Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Page 8, line 13, leave out ("or marketing material") and insert (", marketing or promotional material, excluding information-based material not of a direct selling nature,").

The noble Baroness said: This is a rather sensitive area in that we all have very strong views about the issue of direct marketing. However, I seek clarification on the definition of direct marketing material for the benefit of the not-for-profit sector which relies very much on material that could be so defined for the communication with supporters and members.

23 Feb 1998 : Column CWH49

The Bill rightly includes clauses to protect individuals from unwelcome and unsolicited direct marketing material. I must confess I am rather a fan of junk mail in that it opens one's eyes to the range of goods and services that one might otherwise never have dreamt existed. The definition of direct marketing material used in the Bill could be subject to misinterpretation in the case of not-for-profit and voluntary sector organisations. Voluntary sector organisations recognise the legitimate wishes of individuals not to be showered with large quantities of direct mail seeking funds.

However, in many cases when the not-for-profit sector is communicating with supporters or members, it is doing so in a way which is dual purpose. It is primarily providing factual information on its work or on issues in which it and the data subjects have a mutual interest. It may at the same time also be soliciting support in that issue. This support may be of a financial nature but it could equally be of a non-financial nature. I am talking about circumstances when voluntary organisations and charities, for example, send out briefing material to supporters on issues and perhaps ask them to return cards saying that they are concerned about that issue, so that the degree of that concern can be communicated to Government or other opinion formers or decision makers. It is really to seek assurance from the Minister that he will consider whether a more detailed definition of marketing material may be inserted into the Bill to ensure that legitimate material coming from the voluntary sector, which I believe is in the public interest, will not be disbarred by this provision in the Bill.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Elton: As one not so keen as the noble Baroness on receiving junk mail, perhaps I may use this opportunity to put an idea in the Minister's mind, if it is not already there. Many of us in receipt of torrents of the stuff are quite unaware from where our name and address have been obtained, in particular if they are supposed to be in some sense secure. Perhaps the noble Lord may have in mind the possibility of requiring agencies who precipitate this material to put a code on the address label which indicates the source. Instead of writing to 33 sellers of shoes, motor cars, aeroplanes, boats, and so on, we can write to one agency which has a central address list that they sell to others. It would make life much easier.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am glad I gave way to my noble friend Lord Elton. I should like to begin by declaring an interest as chairman of a medium-sized medical charity, which of course uses mailing lists all the time. I can see no earthly reason why a charity should be absolved from the responsibility of removing a name from a mailing list when it is asked to do so. After all, under the Bill commercial firms are asked to do exactly the same thing.

As regards the point made by my noble friend Lord Elton, what happens if it is impractical to code the address labels, for example, where a manual system is being used? That is what I referred to earlier. That manual system may not only be the construction's

23 Feb 1998 : Column CWH50

mailing list; it might be direct typing of envelopes. It would take forever to put a different code on the individual envelopes. I do not think that that is a good idea.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am sorry to bring harmony where there is apparent disharmony between the noble Lords. I am deeply saddened by the mental picture of the noble Lord laboriously going through typing envelopes. I am sure there should be a law against it.

In respect of the observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a similar parallel right can be seen at page 5 of the Bill in Clause 7(1)(c)(ii). That is a scheme which exists, but only in respect of a data access request. I cannot do more than say that his proposition is a novel one, plainly not without instant controversy. But I shall certainly put my mind to it.

On the earlier question that the noble Baroness raised, it is giving the citizen of this country an entirely new right. She rightly observed that direct marketing is defined in the Bill as encompassing all advertising and marketing material directed to particular individuals. It is not simply the bargain offers for 300 tulip bulbs--"Hurry while stocks last"--that irritates people. Individuals find other forms of advertising--some from non-profit-making organisations, some from religious organisations, some from what many of us would call fringe or cult organisations--of irritation sometimes; some people evidently find them of fascination.

All that this does is to give citizens the right to prevent all kinds of intrusive direct marketing material being sent to them by any means. It does not stop any data controller entering into the process and sending out the material; indeed, he is perfectly entitled to do so. On the other hand, citizens who do not wish to receive this material to which they are entitled, are now, quite rightly, able to say, "Do not send me this material"; in other words, they have the right to prevent such processing for direct marketing purposes. We do not see any reason to draw a distinction between those who are doing the processing. We are protecting here someone who does not wish his data to be used in this way, with the consequence of having material which may or may not be junk.

Viscount Astor: I have not spoken so far on this amendment, but perhaps I would like to speak in favour of the Government. The Minister has made a good point. I suppose I ought to declare an interest as my wife is a jeweller and sends out a Christmas catalogue. A few years ago she went through the rather disastrous process of buying a mailing list, which she then utilised. However, all she received for the next month were furious telephone calls from wives saying, "Has my husband been into your shop, and, if so, what did he buy and who for?". That explains the dangers of buying mailing lists. The citizen does have certain rights to be able to say, "I do not want any more".

Lord Skelmersdale: Before the noble Baroness decides what to do with this amendment, perhaps I may respond very briefly to the Minister, whose answer in a sense I pre-empted. I would not like him to go away this

23 Feb 1998 : Column CWH51

evening with the idea that I spent a lot of time typing envelopes myself. What I do is something of which the Government would approve; namely, employ people on a part-time basis to type the envelopes for me. The Minister should approve of that.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: Could I just remind noble Lords that many people enjoy receiving such material. If they did not enjoy receiving it, those companies which send direct mail letters would not do it because it is an extremely expensive exercise. It is a pity to destroy harmless pleasure for a lot of people and clamp down on this too hard. I myself have just sent out a couple of thousand appeal letters for Iraqi refugees, with an 18 per cent. response rate, which is well above the norm of 2 per cent. I should remind noble Lords that there are such things as window envelopes.

Quite apart from that, we are talking about an important right because some people are thoroughly irritated by it. Nevertheless, it is trivialising to clamp down on direct mail when it is a commercial operation that only works if it is cost effective; and, therefore, it is self-limiting.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am inclined to take that point. Some people like it and they can have it; some people do not like it, and they do not have to.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I thank the Minister for his answer. I am not sure that I accept that it deals totally with my concern, which is the circumstance where a voluntary organisation or a charity is giving information to the public through this method, but could be prevented from doing so because such information happens to contain a request for support of some sort associated with it. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Compensation for failure to comply with certain requirements]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 54:

Page 8, line 15, leave out ("An individual") and insert ("A person").

The noble and learned Lord said: This is a technical amendment. Clause 11 of the Bill presently says:

    "An individual who suffers damage by reason of any contravention by a data controller",

has a right to compensation. We do not intend to exclude companies who suffer damage as a result of any contravention of any requirements of the Bill in the appropriate case. We therefore wish to amend Clause 11 by changing the word "individual" to the word "person", so that it is not restricted simply to individuals. In those circumstances, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

23 Feb 1998 : Column CWH52

Clause 12 [Rectification, blocking, erasure and destruction]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page