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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I repeat what I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made clear in his Budget Statement that this Government know that families are the bedrock of a stable and health society. We see the family as the essential unit of social stability, which should, therefore, be supported as far as possible by government policy. I do not believe that to be neutrality. Moreover, it is most important for us not to get this out of perspective. Out of 16 million families in this country, four out of five are headed by a married couple. After Denmark and Portugal, the United Kingdom has the highest marriage rate in the European Union. I believe that that shows that marriage is alive and well in this country.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, does the Minister agree that deliberate teenage pregnancies might be discouraged if the donees were to be given vouchers rather than monetary benefits?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: No, my Lords; I do not agree with the noble Lord. Indeed, I am not quite

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sure what point he is trying to make by using the word "deliberate". As I said, teenage pregnancies are a big problem for all of us and they cause us great concern. However, through the Scottish Office in Scotland--which, after all, is the subject of the Question--the Government are involved in various projects regarding sex education and other measures to try to discourage teenage pregnancies. But I shall not take up the time of the House by listing some of them.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that another important aspect of this whole area is suitable sex education in schools and the availability of family planning facilities and advice? Can my noble friend tell me whether or not these are readily available in the Dundee area?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that important point. The Scottish Office offers general guidance on family planning and sex education and looks to health boards and education authorities to devise strategies best suited to their own needs for implementing that. In 1998-99 the Health Education Board for Scotland is undertaking a project to encourage and promote family planning, including appropriate use of contraceptives and sexual behaviour. In Dundee the Cornerstone Project is a city centre, drop-in facility for young people funded jointly by Dundee City Council, Dundee healthcare and the Scottish Office, providing facilities and services for counselling and advice about contraception.

British Steel Corporation

3 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have had any discussions with the British Steel Corporation concerning the current exchange rate and its effect on exports.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, the Government have a continuing dialogue with British Steel at many different levels. This ranges widely over current issues, including the exchange rate and export related matters.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, will the Minister remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the concerns over unemployment levels that may arise later this year? Will he bear in mind that British Steel has already halved its capital expenditure from £400 million per annum to £200 million, and that, overall, manufacturing industry feels it is bearing the brunt of anti-inflation measures yet it employs 4 million people and a further 4 million indirectly? Does the Minister consider that the fiscal measures contained in the Chancellor's Budget are sufficient to stave off further cuts in investment, job losses and factory closures?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, British Steel is engaged in a long-term programme to ensure cost and

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efficiency improvements so that it continues to be one of the most effective and efficient steel producers in the world. As regards the wider issues, the difficulty was that this Government inherited an accelerating exchange rate because action which ought to have been taken earlier had been deferred for electoral purposes. We believe that is one of the most important reasons for ensuring that the Bank of England takes over objective control of that issue, free of political considerations. I believe that is the appropriate way to proceed to ensure that we have a stable economy, low inflation and therefore in the medium and long term a much more stable rate of exchange.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that while the present problem relating to the exchange rate may be unavoidable, the difficulties experienced by British Steel and by the engineering industry in particular will be exacerbated if unfair competition continues in the EU, especially from Germany and Spain? My noble friend will be aware that the Council of Ministers established a monitoring committee to consider the matter. Will he consider the work of that committee and perhaps ensure that a report on its activities is circulated widely?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, of course we are deeply concerned about unfair competition. But one has to establish as a matter of proof that the competition is unfair and that it would be appropriate therefore for action to be taken at European Union level to deal with that situation. The Government, of course, take into account evidence that we receive from time to time, but much of it is generalised and does not constitute a convincing reason for seeking a remedy at European Union level. We must reject trade protection because often flimsy reasons are advanced for it which do not in the long term protect our economy.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will my noble friend inform the House what further information is required by Her Majesty's Government as to the existence or otherwise of subsidised steel in the case of Germany?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, that is an example of what I mean. That is a generalised allegation that steel is being subsidised and that that situation ought to be condemned by the competition authorities in the European Commission. If substantive evidence is forthcoming, this Government will have no hesitation in acting. We have already referred a number of complaints to the Commission from time to time, and latterly the question of coal from Germany.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, will the noble Lord indicate to us the Government's latest estimates of the outturn of visible trade for this year, and to what extent that could have been affected by the present level of exchange rates?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, it is much too early to do that. The statistics that we shall ultimately produce

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will depend on many other matters--for example, the downturn in south-east Asia and problems regarding the fluidity of the situation in the Soviet Union and its impact upon Germany. There is an amalgam of reasons which constitute the possibility of a downturn in trade. However, exports overall have held up remarkably well.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there are any strong economies that have weak currencies?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, that is a good point. I have often prayed in aid the fact that Germany has over the years--despite, until recently, the high level of the mark--been able to capture export markets. Japan has done likewise. That demonstrates the importance of productivity, which has been too low in this country over many years. It also demonstrates the importance of quality, quality control, quality of after-service and delivery on time. All these are factors which contribute to the success of exports. There is undoubtedly at present a high quality level in British exports.

