Baroness Harding of Winscombe Portrait Baroness Harding of Winscombe (Con)
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My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, in Amendments 13 and 15, to which I have added my name. Rather than repeat her arguments—as we are now all trying not to do—I want to build on them and point to the debate we had on the first group in Committee, when my noble friend the Minister insisted that the Government had no desire to water down the protections for children in the Bill. In Clause 5, in proposed new paragraph (7) of Article 6, the Government have felt it necessary to be explicit, in that paragraph only, that children might need extra protection. This, on its own, makes me worried that the whole Bill is reducing the protection children have, because the Government felt it necessary to insert new paragraph (7)(b). Interestingly, it refers to,

“where relevant, the need to provide children”

with additional support. But where is that not relevant?

Amendment 13 simply looks to strengthen this—to accept the premise on which the Bill is currently drafted that we need to be explicit where children deserve the right to a higher level of protection, and to get the wording right. Will my noble friend the Minister reconsider? There are two choices here: to state right at the beginning of the Bill that there is a principle that there will be no reduction in children’s right to a higher level of protection, or to do as the Bill currently does and make sure that we get the wording right at every stage as we work through.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken to this group. As ever, I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for the care it has taken in scrutinising the Bill. In its 10th report it made a number of recommendations addressing the Henry VIII powers in the Bill, which are reflected in a number of amendments that we have tabled.

In this group, we have Amendment 12 to Clause 5, which addresses the committee’s concerns about the new powers for the Secretary of State to amend new Annexe 1 of Article 6. This sets out the grounds for treating data processing as a recognised legitimate interest. This issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in his introduction. The Government argue that they are starting with a limited number of grounds and that the list might need to be changed swiftly, hence the need for the Secretary of State’s power to make changes by affirmative regulations.

However, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee argues:

“The grounds for lawful processing of personal data go to the heart of the data protection legislation, and therefore in our view should not be capable of being changed by subordinate legislation”.

It also argues that the Government have not provided strong reasons for needing this power. It recommends that the delegated power in Clause 5(4) should be removed from the Bill, which is what our Amendment 12 seeks to do.

These concerns were echoed by the Constitution Committee, which went one stage further by arguing:

“Data protection is a matter of great importance in maintaining a relationship of trust between the state and the individual”.

It is important to maintain these fundamental individual rights. On that basis, the Constitution Committee asks us to consider whether the breadth of the Secretary of State’s powers in Clauses 5 and 6 is such that those powers should be subject to primary rather than secondary legislation.

I make this point about the seriousness of these issues as they underline the points made by other noble Lords in their amendments in this group. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked whether any regulations made by the Secretary of State should be the subject of the super-affirmative procedure. We will be interested to hear the Minister’s response, given the concerns raised by the Constitution Committee.

Will the Minister also explain why it was necessary to remove the balancing test, which would require organisations to show why their interest in processing data outweighs the rights of data subjects? Again, this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It would also be helpful if the Minister could clarify whether the new powers for the Secretary of State to amend the recognised legitimate interest could have consequences for data adequacy and whether this has been checked and tested with the EU.

Finally, we also welcome a number of other amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in particular those to ensure that direct marketing should be considered a legitimate interest only if there is proper consent. This was one of the themes of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who made, as ever, a very powerful case for ensuring that children specifically should not be subject to direct market as routine and that there should be clear consent.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Harding, have once again, quite rightly, brought us back to the Bill needing to state explicitly that children’s rights are not being watered down by it, otherwise we will come back to this again and again in all the clauses. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said that this will be decided on the Floor of the House, or the Minister could give in now and come back with some government amendments. I heartily recommend to the Minister that he considers doing that because it might save us some time. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that and on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations about removing the Secretary of State’s right to amend the legitimate interest test.

