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How would the Bill prevent cases such as the Putney case from happening again? We have suggested measures that would help, but I am not sure how the Bill as drafted would help in such a case.
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Mr. Sutcliffe: The unfair credit testwhich can help if things begin to go wrong at the beginning of, or during, the loan periodwould be an appropriate way of dealing with such a case. There is also the financial inclusion fund, and efforts are also being made to improve people's financial awareness and education. I understand the spirit of and intention behind new clause 1, but it is not the right way forward at the moment. We want to continue our discussions with the industry; indeed the hon. Members for North Norfolk and for Wealden and I are meeting the banks to discuss a range of issues, of which I hope this will be one.
Norman Lamb: I still do not understand why the Minister thinks that new clause 1 is not the right way to deal with this issue at the moment. It addresses directly a problem that he agrees needs to be addressed. Why is it not the way to deal with it?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The problem is that the new clause would narrow the scope of the Bill and there are wider issues that we need to discuss with the Department for Constitutional Affairs and other bodies.
I understand where the new clause is coming from, but notwithstanding the problems associated with access to personal and other information, its wording is inadequate. Further work needs to be donenot only in this provision, but in other aspects of the financial services industryto achieve the objectives that the hon. Member for North Norfolk wants to achieve.
Norman Lamb: I am grateful to the Minister for indicating his agreement to the objective of dealing with the problem of historic agreementsI referred earlier to 40 million agreementswhere there is no sharing of data. It is a start and it is good that the Minister has agreed to that, but it is not enough simply to say that we need more discussions with the industry.
Mr. Sutcliffe: The hon. Gentleman will knowwe have debated it in Committee and elsewherethat this is the first Bill to deal with the matter for 30 years. We introduced a White Paper and it was discussed with the industry and with consumer groups who welcomed the broad thrust of what the Bill is intended to achieve. I want to sustain that consensus. It is not a matter of simply wanting to talk more with the industry, as regulations will flow from the concept of the Bill and discussions will be necessary again before they are introduced. It is rather disingenuous to suggest that all we want to do is talk; we do not, we want to act.
Norman Lamb: I certainly commend the Minister for being responsible for getting the Bill to this stage, particularly for getting it back on course again when it was effectively lost before the general election. I give great credit to the Minister for achieving that, but the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) made the point that the Bill provides a golden opportunity to resolve these problems. The Minister has just made the point that it is a long time since our last opportunity, and if we miss this chance, we know what to expect. Discussions drag on and on between Departments, with the industry and so forth. If we are not careful, we will have missed the chance to act.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what also makes the new clause special is that it is
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supported both by the industry and by consumer organisations? Some amending provisions have been supported by one side or the other, but on this occasion both sides are very keen to have the legislation in place because they believe that it will help them either to do a better job as lenders or to give greater protection to consumers.
Norman Lamb: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I made the point in my opening speech that data sharing is in the best interests of the industry and the consumer. Self-evidently, that is why both sides have supported it. It seems right to press the new clause to a vote because it enshrines an important principle and people out there will wonder why on earth we are not taking the opportunity to proceed.
I should like to deal briefly with several points. Labour Members have asked whether it is proportionate to legislate in this way to deal with part of the overall problem of data sharing. Yes, I think that it is proportionate. First, we all know of the horrors that occur when things go wrong. The extent of the mischief that can be done is so serious that we need to be serious about finding ways of resolving the problem. We fully recognise that the new clause does not solve the problem in its entirety, but it is part of the solution. Crucially, proposed new subsection (3)(b) gives the consumer 28 days to respond to the notice that the information and data is going to be shared.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I understand the sincerity behind the hon. Gentleman pressing for a vote. However, both he and the hon. Member for Wealden have said that they enjoy the support of the industry and consumer groups. Have those hon. Members spoken to the industry about the wording of the new clause and, if so, does the industry accept it?
Norman Lamb: Absolutely. The British Bankers Association specifically contributed to the process. The wording is agreed absolutely. It seems to me that the opportunity that the new clause gives the consumer to opt out is the perfect way of dealing with concerns about proportionality and the breaching of the principles of the Data Protection Act.
Mark Lazarowicz: Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House which consumer organisations have given their agreement to the specific wording in the new clausenot the principle of taking action, but the specific wording?
I have spoken with Which?, but I cannot, in all honesty, rattle off a list of consumer organisations that endorsed the particular wording. I have carefully considered it and, for what it is worth, I am a lawyer[Interruption.] I understand that that causes a problem for the Minister. I believe that the provision is proportionate and that it is right to put it to the vote.
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Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Gentleman is speaking to the House with the carefully constructed words of a lawyer. He answered my earlier intervention, but it now seems that consumer organisations have not endorsed the specific wording. That is the whole point, because it is the specific wording that is causing problems today.
Norman Lamb: I accept that there has been no endorsement of the specific wording, but I am aware of no consumer organisation that objects to it[Interruption.] The point that I am trying to make is that the new clause is proportionate. First, the consumer is given 28 days to opt out. Secondly, Labour Members complain that some new principle is being created that undermines the whole concept of data protection, but they need to understand that with respect to all the new agreements entered intothe hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) referred to themthere is already a wide sharing of undefined data. The Government are not proposing to do anything about what is already a fact of life: a considerable amount of data is being shared in current agreements entered into since the Data Protection Act 1998 and the wording in those agreements provides for that data sharing.
If Labour Members believe that the new clause will undermine the principle of the confidentiality of information, they should be doing something to deal with what is already happening. That is the reality under existing agreements. Through a historic quirk, we are dealing with agreements entered into before the current legislation that triggered standard clauses to deal with the matter. The new clause is designed to address that historic problem.
Finally, it is no good us all wringing our hands and saying, "Data sharing is a good thing; we should all be doing what we can to ensure that it happens", without doing anything effective to make it happen. Unless there is provision such as the new clause or one that achieves the same objective, there will be no sharing of historic data: it is as simple as that.
Mike Penning: We have a golden opportunity here todaythough I pay tribute to the Minister, who has dragged the legislation forward, kicking and screaming in some casesto put in place the protections that the public deserve. That is why the new clause is so important.
Norman Lamb: I completely agree and, in a spirit of co-operation, I say that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If we miss the opportunity that the Bill provides us with now, it could be years before we have a similar opportunity to resolve the problem again. The Minister is not committed to any time scale for sorting the problem out. Talking to the Department for Constitutional Affairs could drag on interminably and will not resolve the problem. That is why it is important for all of us to put pressure on the Government. We do so by pressing the new clause to a vote to get the problem resolved. Without legislative action, it will not be resolved.
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