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Mr. Renton : I know that it can be imposed for each right of access, but some data users charge nothing in certain circumstances. The hon. Gentleman said that only 16 requests for data access have been made to the Home Office. I suggest that that is not because of the £10 charge-- even if the various Home Office departments do charge the maximum--but because there is a lack of interest on the part of data subjects in having access to their data files.
Of more general interest, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman shares, are the two reviews now being undertaken on the implementation of the Act. One is by the data protection registrar himself, for the purpose of monitoring and assessing the implementation of the legislation with whose enforcement he has been entrusted. In May 1988, the registrar circulated a registration document entitled "What are your views?" About 2,100 copies were distributed and responses on some or all the subjects covered were received from 149 persons, companies or associations. I understand that the hon. Gentleman himself was among them.
The registrar is analysing those responses and will compile his own views on the charges that might be appropriate in the light of experience. I understand that it is the registrar's intention to publish the analysis and his conclusions when his next annual report is published on 12 July. That will provide a helpful picture of the Act's effects and what respondents would like to see done for the future.
The registrar's analysis and conclusions will form part of the input to the interdepartmental review committee comprising officials of the Home Office, Department of Home and Industry and Department of Employment, with the data protection registrar serving as consultant and adviser, that was announced on 4 July 1988. Its terms of reference are :
"To review the Data Protection Act 1984 in the light of experience gained during its implementation, with particular reference to the impact on data users of the registration requirements ; and to make recommendations."
If we were serious about neglecting the Act, as the hon. Gentleman claims, we would not go so far as to encourage and help the registrar in producing his consultation document and to establish the interdepartmental committee. That is not the work of a Government who wish to neglect the Act.
The committee was set up to look at the representations about the burden of the registration arrangements which I know have been made to the Government and to the registrar by trade associations and individual companies,
Column 658especially smaller companies--the data users --who in the early days said that the forms were excessively complicated. However, the work of the committee will go wider than that. It will examine all aspects of the Act's implementation and consider whether any changes are needed in the interests of data users, data subjects, or both. As part of its work, the committee has also looked at the registrar's consultation document and its circulation to see whether, in its view, it adequately covered the field of interest or whether it needed to seek additional evidence. It has decided that the registrar's study, both in its scope and in its coverage of possible respondents, would render unnecessary any further consultation outside Government. Should the Government conclude, after completion of the review, that significant changes to the legislation were necessary, they would of course need to carry out their own consultation exercise on the basis of a set of specific proposals. The decision to rely on the registrar's very full consultation exercise will enable the review committee to make more rapid progress than would otherwise have been the case.
Mr. Cohen : I understand that the Government might want to do their own consultation after the registrar's. However, I hope that that will not be an excuse for a long delay in reforming and improving the Act. Will the Minister give a commitment that the registrar will be able to look in his review at sections 27 and 28 which I have described as inadequate and which, as I have said, run counter to the theme of the Lindop report?
Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman must not look for guile where there is none. The purpose of setting up the independent inter-departmental committee was, as I have said, to look specifically at the impact on data users of the registration requirements. The registrar is close to the end of his consultation exercise because the decisions are to be published on 12 July, which is just over two months away. In order to make progress, the registrar--the adviser to the committee--has agreed that the committee may have sight of his preliminary conclusions. When those conclusions have been published, I am sure that the hon. Member for Leyton, with his expert knowledge of the issues, will avail himself of the opportunity, if he so wishes, to make further representations to the registrar.
I am not, of course, in a position today to foreshadow the contents of either the registrar's report or of the committee's conclusions. Equally, I am not in a position to say whether and when there would be amending legislation. But I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the points he has made today will be taken into account by the committee, and in turn by Ministers, before the Government announce their conclusions on the basis of experience to date of the operation of the Act.
I am grateful to hon. Gentleman for giving us a further opportunity to give this important subject an airing. I hope that what I have been able to say in this short debate may set at rest some of his doubts and suspicions.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Three o'clock.
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