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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, nuclear has a very low CO2 impact, but the noble Earl is right to mention carbon capture and storage. That is why the Government have been actively working within Europe

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and internationally to encourage CCS demonstration projects. In this country we are in the middle of a competitive approach for a demonstration project. With regard to coal and low carbon, CCS offers great potential if it can be shown to work at scale. If it can be, and if this country is a leader in that regard, then it has huge potential for us in domestic terms and for our export capacity.

Constitution: Royal Marriage and Succession


11.29 am

Asked By Baroness Quin

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, this is a complex issue. While there is no question of changing the constitutional role of the monarch or the Church of England as the established church, both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor have said that we have to deal with issues of discrimination here. The laws concerning marriage to Catholics and the primacy of male members of the Royal Family should change, but that can happen only with the agreement of all the Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty the Queen is the Head of State. Given the need for consensus across all the Queen’s realms, this cannot happen overnight.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend but, given that the debate in the other place last Friday aroused much interest and showed strong levels of public support for ending these discriminations, I urge the Government to act more quickly and bring in a measure either to deal with both discriminations together or, if it is easier to get agreement, to deal with each of them in turn. Does my noble friend agree that it is wise to introduce these changes now when they can be considered on their own merits rather than being seen to favour one particular successor to the Crown over another?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on my noble friend’s second point, there is more than one view about whether this is the appropriate moment to take action. On her first point about whether we might remedy one of these issues and not the other, the problem is that the same difficulties apply when amending the law on succession to effect equal rights for females in the line of succession as to removing anti-Catholic provisions in the Act of Settlement. The Statute of Westminster 1931 requires the assent of the Parliaments of all those countries of which Her Majesty the Queen is Head of State.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that the ban on the heirs to the throne marrying Catholics is the constitution’s grubby little secret? Does he recall that the previous Prime

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Minister, Mr Blair, promised to tackle this and gave exactly the same line as we are hearing from the Dispatch Box today? Just how long will it take this Government to deal with this question?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I have already said that it is accepted by the Government that these are cases of discrimination and they need to be changed. However, this is a complex issue, as the noble Lord will understand; he was a member of a Government that I do not think sought to change the position as it was then and as it is now. He is right in the sense that this is discriminatory and that the Government have to do something about it. This is a complex issue which requires the agreement of those other countries in the Commonwealth which treat the Queen as their Head of State.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords—

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, was in first. Then perhaps we can go to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is it not the case that there is no specific statement in the Act of Settlement 1701 that prevents a person of the Roman Catholic faith becoming monarch? The words of the Act, if I remember rightly, are that the Crown shall devolve upon the Electress Sophia and the heirs of her body—followed by the words “being Protestant”. It is not a case of Roman Catholics being proscribed, but rather of Protestants being prescribed.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord, as so often, is quite right.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, would it not be preferable for the Government to show that they prefer to anticipate problems? However, they have to face them.

Lord Bach: My Lords, we are anticipating this problem; we have anticipated it. Discussions are taking place and will continue to take place, because this is a matter which, at some stage, needs to be resolved.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that in recent times, Protestants and Catholics have developed increasing bonds of affection and friendship, and that we have made a little progress ourselves in these matters since the 16thand 17th centuries? Will he repeat the fact that complex issues lie behind these matters and that there is no immediate practical need for action? That gives time for the necessary consultation to take place and for these matters to be presented in a way which is rooted in a genuine consensus.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate. However, we must keep moving on this; we cannot just use the excuse of discussions for not doing something about it. That does not detract from the fact—I repeat it—that this is a complex matter

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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, bearing in mind that the Act of Settlement inextricably links so many crucial components of our constitution with the monarchy and accepting that constitutional change in the United Kingdom must, despite the recent record of the Government, be based on consensus—in these matters, that means agreement by the Houses of Parliament, by the Church of England, by the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations, by the monarchy and by public opinion—does the Minister then agree that a Private Member’s Bill is a wholly inappropriate way of promoting changes in this area?

Lord Bach: Yes, my Lords.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the difficulty of this complex issue and consulting the Commonwealth, but have the Government started that consultation? Also, could he mention one Commonwealth country that would be against these proposals?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am certainly not going into the question of what Commonwealth countries may or may not have said on this issue; that would be quite inappropriate and wrong. As I understand it, discussions have started and are continuing.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.36 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Refreshment Committee

Membership Motion

11.36 am

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motion agreed.

