Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the House will be relieved that I hope to avoid provoking the one-and-a-half hour discussion that the order generated in another place. There may have been an excuse for that in the sense that, while it was Wednesday in

7 Feb 2000 : Column 495

Westminster Hall, where the order was debated, it was still only Tuesday in the Chamber itself! Matters were slightly disrupted.

In this House we should welcome the order. It follows lines that have been well debated in both Houses. We sought to place the figures and exemptions on the face of the Bill. I understand the reasons for not doing so, but I still think it regrettable. We might not have been having this discussion had the point been accepted at that time.

I have one question. Because it was necessary for me to be in the Chamber this afternoon, I regret that I did not have quite enough time to do my homework. The Minister can probably give me a quick assurance. Budgeted income can mean various things. I should like an assurance that it does not include capital income. In the south-east of England it is not unusual for a parish to own a piece of land which it might sell at a very high value. If it were to have two or three acres of land to sell, in certain areas the value of the sale would mean an otherwise small parish council being subject to best value, which on the basis of its revenue spending would be completely inappropriate. If the noble Baroness is able to give me that assurance when she replies, I shall be happy to see the order go forward in its present form and to welcome it in that form. However, I hope to receive that assurance.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we welcome the order. As the noble Lord said, when this matter was debated by noble Lords in Committee as well as in another place there was considerable concern about the need not to impose inappropriate duties on small parishes. While wishing to achieve best value in the general sense, there is concern about the best value duties as spelt out in the legislation. Obviously, the effect of pieces of bureaucratic legislation on the budgets of small parish councils is something that we, like the Government, want to avoid. We do not believe that it is a good use of public money for a small authority to have to go through the procedures that they otherwise would.

I was also glad to hear the Minister's assurance about the value that the Government place on parishes. This has been a matter of controversy over the past two or three weeks given statements made by one of the noble Baroness's right honourable friends in another place. It is good to have that assurance on the record. I am sure that the Minister would not provoke us by making a statement in the other direction. We support the passage of the order.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their contributions. In answer to the noble Baroness, I am sure she recalls that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised this matter during the passage of the Local Government Bill, when I placed our commitment on record. As to the issue raised by the noble Lord, it appears that under the circumstances that he describes a very small parish council may meet the target for one year but certainly not for three consecutive years. I do

7 Feb 2000 : Column 496

not believe that capital is part of budgeted income, but I shall write to the noble Lord if I can add anything further or I need to say anything by way of correction.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Data Protection (Crown Appointments) Order 2000

Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Social Work) Order 2000

Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000

Data Protection (Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions) Order 2000

Data Protection (Designated Codes of Practice) Order 2000

Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Education) Order 2000

Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Health) Order 2000

9.37 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton) : My Lords, I beg to move the seven Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper en bloc. These orders help complete the arrangements for protecting personal data created by the Data Protection Act 1998. For the most part, they are about striking a balance between the basic data protection rules and other important individual needs or public interests. They modify individuals' rights to get access to data held about them; set out circumstances in which sensitive personal data may be processed; and designate media codes of practice in connection with processing of personal data by journalists.

The 1998 Act gives effect throughout the United Kingdom to the 1995 EC Data Protection Directive. A large amount of subordinate legislation is needed to complete the regime that it creates. A total of 17 instruments, including these seven orders, will be brought into force with the 1998 Act on 1st March. The remaining 10 orders are subject to the negative resolution procedure and are to be laid separately before your Lordships' House this week.

The 1998 Act is complex and I draw the attention of the House to just two key elements of it. First, the Act creates a set of rules, known as the data protection principles, with which all organisations processing personal data must comply. Among other things, these

7 Feb 2000 : Column 497

regulate the fairness and lawfulness of the processing, the accuracy of the data and the purposes for which they may be processed, the time for which they may be retained and the need for security. The second pivotal element is the right for individuals to be able to get access to data held about them: the subject access right.

These orders all relate in one way or another to exemptions from certain provisions of the 1998 Act. With your Lordships' permission, I shall for convenience refer to them in abbreviated terms. I deal first with the health, social work, education, miscellaneous and Crown appointments orders. All of these orders modify or provide exemptions from the subject access right and, in some cases, the accompanying right for individuals to be given information when their data are collected. Together these are called the subject information provisions.

The health order is similar, but not identical, to an order made under the existing law, the Data Protection Act 1984. Its main effect is to create an exemption from the right of subject access to health data where giving access would cause serious harm to the health of a data subject or another individual.

The social work order which also reflects an existing order under the 1984 Act makes similar provision for social work records held by the organisations in Schedule 1 including local authorities, health bodies and the courts. Its main effect is to create a subject access exemption where giving access would prejudice social work because of the serious harm caused to the health of the data subject or another individual.

The 1998 Act creates data protection access rights for education records for which access is currently provided by the Education (Schools Records) Regulations 1989 and similar regulations made in other parts of the United Kingdom. The education order replicates exemptions made in those regulations. Again, the main effect is to create an exemption from subject access to education records, where giving access would cause serious harm to the health of the data subject or another individual.

All three orders make other provision, including exemptions from the subject information provisions for certain court reports.

