Stefan
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lightbown, David Thornton, Malcolm
Lilley, Peter Thurnham, Peter
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Luce, Richard van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Lyell, Nicholas Viggers, Peter
McCurley, Mrs Anna Waddington, David
Macfarlane, Neil Walden, George
MacGregor, John Walker, Bill (T'side N)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Waller, Gary
Ward, John Wolfson, Mark
Wardle, C, (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Watson, John Woodcock, Michael
Watts, John
Wells, Bowen (Hertford) Tellers for the Noes:
Whitfield, John Mr. Douglas Hogg and
Winterton, Mrs Ann Mr. Donald Thompson.

Question accordingly negatived.

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