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On the point made about EU data adequacy, across all reforms in the Bill, the Government maintain an ongoing dialogue with the EU and have a positive, constructive relationship with it. We continue to engage regularly with the EU to ensure that our reforms are understood, and we believe that they are compatible with maintaining our data adequacy decisions. For all these reasons, I hope that noble Lords will agree not to press their amendments.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, may I just revisit that with the Minister? I fear that he is going to move on to another subject. The Delegated Powers Committee said that it thought that the Government had not provided strong enough reasons for needing this power. The public interest list being proposed, which the Minister outlined, is quite broad, so it is hard to imagine the Government wanting something not already listed. I therefore return to what the committee said. Normally, noble Lords like to listen to recommendations from such committees. There is no strong reason for needing that extra power, so, to push back a little on the Minister, why, specifically, is it felt necessary? If it were a public safety interest, or one of the other examples he gave, it seems to me that that would come under the existing list of public interests.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Indeed. Needless to say, we take the recommendations of the DPRRC very seriously, as they deserve. However, because this is an exhaustive list, and because the technologies and practices around data are likely to evolve very rapidly in ways we are unable currently to predict, it is important to retain as a safety measure the ability to update that list. That is the position the Government are coming from. We will obviously continue to consider the DPRRC’s recommendations, but that has to come with a certain amount of adaptiveness as we go. Any addition to the list would of course be subject to parliamentary debate, via the affirmative resolution procedure, as well as the safeguards listed in the provision itself.

Clause 50 ensures that the ICO and any other interested persons should be consulted before making regulations.

Amendments 15, 16, 17 and 18 would amend the part of Clause 5 that is concerned with the types of activities that might be carried out under the current legitimate interest lawful ground, under Article 6(1)(f). Amendment 15 would prevent direct marketing organisations relying on the legitimate interest lawful ground under Article 6(1)(f) if the personal data being processed related to children. However, the age and vulnerability in general of data subjects is already an important factor for direct marketing organisations when considering whether the processing is justified. The ICO already provides specific guidance for controllers carrying out this balancing test in relation to children’s data. The fact that a data subject is a child, and the age of the child in question, will still be relevant factors to take into account in this process. For these reasons, the Government consider this amendment unnecessary.

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Moved by
19: Schedule 1, page 192, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 197
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on an amendment in the name of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch to leave out Clause 114. These Schedule 1 provisions would become redundant if Clause 114 is removed from the Bill.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 19 is consequential on my more substantive Clauses 114 and 115 stand part notices, which are also in this group. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his support.

These amendments all relate to the 150 or so pages of late amendments tabled in the Commons on Report and therefore not given adequate scrutiny before now. No real explanation has been given for why the Government felt it necessary to table the amendments in this way, and this group of amendments comes under the heading of so-called “democratic engagement”. Clause 113 extends a soft opt-in for direct mail marketing for furthering charitable or political objectives, while Clause 114 goes further and allows the Secretary of State to change the direct marketing rules through secondary legislation for the purpose of democratic engagement. This would allow the Government, in the run-up to an election, to switch off the direct mailing rules that apply to political parties.

Like many others, we are highly suspicious of the Government’s motives in introducing these amendments in the run-up to this election. Although we do not have a problem with a softer opt-in for direct mailing for charities, the application of Clause 114 to political parties gives politicians carte blanche to mine voters’ data given in good faith for completely different purposes. It would allow voters to be bombarded with calls, texts and personalised social media without their explicit consent.

When you consider these proposals in the context of other recent moves by the Government to make it harder for some people to vote and to vastly increase the amount of money that can be spent on campaigning in the run-up to an election, you have to wonder what the Government are up to, because these measures have certainly not been requested by Labour. In fact, these measures were not supported by the majority of respondents to the Government’s initial consultation, who wanted the existing rules upheld.

The Advertising Association has told us that it is concerned that switching off the rules could result in an increase in poor practice, such as political lobbying under the guise of research. This is apparently a practice known as “plugging”. It referred us to a report from the previous Information Commissioner on how political parties manage data protection, which provided key recommendations for how political parties could improve. These included providing clearer information about how data will be used and being more transparent about how voters are profiled and targeted via social media platforms. This is the direction our democratic engagement should be going in, with stronger and more honest rules that treat the electorate with respect, not watering down the rules that already exist.

When these proposals were challenged in the Commons on Report, the Minister, John Whittingdale, said:

“We have no immediate plans to use the regulation powers”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/11/23; col. 912.]

If that is the case, why do the Government not take the proposals off the table, go back to the drawing board by conducting a proper consultation and test whether there is any appetite for these changes? They should also involve the Information Commissioner at an early stage, as he has already gone on record to say that this is

“an area in which there are significant potential risks to people if any future policy is not implemented very carefully”.

