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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his gracious words of thanks to people in this House, the department and elsewhere. I assure him of our continued support. Although it may sometimes sound like criticism, we support the Bill and I wish it well.
Viscount Colville of Culross: My Lords, I just wanted to say one word to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. One of the objectives of the Select Committee in producing what appears to be rather a fat report was to include in the appendices a lot of information that ought to make things a great deal more transparent for those who might be affected by the Bill. Therefore, I hope that we have added to the general knowledge about what will happen, the remedies that people have and the sort of conditions that they might expect. I hope that that will be of help and assistance to everyone who lives along the route of the track.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I believe that Crossrail will be successfulit would be operating successfully today if we had legislated for it earlier. One of the lessons of the success of the Alloa railway, where the loadings proved to be three times greater than forecast, was that we should have got on with it earlier. I would like to carry that forward and say, please introduce a high-speed line railway Bill, because we are about to need it now, not after we have legislated for it, which will probably be in about 20 years time. I wish the Crossrail Bill well.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have worked closely with my right honourable friend the Leader of another place to ensure that proposals for another place also cover your Lordships' House. I have consulted usual channels colleagues and the House Committee about the introduction of this order and I am grateful for their support.
It is my strong contention that to carry out our duties in your Lordships' House properly, we have to be able to speak freely without fear or favour. We must be able to say what we believe to be true about difficult or controversial issues and we must be able to do so without feeling that we could be putting ourselves or our families at risk. Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act allows for the Act to be amended in
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The four categories of information are, first, residential addresses of any Member. This means that information relating to any residential address held by either House, regardless of whether a claim has been made in respect of it or not, will no longer be covered by the Act. Residential address includes a Members main or alternative place of residence, including any temporary accommodation such as a hotel, a holiday home or any grace-and-favour residencesthat is, those that come from a job. Members will know that, unlike another place, the House of Lords authorities do not hold addresses in relation to claims for expenses except in relation to travel. However, any information the House holds on addresses will now be outside the scope of the Act.
The second category is information as to regular or forthcoming travel arrangements for any Member. Forthcoming travel arrangements means any travel that, at the date of a relevant freedom of information request, has not yet taken place. Disclosure of this information might endanger the Member or Members undertaking that journey. Regular travel covers any journey between two points using any mode of transport that happens at broadly the same timefor example, each day, week or monthknowledge of which could put a Members personal safety at risk. Information on the amount spent by Members on regular travel during any calendar month will remain subject to the Act. However, any further breakdown of expenditurefor example by week or daywill not be, as it could enable the identification of a regular travel pattern.
The third category is information that would enable the identification of any person who has delivered goods or provided services to a Member at any residence of the Member. This provision is of more relevance to Members of another place, who are entitled to make claims for goods and services received in relation to homes they maintain in order to fulfil their parliamentary or constituency responsibility. This Houses Members reimbursement allowance scheme contains no analogous provision.
The fourth category is information relating to expenditure by a Member on security arrangements. Again, this issue is relevant to Members of another place, who are entitled to make claims for expenditure in relation to security arrangements at their addresses. All the provisions I have outlined also apply to the National Assembly for Wales. I beg to move.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and proposing that the order be agreed. It brings to an end, I hope, the most unsatisfactory and unedifying spectacle of a deep disagreement between the authorities of another place and the Information Commissioner on the publication of private addresses of Members of another place and, I suppose by extension, those of your Lordships. From that point of view, the order is very much to be welcomed for the reasons that the noble Baroness has outlined, particularly in view of many of the security aspects affecting Members of both Houses.
Will the noble Baroness confirm that the order extends equally to all Members of this House as well as to those of another place? The noble Baroness has said that it extends to Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. For information, will the noble Baroness tell us the position for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament? They are clearly excluded from these provisions. Do they have their own arrangements or are they planning on doing something else? There is no need for the noble Baroness to give me an answer today, but perhaps she could write to me and let me know.
Finally, this order has raised the fact that issues in the Freedom of Information Act need clarifying. It is not that anybody is trying to hide information from greater public scrutiny, but this has raised all sorts of questions about the nature of the information requested, by whom it is requested and the use to which it is put. Have the Government plans to review the working of the Freedom of Information Act to see whether any changes should be made in the foreseeable future?
Lord Addington: My Lords, we on these Benches have absolutely no objection to making these changes to the Freedom of Information Act. I am not sure that I can entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but certainly there should be reasonable limits on the information that can safely be given out so that it does not endanger those engaged in certain activities. This measure is a bold first step in attempting to set those reasonable limits. One could argue about what are appropriate requests for information and what are vexatious, and whether the Act gives some journalists a licence to become voyeuristic about other peoples lives, but I shall not go too far down that route today. The order constitutes a reasonable compromise that safeguards national and personal security. As I say, we have no objection to it.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, from the security point of view this is an extremely sensible measure. Therefore, I hope that the Government will provide the Information Commissioner with sufficient powers to ensure that these data are protected, wherever they are located. As we well know from past reports of the Information Commissioner, there is, unfortunately, a propensity to try to purchase this information. Therefore, I hope that these data are held in a suitably secure,
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Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that I keep a paternal eye on orders that affect the Freedom of Information Act, and that I try to assess the effect of any orders on the original Act. I remind the House that the whole purpose of the Act is to empower the citizen to challenge the apparatus of the state, particularly that of the Executive, and to extend their own freedom.
As regards an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I should point out that when we drew up the first semblances of the Act in the original Bill, we excluded Parliament. We felt that if Parliament were included it would be so easy for the press to have a go at MPs and Members of this House and neglect where the real power lies in Great Britain; namely, in the Executive. That is exactly what has happened. I am not saying that it was wrong to include it, but that was the judgment that we made at the time.
