HC Deb 18 March 2004 vol 419 cc422-3W
Mr. Chope

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) if he will make it his policy to bring forward amendments to the Data Protection Act 1998(a) to prevent the Information Commissioner from profiting from the actions of bogus collectors and (b) to enable the Information Commissioner to take legal action against unauthorised collections; [159790]

(2) pursuant to his answers of 3 March 2004, references 157599 and 157589, how many of the successful legal actions were (a) civil and (b) criminal; how many were initiated by (i) the Office of Fair Trading, (ii) trading standards officers and (iii) the police; and in respect of each, what the penalties were; [159800]

(3) for what reasons it is not possible for the Commissioner to assess from documentation submitted through bogus agencies whether a notification is mandatory or voluntary; and if he will make it his policy that such ambiguous documentation is returned for clarification prior to registration. [159818]

Mr. Lammy

The Commissioner does not profit from the actions of bogus collectors. His office is funded by government grant. It is a requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998 that all fees and other sums received by him in the exercise of his functions under the Act shall be paid to the Secretary of State, who in turn is required to pay them into the Consolidated Fund.

There are no current plans to amend the 1998 Act to enable the Commissioner to take legal action against unauthorised collectors, but the matter will be kept under review. The prosecuting authority depends on the type of legal action pursued and can be the Office of Fair Trading, Local Trading Standards Department or the Police.

I understand that there have to date been five successful legal actions initiated against these companies: four civil and one criminal. In the civil actions, the Office of Fair Trading has obtained final injunctions against companies and individuals under the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations. It has also obtained written assurances (in lieu of court action) from 14 other individuals and companies that they would no longer be involved with the publication of misleading advertisements about data protection notification services. The criminal action involved a prosecution initiated by Brent and Harrow Trading Standards Service against a company and its director under section 14 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. Fines totalling £3,500 were imposed, plus £850 in prosecution costs.

Section 16 of the 1998 Act sets out the "registrable particulars" which must be included in a valid application for notification. The Commissioner's own application form asks data controllers to indicate whether they consider that they are exempt but have decided to notify voluntarily. As this question is not mandatory, the Commissioner would not and could not refuse to accept an application simply because the question had not been answered. The applications submitted by the agencies do not include this non-mandatory question.