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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Will he accept that a eunuch is a eunuch whether he is local or not?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I expect that it would depend on two issues; first, the nature of the eunuch and, secondly, the nature of the area. And I hope that the noble Lord is not making snide references to Hampstead!

Sometimes one feels that one cannot win on these occasions. We put forward regulations specifying that local people must be represented and then the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, says that that is not sufficient. The measure is made and it recognises the importance of local involvement in the provision of local service. What we will not return to, and what we have set our face against, is local services which have been so patchy that some outcomes have been the object of reproach to all of us and have done a significant

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disservice to those young people for whom the Probation Service has historically cared so well. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Bill

6.34 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Elton) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Disclosure of information]:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 1:


    Page 1, line 6, leave out (", at the request of the BBC,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I want to give a general explanation of the two main objectives underpinning all the amendments standing in my name at the Committee stage. The first objective is to probe the effectiveness of the methods which the Government have chosen to police the system which will give people aged 75 and over the right to have a television licence without paying for it.

The second objective is to ask questions about what appear to be potential flaws in the operation of that system, especially with regard to the electronic communication of information, and thereby to consider whether improvements should be made to the Bill.

As I made clear at Second Reading, the Bill will become law; we shall not oppose it. However, we believe that we need to ensure that it works as effectively as possible. I should make clear that all my amendments tabled at the Committee stage are probing.

I have tabled Amendment No. 1 in order to ask the Government why they adopted this particular system to police the applications for free TV licences. Clause 1 will give the Secretary of State the legal authority to supply social security information of prescribed kinds to the BBC. Subsection (1) states that the Secretary of State may do this,


    "at the request of the BBC".

However, if the release of information takes place only at the request of the BBC, the following questions should be addressed by the Government. First, does the Bill give authority to the Secretary of State to transfer relevant information wholesale to the BBC as soon as he is in possession of it? What are the costs of doing that? Are there more effective ways of managing

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all the information? What are the implications for those individuals--few there may be--who do not own TV sets now and never intend to do so?

Perhaps I may examine those questions briefly in the hope that the Government will be able to answer them today. The first question relates to the practical issues of how the information will be managed. In another place, my honourable friend John Greenway elicited some information from the Government. However, further questions need to be asked. Can the Minister explain how the database will be set up and when and how information will be transferred to it? The answer may seem obvious: you just hand over the database and off you go in setting up the system; but the Notes on Clauses indicate that the BBC will receive an electronic copy of information held on the databases of the DSS and the Northern Ireland Department. At what stage will that electronic copy be sent to the BBC? Will it be at Royal Assent or between that date and 1st November?

Moreover, after the database has been set up, will the changes in individual circumstances be updated on a weekly, daily or concurrent basis? Will the interface between the system set up by the BBC contractors and the DSS be so compatible that there will be a complete flow of information from the DSS as soon as it receives it? The change in circumstances should be only a new address, a death or the fact that the person has reached the age of 74.

I have visited the DSS headquarters at Newcastle, which holds national insurance information, and was impressed by the effective work that was done and the dedication in keeping the information accurate and up-to-date. However, I am aware that of necessity there is a time lag in the notification of information to them and the time that it takes to update their systems. Of course, I am also aware that not everyone in the United Kingdom is on the national insurance system and that that system can produce errors. Therefore, how do the Government expect all those issues to be resolved?

My second question is more brief and concerns the costs of the system. At Second Reading my noble friends Lord Luke and Lady Fookes, who is in her place, asked questions about the costs of setting up and maintaining the system. As they pointed out, the Government's estimates seem to vary considerably. Indeed, in another place the Minister admitted that, as a result of the final structure of the scheme, the updated estimates given by the Government are likely to be higher than their earlier estimates. That seems to imply that the Government have decided on a scheme which is more expensive to operate than others would have been. That is despite the fact that in another place the Government argued that other methods would have been more expensive. There is confusion here and I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on the final costs of the scheme.

What other schemes were investigated by the Government and why were they found to be wanting? Why was this one the winner in the stakes? Finally, what is the effect of the Bill on people who do not own

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a TV or, indeed, on those who perhaps have a TV but cannot get a signal? There are many areas in this country where one cannot receive an analogue signal. Can the Minister say what is the current estimate of the percentage of the population who live in such areas?

The general problem faced by people who do not have a TV set was raised by Mr Mark Valentine, who wrote to me. I quote from his letter:


    "I am now additionally concerned at the proposal to permit TV licensing access to social security records. Why should people who don't own a TV, and therefore [having made a deliberate decision] have nothing to do with TV licensing, find that their social security records are open to the scrutiny of this organisation?".

He is concerned as to why his details should be available when he will simply never have a TV and will not apply for a TV licence. What is the Minister's answer to Mr Valentine and others who share his concerns? I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That was a fascinating speech but it bore no relation whatever to the amendment before us. However, I shall take it on its own terms and say as little as I can about the amendment to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, did not refer and try to deal with that to which she did refer.

