This is a report on the House of Commons Committee Stage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. It complements Research Paper 11/20 prepared for the Commons Second Reading.Jump to full report >>
DNA - The provisions on the retention of DNA and fingerprints are largely unchanged, although minor Government amendments were made relating to the retention of data from people found not guilty by reason of insanity and the regime in Northern Ireland. There was extensive debate on a number of Opposition amendments, particularly as to whether the retention period for data from those arrested or charged but not convicted should be three years or six years. However, none of these were accepted.
Biometric information - The provisions on the protection of biometric information in relation to children were not amended in Public Bill Committee. Several amendments were discussed but none was successful. Members probed the Government on issues relating to parental consent and safeguards on the use and retention of children’s biometric data. While supporting the principle of consulting parents, the Opposition was concerned about schools being able to manage their affairs effectively.
Regulation of surveillance - The only amendments made to Part 2 of the Bill were of a drafting nature and related to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and Northern Ireland transferred matters. Some debate took place on the content of, and consultation on, the proposed surveillance camera code particularly with regard to crime prevention. Other debates sought to establish the evidence base behind the Bill’s proposals and whether the Bill might be a vehicle for wider changes in surveillance law.
Powers of entry - There were no substantive changes to the Bill’s clauses on powers of entry, although there was some debate on the safeguards in the provision to allow the Secretary of State and other national authorities to rewrite the relevant laws. The Opposition also called for an independent inquiry into the exercise of powers of entry in England and Wales.
Parking / Wheel clamping - No amendments were made to the provisions dealing with vehicles left on land.
Terrorism - Although amendments were proposed to the clauses on pre-charge detention of terror suspects (including an amendment to spell out, on the face of the Bill, that the 14 days pre-charge limit could be temporarily extended through the Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extension) Bills to 28 days in exceptional circumstances) these were withdrawn. Similarly there were no substantive amendments to the provisions on stop and search, but there was debate on both this Government’s record on the issue and that of its predecessor.
Safeguarding / criminal records - A number of Government amendments were made to the Bill’s provisions on the barring scheme operated by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). The most significant of these was a new clause and schedule providing for the dissolution of the ISA and the establishment of a new Disclosure and Barring Service, which would merge the functions of the ISA and the Criminal Records Bureau. Government amendments were also made to the scope of regulated activity, the definition of vulnerable adults, the ISA’s information sharing powers and the application of the barring scheme to Northern Ireland.
Lynne Featherstone undertook to consider two Opposition amendments further ahead of Report (although she gave no guarantee that Government amendments would follow). The first would have required the ISA to pass information to the police, and the second would have introduced statutory guidance relating to the barring scheme.
There were three key areas of debate relating to the criminal records provisions of the Bill. The first related to the proposed disputes process for people who wanted to challenge the results of their criminal records checks. A number of Government amendments were made to introduce a new role in the process for an independent monitor. The second related to the provision of criminal records checks to employers, and the third to the inclusion of an individual’s barred status on an enhanced check. Opposition amendments were considered in both of these areas but none were accepted.
Disregarding gay sex convictions - The clauses of the Bill providing for the disregard of certain historic gay sex convictions were not amended in Committee. There were divisions on two Opposition amendments, the first of which would have enabled the Secretary of State to hold oral hearings and the second of which would have required her to give reasons for her disregard decisions. Both were negatived by ten votes to six.
Freedom of information and data protection - An amendment to the Bill saw the term of office of the Information Commissioner extended from five years to seven. Other amendments were made to safeguard parliamentary copyright. Significant debate took place in relation to strengthening data protection law, but no amendments were made.
Commons Briefing papers RP11-54
Authors: Sally Lipscombe; Pat Strickland