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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate briefly these seven statutory instruments. Furthermore, I congratulate the Minister on his introduction of this complex and important topic. As we heard in the initial debate, these orders form a part of the Government's goal of "bringing rights home". However, I find this to be an inadequate implementation of such an important goal.

The Minister has correctly stated that the Act and the resultant orders derive directly from the European directive on data protection, which became an Act in 1998. Of course that coincided with the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights--the lodestar or northern compass of the Government's commitment to "bringing rights home". However, as the Minister has already said, the Act touches on two sides of the same coin: the privacy of the individual in terms of the protection of individual rights; and the other side, which is the right of access by an individual to information compiled by other people about him or her.

Perhaps I may comment briefly on only two of the orders before us: the fourth, Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions, and the fifth, Designated Codes of Practice. I should like to give one or two examples of the points that concern me, but I am of course aware that we examined these topics in detail in our lengthy debates on the Bill which was enacted in 1998. None the less, the world has moved on and new variables have been introduced into these areas. If the Minister cannot respond to my points tonight--although I know that we cannot amend the orders--perhaps he will take them away for consideration and then write to me or hold a meeting.

I shall turn to the point about the media. When we consider the designated codes of practice, we must remember that they are not all apples but rather apples and a pear. We have the Code on Fairness and Privacy issued by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the ITC Programme Code, the Producers' Guidelines from the BBC and the Programme Code issued by the Radio Authority. Those are one side of the argument. However, the oddity--the pear--is the code of practice published by the Press Complaints Commission. I should like to remind the Minister that this is the one that is not buttressed by a statutory

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basis. The commission is merely a self-regulatory body which does not come in front of Parliament in the same way as do the other media. Print is not regulated by Parliament; it is self-regulated.

That, I believe, reaches the nub of the problem, one that attacks the privacy of individuals. The press has no statutory duty of accuracy, as have both radio and television, nor does it have a statutory duty to separate fact from opinion, which again is covered by successive broadcasting Acts since 1956. I therefore regret that this particular code of practice has no statutory basis. Therefore, for that point only it is with regret that, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I am not able formally to amend this code of practice which relates to the media.

My other point is somewhat different. It relates to access by the individual to information. Of course, the Minister referred to that in several of these orders. I pick out one merely to put forward my view on it; for example, the order which deals with human fertilisation and embryology information and that pertaining to adoption and parental order records. I believe that the miscellaneous subject access exemptions order most likely conflicts with the rights of the child contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, under that convention children have absolute and unrestricted access rights to their natural parents. It is very difficult to have access to one's father if one is not allowed to know who he is. Many of the children who were conceived in unusual circumstances by scientific methods, rather than natural human methods, have now reached the age of 21 or 22--that is two decades ago. I believe that almost the first thing they try to do is to find out who their father is. I ask the Minister to consider that also. Does this order conflict with the rights of the child now that the Government have imported into legislation the European Convention on Human Rights?

The conventions of this House prohibit any amendment of these orders, but there is continuing movement in the European Parliament and in the European Commission on the topic of the freedom of individuals to have access to information about them and also protection of individuals from the unacceptable assaults on their integrity, perhaps by printed media and in other ways. Therefore, apart from the occasion of these orders, I hope that there will be another opportunity soon to debate these important, major topics and that the Minister will be kind enough to take those thoughts home with him to discuss them while we accept these orders.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for her considered reflection on the orders. I am grateful also to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for his considered comments. I can be of some help both to the noble Baroness and the noble Viscount this evening, but, I confess, perhaps not as helpful as I should like to be.

I turn, first, to the Press Complaints Commission codes. I believe that I can put the noble Lord's mind at rest that the Government have absolutely no plans to change the status of the Press Complaints Commission

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at this time. The order in itself does nothing to qualify the independence of the Press Complaints Commission. Both contributors to the discussion over these codes have drawn on the different position that the commission occupies within the overall codes that we are discussing. We fully recognise that, and we should be foolish to do otherwise.

However, I believe that in a sense there is regulation through the courts and they can decide whether a journalist claiming compliance with the code in connection with the exemption under Section 32 of the 1998 Act, does so legitimately. I believe that that is an important consideration. However, I believe that some form of regulation exists, perhaps not as some Members of your Lordships' House would expect or desire. But it is important to keep in mind that that element of regulation exists.

I believe that the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, about this issue being two sides of the same coin--a reflection on what I said myself--was completely right when she addressed the question of access to information relating to human fertilisation and adoption records. I believe that there is a balance to be struck. We try to match exactly that balance with these codes. We have had to consider carefully the harm that might be done in releasing certain information to individuals about their personal circumstances. That thread runs through the orders. That brings us to the sharpest point for this particular set of orders. There should be opportunity for more debate on what is an important matter of public concern. I shall be happy to have further discussions with the noble Baroness who rightly draws our attention to the way in which the law is moving in Europe and some of the human rights considerations.

We should not be afraid of human rights considerations. We must see them as an important challenge and as an important part of the checks and balances which we have within our system. We must educate ourselves about what they may mean in those circumstances. No doubt we shall do that in the future.

If there is a conflict with the rights of the child convention--and we believe that to be unlikely--that may stem only from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The order merely preserves the exemption in the Act. That is extremely important.

Having said that, I hope that the House will approve the orders.

10 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I ask him briefly to amplify one matter. As I understand it, the order relating to the Press Complaints Commission means that the data controller, if he does not follow the code of practice, may be in a position where he breaks the rules concerning data protection and therefore breaks the law.

That is entirely reasonable in relation to all the other codes of practice because they relate to statutory bodies. However, the point I make is--and this was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson--that

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the Press Complaints Commission is an entirely independent body. Therefore, it may one day decide to change its rules and codes. There is nothing that the Government can do about that. Therefore, I ask the Minister to assure us that the Government will monitor that code of practice, look at it carefully and discuss with the Press Complaints Commission whether it intends to make any changes. If the Government found any changes to be unacceptable, they could then come to Parliament and change the orders accordingly. Perhaps the Minister will give me an assurance that the Government will monitor that process.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. Perhaps I was not sufficiently reassuring earlier. The order designates a specific edition of the code which goes to the heart of the point

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made by the noble Viscount. It relates to the code published in December 1997. We shall of course continue to monitor the situation and we shall consult, as we do on these matters, the Press Complaints Commission. If it changes the code, a fresh designation will be required for the new edition. Therefore, there will have to be further consultation in any event. We shall consider any request which the commission may make for designation of the code in consultation with the Data Protection Commissioner. I hope that that gives the noble Viscount the satisfaction which he seeks and clarifies the situation. As I said, we recognise the independence and the value of the independence which the Press Complaints Commission has. I commend the orders to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at four minutes past ten o'clock.

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