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Lord Henley: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, has pointed out, we have Amendment No. 95ZA in this group, which is slightly more limited than the noble Baronesss amendment. As she put it in shorthand, her amendment covers the public and private sectors, whereas ours covers only the public sector and, under subsection (2)(b) of our amendment,
So it would cover some others. I can presume from that that the noble Baroness certainly would support our amendment. We have some doubts about whether we would go as far as her slightly wider amendment. I shall have to give this some thought, particularly after I have heard the Ministers response.
The noble Baroness was also right to say that we probably did not have a long enough debate on this matter in Committee and, bearing in mind we want to finish this Bill this evening, we are probably rather short of time for debate on Report. Perhaps the noble Baroness remembers that we felt slightly constrained for time on the previous occasion. We suddenly noticed the House filling up as noble Lords waited to debate the whole question of blasphemy, which, for some reasonI look to the right reverend Prelatesseemed to interest the House far more than the very important issue of data protection.
I want to make clear to the Minister that I shall press my amendment if the noble Baroness does not press hers. Probably, we both want to hear from the
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The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I should like to make a few comments on this issue because I am very much involved in the information systems security world. I prefer the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, because it is hard to decide what is government and what is not, and there is the status in between. Telephone records can be extremely sensitive. For instance, BT is private: it is not government. Many bits of information put together could be extremely damaging to the citizens of this country if they are revealed.
We are very weak on this. Given that, quite rightly, we are putting in the new clause exemptions for journalistic purposes, it would be good to strengthen the awareness of the people who will potentially sell this information that they could get into a lot of hot water if they do so. I would therefore draw it wider. Restricting it purely to government systems is unwise and far too limiting. Therefore, the noble Baronesss amendment would be very useful to send a message and to make people think twice.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I do not disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, or the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on the importance of this matter and of the need to improve trust and confidence among the public about the arrangements in place to protect personal data. There is no doubt whatever that there are concerns. There have been examples where data have not been appropriately protected. Clearly, we need to learn those lessons and to make sure that it is put right as much as is possible.
My problem with the amendments is the same as I mentioned in Committee. The Government are involved in a number of reviews on these matters in the light of some of the well publicised incidents that have taken place. Just as noble Lords usually say that the legislation I bring forward is premature and has not had enough consideration, I have to say that that is our position at the moment. The Cabinet Office is due to publish the findings of its review into data handling procedures in government which will describe how the Government have put in place a core set of minimum mandatory measures to protect information that applies across central government. These measures are intended to supplement the material provided to departments in other ways, including the Manual of Protective Security, and compliance will be assessed on an annual basis. It will underpin the summary material in the Statement on Internal Control and be subject to peer review.
We are committed in principle to the introduction of new sanctions under the Data Protection Act 1998 for the most serious breaches of its principles. Such proposals will take account of the need not only to provide high levels of data security, but also to ensure that sensible data sharing practices can be conducted
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The Government recognise the genuine and legitimate concerns expressed by noble Lords both in this debate and in Committee, but a number of imminent reviews and reports will inform both the actions that the Government have to take as a Government and whether legislative changes should be made. That is why we think it would be premature to legislate at this point. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to the pressure of legislative time. Equally, this is an important matter. I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and declare that on such and such a date we will bring forward legislation, but what I can say is that this is an important matter that we take very seriously. I hope, in that spirit, that noble Lords will not press their amendments because it would be premature to do so.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, the Minister said that the review would be conducted across central government. Perhaps I may suggest that in view of the Varney report and the transformational government agenda, it should cover local government and outsourcers to the Government.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I take the point and of course it would be one of the factors in terms of data sharing more generally. Indeed, it concerns the very nature of the involvement of Government with contracts for public sector services to be undertaken by private sector contractors. The point is well made.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his comments. He made a valuable point about companies such as BT. He could also have used as an example the utilities companies. In thinking about whether to support our amendmentshould we test the opinion of the House on itI hope the noble Lord, Lord
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I hear what the Minister says about the consultations and reviews that are taking place and I have received the helpful House of Commons Library note dated 14 March which listed all of the work that is underway. It is quite right that the Government should look at all of their procedures and decide which ones they should have in place and how they should be followed, and which departments are behind and which ones are ahead. But when all the reviews have taken place, I cannot believe that the Government will say about data controllers who have intentionally or recklessly disclosed information, or who have repeatedly and negligently allowed peoples personal data to be disclosed, Well that is fine. We would not want that to be an offence. That is what the amendment is asking for; it seeks that in such cases there should be an offence. There are perfectly adequate defences in subsection (2) but if the Government feel they ought to be strengthened, that can be done before Third Reading.
