'(7) Nothing in this section authorises the making of a disclosure which contravenes the Data Protection Act 1998 (c.29).
(7A) Notwithstanding subsection (7), any disclosure or processing of information under subsection (1) for the purposes set out in subsection (2) in performance of functions referred to in section 13 shall be deemed to be necessary to be processed for the exercise of any such functions for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 1998, in particular Section 35 (disclosures required by law or made in connection with legal proceedings etc) and schedules 1 (data protection principles), 2 (conditions relevant for the purposes of the first principle: Processing of any personal data) and 3 (conditions relevant for the purposes of the first principle: Processing of sensitive personal data) of that Act'.
I am a signatory to amendment No. 23, which deals with the Data Protection Act, but I shall be happy to let the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham make the points necessary to introduce it.
Amendment No. 53 deals with a narrow, but important issue: the position of Members of this House in dealing with constituents who find themselves in a court procedure. It is a great shame—I mean no disrespect whatever to the Minister—that the Solicitor-General is not here for this part of the Bill. She is very much apprised of these issues, not least because one of the starting points for my thoughts on the process was the situation that arose in a case presided over by Mr. Justice Mumby, in
which the Solicitor-General's sister was involved, when documents were passed to the Solicitor-General and the Minister for Children. I know that the right hon. Lady is aware of the problem that arose—she became aware for a variety of reasons, not least because she made a statement about it to the House—but I understand that serious consideration has been given in the Law Officers' Departments, in conjunction with that of the Leader of the House, as to how the difficulty can be circumvented.
It may be extraordinary to have to put into law a provision to allow Members of Parliament to do their work, but what emerged from that case is that there is an issue about Members of Parliament having dealings with their constituents under the circumstances involved. That stems from the courts' interpretation of the Administration of Justice Act 1960. It was clearly held by Mr. Justice Mumby that to share a document relating to an individual with a Member of Parliament—in that case, with a Minister—constituted contempt of court. It has been extrapolated from that that anybody involved in a case, particularly a family court case, who shared their circumstances with their own Member of Parliament would or could be in contempt of court. That is simply not on. There must be a way for our constituents to discuss such matters with us without finding themselves in jeopardy from the courts.
In response to questions, the Leader of the House acknowledged the need for urgent action to put the position back to where we thought it had been. Since then, however, we have heard nothing. I do not think that I am divulging any confidences in saying that the matter has also been addressed, albeit superficially, by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, of which I am a member, because there is concern about the issues of privilege involved.
One issue is the use of anonymised information for the purposes of developing policy, and that is important. Until now, it has always been assumed that the use of anonymised reports is okay, even when a case is still in progress. It now appears that that is not the case.
An individual may have particular points to raise with their Member of Parliament, although not for the purposes of intervening in the case. As we all know, that would be wrong; it is not for Members of Parliament to intervene in a court case. However, the individual's point may raise a public policy issue, which a Member of Parliament, as an assiduous constituency Member, may wish to raise in the House, with Ministers or in some other context.
It is important for Members to know, on occasion, what is happening in the courts, because that might affect the matters that we consider in a Committee such as this. It may well be that this very day, there are court cases that would impact on the provisions that we are bringing forward. If that were the case, I would hope that there would be provision for somebody to take the matter to their Member of Parliament—their own MP; I did not mean an MP in a generic sense—and for it to be considered. However, as I understand the state of the law at the moment, that would constitute a contempt of court.
My amendment would not deal specifically with the wider spectrum of issues that I raise; I am using it as an opportunity to raise a wider issue on behalf of a large number of MPs who have expressed concern. It relates only to the functions of the commission. It would establish firmly that the commissioner, although he will not normal deal with individual cases, would nevertheless be entirely in order, with the permission of the individual concerned, in sharing the information with a Member of Parliament, if more general issues were raised of which we ought to be aware and which we ought to be able to discuss.
I hope that, because of my use of the device of the amendment, the Minister will tell us what progress the Government have made in dealing with the issue, when we are likely to see a statute, if one is necessary to correct the position, and what opportunities there are for making legislative changes. I understand that legislation may well be needed to make a better situation—
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.