Finally, if there are to be any changes, they should be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny and approval.

We believe that Clauses 114 and 115 are taking us in fundamentally the wrong direction, against the interests of the electorate. I look forward to the Minister’s response, but I give notice now that, unless the Government adopt a very different strategy on this issue, we will return to this on Report. I beg to move.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, with pleasure, as I agree with everything that she just said. I apologise for having failed to notice this in time to attach my name; I certainly would have done, if I had had the chance.

As the noble Baroness said, we are in an area of great concern for the level of democracy that we already have in our country. Downgrading it further is the last thing that we should be looking at doing. Last week, I was in the Chamber looking at the statutory instrument that saw a massive increase in the spending limits for the London mayoral and assembly elections and other mayoral elections—six weeks before they are held. This is a chance to spend an enormous amount of money; in reality, it is the chance for one party that has the money from donations from interesting and dubious sources, such as the £10 million, to bombard voters in clearly deeply dubious and concerning ways.

We see a great deal of concern about issues such as deepfakes, what might happen in the next general election, malicious actors and foreign actors potentially interfering in our elections. We have to make sure, however, that the main actors conduct elections fairly on the ground. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just set out, this potentially drives a cart and horses through that. As she said, these clauses did not get proper scrutiny in the Commons—as much as that ever happens. As I understand it, there is the potential for us to remove them entirely later, but I should like to ask the Minister some direct questions, to understand what the Government’s intentions are and how they understand the meaning of the clauses.

Perhaps no one would have any problems with these clauses if they were for campaigns to encourage people to register to vote, given that we do not have automatic voter registration, as so many other countries do. Would that be covered by these clauses? If someone were conducting a “get out the vote” campaign in a non-partisan way, simply saying, “Please go out and vote. The election is on this day. You will need to bring along your voter ID”, would it be covered by these clauses? What about an NGO campaigning to stop a proposed new nuclear power station, or a group campaigning for stronger regulations on pesticides or for the Government to take stronger action against ultra-processed food? How do those kinds of politics fit with Clauses 114 and 115? As they are currently written, I am not sure that it is clear what is covered.

There is cause for deep concern, because no justification has been made for these two clauses. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s responses.

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Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I would of course be very happy to continue to engage with the Electoral Commission.

We will continue to work with the ICO to make sure that it is familiar with the plans for commencement and that its plans for guidance fit into that. In parts of the UK where the voting age is 18 and the age of attainment is 16, it would be more difficult for candidates and parties to show that it was necessary or proportionate to process the personal data of 14 and 15 year-olds in reliance on the new lawful ground. In this context, creating an arbitrary distinction between children at or approaching voting age and adults may not be appropriate; in particular, many teenagers approaching voting age may be more politically engaged than some adults. These measures will give parties and candidates a clear lawful ground for engaging them in the process. Accepting this amendment would remove the benefits of greater ease of identification of a lawful ground for processing by elected representatives, candidates and registered political parties, which is designed to improve engagement with the electorate. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will withdraw her amendment.

I now come to the clause stand part notice that would remove Clause 114, which gives the Secretary of State a power to make exceptions to the direct marketing rules for communications sent for the purposes of democratic engagement. As Clause 115 defines terms for the purposes of Clause 114, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is also seeking for that clause to be removed. Under the current law, many of the rules applying to electronic communications sent for commercial marketing apply to messages sent by registered political parties, elected representatives and others for the purposes of democratic engagement. It is conceivable that, after considering the risks and benefits, a future Government might want to treat communications sent for the purposes of democratic engagement differently from commercial marketing. For example, in areas where voter turnout is particularly low or there is a need to increase engagement with the electoral process, a future Government might decide that the direct marketing rules should be modified. This clause stand part notice would remove that option.

We have incorporated several safeguards that must be met prior to regulations being laid under this clause. They include the Secretary of State having specific regard to the effect the exceptions could have on an individual’s privacy; a requirement to consult the Information Commissioner and other interested parties, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and the regulations being subject to parliamentary approval via the affirmative procedure.

For these reasons, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw or not press her amendments.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased that I have sparked such a lively debate. When I tabled these amendments, it was only me and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, so I thought, “This could be a bit sad, really”, but it has not been. Actually, it has been an excellent debate and we have identified some really good issues.

