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European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:55 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Kidron Baroness Kidron Crossbench 9:55 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, I shall focus my remarks on a single piece of EU legislation. The EU General Data Protection Regulation, expected to become UK law in May 2018, imposes new responsibilities on controllers and processors of personal data. It affects every single one of us as it provides an essential arrangement with vast numbers of organisations and businesses, most notably the global companies of Silicon Valley, that is the very basis upon which our personal data are gathered, stored and sold. It is an arrangement that no individual nation state has achieved.

At the heart of the GDPR is the demand that the terms and conditions that sweep up all rights, all privacy and all ownership of our every move and transaction be transparent secure and fair. It is immensely powerful information, fundamental to every transaction we make, which can be used to work out what brand of sneakers we like but can also assess our suitability for employment, our propensity to addiction, our sexuality, our mental and physical health and our political leanings. It can affect our finances, careers, reputations, arrangements for our health, insurance and so on.

The GDPR introduces the requirement of informed consent, provides more stringent definitions and standards of security, sharing and transporting of personal data and preserves some of the rights we currently give away when we habitually tick the “agree” box without reading. It seems to me a significant disaster not to be alongside the bull-headed bureaucrats at the EU as they put checks and balances on the world’s most powerful companies, who are, after all, based nowhere.

While the GDPR is only one of an unfathomable number of agreements that will need attending to, it provides a metaphor. By being asked to trigger Article 50 we are being asked to sign up blindly to terms and conditions we have no idea about. This is not informed consent. Just as the GDPR insists that it is undemocratic and immoral to be denied the right to understand what we are giving away, triggering Article 50 without provision to opt out of the actual terms of Brexit, which will determine every aspect of our future, seems equally immoral and undemocratic. Informed consent is a concept that we use in many arrangements and all areas of life, and it is now considered that consent which is not informed consent is no consent at all—it is coercion. Just as the global corporations of Silicon Valley need to be checked, so too do the Government.

The result of the plebiscite is clear on one binary question only: there is no detail on the face of the Bill. The priorities stipulated in the White Paper manage simultaneously to be too broad and to fail to cover whole sectors. There is nothing about cost and risk, and it includes a fantasy assessment of how the UK fits into the global landscape. Most importantly, the White Paper offers no impediment to accepting a lousy deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said earlier in her excellent speech, this document would fail the “treating customers fairly” test. You could not sell someone a washing machine, let alone a pension on this basis.

It is not patronising to say that the electorate did not know what they were voting for: none of us do. It is not yet decided. In this House, we have one power only: to ask the Government to think again. So I ask the Government to think again and make certain that they have the informed consent of UK citizens on the exact terms and conditions of exit from the EU, even if that means a second referendum is a necessity.