HL Deb 25 October 1994 vol 558 cc518-20

131 After Clause 136, insert the following new clause:

("Confidential financial information

Offence of selling confidential financial information

  1. .— (1) It is an offence for a person ("the seller") to sell or offer to sell information as to the financial affairs of another person if—
    1. (a) the seller knows that the information has been or will be obtained dishonestly or by deception; and
    2. (b) the information is intended to be disclosed without the consent of such other person.
  2. (2) An advertisement or circular indicating that information of that description is or may be for sale is an offer to sell within the meaning of subsection (1).
  3. (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
    1. (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine or both;
    2. (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.")

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason:

131A Because the Commons consider it appropriate to make amendments to amendment No. 150 made by the Lords in lieu of this amendment..

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 131 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 131A. I shall speak also to Commons Amendments Nos. 150A to 150F, to Lords Amendment No. 150 and to Amendment No. 163, to which the Commons disagreed for their reason numbered 163A.

The views of this House on the procuring and selling of confidential financial information have had a telling impact. As your Lordships will recall, it was in response to concerns expressed here that the Government brought forward an amendment at Report stage dealing with the procurement of data in contravention of the Data Protection Act. This amendment was accepted by another place. The House of Commons also considered the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and approved by your Lordships' House, seeking to prohibit the advertising and sale of improperly obtained confidential financial information.

The Commons decided that they cannot agree with that amendment in the form in which it passed through your Lordships' House. But the Commons accepted the principal concern underlying it, by agreeing to government Amendments Nos. 150A to 150F. The new amendments go a long way to meeting the spirit of the original proposal. The amendments cover all personal information covered by the Data Protection Act, not just financial information, and to that extent they actually go further than the amendment approved earlier by your Lordships' House.

I hope that the House will feel able to support these amendments as an acceptable way forward both for those concerned about the freedom of press as well as for those concerned about the privacy of the individual. They are offered in that spirit.

My noble friend Lord Alexander, who had to leave the Chamber a few minutes ago, wished me to record his satisfaction with the Government's action. But I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, for the helpful and positive spirit in which he engaged in discussions with us about the force and effect of his amendment. He brought to our attention a matter on which it is clear many of your Lordships feel strongly. I commend the Motion to the House that your Lordships should not insist on Amendment No. 131, but should instead agree to Amendments Nos. 150A to 150F. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 131, to which the Commons disagreed for their reason numbered 131A.—(Baroness Blatch.)

Lord Brightman

My Lords, as I moved Amendment No. 131 at Report stage, perhaps I can add a brief word. Put shortly, Amendment No. 131, which the other place rejected, penalised the sale of confidential financial information whether or not computer held. Amendment No. 150C, introduced by the Government in the other place last Thursday, penalises the sale of confidential information of all types, provided it is computer held or a copy of computer-held material.

In my opinion it would be preferable to have retained both amendments, which is what the Opposition sought but failed to achieve in the other place. However, in all the circumstances it would plainly be wrong for me to ask your Lordships to insist on Amendment No. 131. I would accordingly invite your Lordships to be satisfied, as I am, for the time being, with Amendment No. 150C and the accompanying amendments. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness the Minister for allowing me to talk to her and to discuss the wording of her amendment at the drafting stage and for taking on board in her amendment much of the spirit of my amendment.

Lord Inchyra

My Lords, until the end of September I was Secretary General of the British Bankers Association and at times worked quite closely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, on his amendment. I also had the pleasure of meeting the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to discuss the government amendment. Although the noble Baroness has already reported the great pleasure of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, for this amendment, I should like on behalf of the banking community as a whole to say how warmly this amendment is welcomed and how much the interest and co-operation of both the noble Baroness, her predecessor, the noble Earl, and their officials have been appreciated.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, perhaps I may simply say, because I do not often say it, that on this occasion I wholly agree with the Government. I believe that the position that we are now in as approved by the other place strikes the proper balance between the right to free expression and the right to personal privacy. I very much hope that the same principles will apply to any future White Paper or legislation that the Government may have in mind on free speech and privacy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, this is not a party matter. It is an issue on which we had a free vote. I voted with the Government last time against the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and I am very disappointed to see the extent to which it has been widened by the removal of his original restriction to financial information. I fear that the restriction to computer-held information will still lead to a very considerable breach in civil liberty and in freedom of expression and I very much fear that this matter has not been adequately thought out and that it is one to which we shall have to return later on. However, as the noble and learned Lord, the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, are all agreed, it is clear that I shall not get any further by pursuing my opposition.

On Question, Motion agreed to.