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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: It is five months since the Bill was first printed and presented to your Lordships' House. I would have thought that the Minister, in moving the amendments to change its text, could have given us some background to the proposal of the change. They may be technical amendments, although I do not fully accept that they are, but it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us just a little more about where the thinking came from to insert these changes.

The Minister described the amendments as technical but they give the right to the Secretary of State to delegate to a private organisation--no doubt the company which has been contracted for a year to administer the pilot scheme--the power to make grants. That is one of our objections. It is our view that this is public money; it is local authority money. All right, the Government say they are going to put in £31 million of additional money but that will not take place until the year 1998-99 when this Government will not be in office and the scheme will not be operating. However, that is all beside the point.

Our discussions take place in the context of the terms of the legislation that is before the Committee. These amendments, technical though they may be, as the Minister said, give the Secretary of State powers to delegate to a private organisation the right to use public money to make grants. It is a repeat of the local enterprise companies but this time extended to education.

Where does all this stop? To what extent are public funds to be given to private organisations to disburse in grants? I hope that the Minister, given the fact that the Bill is now five months old, will tell us where the thinking for the amendment comes from.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: These amendments are technical; they do not change policy. They are designed to make the policy that has always been in the Bill work better. An important point is that given time it is possible to continue addressing certain issues within the department and also through continuing consultation and dialogue. From that consultation and scrutiny one inevitably finds better ways of delivering the same policy. It can be done through clarification; it can simply be fine tuning of a mechanism which is otherwise intended to remain on a certain course.

Clause 25, enabling the Secretary of State to delegate some grant-making functions, seeks to achieve economies of scale and a low unit cost across the

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administration and delivery of pre-school education. It is vital that operational efficiencies are achieved so that the public money at stake delivers the best possible return not only to the taxpayer but to the beneficiaries and the recipients, namely, the pre-school four year-old children. On that basis, I hope that the Committee will accept the amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 12, line 1, leave out from ("above") to end of line 2 and insert ("may make provision for the functions concerned to be so exercised--
(a) either wholly or to such an extent as may be specified in the arrangement, and
(b) either generally or in such cases or circumstances as may be so specified,
but shall not prevent the functions concerned from being exercised by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Earl said: I have just spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 25, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I wish to place on record that I shall be returning to this matter at Report stage. As I said earlier, it is part of Part II of the Bill. We cannot change the situation here today. I therefore place on record that we shall return to it at the next stage.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 [Disclosure of information]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 12, leave out lines 3 to 13 and insert--
("( ) This section applies to--
(a) civil servants in the Scottish Office and any other persons who carry out the administrative work of that Office, and
(b) any person exercising any function by virtue of section 25 of this Act and any persons who are employed by (or are directors or other officers of) any such person or who carry out the administrative work of any such person.
( ) The Secretary of State may supply to any person to whom this section applies any such social security information as the person may require for or in connection with the exercise of any function in pursuance of section 23 of this Act.
( ) Any person who is or has been a person to whom this section applies").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I shall also be speaking to Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 46. The purpose of Amendment No. 33 is to ensure that the provisions of Clause 26 are entirely clear. The clause is intended to give the Secretary of State--in practice, the Secretary of State for Social Security--the power to disclose information to Scottish Office officials and to any other person to whom the Secretary of State's grant-making functions under Clause 23 have been delegated.

It is important that the persons to whom the Secretary of State may disclose information, and to whom the offence of unlawful disclosure therefore applies, are defined reasonably clearly. After careful consideration

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we have come to the conclusion that the clause as it stands does not achieve this end. It does not expressly authorise disclosure to civil servants, the reference to persons "employed by the Secretary of State" is not technically apt for civil servants, and references to persons employed are uncertain in scope and may not cover all those who should be covered.

The amendment makes clear that disclosure may be made to Scottish Office civil servants, secondees and others doing work for the Scottish Office, and to persons exercising delegated functions, who in practice will be the voucher management company, and those working for it.

Amendment No. 35 follows as a consequence of Amendment No. 33 in that it deletes a clause which would be redundant.

I turn now to Amendment No. 34. In view of the fact that Amendment No. 33 defines persons to whom the section applies, Amendment No. 34 substitutes a simpler test of the circumstances in which it is an offence for a person to disclose social security information.

Instead of it being necessary to show that the information was,

    "obtained or held in connection with the exercise of any function under section 23 of this Act",

it will be sufficient to show that the person acquired the information while acting as a person to whom the section applies. As this avoids the need to establish the purpose for which the information is held, it will make the offence easier to establish while not substantively changing its scope.

I turn now to Amendment No. 46. The purpose of this amendment is to extend the disclosure of information provisions of Clause 26 to the whole of the United Kingdom. At present, like the rest of the Bill, these provisions extend only to Scotland. This is not satisfactory for the following reasons.

First, it must be competent for the Secretary of State for Social Security to disclose, for the purposes of the Bill, social security information held anywhere in the United Kingdom. It would be plainly ridiculous if the voucher system was frustrated merely because the child benefit centre's records of eligible Scottish parents happened to be held in an English office.

Secondly, it must be the case that the unauthorised disclosure of information by civil servants and others to whom the Secretary of State's grant-making functions are delegated should be an offence if it occurs in any part of the United Kingdom. If such an unauthorised disclosure was not an offence merely because it occurred in Carlisle rather than Coldstream the Bill would be flawed. This amendment's extension of Clause 26 remedies these defects.

Taken together, Amendments Nos. 33, 34, 35 and 46 bring the Bill into line with the corresponding provision of the Nursery and Grant-maintained Schools Bill. Those provisions have a similar definition of the persons to whom information may be disclosed and they already extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. I beg to move Amendment No. 33.

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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: These are important amendments and, as the Minister has rightly said, they deal with the disclosure of information. We are clearly not happy with the way in which this information is to be disclosed and are aware of the dangers surrounding the circumstances in which that information may be used.

Perhaps I may press the Minister a little further on this. In the repeal clause of the Bill there is no reference to repealing parts of any social security legislation. Can the Minister say whether, when we come to Report or even Third Reading, the Government will be tabling repeal amendments in respect of social security legislation, dealing with the fact that there are social security departments which will release the information in the first place, and whether any part of the legislation will have then to be repealed as a result of what the Minister is moving here today?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I should like to ask my noble friend a question or two about this? Clearly it is very important and it is an area in which I am not precisely clear how it will work. From my own recollection I know of no other case where the term,

    "civil servants in the Scottish Office",

is included in Scots legislation. Could my noble friend tell the Committee the definition of a "civil servant"? If the matter were argued in court then the phraseology of any Bill could be argued. Is this a sound bit of drafting? It is unfamiliar to me, although it may well be that I simply do not remember seeing it before.

In addition, can the Minister tell the Committee whether extending this section to England, Wales and Northern Ireland has an effect on paragraph (b) in Amendment No. 33:

    "any person exercising any function by virtue of section 25 of this Act and any persons who are employed by (or are directors or other officers of) any such person or who carry out the administrative work of any such person"?

Can those be people in England? Is that implied? Presumably the civil servants in the Scottish Office do not become civil servants in England by dint of Amendment No. 46, but what will be the scope of the Bill if this amendment is accepted?

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