On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have sent you a copy of a letter that I received from the chief executive of Serco two days ago, which caused great concern to me and to constituency office staff. I gently describe it as being an intemperate letter. It gives an interpretation of data protection from the Data Protection Act 1998 and says that Members should seek approval from constituents. Mr Speaker, could you please provide me with an interpretation of data protection as it applies to Members?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I am sighted on the matter both because he alerted me to the thrust and because I have seen the letter, a substantial letter, that he has received from the chief executive of Serco, which has caused him considerable disquiet, not to say consternation. I expect all organisations dealing with hon. Members or their staff to respect the constitutional responsibility of Members of Parliament to pursue issues on behalf of their constituents and to be both helpful and courteous to them in doing so, just as I am sure that we would expect ourselves and our staff to be in our dealings with others.
I can make no comment on the substance of the disagreement between the hon. Gentleman and the chief executive of Serco, but I can confirm that, in the words of the Information Commissioner’s guidance, the Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) (Elected Representatives) Order 2002—a matter raised in the House some months ago on which I ruled at the time—provides a basis for the disclosure of sensitive personal data by organisations responding to Members acting on behalf of individual constituents. The order does not place an obligation on organisations to disclose sensitive personal data to Members who raise matters on behalf of constituents. However, it provides a legal basis for doing so, and removes unnecessary bureaucracy and delay. Consequently, in the great majority of cases, organisations will be able to release sensitive personal information about the particular constituent to the Member without advising the constituent of this, provided that the disclosure is reasonable and necessary for the purposes of, or in connection with, responding to a request from the constituent. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and that, when Members beetle across to the relevant office to obtain a copy of the Official Report and study my response, they will similarly conclude that it is helpful.
I see the beaming countenance of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). I wish him all the best for Christmas and the new year. Indeed, seeing as there have been so many festive greetings this morning, perhaps I should take the opportunity to say now to Members who will not be here much later, that I wish them all a merry Christmas. I thank them for their huge and unstinting efforts over this year and express the confident expectation and hope that they will redouble them next.