This is an important point of principle. I respect what the Minister has said about the consultations and so on, but we know that those will take time and that then there will have to be a response to them. Some of these were started last year and still have not reported. Basically the public will have to continue with this lack of protection for at least another year or two, during which time, at the rate of the past 12 months, millions more pieces of data will have gone missing.
I believe that the amendment is essential. The Minister claimed that the previous clause is essential to sharpen up peoples acts. That should apply also to the Government. For that reason, our amendment is equally important to the Bill and therefore I wish to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are moving to a different topic in this strange Bill. This amendment is put forward by my noble friend Lord Avebury to introduce a new clause to abolish Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. In case your Lordships are not wholly aware of the Act, I should say that it is used very rarely. The statistics produced indicate two convictions in 2005, four in 2004, one in 2003, one in 2002, nothing in 2001, and so on. Your Lordships can see that, even if these statistics are correctand it seems unlikely that they are completely correctthis provision is very rarely
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This section was last used following the interruption of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterburys sermon during the Easter Sunday service a couple of years ago, as your Lordships may recall. Two protestors, Mr Cordle and Mr Spotswood from Sheffield, unfurled a banner while interrupting the church service. They invited the most reverend Primate to join a public debate on Sharia law. As has happened with almost every other case that has been brought in modern times under the Act, the charges were dropped when the men appeared in front of magistrates who bound them over under a power of magistratesit is centuries oldto bind people over to keep the peace. They were bound over for 12 months in the sum of £100. The defendants said that they were protesting against the millions of Christians persecuted under Sharia law in places such as Nigeria and Pakistan. It was not as if they were supporting Sharia law; they were speaking against it.
The question is whether we should still have a law like this dating back to 1860 on the statute book. It mainly reflects Christian places of worship but, unfortunately, synagogues, gurdwaras and mosques are often desecrated. However, unless they have, most unusually, been registered under the Act to which I referred earlier, no offence is committed under Section 2the section we seek to abolish.
The whole issue was considered by the Select Committee on Religious Offences, which reported recently. It was its combined view that the offence should be repealed without replacement. The committee drew to the attention of the House the fact that, despite considerable effort, it unearthed details of only three convictions in relation to Christian churches, and in two of them the defendants were finally convicted of a different offence. The other person who was convicted was Mr Peter Tatchell and there is no doubt that he could have been convicted under other offences. The amendment would introduce a new clause to abolish what we say is an out-of-date and unnecessary Act and an offence that is limited in scope, both legally and practically. I beg to move.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, I do not want to think of this latest attempt to abolish Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 as something of an old chestnut, but it is hard to escape that conclusion. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, the Act prohibits,
in churches and chapels. Indecent here is not used in the sense of intending to corrupt or deprave but means improper or irreverent actions. It also prohibits disruptive behaviour towards those preaching or ministering in them.
The 2003 Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences devoted a whole chapter of its report to this subject. The main issue is whether protection for churches and other places of worship should be achieved through the ordinary law, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, or by additional and specific protection for the ceremonies, sacred places and artefacts of religion. Without going into the substantive arguments, it is not clear to me that specific protection is not required. Indeed, it is possible to think of incidents that are not covered by any other offences, some of which are listed in the Select Committee report.
If protection is to be offered in todays society, it would have to be worked out on a multi-faith basis, as was agreed by the Church of England as far back as 1989. The Select Committee reviewed all the arguments and found that there had been 60 prosecutions under Section 2 between 1997 and 2002. I do not have more up-to-date figures than that. However, the relatively small number of prosecutions might be due, at least in part, to the lack of awareness that the Act can be invoked by all faiths.
Therefore, the Select Committee concluded that the law ought to be redrafted to reflect modern conditions, citing the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions that it would be a valuable, if infrequently used, offence. There is therefore, it seems to me, a strong argument against proceeding by abolition without replacement, as this amendment does. That is my reservation in saying no to the amendment. It is unarguable that Section 2 needs updating. Therefore, the question is, have we the will to do it and who will work on producing such a replacement? I believe that is an important task given the current state of our society because the replacement of the ECJA in modern form would demonstrate that Parliament recognises the importance of religious beliefs in our society, that worshippers open their doors to all comers and that religious ceremonies are hallowed, are the source of spiritual sustenance and embody community coherence.
Given all that has happened in the five years since the Select Committee reported and the increasingly significant impact that religion is having on all our lives, my view is that we should not abolish Section 2 without having a ready-made, modern replacement. If we do that, we shall demonstrate Parliaments recognition of, and support for, the sincere and profound religious convictions of the many people of many faiths who live together in this country.
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