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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour 7:30 pm, 13th November 2017

My Lords, having restrained myself for four and a half hours and having done a huge amount of work in the Library, I will, despite the amendment having been given only a few minutes, detain your Lordships for a few more moments. This is a massive issue.

As a member of the AI committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I have been struggling to find analogies for just how serious the world we are moving into is becoming. What I have come up with, with the help of the Library, is road safety. I am going to talk about ethics. Probably the most well-known and successful ethicist in your Lordships’ Chamber is the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. Last week, when discussing what this Bill is really all about, she put her finger on it. She asked of the Minister:

“Is he suggesting that the aim should be to adapt children to the realities of the online world and the internet service providers, rather than to adapt the providers to the needs of children?”.—[Official Report, 6/11/17; col. 1606.]

This seems to be fundamental to the issue. Because I needed an analogy, I started looking into road safety, and found it very interesting and—if noble Lords will give me a couple of minutes—rather instructive.

In 1929, a royal commission met, having been required to urgently legislate on road safety because of the “slaughter” that was occurring on the roads. I will not take up your Lordships’ time reading out all the information that I got from the Library, but I have it all here. Parliament legislated in 1930, pretty ineffectively, and again in 1932, again ineffectively. In 1934, your Lordships’ House passed a Bill on road safety, which was rejected in another place because of the objections of lobbyists from the automobile industry, the oil industry and the insurance industry. Parliament tried again in 1938, and once again failed.

Here, I must read something extraordinary. Lord Cecil of Chelwood, a Conservative Peer, said at the end of the debate on the report regarding the legislation:

“I believe future ages will regard with consternation the complacency, the indifference with which this slaughter and mutilation on the roads is now regarded. I observe with great interest that in the final paragraph of the Report the members of the Committee themselves say that they are puzzled and shocked … by the complacency with which this matter is regarded”.—[Official Report, 3/5/1939; col. 903.]

Thousands of people were being killed. I put it to the House that if we get this Bill wrong, a lot of people will be hurt; if we get it right, we may save lives. That is how important it is.

I am standing here today because of a man named Ralph Nader. Through an extraordinary series of events in the 1960s, Ralph Nader was able to impose on the American automobile industry, against its wishes, seatbelts. Six years ago in Italy, my life was saved by the combination of a seatbelt and an airbag, so I take this issue pretty seriously. Look at what has happened since 1990 to the number of lives saved by the utilisation of technology that existed 20, 30 and 40 years prior to that—it is extraordinary. In 1930, almost 8,000 people were killed on the roads of Britain, with one million registered vehicles on the road. Last year, fewer than 2,000 people were killed, with 35 million registered vehicles on the road. That is because, at last, technology was brought to bear—against the wishes of the industry lobbyists.

We must understand that there are those who would like this Data Protection Bill to be weak. It is our duty to ourselves and to future generations to make it extremely tough and to not allow ourselves to be undermined by the views of the many sectors of industry that do not share our values.