Amendment 43

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 5:00 pm, 14th September 2020

My Lords, I want to address my remarks to Amendments 43 and 74 in the names of my noble friends. As my noble friend Lady Ludford has so eloquently outlined, the exemption from data protection for migrants is unjustifiable. Indeed, as she said, the suggestion that we might even withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights only adds to the alarm that we should feel about that.

This issue goes back some way, as my noble friend Lady Ludford said. During the passage of the Data Protection Bill through Parliament, my noble friend Lady Hamwee raised this issue and sought to amend the Bill, sadly unsuccessfully at that time. She asked the Government to justify the exemption, but from my reading of Hansard, they either could not or would not. She also asked for reassurance from the Minister —and I believe it was the same Minister, the noble Baroness—but, sadly, she did not seem to get much. In fact, the Minister told the House that a decision on whether to apply the exemption could be exercised not only by the Home Office but by contractors who worked for the Home Office. She said that it would apply not only to migrants but to British citizens who supported the applications of migrants. The one piece of assurance that the Minister gave was that the exemption would be used in only a very small number of cases. She was quite explicit about that, so I hope that in her reply, the Minister will tell us how many times the exemption has been applied and, if not, whether she will undertake to write to us.

The truth is that the exemption gives huge discretion to the Home Office and its contractors to determine when access to data can be denied. The Government say that it would not be abused. That might be fine if we had not had the events of Windrush, which my noble friend Lord Dholakia referred to, and if we really felt that we could trust the Home Office and its contractors in this era of the hostile environment. However, in these circumstances it is very hard to do so. We have no way of knowing how the exemption is being applied, unless the Minister is able to tell us a bit more about that. Therefore, this is a matter of significant concern to us. As my noble friends have noted, we are seeking to remove the exemption from EEA nationals. I hope that we will not hear from the Minister that that is in some way discriminatory, as we want it removed from everybody.

Finally, and briefly, on Amendment 74, as my noble friend Lady Ludford said, we really want to hear an assurance from the Minister on this matter that will appear in Hansard.