Data Protection Bill [H.L.]

3.6 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Data Protection Bill [H.L.], have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 7 [Right of access to personal data]:

The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 6, line 8, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (4),").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 5. This is a technical amendment. Clause 7(8) requires data controllers to respond promptly to subject access requests. Clause 7(4), read with Clause 7(5), makes provision for the postponement of that duty, at least in part, in some circumstances. Where some of the information sought by the data subject is withheld on the grounds that it would identify a third party who has not consented, the obligation to disclose promptly applies only to the rest of the information. This amendment makes it clear that Clause 7(8) has to be read subject to that special provision.

Amendment No. 2 is also in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. This government amendment comes before your Lordships' House with the unusual recommendation of being designed to reverse an amendment which we brought forward at Committee stage and which was agreed by the House at that time. The issue is whether or not companies should benefit from the right to claim compensation for breach

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of the Bill's provisions. It is an area in which the directive has set us a difficult puzzle, and we are trying hard to get it as right as we can.

Article 23 of the directive requires us to provide that "any person" who has suffered damage as a result of contraventions of the data protection regime shall be entitled to compensation from the data controller in question. As your Lordships are aware, we had originally reflected that requirement, in Clause 11, with a reference to an entitlement for "individuals". It seemed to us at the time that that was a fair interpretation of the effect we were required to achieve. It was subsequently drawn to our attention, however, that that could lead to some perhaps surprising results. So we reflected with some care on that reference in the directive to "any person" and concluded, on balance, that the right thing to do was to use the same word in Clause 11. That had the effect of admitting companies into the class of persons who would be entitled to claim damages. That appeared to us at the time to be a more generally consistent approach, and one which was recommended to your Lordships at Committee stage.

However, subsequent reaction to the amendment of the Bill has not, on balance, been favourable. It has now been represented to us with some force that the result it produces may in fact be disproportionate. It can create an open-ended liability for data controllers of a potential range which we think, on reflection, may not be the best answer to the question of risk allocation in this area. We do not think that such a result is required or intended by the directive; nor, we have concluded, do arguments for consistency outweigh these disadvantages.

It seems to us, on reflection, that to restrict the availability of compensation to natural persons--"individuals"--is entirely consonant with the stated objectives and the language of the directive taken as a whole, and is in general the better solution. It does sometimes happen that first thoughts are the best after all. The Government have now said to your Lordships' House on many occasions already during the passage of this Bill that we are trying to make the best fist of it that we can. We have listened carefully and open-mindedly to what has been said to us on this matter, and we have come to a revised view. It is on that basis that the present amendment comes before your Lordships today, on which I invite the House to accept the merits, on balance, of making the return journey to the original wording proposed by the Government for Clause 11.

The third amendment in the group is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. I shall wait for the noble Lord to speak to it before I respond to it. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Coleraine: My Lords, I am sure that there is good reason why the amendment has been grouped with the two amendments to which the noble and learned Lord has spoken. I cannot think of the reason, but I am happy to speak to my amendment.

I tabled the amendment to reflect concerns expressed to me last week by the Law Society. Clause 30 of the Bill, in so far as affected by the amendment, provides

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exemptions from the subject information provisions of the Bill for bodies exercising regulatory functions designed to protect the public against, as stated in Clause 30(2)(a)(iv),

    "dishonesty, malpractice or other seriously improper conduct by, or the unfitness or incompetence of, persons authorised to carry on any profession or other activity".

It is clear to the Law Society that it will be protected by the exemption provisions when it processes data about the alleged improprieties of admitted solicitors. What is less clear is whether the exemption extends to data processed in respect of trainee solicitors. Those are persons preparing for admission as solicitors. The Law Society regulates and sets standards for them. A trainee solicitor, under the supervision of an admitted solicitor, provides valuable legal services to the public. Trainee solicitors are a valuable legal resource. It would be both anomalous and to be regretted, and not at all in the public interest or in the interests of trainee solicitors, if the Law Society were not to have the same protection from the subject information provisions of the Bill in respect of trainee solicitors as it has in regard to admitted solicitors.

It is unclear to me whether trainee solicitors are,

    "persons authorised to carry on any profession or any other activity",

within the meaning of the Bill. Is a trainee solicitor carrying on a profession? The expression "carry on any profession" is susceptible to various meanings. The amendment would put the question beyond doubt. It would also operate for the benefit of other professions which may be similarly affected.

Having heard what I have said, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will either accept my amendment or be prepared to say that he will bring forward a suitable amendment in another place in due course.

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