Data: Personal Information


11.37 am

Moved By The Earl of Northesk

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, in recent times it has become customary at this point in our proceedings to offer up some sort of anecdote or witticism as a means of buying time before launching forth into the body of one’s text. My limited oratorical steers skills

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do not stretch that far, so I merely confine myself to the hope that it is neither the subject matter of today’s debate nor the fact that I have risen to my feet that has prompted the exodus of so many of your Lordships from the Chamber.

With that out of the way, and now that the general hubbub has abated somewhat, I begin, as I did last week, by declaring my various interests in this field: as an unpaid adviser to the Enterprise Privacy Group, Privacy International and 80/20 Thinking. I should perhaps also say that I have no wish to be unduly partisan in introducing the debate. This is far too important an issue for any of us to use it as an opportunity to indulge in party political grandstanding.

Against that background, I say again that I am fully cognisant of the potential utility of data and information across the whole panoply of public policy. I agree with the statement made by the Minister last week that,

I also accept that the imperatives driving policy in this field are, in the main, well-intentioned and worth while. Moreover, I acknowledge that where to strike the balance between data privacy and the legitimate right of the state to manage and process those data for the public good is an especially vexed issue.

Why, therefore, have I, and an ever increasing phalanx of like-minded citizens, been so persistent in expressing our concerns and anxieties about how our established right to privacy, via Article 8 of the ECHR, is under such insidious attack? At an aggregated level, the answer is pretty straightforward. The stark reality is that, over the past 10 years or so, the UK has earned an unenviable reputation for being a world leader in how to impose a whole raft of surveillance technologies upon its citizenry: the DNA database, CCTV cameras, the National Identity Register, the NHS National Plan for IT, and so on.

The Government may seek to pray in aid both the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act as the means whereby they have guaranteed that those technologies are subject to appropriate and adequate safeguards. However, as the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust report, Database State, observes, the Data Protection Act is a “defective implementation” of the EU data protection directive in a number of respects. For example, how can an individual mitigate the harmful consequences of illegal data processing when he has no way of knowing that it has taken place? Quite apart from this, and because data protection and data security are two sides of the same coin, its manifest flaws have been brought into very much sharper focus in recent times after the HMRC data scandal and the relentless flood of breaches and losses both within government and the commercial sector that followed that debacle. In effect, the legitimate and reasonable expectation that the Data Protection Act, buttressed by the Human Rights Act, would embed and entrench the primacy of

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the data interest of the citizen, as codified by the data protection principles, has been just so much wishful thinking.

What has happened instead is that policy avenues have been pursued, particularly in the context of the public services reform and security agendas, which actively and explicitly seek to subordinate the citizen’s data interest to that of the state. This gives traction to a fundamental change of the relationship between the state and citizen whereby, as the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust report maintains:

“Increasingly users who should feel like a citizen or customer—responsible and in control—feel instead like a suspect or recidivist”.

Nowhere is this process more apparent than in the strategy document, Transformational Government, published by the Cabinet Office in November 2005. On the face of it, its core presumption, that,

gives the impression of being eminently sensible and well intentioned, perhaps even innocuous. That may explain why it has received scant scrutiny by Parliament so far. However, its ongoing rollout appears to be aimed at a structural and cultural entrenchment across the whole of Government of the supremacy of the state’s data interest by means of reliance on a network of interconnected databases seeded with ever more information about us. Albeit that the Secretary of State for Justice has recently withdrawn them, the data-sharing proposals on the face of the Coroners and Justice Bill were just the latest manifestation of this trend. Moreover, there is a palpable sense in which this agenda is being almost exclusively driven by administrative convenience and political expediency rather than any innate respect for or understanding of the privacy rights of the individual citizen.

Here, I represent the words that I quoted earlier from the Minister in a rather more succinct way. Information and data, in their myriad forms, are the lifeblood of the exercise of power. Thus, in the context of developing policy, state control of statistics runs the risk of being, in the words of Sir Michael Scholar, “corrosive of public trust”. He adds that,

Therefore, it is to the Government’s credit that they have legislated for the independence of statistics. Nevertheless, in much the same way that political control of statistical data can grant the holder control over the policy agenda, so control of an individual’s personal and sensitive information can grant dominance over the individual himself. It is precisely this that, in the information age, makes identity theft such a harrowing crime: the dual sensations of violation and helplessness arising from a realisation that one is no longer in control of one’s own life. The fact of the matter is that our personal and sensitive data are the core statistics of our own unique lives and, by extension, the wholesale collection, retention and sharing of our data by government is equivalent to a state-sponsored and thereby legitimised form of identity theft.

