CORONERS AND JUSTICE BILL – Second Reading 26 January 2009.
The Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw introduced the provisions relating to the Data Protection Act 1998. He said that “provided scrutiny and security 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 business, implement policies more effectively and detect fraud.”
The Secretary of State referred to the review of data protection and data sharing, commissioned by the Prime Minister in 2008 and carried out by Professor Mark Walport and the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas. He quoted from the Review that “there is a lack of clarity about what the law permits or prohibits”.
He went on to say that as a result “Clause 152 provides a new scheme for data sharing. Under these 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”.
Later on Mr Straw said that the proposals in the Bill originated in the independent review of data sharing (above), that the review had said that the existing regime causes confusion, and that the proposals in the Bill were intended to end some of that confusion.
[In the commentary on the Bill published on 22 January, the Information Commissioners Office said of the definition of data sharing in Clause 152, that “This legally convoluted definition will add to the considerable confusion surrounding information sharing…This definition, which goes against the principles of clarity which lies at the heart of better regulation, will pose a considerable and avoidable obstacle.” ]
Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice SoS) said in reply “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 in any case where a quite nebulous concept of public good decides to trump the private right.”
Then later he said “It beggars belief that the Government should be seeking a draconian transformation in our law to enable them to share private data about individuals. Those data will have been collected in confidence for specific purposes but their ability to be shared right across Government will be sanctioned merely by statutory instruments that will be unamendable in this house. The controversial nature of such a proposal cries out for stand-alone legislation, and I can tell the Secretary of State that we will seek to remove it from the Bill.
Mr David Heath (LibDem) intervened while Mr Grieve was speaking to say “Does he agree that, whatever the merits of a modest sharing of information, the proposal before us is so broad that it will have a quite staggering effect in undermining the principles of the Data protection Act 1998”.
Mr Grieve agreed.