As a number of noble Lords said, the expression “democratic engagement” is weasel words: what is not to like about democratic engagement? We all like it. Only when you drill down into the proposals do you realise the traps that could befall us. As noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly said, we have to see this in the context of some of the other moves the Government are pursuing in trying to skew the electoral rules in their favour. I am not convinced that this is as saintly as the Government are trying to pretend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harding, is absolutely right: this is about trust. It is about us setting an example. Of all the things we can do on data protection that we have control over, we could at least show the electorate how things could be done, so that they realise that we, as politicians, understand how precious their data is and that we do not want to misuse it.

I hope we have all knocked on doors, and I must say that I have never had a problem engaging with the electorate, and actually they have never had a problem engaging with us. This is not filling a gap that anybody has identified. We are all out there and finding ways of communicating that, by and large, I would say the electorate finds perfectly acceptable. People talk to us, and they get the briefings through the door. That is what they expect an election campaign to be about. They do not expect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said, to go to see their MP about one thing and then suddenly find that they are being sent information about something completely different or that assumptions are being made about them which were never the intention when they gave the information in the first place. I just feel that there is something slightly seedy about all this. I am sorry that the Minister did not pick up a little more on our concerns about all this.

There are some practical things that I think it was helpful for us to have talked about, such as the Electoral Commission. I do not think that it has been involved up to now. I would like to know in more detail what its views are on all this. It is also important that we come back to the Information Commissioner and check in more detail what his view is on all this. It would be nice to have guidance, but I do not think that that will be enough to satisfy us in terms of how we proceed with these amendments.

The Minister ultimately has not explained why this has been introduced at this late stage. He is talking about this as though conceivably, in the future, a Government might want to adopt these rules. If that is the case, I respectfully say that we should come back at that time with a proper set of proposals that go right through the democratic process that we have here in Parliament, scrutinise it properly and make a decision then, rather than being bounced into something at a very late stage.

I have to say that I am deeply unhappy at what the Minister has said. I will obviously look at Hansard, but I may well want to return to this.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.
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Moved by
24: Clause 9, page 17, leave out line 33
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that the resources available to the controller could not be taken into account when determining whether a request by a data subject is vexatious or excessive.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 24, I will speak also to Amendment 26. I welcome the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

Together, these amendments go to the heart of questioning why the Government have found it necessary to change the grounds for the refusal of a subject access request from “manifestly unfounded” to “vexatious or excessive”. At the moment, Article 15 of the UK GDPR gives data subjects a right of access to find out what personal information an organisation hold on them, how it is using it and whether it is sharing it. This right of access is key to transparency and often underpins people’s ability to exercise other data rights and human rights; for example, it impacts on an individual’s right to privacy in Article 8 of the ECHR and their right to non-discrimination in Article 40 of the same.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has raised specific concerns about these proposals, arguing that subject access requests

“are a vital mechanism for data subjects to exercise their fundamental rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination”.

It argues that these rights will be even more vital as AI systems are rolled out, using personal information

“in ways that may be less than transparent to data subjects”.

So we must be suspicious as to why these changes are being made and whether they are likely to reduce the legitimate opportunities for data subjects to access their personal information.

This comes back to the mantra of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, regarding a number of the clauses we have dealt with and, I am sure, ones we have yet to deal with: why are these changes necessary? That is the question we pose as well. Is it simply to give greater clarity, as the Minister in the Commons claimed; or is it to lighten the burden on business—the so-called Brexit dividend—which would result in fewer applications being processed by data controllers? Perhaps the Minister could clarify whether data subject rights will be weakened by these changes.

In the Commons, the Minister, John Whittingdale, also argued that some data search requests are dispro-portionate when the information is of low importance or low relevance to the data subject. However, who has the right to make that decision? How is a data controller in a position to judge how important the information is to an individual? Can the Minister clarify whether the data controller would have the right to ask the data subject their reasons for requesting the information? This is not permitted under the current regime.

A number of stakeholders have argued that the new wording is too subjective and is open to abuse by data controllers who find responding to such requests, by their very nature, vexatious or excessive. For a busy data operator, any extra work could be seen as excessive. Although the Information Commissioner has said that he is clear how these words should be applied, he has also said that they are open to numerous interpretations. Therefore, there is a rather urgent need for the Information Commissioner to provide clear statutory guidance on the application of the terms, so that only truly disruptive requests can be rejected. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether this is the intention.