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In this context, David Goodhart, the founder and editor of Prospect magazine, has recently suggested that:

“It might be useful if we started to see our data as similar to tax, something we willingly surrender to the authorities in return for various benefits”.

There is some credibility to this view. Personal data are imbued with considerable commercial and political value, the relinquishing of which can generate benefits and advantages for the ways in which we live our lives. To that extent and when aggregated, they can be perceived as part of the nation's stock of social capital. But, in much the same way that we would not tolerate a tax system that stripped us of all our earnings, so we should resist systems that increasingly look as if they are being designed to impoverish every one of us in data terms.

Implicit in David Goodhart's approach is a presumption that the anxieties that I have expressed are no more than a storm in a teacup; that the state has a legitimate right, if not responsibility, to deploy technological advancement to the benefit of the greater good. Indeed, it may very well be that, as a result of such influences as the internet itself and celebrity culture, society does not value the “complex bundle of issues” that constitute privacy as highly as perhaps it once did. Be that as it may and at risk of repeating myself, privacy is an established right, articulated in the ECHR. With that in mind, its protection should not, as it were, be reduced to the lowest common denominator. More importantly, as the Willcock v Muckle case in 1951 demonstrates, once sacrificed it is hugely difficult, if not impossible, to recover it.

Your Lordships will be well aware that the Database Statereport made a number of recommendations to address some of these problems. I am supportive of these although I fear that the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will approach them with too much of a closed mind. That said, a more fundamental issue is at work here. Because of the apparently irreconcilable conflict of interest between the data interests of the state and those of the citizen and because of an intrinsic and ingrained inability of government to guarantee adequate security of data, the appropriateness and legitimacy of the state as being the default administrator/processor/manager of our data is called into question. Quite apart from this, it has been the case for some time now that the imperatives that drive government policy in this field, essentially to use data management processes to improve public services and to enhance the fight against terrorism and serious crime, are deliverable in a much less invasive—and, it has to be said, less costly—way than the route chosen by the current Administration. As it happens, only last week I attended a seminar with Microsoft where the technological advances in this field, based on a citizen-centric data sharing platform with no diminution of the state's legitimate rights of access, were outlined.

To repeat, I am unconvinced that it is appropriate that the state should be both poacher and gamekeeper of our personal information. Rather, the tasks and functions of data management should be, at the very least, delegated to an authority that is wholly independent of government, perhaps even, if advances in technology permit, devolved to the level of the individual user, as

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a means of re-establishing the primacy of the data interests of our citizenry. Dare I say it, adhering to the current myopic obsession with data-sharing across ever larger databases that record each and every moment of our lives runs the risk of creating systems that are so bloated, if not obese, that they grind to a halt and collapse under their own weight. To give your Lordships some feel for the simple arithmetic here, I refer to a number of Questions for Written Answer tabled by my honourable friend, Eleanor Laing, in another place. For example, these have revealed that the customer information system of the DWP, the database that it is intended will be the principal source of information for the National Identity Register,

That is to say 960 billion separate fields of data. That is just one database.

Perhaps more tellingly Stephen Timms, on behalf of the Treasury, makes this observation:

“There are many data categories of different kinds within each of the identified systems. A count of them all could be produced only at disproportionate cost”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/3/09; col. 405W.]

As the Ideal Government blog puts it:

“It’s official. HMRC now collects so much personal data that they can’t afford or can’t be bothered to provide Parliament with the number of fields of data they collect”.

In effect we may already be at the point whereby, far from generating a utilitarian information-rich data management system, the Government are already experiencing data overload.

In conclusion I cannot improve upon the assessment in the Database State report, which says that the situation in which we find ourselves is one where:

“All aspects of our lives will be surrounded by masses of data collected without our consent, and shared well beyond the purposes for which they were originally collected. Citizens are starting to realise this, and are progressively losing trust in government”.

Bluntly, enough is enough. It remains only for me to say that I very much look forward to the contributions of other noble Lords in the debate and in due course the response of the Minister. I beg to move.

11.50 am

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the whole House will be indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, for having introduced this topic today. It is not by any means the first time that these issues have been raised, and indeed the Constitution Committee of this House has produced a most worthwhile report. I have not yet seen the Government’s response, but I do not doubt that the Minister will inform us about its detail.

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