2 Lord McNally debates involving the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I very much welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford. As one who entered this House in his early 50s, I can recommend that coming in here, just as the mid-life crisis starts to bite, and being, as I was then, Young Tom again, is a great boost to the morale.

I associate myself with the advice given by the right reverent prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. At the end of the recent passage of the Online Safety Bill, there was general thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the Minister guiding the Bill safely through the Lords, for his willingness to listen to argument and to amend where necessary. I fear that the noble Viscount will hit some choppy water in this House unless he adopts a similar attitude, and he should certainly take the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, very seriously concerning children’s data rights.

The Government’s declared intention of reducing burdens on organisations while maintaining high data protection standards has met with scepticism and outright criticism from a wide range of industry bodies, civil society organisations and individuals with expertise in this area. As has been said, the Official Opposition in the other place asked that the Bill be recommitted to a Public Bill Committee for further scrutiny, but this was refused. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, indicated, this has put further onus on this House to make sure there is time to listen to and examine the wide range of criticisms and amendments seeking to improve the Bill.

In 2010, I became Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice. Among my responsibilities was the ICO and the early negotiations on what became the GDPR. One of my first roles was to go to a facility south of the river to look at our skills in this area. After looking at a number of things, I asked the government official who was showing me the facility whether there were any human rights or privacy issues involved. He said, “Oh no, sir. Tesco knows more about you than we do”. There is a certain profligacy by the individual about their data, along with real concern about their privacy. It is riding those two horses at once that is going to be the challenge of this Bill. I oppose the Bill with an eye to ensuring, like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the ICO is well served by this legislation and continues in setting standards and protecting individuals.

Prior to Brexit, I was on one of your Lordship’s sub-committees, where we constantly pressed the Ministers about data adequacy with the EU on our departure. The answers then were very much along the lines of, “Well, it’ll be alright on the night”. I hope that the Minister will again reassure us in his wind up that the data protection legislation in the Bill clarifies the law without deviating from the principles set out in GDPR. The UK’s data adequacy status, granted by the European Commission, is important, and we do not want to see that jeopardised in pursuit of some mythical benefits from Brexit.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Allan will not be joining us for the rest of this; I would have valued his contribution. But I will keep an eye on it, as a number of other colleagues have indicated.

More widely, one of the problems with this Bill is that its scale and how it has been dealt with by the Government in its preparation, false starts and in the other place mean that we are going to legislate for myriad issues, each of which are of importance to the sector, the individual concerned or society and will require our full due care and attention. For example, new powers in Clause 87 and 88, which allow the Secretary of State to offer an exemption for direct marketing provisions used for the purpose of democratic engagement, may invite abuse. I put that mildly. This morning’s FT contains an article raising precisely these fears and this issue must be examined in detail during the passage of the Bill.

One issue that I was going to deal with in detail was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kamall. The Minister might, even at this early stage in the Bill’s progress, provide clarification about the use of the open electoral register for direct marketing purposes. This issue has also been raised with me by the Data & Marketing Association. As the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, explained, there are big concerns in the market about what companies can do with personal data from the open electoral register and this needs to be resolved.

Unfortunately, considerable market uncertainty has been caused by the enforcement notice by the ICO, which has already been referred to. In the light of all this legal and market uncertainty, and given that this Bill is before the House, the best and most timely option is to address the issue in the Bill and I urge the Government to consider what can be done on this. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, and other noble Lords could discuss a joint amendment.

That is just one example of the issues in the Bill that will require detailed examination and close attention. Much of it will be practical and will involve building a framework that brings within it the framework of law and regulation to keep pace with the new technologies that are now part of the digital and data revolution. In this, the impact of AI will cast a long shadow over our deliberations, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Young, and others have made clear.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans referred to the benefits of the wide-ranging briefings that we received prior to today’s debate. Let me assure the authors that none of them will go to waste as we move into Committee. As well as dealing with the mundane and the practical, we have to take seriously the advice contained in one briefing, which read:

“At a time of advancing AI-driven surveillance, and when public concerns over measures such as facial recognition technology are heightened, removing oversight and accountability could have serious implications for public trust in policing”.

