Data Protection Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:43 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:43 pm, 13th November 2017

My Lords, I am completely discombobulated because the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has hidden himself on the far right-hand side of the Chamber, which makes it very difficult to engage with him—but I am sure we can get over it. He is also incredibly skilful to have got an amendment of this type into the Bill, because we were looking at this issue as well but could not find a way through. I would like a tutorial with him afterwards about how to get inside the interstices of this rather complicated legislative framework.

I must say that I have read his amendment several times and still cannot quite get it. I shall therefore use my usual strategy, which is to come in from an aerial height on a rarefied intellectual plane and ask the Minister to sum up in a way that I can understand—but under the radar I will ask for three things. First, we spent a lot of time on this in the Digital Economy Act. It is an important area and it is therefore important that we get it right. It would be quite helpful to the Committee, and would inform us for the future, if we could have a statement from the Dispatch Box or a letter saying where we have got to on age verification.

I hear rumours that the system envisaged at the time when the Digital Economy Act was going through has not been successful in practice. I think that we have heard from the Minister and others in earlier groups in relation to similar topics that in practice the envisaged age verification system is not being implemented as it stands. What is happening is that the process of trying to clear up this area and making sure that age verification is in place is actually being carried out on a voluntary basis by those who run credit cards and banking services for the companies involved and for whom a simple letter from the regulator, in this case the BBFC, is sufficient to cause them to cease to process any moneys to the sites concerned—and, as a result, that is what is happening in the pornography industry. That may or may not be a good thing—it is probably too early to say—but it was not the intention of the Bill. That was to have a system that was dependent on a proper age verification system and to make the process open and transparent. If it is different, we ought to know that before we start considering these areas.

My third point is that we would rely on Ministers to let us know whether it is necessary to return to this issue in the sense of the information that we hope will be provided. It is only at that level that we can respond carefully to what the noble Lord said—although I have no doubt that it is a very important area.