Sunday, 19 September 2010

Reforming Data Protection, FOI and Human Rights – the Minister speaks his mind

Yes, I know the bureaucrats like to consult before presenting policy options and recommendations to Ministers, but I did get an insight into Ministry of Justice Minister Lord Tom McNally’s own thoughts recently. Tom McNally’s political career began in the Labour Party, then with the breakaway Social Democratic Party, and finally to the Liberal Democrats and the coalition with the Conservatives. Of course I have no idea if his officials will finally present him with a set of options that leads to a different conclusion, but it will be interesting to compare his current thoughts with those his Government will finally have once we, the masses, have also had our say.

On the challenges to data protection & data sharing, here are those precious words: “I sound like Fagin in "Oliver" when I say “we’re reviewing the situation” – but I believe people have a right to certain protection of information. One of the challenges of preserving liberties in the 21st century is that the speed and scale of technological change and the ability to gather, exchange and cross-reference information across organisations is now so intense that we have to have legislation in place to protect personal privacy.”

And on the biggest challenge to Freedom of Information? “How we stop the whole proesss from being completely swamped by a kind of cottage industry of people who overload the system. There has to be some balance between the casual “want to know” and the general “right to know”, and I’m not sure we’ve got that quite right. If we are going to expand the range of the Act we have got to make sure it’s efficient.”

Finally, on whether we are going to get a Bill of Rights? “First of all we are going to have a look at how the present legislation fits with national needs. I understand some of the frustrations about the Human Rights Act is often presented in the media, and there may be opportunities to give better explanation to the public about how it might be applied in the UK. But whether it’s the existing legislation or a Bill of Rights of our own, our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights will be at the heart.”

Where did I get this stuff from – by reading the July/August edition of the MoJ’s staff magazine Insight. Essential reading for anyone wanting to follow their Minister’s thoughts.

So I’m planting his opinions here and look forward to returning to it later, when the settled views of the Government are known. If any gambling syndicates want to engage in a little spread betting, to wager huge sums of money on the extent to which Government policy is affected by anyone other than the Minister himself, feel free to start to place your bets now.