This warning could apply to almost any sector, service or industry covered by the Bill. Two quotes leap out to me from the excellent Lords Library briefing on the Bill, which has been referred to. One comes from the Information Commissioner, who calls for a regulator that is “trusted, fair and independent”, and the other comes from techUK, which calls for a Bill that will

“help spur competition and innovation in the market, whilst empowering consumers and delivering better outcomes”.

Riding those two horses at once is now the task before us.

King’s Speech

Lord McNally Excerpts
Tuesday 14th November 2023

(8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, although I shall not try to match his skills as a barista. I was very interested but slightly disappointed in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell—not that it was not, as always, a well-informed and pertinent speech, but I had hoped that she would speak about the Media Bill. We cannot fill in everything, I know, but I put it to her that both her experience in her committee and her past experience will make her a powerful influence in this House in getting the Media Bill right; I look forward to working with her on that Bill.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I did welcome the Media Bill. I did not want to go into detail because there is not time to talk about every Bill that is relevant to the work of the committee, but I can assure him that I will definitely play a part in the passage of that Bill.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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I never doubted it. One thing that has come up already is that these chances do not come along every day. I was on the 2003 media Bill, which has been mentioned, 20 years ago. No matter how eager Ministers may be later to tweet their handiwork, government business managers are not enthusiastic about giving more time to a matter that they think Parliament has got done and dusted, so we have to get this Media Bill right.

I am particularly interested in making sure that our public service broadcasters are well provided for—as the Minister said—in that Bill. We are very lucky in that little cluster of public service broadcasters which play such an important role. In a way, ITV retains many of its old regional strengths from its federation origins. Although it was not always realised at the time, Channel 4 gave an immense boost to our independent production; thank goodness we saved Channel 4 from privatisation.

For me, the BBC has always been the iron pole around which we build the credibility of our public service broadcasting. One thing that could be done, even at this late stage in the Parliament, is to end the endless war against the BBC from the Conservative Benches. It is a national asset. I always think of a comment by one of the great titans of American broadcasting when Reagan was deregulating public service broadcasting in the United States: “We will only know what we have lost once it’s gone.” That is one of the things that still motivate me to come to this House: the determination that we pass on to the next generation a BBC that is, as it is today, the envy of the world.

The other factor in the media section is the repeal of Section 40. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Black, in his place. I am quite sure that he has the same speech that he has been delivering for 20 years, but it is none the worse for repetition. We will come to that. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the letter sent today to Members from the Press Recognition Panel, which sets out the facts about Section 40. It is interesting that the politicians and the newspapers that have reported on the repeal of Section 40 have all presented it as a draconian issue whereby the winner has to pay both sides in a loss. They always omit to say that this would never apply if only our press would follow what was promised in Leveson and go through a proper media regulator. That offer is still on the table.

If the noble Lord, Lord Black, who has influence in these areas, can exert some of it, it is still possible to implement Leveson in full. That would provide a much healthier approach. We should not be waiting for princes of the blood royal and those enemies of the people, the judges, to regulate our press. That regulation should come from an industry confident enough to set up a proper regulator. On the repeal of Section 40, and if the Minister wants the background, I was the Minister in the Lords at that time. The Foreign Secretary will tell him what a double-dealing stab in the back it was by the Conservatives once they were free of the moderating hand of the Liberal Democrats and free to abandon Section 40.

The only other thing I will mention is that as a lifetime football lover and vice-president of St Albans City Football Club—a declaration of interest—I think this is a chance to get our national game into good order. I look forward to the words of my noble friend Lord Addington. Before him came David Mellor, Tracey Crouch and now the Fair Game campaign—all encouragement for us to get it right.