Previous SectionIndexHome Page

2 Jul 1998 : Column 576

Data Protection Bill [Lords]

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Basic Interpretive Provisions

7.16 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 2, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 3.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 48.

Mr. Hoon: The purpose of the amendments is to delete clause 1 (5) and (6) and the associated reference to the definition of "transfer" in the index of defined expressions in clause 71.

Subsections (5) and (6) were originally included in the Bill with the intention that they would help to clarify the somewhat opaque provisions relating to the international movement of personal data in articles 4 and 25 of the directive. In the Bill, we sought to clarify the relationship between those two rules by means of the partial definition of "transfer" in clause 1(5) and the provision in clause 1(6) setting out the application of the geographical scope of provisions in clause 5.

However, those provisions have not met with uniform approval and, on reflection and after listening carefully to further representations, the Government have concluded that there still remains a measure of difficulty about their purpose. Given that the sole reason for the inclusion of the provisions was to clarify the position, the fact that they do not appear to have that effect means that they are plainly unsatisfactory. We cannot immediately see a useful way in which the necessary clarity can be achieved by further amending these subsections, so we have concluded that the best thing would be simply to delete them.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): In Committee, I asked why the subsections were there at all. I made the point that I had been minded to table an amendment to delete them, but had decided that it might be seen as a wrecking amendment. We warmly welcome the Minister's decision. For the avoidance of doubt or confusion, it is better to remove clause 1 (5) and (6) altogether. It says much about the complexity of the legislation that all the best brains in the Home Office cannot find a way of putting on the face of the Bill what the two subsections intend. Imperfect though the legislation will be without them, it will be less imperfect than it would be with them.

Amendment agreed to.

2 Jul 1998 : Column 577

Clause 7

Right of access to personal data

Mr. Hoon: I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 5, line 22, after 'subject' insert

'for the purpose of evaluating matters relating to him such as, for example, his performance at work, his creditworthiness, his reliability or his conduct,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 21 to 23.

No. 11, in page 5, line 48, after 'otherwise', insert

', and with the proviso that the identity of individuals providing information used by credit reference agencies in supplying trade references for partnerships and sole traders should also be exempted from disclosure.'.

No. 12, in schedule 7, page 57, line 48, at end insert--

'2. In addition, personal data are exempt from section 7 if they consist of the name of the person who has given a reference in confidence for the purpose of assisting a credit reference agency to comment on the creditworthiness of the data subject.'.

Government amendment No. 55.

Mr. Hoon: Amendment No. 20 relates to clause 7(1)(d), which gives individuals the right of access to information about the logic involved when decisions about them are based solely on the automated processing of their personal data. The intention is that, consistent with the directive, the provision should apply only to decision making to which clause 12 applies.

Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 23 are technical amendments which make more precise the wording of clause 7(2). Amendment No. 55 concerns the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which involves detailed provision relating to the collection of, and access to, personal information. In that sensitive area of treatment affecting the very basics of human life, it is important to ensure that those provisions are not in any way undermined by the Bill. The amendment would ensure that the existing position is maintained.

Mr. Greenway: Amendment No. 20 addresses an issue that I raised in Committee, and I welcome it. In one sense, it limits the scope of the duty for data controllers with regard to the logic in automated decisions. However, the inclusion of the words in the amendment, especially those referring to an individual's

are beneficial to the Bill, as they make it clear that such key matters are covered and that automated decision taking will not be permitted concerning them.

I think that amendments Nos. 21 to 23 are drafting amendments. I have had the opportunity of discussing amendment No. 55, concerning embryos, with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), and I agree that, for the avoidance of doubt, it is probably sensible to remove that passage.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 stand in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) and for Poole (Mr. Syms). I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and

2 Jul 1998 : Column 578

Walton wishes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there has been concern that there should be some exemption from disclosure for the

    "identity of individuals providing information used by credit reference agencies in supplying trade references for partnerships and sole traders".

I know that the Government have received several representations on that subject, and the Opposition strongly urge Ministers to keep the issue under review should our amendments not commend themselves to the Government. Several commercial organisations are concerned about the matter, and I hope that the Minister will accept that the Bill as drafted leaves some room for doubt. If it is not to be amended, we ought to have some assurance that the matter will be kept under active review and that perhaps, in two or three years' time, a more formal review will be undertaken.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): I apologise to the Minister for missing, as I dashed into the Chamber, what must have been his fairly extensive opening remarks. I apologise for my lack of courtesy in that respect, but I am grateful that my Front-Bench spokesman has already mentioned amendments Nos. 11 and 12. I do not intend to speak for more than a moment about them because we discussed the general area in Committee.

In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, said that he would consider the subject sympathetically, but the Home Office then redefined the word "sympathetically" to mean that it would consider the subject very cautiously.

I am concerned that, because of the requirement to reveal sources, sole traders, small partnerships and other very small companies may have difficulty in getting credit at all. I believe that there is a general understanding that the subject should be reviewed within three years, and if the Minister is prepared to give me some comfort in that direction, I would not wish to go much further. I want the Government to keep the matter under close review, because, if things went wrong, there could be serious repercussions for very small companies and single traders.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I raised this issue a couple of times in Committee, and I know that, since the Minister gave me an assurance at that time, there have been a couple of meetings with the Home Office. I echo the comments that have been made about the need to take the matter seriously and to consider a review.

If the Government are not prepared to accept the amendments, perhaps before the Bill comes back from the Lords they will think about keeping the matter under review. Although the provision affects only a small number of people, it could be crucial for the small business men concerned. I urge the Minister to give further thought to that aspect of the Bill. Under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, special provision was made, which was repeated in the Data Protection Act 1984, and it would be useful to review the issue on a continuing basis.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) for his comments. He should note that, although my introductory observations may not have been extensive, they were certainly comprehensive. He should also appreciate the fact that it is possibleto consider representations sympathetically without necessarily agreeing with them.

2 Jul 1998 : Column 579

The Government have indeed received a number of representations on the subject, and we recognise that the industry's concerns are genuinely held. The question at the heart of the matter is whether the fundamental information privacy right--the right to subject access--should be restricted because of concerns about the future availability of credit.

The arguments presented to the Government so far have not been sufficient to persuade us that the Bill would have the harmful effect on the granting of credit that the industry fears. Therefore, at this stage, the Government cannot accept the amendments. Nevertheless, we recognise that only experience will establish conclusively whether the industry's concerns are justified and, in view of the strength of the concern, I am pleased to give the assurance that the Government will keep the issue under review. We shall reconsider it, in consultation with both the credit industry and small businesses, to see whether the Bill is operating as we intend. I hope that the Opposition will agree that that provides a positive way forward, and will not press their amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 21, in page 5, line 27, at end insert 'he has received'.

No. 22, in page 5, line 28, leave out 'has been made'.

No. 23, in page 5, line 30, leave out 'has been paid'.--[Mr. McFall.]

Next Section

IndexHome Page