Data Protection Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 14th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:30 pm, 14th May 2018

My Lords, Commons Amendments 53 and 207 would remove from the Bill matters inserted by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, with the intention of protecting value in certain personal data held by the state. I am grateful to the noble Lord for again taking the time to come to see me to discuss further the intention of his original amendments to the Bill. He has been very helpful and we are in full agreement that this is an important matter. Our meeting also gave me the opportunity to explain the Government’s plans to address the issues that he raised going forward.

In this new digital information age, big data is changing the world we live in. One of the key reasons for updating our data protection laws was to ensure that the law is fit for this new age, where an ever increasing amount of personal data is being processed. We have remained conscious throughout the drafting of the Bill of the need to protect individuals’ data while also ensuring that the new law does not stifle innovation in the way that we use personal data. The Government recognise that novel ways of processing personal data could bring great technological, economic and societal benefits to the UK.

Longitudinal health and care data, in particular, has the power to fundamentally transform our lives in truly positive ways. The Government are taking a considered approach to the policy in this area in order to ensure that we get this right and fully realise the potential benefits of using health data, while ensuring that individual privacy is respected. We want to examine how we can maximise the value of the data for the benefit of the NHS and those who use and pay for it.

While we are entirely sympathetic to the aim of the noble Lord’s amendments, Commons Amendments 53 and 207 would reverse them because we firmly believe they do not help us achieve the outcome we are all seeking. A statutory code of practice risks stifling innovation, placing public authorities in a straitjacket. In an area where the thinking is still developing and the rate of technological advancement is increasing, flexibility is essential.

Moreover, maintaining a register of “data of national significance” is likely to raise a number of security concerns. The NHS has been the victim of cyberattacks and we do not want to produce a road map to assist those who want to harm us. The Information Commissioner’s Office has also stated, quite rightly,

“that even establishing and maintaining a register would still require the Commissioner to make decisions in an area where she is not best placed to advise”,

because her core function is to protect information rights.

While not developing a code and a register, the Government are none the less taking active steps to ensure we grip the issue that the noble Lord raises. We are working to connect to make the most of the distributed data that exists in the health service, identifying three to five local exemplars of integrated digital health and care records and using these to develop digital innovation hubs to support the use of data for research purposes, including in partnership with industry.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working to explore how to maximise the benefits of health and care data for patients and taxpayers. This includes exploring the different approaches taken by a range of bodies and lessons to be learned from local experiences of working with the private sector. It will look specifically at how best to capture value from products developed using NHS data.

Although Commons Amendments 53 and 207 may appear disappointing to the noble Lord, I can reassure the House that they are made with the best intentions, and that the Government are making every effort to address the concern in the right way. I beg to move.