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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible to invite the Prime Minister to correct the parliamentary record, given the answer that he just gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) about youth employment? The Prime Minister said that 4,500 young people were unemployed, but may I invite him to correct the record, as the correct figure is 244,000, of whom 44,000 have been unemployed for more than six months?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a point of order.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any request from the Prime Minister to come to the House to correct his comment during Prime Minister's Question Time that the Conservative Opposition opposed the Proceeds of Crime Bill? I do not recollect that happening at all; rather, the reverse was the case.

Mr. Speaker: That is an extension of Prime Minister's Question Time.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I hope that this point of order is not about any answer that the Prime Minister has given, as that is nothing to do with me.

Mr. Osborne: It is not, Mr. Speaker. The Downing street website does not include the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) in its list of Ministers, but yesterday, I saw the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Downing street website has nothing to do with the Speaker.


Corporate Responsibility

Linda Perham, supported by Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. Tony Colman, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Martin O'Neill, Mr. Tony Banks, Sue Doughty, Mr. Simon Thomas, Glenda Jackson, Mrs. Jackie Lawrence, Sir Teddy Taylor and Mr. John Horam, presented a Bill to make provision for certain companies to produce and publish reports on environmental, social and economic and financial matters; to require those companies to consult on certain proposed operations; to specify certain duties and liabilities of directors; to establish and provide for the functions of the Corporate Responsibility Board; to provide for remedies for aggrieved persons; and for related purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 145].

12 Jun 2002 : Column 868

Data Protection (Amendment)

3.32 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I beg to move,

I believe that this Bill touches on an issue that is of current interest to hon. Members in all parts of the House; indeed, it was touched on during Prime Minister's questions only a few minutes ago. The background to the Bill is the gradual coming into force of the Data Protection Act 1998. As a result of that legislation, some organisations and companies, and public bodies such as local authorities and NHS trusts, are beginning to respond negatively to individual casework inquiries by Members of Parliament on the grounds of access to confidential personal data under the Data Protection Act. Moreover, some organisations are developing a general policy of writing to hon. Members asking them to obtain written consent from constituents before they will discuss any aspect of a constituent's case.

However, even obtaining subsequent written consent is not as straightforward as it might appear, as it entails deciding from whom the consent should be sought, such as in cases affecting children. For example, one colleague wrote to me recently about a mother who is the legal appointee of her disabled son. That is recognised by the social security commissioners and the ombudsman, but her county council still refuses to recognise her under the Data Protection Act.

Simple common sense dictates that our constituents have already given us their consent to seek such information by personally requesting us to take up their case in the first instance. People very often approach their Member of Parliament because they have experienced some frustration or perceived injustice from the system, which they request that we help to resolve on their behalf. In such circumstances, the last thing that our constituents need is another letter, this time from us, asking them to fill in yet another form so that we can even begin to look into something about which they specifically asked us to inquire in the first place.

Some organisations with which we deal also appreciate the problem, but feel bound to operate within the Act as it is currently drafted, as that is the legal advice that they have received. For example, I have a letter on the subject from Mr. Stewart Ashurst, chief executive of Essex county council—and before anyone asks me, I do have his personal consent to cite it in this context. On 21 March, he wrote to me:

At best, this new impediment is a bureaucratic waste of time; at worst, it could provide an opportunity for some organisations to try to hide behind the Data Protection Act and withhold information on the treatment or

12 Jun 2002 : Column 869

maltreatment of individuals, which could place the organisation in a bad light if it were revealed to Members of Parliament.

The issue has been raised in the House several times in recent months, including, on a number of occasions, during business questions. In fairness, the Government have intimated that they would like to take some action on the matter, but to date, despite various discussions, no specific proposals have been forthcoming. That is why I proposed this brief Bill in early May and am seeking to advance it today. It would remedy the situation by amending the Data Protection Act to make allowance for Members of Parliament who are pursuing casework inquiries. Specifically, it would amend part IV of the Act, which deals with exemptions—of which there are already quite a number—to provide a new general exemption for Members of Parliament who are seeking information in pursuit of a casework inquiry on behalf of a named constituent or constituents. Such an exemption would then be promulgated so that organisations would be aware that in future they could not continue to hide behind the Data Protection Act when in receipt of an inquiry from a Member.

In summary, the problem affects hon. Members on both sides of the House and represents an unnecessary bureaucratic impediment to our ability to do our job on behalf of the people who send us here. The Bill seeks to remove that impediment in order to allow Members to continue to assist their constituents as they always have done. For that reason, I believe that the Bill is worth while, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Francois, Mr. Paul Goodman, Chris Grayling, Mr. Mark Hoban, Mr. George Osborne, Mr. Mark Prisk, Andrew Selous, Sir Michael Spicer, Mr. John Whittingdale, Mr. Bill Wiggin and David Wright.

Data Protection (Amendment)

Mr. Mark Francois accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Data Protection Act 1998 to provide exemptions in respect of Members of Parliament seeking information on behalf of their constituents; and for related purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 June, and to be printed [Bill 146].

12 Jun 2002 : Column 870

Orders of the Day

Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

New Clause 9

Control of entry to United Kingdom, &c.: use of force

In paragraph 17(2) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77) (control of entry, &c.: person liable to detention: use of force) for "if need be by force" there shall be substituted "if need be by reasonable force".'.—[Ms Rosie Winterton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.39 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 139, in clause 49, page 27, line 31, after 'detained', insert 'for a reasonable period'.

Government amendment No. 103.

Amendment No. 262, in page 27, line 37, at end insert—

'unless that person is a child'.

Government amendments Nos. 104 and 59.

Amendment No. 60, page 29, line 37, leave out Clause 52.

Amendment No. 141, in clause 52, in page 30, line 4, after 'persons', insert—

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