The security of Members of this House and the other place is paramount. We should not forget that only 25 years ago, or even less, we all went through a heavy security curtain. I clearly remember the days when the police gave briefings on security for our constituency homes. We also had to search underneath our cars every time we went out in them. We forget those things now but they were very real at the time. We all hope that those days never come again, but it would be foolish to forget them.
My last point is very important. The families of Members in both Houses of Parliament usually make a great sacrifice so that we can be here to try to serve the nation. Particularly in the other House, where Members may traditionally have had younger families, there is real pressure, real fear and real tension. Members from provincial seats come down to London on a Sunday night or Monday morning and return on a Thursday or Friday, but their families are left up there, often on their own. I can well recall my wife being frightenedI would almost say to deathduring a period in the 1980s when, literally at 4 am, there was a braying at the door. She went to the upstairs window, and a policeman was outside saying, Under no account must you open any parcel that might be delivered to your house. Of course that was a helpful interventionthe police were delivering a warningbut you can imagine the fear of a woman living on her own with a young family in that situation.
It is therefore right and proper to insist that a certain amount of privacy should be given to Members of Parliament of both Houses. This order is a correct procedure and I welcome it as a step in the right direction.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to the order. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we have not had discussions with Northern Ireland, but we are very happy to do so. Such discussions may well take place. As Scotland has a separate Act, it is for them to deal with these issues themselves.
My noble friend Lord Clark eloquently reminded us of the history, and noble Lords who were in another place will remember only too well the difficulties and the dangers. However, we have also had recent examples: noble Lords will recall that my right honourable friend has twice had visitors on her roof from the organisation that calls itself Fathers for Justice. So there are real issues of concern in any event. We are confident that we have protected every Member of your Lordships House through this move. I am informed by the Clerk who looks after this information that it is kept secure, so the noble Earl, Lord Errol, need not worry about that. We will ensure that any requests are dealt with appropriately.
We do not have plans to review the Act more formally. As noble Lords may recall, I was the Minister responsible for freedom of information. The Act was brought in not to support journalistic enquiries into issues about your Lordships House or another place, important though those are, but to enable ordinary citizens to find out information from public bodies in their locality, whether that is their health service, their local schools or another body. I think that we all recognise the importance and value of that. However, as with any piece of information, context is everything. We must continually strive to ensure that when information is released, people understand the context of what that information actually explains to the person who requested it, rather than, as we have occasionally seen, simply seeing the stark fact without realising its relevance.
There are continuous discussions to ensure that the Information Commissioner has the necessary relevant powers. For now, however, we are confident that this is an important move. It has already passed through another place, and I hope it will pass through your Lordships House today.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to initiate a debate on this subject. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I am privileged to serve. In March this year the committee produced its report The Use of Restraint in Secure Training Centres, and the Government published their response on 17 July, just in time for this debate.
The House will know that secure training centres house young offenders aged between 12 and 17 who are too vulnerable or young to be in young offender institutes run by the Prison Service. These centres are privately run, and there are four in the UK, at Medway, Oakhill, Hassockfield and Rainsbrook. The young people held there often have a violent background, and the use of violence against them needs to be avoided. This is not just a matter of training staff, but of developing strategies in secure training centres to
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I understand that, about two years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on behalf of the Howard League for Penal Reform, investigated the use of restraints. As a result, the Government decided to hold their own inquiry but, so far, that has not been published. Could the Minister enlighten the House about when the report and the Governments comments on it might be available?
The key conclusion of the JCHR report is that the effect of current UK law is that the Government have sanctioned violence against children and young people. We say that force used against young people and children in detention is rarely acceptable and requires significant justification. The practice runs the risk of breaching international human rights standards under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to that convention, the state needs to ensure that restraint does,
We heard evidence in which a young person, who subsequently died in a secure training centre, wrote a note saying that he had been punched in the nose and was told that that was an example of restraint.
Even more sadly, two young people have died in STCs following restraint. Their inquests took place in the past year. The Government claimed that their reason for introducing the new amendment rules was to respond to the coroners recommendation regarding the death of one of the young people. In their response, the Government seem to dismiss the committees concern and the Governments obligations under the UN convention by explaining that the UN committees comments are,
The committee and I believe that the Government should seek to meet their obligations under the UN convention, as it seems clear that there is a lawful
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We on the committee say that the amendment rules are ambiguous because good order and discipline is imprecise, broad and inherently subjective. Any confusion caused by the rules and the use of force can have tragic consequences, as we have seen.
However, the committee heard evidence about force being used against boys who, for example, refused to go to bed. They were not causing any harm; they simply said that they were not going to go to bed. To use force against them seems to me and the committee to be excessive in the circumstances.
A judicial review case was brought that challenged the new amendment rules. The Government will use the result of that to say that they are right and that the committee has gone too far in its criticisms; I am sure that that will be in the Ministers brief. The court held that the rules are not legally uncertain, nor do they legitimise treatment which is in breach of Articles 3 or 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it also stated:
In other words, it may be legitimate to have these rules but the way in which they are given effect to may breach human rights. I could, although I shall not, go into greater detail about the court decision and its consequences.
It is a matter of concern that the Government seem to be suggesting that it can be appropriate to use force in compliance with staff instructions. That goes against the code of practice of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, and I think that the board is right.
The rules were brought forward without any human rights impact assessment, which I suppose is legitimate. The committee called in its report and other reports for the Government to address human rights considerations in Explanatory Notes and Memoranda. The Government provide formal compatibility statements with affirmatives and super affirmatives but they say that to provide analysis for every statutory instrument would be onerous. I accept that analysing every SI might be onerous, but the committee recommends:
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