Commons Today – text will change tomorrow 27 Jan so this post will be updated to reflect that.
Jack Straw: If I may, I want to make some progress, as I have already been on my feet for getting on for 50 minutes.
The Bill also deals with better supervision of knives by the court, which has also been drawn to the attention of the House, and with the issue of profiting from criminal memoirs.
Let me turn finally to the provisions relating to changes to the Data Protection Act 1998. In an age of instantaneous electronic information, it is fundamental that data held on individuals are secure and properly protected. That plainly has not always been the case. At the same time, provided security and scrutiny are guaranteed, better data sharing can greatly work in the interests of the public. It can help to improve opportunities for the most disadvantaged, provide better public services, reduce the burden on businesses, implement policies more effectively and detect fraud.
At present, when a family is bereaved they often have to contact Government Departments and local authority departments many times over to make the necessary arrangements, often providing the same information. Responsible data sharing between the relevant agencies would reduce the number of people who would need to be notified of a death, thereby helping to relieve distress at a difficult time.
Last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked Professor Mark Walport and the Information Commissioner,Richard Thomas, to conduct an independent review of data protection and data sharing. The review recommended stronger safeguards to protect data and upgraded arrangements for data sharing. It said, in particular, that
“there is a lack of clarity about what the law permits or prohibits.”
So, alongside new powers, clause 152 provides a new scheme for data sharing. Under those powers, an order may be made only in circumstances where sharing the information is in the public interest and proportionate to the impact it may have on the person affected. The Information Commissioner will provide independent oversight of the process, scrutinising draft orders and laying before Parliament a report of his findings. Every single order will have to be debated and approved by Parliament.
Dominic Grieve: With his characteristic skill, the Secretary of State reduces a seismic change in the relationship between the state and the citizen to something utterly benign. Is it not the case that a great deal of the information that the state acquires from individuals is acquired for specific purposes that Parliament has set down? The Government are proposing to drive a coach and horses through the duty of confidentiality that the state owes to individuals in any case where a quite nebulous concept of public good decides to trump the private right. That is surely not a matter that we should be considering in a portmanteau Bill of this sort. It ought to be contained in separate stand-alone legislation. It has enormous implications for civil liberties and it is not right that the Government should come to the House and ask us to have it as a little add-on to another complex piece of legislation.
Jack Straw: The hon. and learned Gentleman does nothing for his case with his gross exaggeration of the provisions. The measures follow the Walport-Thomas review, which was rather widely welcomed, as I recall. There was then a period of consultation. The Government published their detailed response, which effectively accepted what the highly independent reviewers had proposed, and that has now found its way into the Bill.
I should also say to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield that this Bill is not about choosing between the private individual and the public good, as it were, but about helping private individuals, in many cases, through better data sharing. There are separate provisions for the use of anonymised data for statistical purposes, and the hon. and learned Gentleman needs to look at them.
David Heath: Will the Secretary of State give way?
Jack Straw: In the interests of proper debate, I am about to finish my remarks.
The safeguards in the Bill will be complemented by additional proposals in part 8 to strengthen the auditing and inspection powers of the Information Commissioner. This Government recognise the need to strengthen the protection of personal data, and to restore public confidence in its security. It is right to consider the risks of data sharing, but these should not blind us to its potential benefits.
And, later, a very good point:
Jenny Willott: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern at how the Government are presenting their case to the public? We saw an example this afternoon, when the Secretary of State talked about families suffering bereavement. I have also heard him give examples involving people moving house. That makes what is proposed sound like a very minor change, made just for people’s own convenience. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that, if that is what is going to be done, a change in the law is not needed; people just need to be asked to give their consent? The Secretary of State is using minor examples to cover what is, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, a huge change.
In a recently introduced piece of bureaucracy, the Metropolitan police have started requiring live event producers across London to fill in the innocuous sounding “Form 696“.
Here’s the catch: it requires four pages of information from event organisers 14 days before it takes place. If you need to make last-minute changes – tough luck, the event can’t go ahead. The Met police not only want to know the type of music to be played, but also names, aliases, phone numbers and addresses of performers. It will not only make putting on live bands very difficult for small venues, but also spell the end of impromptu open mic sessions.
This latest incarnation of police bureaucracy hasn’t come out of nowhere. It even asks event promoters to provide details of their target audience, a further sign of the way it’s been racialising music across London for a while. …
A television programme about police community support officers (PCSOs) funded by the Home Office broke broadcasting rules, the communications watchdog said today.
Ofcom said two series of Beat: Life on the Street, which were paid for by the taxpayer and screened on ITV, was “promotional”.
The programmes, which cost £800,000, followed officers in Lancashire and Oxford.
Viewers complained the credits should have made it clear the programme was funded by the Government.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We acted in good faith and are disappointed [there's that word again!] that Ofcom believe that we were not transparent with our sponsorship and that the product was too closely associated with the sponsor.
“On behalf of Government, the Central Office of Information (COI) has requested a meeting with Ofcom to seek further advice and clarification regarding the regulations and determine the best way forward for the public sector.”
Ofcom did clear the programme from the point of view of sponsor influence, saying that the programme makers had been careful to retain editorial control.
‘Beat: Life on the Street’s two series received £800,000 in funding from the Home Office after the programme was conceived by its media agency Manning Gottlieb OMD.
It was one of a number of government-funded programmes that hit the headlines last year for a perceived lack of transparency over their sponsorship.
Government AFPs [Government Funded Programme] have proved controversial, as they appear indistinguishable from regular shows. Last August, it was revealed that the Government has spent almost £2m on AFPs. In September, Sky handed back £400,000 of funding to the Home Office to ensure that documentary series, UK Border Force, was “wholly independent”.
In August 2008, environmental protestors set up camp in Kent, England, to protest the current and newly proposed E-On coal-fired power stations at Kingsnorth.
Part One of two films, Covering Climate Camp documents not the protest movement, but the journalists trying to cover the story for independent and mainstream news organisations.
In some of the worst scenes of police interference the press were subjected to stop-and-search, harassment, aggression and violence, which led to the National Union of Journalists and the industry media publically slamming the police on the grounds of press freedom restriction.
Part Two of two films, Covering Climate Camp continues to document the press coverage and subsequent press freedom restrictions. As the policing gets heavier, journalists trying to cover the story for independent and mainstream news organisations face surveillance, harassment, endless stop-and-searches and assault – they are even followed by a police unit to a McDonald’s restaurant.
… But the third lesson to be learned is one that many of us realised long ago: a significant swath of the establishment fears and distrusts the public, treating us as compliant subjects rather than citizens. We are regarded as a problem to be controlled and managed and our fundamental rights and freedoms are paid lip service but considered ultimately to be an inconvenience. The impulse which has lead us to a national identity database, identity cards, the DNA database, photographers being detained for taking pictures in the street, parents being spied on to check if they live in the appropriate school catchment area, the drive to marginalise trial by duty and hold inquests in secret and suspending/habeas corpus, is the same impulse that assumes the public is neither entitled nor interested in knowing how MPs spend their expenses. …