In the meantime, our Amendment 24 aims to remove the easy get-out clause for refusing a request by making it clear that the resources available to the controller should not, by itself, be a reason for rejecting an application for information. There is an inevitable cost involved in processing requests, and we need to ensure that it does not become the standard excuse for denying data subjects their rights. Our Amendment 26 would require the data controller to produce evidence of why a request is considered vexatious or excessive if it is being denied. It should not be possible to assert this as a reason without providing the data subject with a clear and justifiable explanation. Amendment 25, from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has a similar intent.

We remain concerned about the changes and the impact they will have on established data and human rights. As a number of stakeholders have argued, access to personal data and its uses underpins so many other rights that can be enforced by law. We should not give these rights away easily or without proper justification. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, but without further clarification in the Bill, I doubt whether our concerns will be assuaged. I beg to move.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, I will say a little bit about my intention to delete this clause altogether. Clause 9 significantly changes the data and privacy landscape, and for the worse. The Constitution Committee’s report on the Bill, published on 25 January, noted:

“Clause 9 amends Article 12 of the UK GDPR to broaden the basis for refusal”—

not for enhancing, but for refusal—

“of a data access request by providing more leeway to ‘data controllers’”.

In the world we live in, there is a huge imbalance of power between corporations, governments, public bodies and individuals. People must have a right to know what information is held about them, and how and when it is used. It is vital in order to check abuses and hold powerful elites to account.

The request for information can, at the moment, be wholly or partly denied, depending on the circumstances. It can be refused if it is considered to be manifestly unfounded or manifestly excessive. These phrases, “manifestly unfounded” and “manifestly excessive”, are fairly well understood. There is already a lot of case law on that. Clause 9, however, lowers the threshold for refusing information from “manifestly unfounded or excessive” to “vexatious or excessive”.

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Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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It would be very useful to have the Minister respond on that but, of course, as far as the impact assessment is concerned, a lot of this depends on the Government’s own estimates of what this Bill will produce—some of which are somewhat optimistic.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, can we join in with the request to see that information in a letter? We would like to see where these savings will be made and how much will, as noble Lords have said, be affected by the clauses that we are debating today.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has given me an idea: if an impact assessment has been made, clause by clause, it would be extremely interesting to know just where the Government believe the golden goose is.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sikka for rightly sharing the Constitution Committee’s concerns that, on the face of it, it looks like this is broadening the basis for refusal of data requests. He made an important point about the costs needing to be balanced against the social costs of refusing requests and the social impact that there may be, particularly if it is to do with employment or access to public services.

At the heart of this is that we need to ensure that data controllers are not making subjective judgments about whether a request is reasonable. The Minister says that the Information Commissioner will produce guidance. This is important, as that guidance will be absolutely crucial to making a judgment about whether we think this new regime will be credible. The Minister introduced a new phrase: that the intention is to support “well-intended” requests. Well, then we need to start defining “well intended”. I think we will chase these phrases round and round before we get some proper clarification; it would have helped if it had been in the Bill.

We have also gone round and round a bit on whether the changes in the wording weaken the rights of data subjects and whether they save money. The Minister talked about the 1% saving. I am fascinated by that because it does not seem very much; if it is not very much, why are we doing it? We come back to all of this again. I do not quite know what we are hoping to achieve here.

I will need to look at what the Minister said but we need a lot more clarification on this to be reassured that data subjects will not be refused more and more access to the information they want. I was disappointed to hear the Minister say that the controller can consider resources because that seems to me to be the ultimate get-out clause: if a controller can say that they cannot afford to do the data search, does not that mean that individual rights can be ignored just on that basis? That seems too easy; if somebody does not want to do the piece of work, that is an obvious get-out clause, so I remain concerned about the Minister’s response to that amendment as well.

We have explored a lot of this in a lot of different ways and we have had a good debate. I will look again at Hansard but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 24 withdrawn.
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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Harding and the others in this group. She has comprehensively explained their importance; they may not be philosophical, as she says, but they have practical importance. One of the most compelling reasons for us to act is as she so precisely described: if we do not, we create a situation in the real world that the Bill seeks to address in the digital world.