The miscellaneous order also mirrors existing provision. It provides subject access exemptions for certain information whose disclosure is prohibited or restricted by the statutes specified in the schedule. The information covers information about human fertilisation and embryology, adoption records, information about children's special educational needs, parental order records, and information provided by the principal reporter in children's hearings in Scotland.

Finally in this group, the Crown appointments order provides exemptions from the subject information provisions for data processed for assessing individuals' suitability for the appointments made by Her Majesty which are specified in the

7 Feb 2000 : Column 498

schedule to the order. The exemptions are needed because the records would typically include communications involving Her Majesty.

I turn now to the sensitive personal data order. As required by the directive, the 1998 Act identifies certain categories of personal data for special treatment. They are information about race, political or religious views, trade union membership, health, sex life and actual or alleged criminal activity. The Act refers to this information as sensitive personal data. Such data may not be processed unless one of the nine express conditions set out in Schedule 3 to the Act is met. Schedule 3 also allows further exemptions from the general prohibition on processing sensitive personal data to be set by order.

The schedule to this order specifies additional circumstances in which such data may be processed. Consistently with the directive, the circumstances are limited to those where the processing is in the substantial public interest; and where there are safeguards, often in the form of a requirement to seek consent where possible. In considering this order it is important to note that it does nothing more than provide a gateway: if the processing manages to get through the gateway, it still has to meet the requirements imposed by the rest of the data protection principles.

Finally on this order, paragraph 10 allows the police to process sensitive personal data in connection with their common law functions.

I apologise for having detained your Lordships' House for so long on this order. But it is a very important part of the package and I thought it right to explain it in some detail.

I shall be much briefer on the final order, the designated codes of practice order. As I have already mentioned, the 1998 Act provides a wide exemption for processing for journalistic, artistic and literary purposes. One of the conditions of the exemption is that, having regard to the special importance of the public interest in freedom of expression, the data controller reasonably believes that publication of the personal data would be in the public interest. In assessing the reasonableness of the data controller's belief, regard may be had to his compliance with any relevant code of practice designated by the Secretary of State. This order designates for this purpose the five codes set out in the schedule to the order: the Broadcasting Standards Commission's Code on Fairness and Privacy; the ITC Programme Code; the Press Complaints Commission's Code of Practice; the BBC's Producers' Guidelines; and the Radio Authority's Programme Code.

That concludes my swift but, I fear, too lengthy overview of the orders. They are essential to make the regime created by the 1998 Act work smoothly. They have been drafted following a general consultation exercise and in specific consultation with many organisations which are concerned.

The Data Protection Registrar, who will become the data protection commissioner with the implementation of the 1998 Act on 1st March, has

7 Feb 2000 : Column 499

been formally consulted about the orders and is content for the 1998 Act to be put into force with them as they stand. I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved That, the draft orders laid before the House on 24th January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

9.45 p.m.

Viscount Astor : My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the orders. I shall be equally brief. The first order concerning Crown appointments is intriguing. I had not realised there were so many interesting Crown appointments. Those exempted include Archbishops, Deans, Lords Lieutenant, the First and Second Church Estates Commissioners, Masters of Trinity College, the Provost of Eton, the Poet Laureate and the Astronomer Royal. I am sure many budding poet laureates will sleep happily in their beds tonight knowing that if they ever hold that position their private lives will not be exposed. Indeed, many astronomers staring into the stars tonight will be equally relieved that they will be covered by the order.

I have no comment to make on the second order relating to social work. The important order is the third, which relates to the processing of sensitive personal data. We passed the Act a long time ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and I were present, but the Minister was not even at the Home Office. No doubt he has read the debates in detail in Hansard, but just in case he happened to miss something, I have given him notice of a question I intend to ask.

As regards the processing of sensitive personal data, a commitment was made during the passage of the Bill. We are grateful not only for the commitment with regard to journalists but with regard to ethnic minorities.

The fourth order relates to miscellaneous subject access exemptions and I have no comments to make on that. The fifth order, concerning designated codes of practice, causes me to ask a brief question. The Minister will see that of the five codes of practice four relate to statutory bodies which come under the Broadcasting Act 1991 or the producers' guidelines for the BBC which, being brought in by Royal Charter and Agreement, is subject to parliamentary control. The bodies include the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Radio Authority. However, the code of practice which relates to the Press Complaints Commission appears to be different because that commission is an independent body. It is funded by the press, sceptics will say, largely for the benefit of the press. However, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wakeham, it carries out an extremely important role in protecting the public. Its codes are independent, but now they are designated codes of practice must they be agreed by the Government? Will the Home Office monitor those codes? Is this the first step towards the Home Office becoming involved in those codes of practice? Will the commission remain an independent body?

7 Feb 2000 : Column 500

I am sure that there is a reasonable explanation, but the concern exists and the situation must be clarified. There has always been public concern about the validity of the commission's codes and we must make it clear that it is an independent body with its own codes or that it has a link with the Government. Therefore I shall be grateful if the noble Lord can answer that question.

I do not have any comments to make on the final two orders. However, perhaps I may say that I have had dealings with the Data Protection Commissioner and I should like to say publicly that those dealings have been most helpful in sorting out various problems. I am full of praise for the role carried out by the Commissioner.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page