Of course, I recognise the underlying theme which is behind a whole series of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness. That theme, to which I believed she returned in the last minute or so of her speech, is understandable concern about the disclosure to outside bodies of personal information held by government departments for social security purposes.

Before I deal with her specific questions, I want to assure the noble Baroness that the Government fully accept the need to ensure that only information which is strictly required is disclosed and that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent misuse or unlawful disclosure. In response to the amendment, perhaps I may make it clear that Clause 1 does not give the BBC or its contractors the right to require information to be supplied, nor control over the range of information that may be required. It provides only that the Secretary of State or the Northern Ireland department may, on request, supply social security information but will be under no obligation to do so. That is one of several safeguards incorporated in the Bill.

Neither the Secretary of State nor the Northern Ireland department will be able to supply information to the BBC unless it has been prescribed by an order which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the negative resolution procedure. I believe it is well known that the only information which will be required will be a person's name, address and age--that will apply also to 74 year-olds--in order to make the listing adequate for the next year, and the national insurance number as a unique identifier. Once the information that can be supplied has been prescribed, a request from the BBC or its contractors will be required before the information can be released.

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However, the discretion as to whether or not to do so will rest with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland department.

Clause 2 provides that the information supplied under the Bill may be used only in connection with television licences for which no fee is payable or reduced-fee licences. Under Clause 3, it will be a criminal offence to disclose information supplied under the Bill without lawful authority. I believe that we shall return to that theme when we deal with later amendments.

The words,


    "at the request of the BBC",

could be deleted from Clause 1 without affecting the way in which the transfer of information will work in practice. However, they have been included as an extra reassurance that the data will not be issued unless needed by the BBC for use in connection with free or reduced-fee licences.

I turn to the issue of how the BBC will handle the data. Of course, the BBC is already used to handling personal information when administering the television licensing system. That includes, for example, notification of purchases of television sets. The BBC believes that its contractors are well acquainted with the importance of security and accountability. It has confirmed that it fully recognises the new responsibilities which the Bill will place on the corporation and its contractors.

I understand that the BBC intends to revisit all its contracts in order to ensure security and accountability in relation to the administration of the over-75 concession. It will write to the chief executives of the contracts, bringing the provisions of the Bill to their attention and requiring them to submit a signed acknowledgement of the obligations and responsibilities that the new legislation will place on them. Those acknowledgement letters will be updated annually.

To that end, the Secretary of State will, in addition, be concerned to ensure that effective systems are in place. A memorandum of understanding between the DSS and the BBC is being prepared. It will require the BBC to handle DSS data in a secure environment to the same standard as that which applies in the DSS and in accordance with the principles of the Data Protection Act. I shall return to the relevance of that Act in relation to later amendments. I hope that I have answered questions which might be raised in relation to the wording of the amendment.

I now move on to questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, as to whether this is the best possible way of achieving our objective to provide free television licences for people aged 75 and over. In case it is not clear already, perhaps I may make it clear that our fundamental starting point is that it would not be possible to make this concession by asking old people--those aged 75 and over--to put themselves forward for the concession and then to prove that they were entitled to it. We considered what would have to be done in terms of producing evidence of age--whether by a birth certificate, a passport or anything

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else--and concluded that it would be quite unreasonable to place on people of 75 and over the burden of proof as to age. Therefore, we rejected all systems which would have made that necessary.

We then turned to a system in which the onus to provide the evidence was placed on us, having considered the fact that the Department of Social Security already has that information. The system ensures that a very limited amount of information is provided to the BBC for a very limited purpose, as set out in Clause 2. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked whether that would involve a wholesale transfer. Yes, indeed; a bulk transfer takes place of the specified information relating to people aged 74 years and over. That will enable the BBC to set up a database against which all applications can be checked.

The noble Baroness will know that applications are being made via a mailing that has already gone out, at least in part of the country, to everybody with a television licence, inviting them to respond. All the information provided will be checked in bulk against information on the DSS database. It would be impossibly bureaucratic and expensive to seek information from the DSS every time an application for a free television licence was made.

The noble Baroness also asked about the arrangements for updating the register--whether it will be done weekly, or even daily--and the costs involved. The data transfer arrangements have not been finalised but we expect that details of how the information will be supplied to the BBC or its contractors will be set out in a memorandum--or memoranda--of understanding between the BBC and the Department of Social Security and the relevant Northern Ireland department. Taking into account the mailings, the new computer system, advertisements, literature, radio and television trails and field force visits, the BBC is expecting to spend approximately £24 million.

The noble Baroness's final question was about why the details of those who do not own a television or cannot receive any transmissions should be passed to the BBC. There are two ways to answer that. First, the information is being supplied in bulk, not on an individual basis, so nobody is being picked out. Secondly, if no query is made against the database because no application is made, the information will go no further and will be maintained under the control of the BBC in conditions as secure as those in the DSS.

I have a couple of answers about the frequency of data downloads. We intend to update the records of live over-75s every November, with a monthly update for deaths.


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