Although this is about direct marketing, allied to it are pressures on advertising revenues and the greater control that is being taken by the larger platforms in this area all the time. The effect that has on revenues means that this is an important issue that deserves a proper response from the Government. I hope that my noble friend the Minister acts in the way that we want by, if not accepting one of these amendments, coming forward with something from the Government.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I can also be relatively brief. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for their amendments, to many of which I have added my name.

At the heart of this debate is what constitutes a disproportionate or impossibility exemption for providing data to individuals when the data is not collected directly from data subjects. Amendments 29 to 33 provide further clarity on how exemptions on the grounds of disproportionate effort should be interpreted —for example, by taking into account whether there would be a limited impact on individuals, whether they would be caused any distress, what the exemptions were in the first place and whether the information had been made publicly available by a public body. All these provide some helpful context, which I hope the Minister will take on board.

I have also added my name to Amendments 27 and 28 from the noble Baroness, Lady Harding. They address the particular concerns about those using the open electoral register for direct marketing purposes. As the noble Baroness explained, the need for this amendment arises from the legal ruling that companies using the OER must first notify individuals at their postal addresses whenever their data is being used. As has been said, given that individuals already have an opt-out when they register on the electoral roll, it would seem unnecessary and impractical for companies using the register to follow up with individuals each time they want to access their data. These amendments seek to close that loophole and return the arrangements back to the previous incarnation, which seemed to work well.

All the amendments provide useful forms of words but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said, if the wording is not quite right, we hope that the Minister will help us to craft something that is right and that solves the problem. I hope that he agrees that there is a useful job of work to be done on this and that he provides some guidance on how to go about it.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lady Harding for moving this important amendment. I also thank the cosignatories—the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Black, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. As per my noble friend’s request, I acknowledge the importance of this measure and the difficulty of judging it quite right. It is a difficult balance and I will do my best to provide some reassurance, but I welcomed hearing the wise words of all those who spoke.

I turn first to the clarifying Amendments 27 and 32. I reassure my noble friend Lady Harding that, in my view, neither is necessary. Clause 11 amends the drafting of the list of cases when the exemption under Article 14(5) applies but the list closes with “or”, which makes it clear that you need to meet only one of the criteria listed in paragraph (5) to be exempt from the transparency requirements.

I turn now to Amendments 28 to 34, which collectively aim to expand the grounds of disproportionate effort to exempt controllers from providing certain information to individuals. The Government support the use of public data sources, such as the OER, which may be helpful for innovation and may have economic benefits. Sometimes, providing this information is simply not possible or is disproportionate. Existing exemptions apply when the data subject already has the information or in cases where personal data has been obtained from someone other than the data subject and it would be impossible to provide the information or disproportionate effort would be required to do so.

We must strike the right balance between supporting the use of these datasets and ensuring transparency for data subjects. We also want to be careful about protecting the integrity of the electoral register, open or closed, to ensure that it is used within the data subject’s reasonable expectations. The exemptions that apply when the data subject already has the information or when there would be a disproportionate effort in providing the information must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, particularly if personal data from public registers is to be combined with other sources of personal data to build a profile for direct marketing.

These amendments may infringe on transparency—a key principle in the data protection framework. The right to receive information about what is happening to your data is important for exercising other rights, such as the right to object. This could be seen as going beyond what individuals might expect to happen to their data.

The Government are not currently convinced that these amendments would be sufficient to prevent negative consequences to data subject rights and confidence in the open electoral register and other public registers, given the combination of data from various sources to build a profile—that was the subject of the tribunal case being referenced. Furthermore, the Government’s view is that there is no need to amend Article 14(6) explicitly to include the “reasonable expectation of the data subjects” as the drafting already includes reference to “appropriate safeguards”. This, in conjunction with the fairness principle, means that data controllers are already required to take this into account when applying the disproportionate effort exemption.

The above notwithstanding, the Government understand that the ICO may explore this question as part of its work on guidance in the future. That seems a better way of addressing this issue in the first instance, ensuring the right balance between the use of the open electoral register and the rights of data subjects. We will continue to work closely with the relevant stakeholders involved and monitor the situation.