On Wednesday 9th May the Data Protection Bill was passed by the House of Commons.
Anyone who reads my monthly reports or posts on this website will know that I have been heavily involved in this Bill as it made its way through parliament as I am the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, who has overall responsibility for the Bill. I have worked closely with Matt Hancock and his team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to encourage support for the Bill over the last few months.
The Data Protection Bill will ensure the UK has one of the most robust, yet dynamic, set of data laws in the world. The UK is a world leader in data and has played a key role in developing data security and protection standards across Europe.
A core aim of the Bill is to give people more control over their data. The bill sets new rules for how an individual personal information and data (such as names, addresses, emails and credit card information) are used and stored by third parties including companies – who can incur hefty fines if they do not safeguard sensitive data in an appropriate manner.
I have been especially busy over the past few months assisting Ministers with the Data Protection Bill and I sat on the Public Bill Committee for it, which involved examining the legislation line by line during multiple three hour sessions.
This important piece of legislation will deliver real benefits across the country, giving people more power over their lives online, giving customers more confidence that their data is protected, supporting innovation in the digital age and helping businesses to compete and trade abroad.
I’ve received a lot of correspondence from constituents about some of the amendments especially the proposal to implement a second part of the Leveson inquiry and an amendment that could have meant newspapers paying both sides legal bills even in cases where a newspaper won the case.
I’m pleased that these amendments were rejected as I believe they would have seriously undermined press freedoms in the UK and restricted the press from carrying out high quality investigative journalism - such as revealing the Rotherham Child abuse scandal. Implementing Section 40 would have undermined the financial viability of local publications who are already struggling to compete with online platforms for readership and advertising revenues. Hundreds of local newspapers have already gone under in recent years and these amendments would have accelerated this further.
Reopening the Leveson Inquiry would have been costly and would also have ignored the substantial changes in press regulation that have taken place since the first Leveson Report was published. Recently the main regulator, IPSO, announced a compulsory, low cost arbitration scheme for its members which will make it easier for the public to resolve complains about press stories. It will cost under £100 to pursue this arbitration route and compensation of up to £60,000 can be awarded. This arbitration route can be in addition to any pursuit through the courts. While I have huge sympathy for anyone who has suffered from bad behaviour from the press, such as phone hacking, I don’t believe a second Leveson inquiry would resolve past offences nor be the answer to stopping future wrongdoing. The proper channel for investigating illegal behaviour such as phone hacking is through the courts. While I don’t always agree with what I read in the press about me or the government, I nevertheless hold press freedom in high regard and I believe the proposed amendments on the press would have undermined press freedoms to an unacceptable extent. Furthermore, we could hardly lecture other countries about freedom of speech and freedom of the press while simultaneously restricting press freedoms and imposing state regulation of the press at home. I could not therefore vote for these amendments.
The Data Protection Bill as it was passed last night is a significant piece of legislation that prepares Britain for the future as part of the digital age and I am proud to have been part of the team which secured its passage through the House.