Data reforms on a knife edge over Parliamentary delays

parliament_2The future of the UK’s long-awaited data reforms appears to be hanging in the balance, with the Government admitting the Data Protection & Digital Information Bill (No 2) is unlikely to become law until the middle of next year – just when a General Election could be held.

Speaking at this week’s ICO Data Protection Practitioners’ Conference 2023, the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology’s director of policy James Snook could not give any firm timeline on the Bill, other than to say it will return to Parliament “shortly”. He went on to suggest the Bill may get Royal Assent in mid-2024.

However, Parliament does not return from recess until October 16 and the Parliamentary calendar only stretches to November 15, during which time there are no scheduled debates for the DPDI Bill.

The Bill is currently at the report stage. The Commons will then decide whether to agree the Bill at the Third Reading and it passes to the Lords. Once both Houses of Parliament are agreed, the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law.

The Government has until December next year to call a General Election but speculation is mounting that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could go to the country as early as May, although others suggest he might wait until November to see if the party recovers in the opinion polls.

It is all a far cry from March this year, when it was predicted the Bill could be passed by the autumn.

The Government first outlined its plans in August 2021 but the Bill was only introduced to the House of Commons and given its First Reading summer 2022. It was then put on hold again, until March, following what ministers called “a co-design process with business leaders and data experts”, including Which?, the DMA, TechUK and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

However, according to an analysis by law firm Mishcon de Reya, there is little difference between the first Bill and No 2, with no more than approximately a 1% difference.

Even so, critics refuse to be silenced, with the Open Rights Group recently stepping up its attack by claiming the DPDI favours big business as it erodes consumers’ rights to find out what data is held on them; others claim the reforms do not go far enough. Industry body the DMA has given its full backing to the reforms.

In response to a tweet on the X platform, DMA legal and public affairs adviser James Milligan said there could still be a deal on the Bill even if an election is called.

He explained: “It will depend on the progress of the Bill. Once a General Election is called the Government and Opposition agree on what bills will be passed and rushed through without full Parliamentary scrutiny before Parliament is dissolved. This is known as washing up.”

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