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Lord Higgins: The Committee will be grateful for that reassuring statement by the Minister on a matter on which we are rightly concerned.

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Perhaps I may express gratitude to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who has been more assiduous than I in reading the helpful Explanatory Notes. They point out that,

    "Section 158A was inserted by Schedule 6, paragraph 9, Pensions Act 1995",
and that that is its origin. My noble friend is both assiduous and more up to date than I am and the Minister need not bother to pursue the matter. On the important broad issue, we are grateful for her reply.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Use of information by Board]:

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 3, leave out lines 10 and 11.

The noble Lord said: The effect of this amendment is to raise the question of how much confidential information may go to outsiders. The clause states that the information,

    "may be supplied to any person providing services to the Board for [the purposes specified]".
One was worried about the extent to which information held by the board or by a person providing services to the board could effectively be passed to third parties even though they were undertaking work for the Government. There was some concern that the provision might lead to some leakage of otherwise confidential information to people who might misuse it. It is not clear to me from the words of the subsection whether that might apply to Inland Revenue information as well as to information obtained by the DSS at present. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that point.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I understand the noble Lord's concern. It is one that I shared in relation to previous social security Bills driven through by his government. I pursued almost identical amendments. Whether I shall persuade him more satisfactorily than his predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, managed to persuade me, we shall have to wait and see. However, he had a larger number of troops. Who needs arguments when you have bullets?

The overall intention of Clause 6 is to enable the board to make appropriate use of the information which is available to it for carrying out its various functions. The noble Lord identified that. It includes being able to pass information freely to the contractors who provide the board with services, with the proviso always, of course, that the information can be used by those contractors only for the purpose of providing services to the board. Those service providers are contractually bound to keep data confidential. I absolutely understand the noble Lord's concern; he was worried about leakage and therefore whether there would be a risk of or temptation to impropriety.

The provision mirrors and in fact is based on that in Section 3 of the Social Security Act 1998. That section allows the pooling of information held by the Secretary of State for Social Security in respect of social security, child support and war pensions. It also specifically allows the Secretary of State to supply any such

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information to a person providing services for use in connection with the exercise of functions for social security, child support or war pensions.

The provision in Clause 6 does no more than repeat a provision which noble Lords have already recently endorsed in relation to social security, and under the previous administration, in other fields of social policy. It is as essential for the proper operation of the board of Inland Revenue as it is for the proper operation of the Department of Social Security that such a provision be in place. The Committee will note that the contracting out of computer services which requires this provision was the policy of an earlier administration. That is where the concerns were first raised.

I should stress that, as with the existing Section 3 of the Social Security Act 1998, there is no question or should be no question of confidential information being passed to contractors for indiscriminate use. The sole use which can be made of such information is in relation to the services provided to the Inland Revenue by the contractor. The contractor in those circumstances is doing no more than acting on behalf of the Inland Revenue.

I therefore urge your Lordships to reject the amendment which would significantly interfere with the computer services currently provided to the Contributions Agency, essentially by private operators. If the noble Lord has any further worries about what controls we have in place then I should be happy for him to see any appropriate standard conditions of contract, in so far as they are not commercially sensitive, in order to reassure him. I have regularly expressed those concerns and they have also come from the Lib Dem Benches in the past. I hope that with those assurances and any extra information that the noble Lord might desire, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

6 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale: Before my noble friend does that, I am not sure what the clause is getting at. What kind of contractors are we talking about? Can the noble Baroness give an example? I am sure it would make it much easer for me to understand.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The obvious example and the one which I have been discussing with my officials is providers of computer services.

Lord Higgins: We need to consider this, given the fact that the Minister previously shared our qualms about the issue and that she will examine it again. In those circumstances I would not wish to pursue the matter further at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Decisions by officers of Board]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 4, line 4, leave out from beginning to first ("to") in line 5.

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The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 36 with which it is grouped.

These two linked amendments deal with a drafting matter only. They move words which constrain the ambit of an appeal, rather than a decision about directors' liabilities, from Clause 7 which relates to decisions by officers of the board to Clause 10 which relates to appeals against such decisions. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: I wish to raise a drafting point. On page 4, if all the words in line 4 to the first "to" in line 5 are removed, the reference at the end of line 6 to "that Act" must become a reference to the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. That was the last Act previously mentioned. I believe that that cannot be right. A further amendment is needed so that at the end of line 6 the reference to "that Act" must become a reference to the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am not sure whether that is so. It would be better if I take the issue away and consider whether the noble Lord's comment is correct. If it is and he is right, we shall have to bring forward a further amending amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 [Regulations with respect to decisions]:

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 5, line 11, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, with the permission of the Committee I shall also speak to Amendment No. 51 which is in my name.

First, I wish to add my thanks to those expressed by my noble friend to the Minister for the full explanation she gave before the debate today with regard to questions raised at Second Reading. I also thank her for the offer of the meeting on Tuesday. I regret that because of the late change in timing of that meeting this week, I could not attend. However, I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak to her office yesterday and give details of the objectives behind my amendments.

Before I turn to the substance of the amendment, perhaps I may explain that the purpose of all three amendments to which I shall speak this evening is to attempt to get a picture of what the new appeals procedures will be like for those taking part, whether they be the appellants or those sitting on the tribunals. I am trying to look at it in a pragmatic manner so that there is an explanation on the record of the Committee as to the Government's expectations with regard to the new appeals procedures.

Therefore, as the Committee will realise, this is a probing amendment, phrased with the assistance of the Public Bill Office. I appreciate that the questions I ask may go wider than the amendment, but I was trying to save the Government's time and to hang quite a few questions on this one amendment.

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The Minister has already answered some of my points from Second Reading in her letter of 17th December. In particular, I am grateful to her for explaining the role of the Lord Advocate about which I had serious concerns. The letter is in the Library of the House for public reference.

On this issue I am concerned about the uncertain role of medical experts. At present the Bill states, referring to the board, not to the UAT, that:

    "Where it appears to an officer of the Board that a matter before him [or her] involves a question of fact requiring special expertise, he may direct that in dealing with that matter he shall have the assistance of one or more experts".
My amendment states that the officer "shall" direct that he should have such expert help. My questions revolve around the issue of what the regulations will state on the occasions when the officer of the board should seek advice. What are the Government's expectations about when an officer of the board shall seek advice? If officers seek advice and the expert--perhaps a medical expert--comes along, the board listens and may decide not to accept the advice. Having been given advice, the appellant hears that the officer of the board decided to disregard it. Two questions follow from that. What is the position with regard to the appellants? Are they able to take further measures to appeal against the fact that the officer ignored the advice? Are they able to adduce their own evidence which may be taken by the board on that or another occasion, in contradiction of the advice that was ignored or in support of it? Either scenario might transpire.

I ask the question because I am familiar with the procedure within the unified appeals tribunals system as to what further redress may be available to the appellant. However, I am not aware of what further redress will be available to the appellant in the new system of appeals. It is new, of course, only because of the transfer of functions. I am aware that there is an appeals procedure in existence but it is a question of how it will impact on these new client groups. That is an appalling definition, but one that is customarily used.

One of the problems is that so much of this is to be subject to regulation. I do not blame the Government for not printing the regulations at this stage. I am aware that that is customary practice but it would be most helpful if the Minister could give an indication of the expectations of the Government.

Amendment No. 51 proposes leaving out paragraphs 24 and 25 which remove the current ability of the DSS or an appeal tribunal to require statutory sick pay and statutory maternity pay claimants to take a medical. It is a probing amendment, to give the Government the opportunity to put on record why that change is required. I beg to move.

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