Baroness Harding of Winscombe Portrait Baroness Harding of Winscombe (Con)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 27 in my name, I will also express my support for Amendments 28 to 34. I thank my noble friend Lord Black, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for supporting and signing a number of these amendments.

This is quite a specific issue compared to the matters of high policy that we have been debating this afternoon. There is a specific threat to the continuing ability of companies to use the open electoral register for marketing purposes without undue burdens. Some 37% of registered voters choose not to opt out of their data being used for direct marketing via the open electoral register, so quite a significant proportion of the population openly agrees that that data can be used for direct marketing. It is an essential resource for accurate postal addresses and for organisations such as CACI—I suspect that a number of us speaking have been briefed by it; I thank it for its briefing—and it has been used for more than 40 years without detriment to consumers and with citizens’ full knowledge. The very fact that 63% of people on the electoral register have opted out tells you that this is a conscious choice that people have knowingly made.

Why is it in doubt? A recent First-tier Tribunal ruling in a legal case stated, by implication, that every company using open electoral register data must, by 20 May 2024, notify individuals at their postal addresses whenever their data on the electoral register is used and states that cost cannot be considered “dispro-portionate effort”. That means that organisations that are using the electoral roll would need to contact 24.2 million individuals between now and the middle of May, making it completely practically and financially unviable to use the electoral register at scale.

This group of amendments to Clause 11 aims to address this issue. I fully acknowledge that we have tried to hit the target with a number of shots in this group, and I encourage the Minister, first, to acknowledge that he recognises that this is a real problem that the Bill should be able to address and, secondly, if the wording in individual amendments is not effective or has some unintended consequences that we have missed, I encourage him to respond appropriately.

To be clear, the amendments provide legal certainty about the use of the open electoral register without compromising on any aspect of the data privacy of UK citizens or risking data adequacy. The amendments specify that companies are exempt from the requirement to provide individuals with information in cases where their personal data has not been obtained from them directly if that data was obtained from the open electoral register. They provide further clarification of what constitutes “disproportionate effort” under new paragraph (e) in Article 14(5) of the GDPR. These additional criteria include the effort and cost of compliance, the damage and distress caused to the data subjects and the reasonable expectation of the data subjects, which the percentage of people not opting out shows.

Why is this a problem that we need to fix? First, if we do not fix this, we might create in the physical world the very problem that parts of the Bill are trying to address in the digital world: the bombarding of people with lots of information that they do not want to receive, lots of letters telling us that a company is using the electoral roll that we gave it permission to use in the first place. It will also inadvertently give more power to social media companies for targeting because it will make physical direct marketing much harder to target, so SMEs will be forced into a pretty oligopolistic market for social media targeting. Finally, it will mean that we lose jobs and reduce productivity at a time when we are trying to do the opposite.

This is quite a simple issue and there is cross-party support. It is not an issue of great philosophical import, but for the companies in this space, it is very real, and for the people working in this industry, it is about their jobs. Inch by inch, we need to look at things that improve productivity rather than actively destroy it, even when people have agreed to it. With that, I note the hour and I beg to move.

Lord Black of Brentwood Portrait Lord Black of Brentwood (Con)
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My Lords, I support Amendments 27 to 34, tabled variously by my noble friend Lady Harding, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to which I have added my name. As this is the first time I have spoken in Committee, I declare my interests as deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group and president of the Institute of Promotional Marketing and note my other declarations in the register.

The direct marketing industry is right at the heart of the data-driven economy, which is crucial not just to the future of the media and communications industries but to the whole basis of the creative economy, which will power economic growth into the future. The industry has quite rightly welcomed the Bill, which provides a long-term framework for economic growth as well as protecting customers.

However, there is one area of great significance, as my noble friend Lady Harding has just eloquently set out, on which this Bill needs to provide clarity and certainty going forward, namely, the use of the open electoral register. That register is an essential resource for a huge number of businesses and brands, as well as many public services, as they try to build new audiences. As we have heard, it is now in doubt because of a recent legal ruling that could, as my noble friend said, lead to people being bombarded with letters telling them that their data on the OER has been used. That is wholly disproportionate and is not in the interests of the marketing and communications industry or customers.

These sensible amendments would simply confirm the status quo that has worked well for so long. They address the issue by providing legal certainty around the use of the OER. I believe they do so in a proportionate manner that does not in any way compromise any aspect of the data privacy of UK citizens. I urge the Minister carefully to consider these amendments. As my noble friend said, there are considerable consequences of not acting for the creative economy, jobs in direct marketing, consumers, the environment and small businesses.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, and the noble Lord, Lord Black, for doing all the heavy lifting on these amendments. I of course support them having put forward my own amendments. It is just the luck of the draw that the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, put forward her amendment along with all the others. I have very little to say in this case, and just echo what the noble Lord, Lord Black, said about the fact that the open electoral register has played an important part in the direct marketing, data-driven economy, as it is described. It is particularly interesting that he mentioned the creative industries as well.

The First-tier Tribunal precedent could impact on other public sources of data, including the register of companies, the register of judgments, orders and fines, the land register and the food standards agency register. It could have quite far-reaching implications unless we manage to resolve the issue. There is a very tight timescale. The First-tier Tribunal’s ruling means that companies must notify those on the electoral register by 20 May or be at risk of breaching the law. This is really the best route for trying to resolve the issue. Secondly, the First-tier Tribunal’s ruling states that costs cannot be considered as disproportionate effort. That is why these amendments explicitly refer to that. This is no trivial matter. It is a serious area that needs curing by this Bill, which is a good opportunity to do so.

I shall speak briefly to Clause 11 as a whole standing part. That may seem a bit paradoxical, but it is designed to address issues arising in Article 13, not Article 14. Article 13 of the UK GDPR requires controllers, where they intend to process data that was collected directly from data subjects—as opposed to Article 14 obligations, which apply to personal data not obtained from the data subject—for a new purpose, to inform data subjects of various matters to the extent necessary,

“to ensure fair and transparent processing”.

Clause 11(1) removes this obligation for certain purposes where it would require disproportionate effort. The obligation is already qualified to what is necessary to make processing fair and transparent, the fundamental requirements of the GDPR. If, in these circumstances, processing cannot be made fair and transparent without disproportionate effort, then it should not take place. Clause 11(1) would sidestep the requirement and allow unfair, untransparent processing to go ahead for personal data that the data controllers had themselves collected. Perhaps I should have tabled a rather more targeted amendment, but I hope that noble Lords get the point of the difference between this in terms of Article 13 and Article 14.