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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Saved by the bell! The Minister answered some questions with regard to the specific transfer of information; for example, change of address, when people become 74 and when they die. I shall read very carefully what he said in response to those questions. I am still not completely convinced that the interface of information transfer will work as effectively as it might.
I am concerned also that the Minister said, I believe, that the precise system by which the transfer will take place has not yet been worked out. However, later, when messages had been passed to him, he gave the Committee some answers in relation to that. He referred to the fact that a memorandum of understanding would be worked out with regard to the transfer of information. There will certainly be a later amendment which refers to what I thought was a different memorandum of understanding.
At present, the costs of transfer of information are estimated at £24 million for the first year of operation. And yet, the details of that transfer have not been worked out. Therefore, I am unsure whether that estimate of the cost can be accurate. We may wish to return to that matter. But at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to make it clear who will have sight of the information which will be transferred from the DSS to the BBC and its contractors. When we last debated this matter, there was some mention of just who will see this information.
After all, Clause 1 authorises the transfer of information and subsection (2) extends the definition of the BBC to include persons providing services to it. The Notes on Clauses explain to us that that is simply because, in practice, much of the administration of the TV licensing system is carried out on behalf of the BBC by its contractors. The particular company concerned is Envision. It was awarded the contract for the administration and enforcement of the licence fee just about a year ago and its shareholders are the Post Office subsidiary SSL, the WPP Group and Bull Information Systems Limited.
Later, I have other amendments which deal with questions about how those particular contractors will operate. But at Second Reading the issue I raised, to which I return now, is the fact that the definition proposed by the Government in Clause 1(2) is so wide that in practice it could conceivably include even the post office counter clerks who play a part in processing applications for TV licences.
At that stage, the Minister sought to reassure me and said that that was absolutely not the case and that that could not take place. He said that post office counter clerks will not have access to any confidential data. Of course, I accept the Minister's assurance on that. But if that is the case, why is the Bill written in such a way that there could be a much broader definition? Would it not be better, perhaps, to find more felicitous wording so that the intentions of the Government are absolutely clear, and therefore make clear that only those people who are involved in the verification of the applications should see that DSS information? I beg to move.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I anticipated some of the answers to the amendment in my response to Amendment No. 1. However, there is no harm in setting out the stall. I recognise the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, both now and at Second Reading, about making sensitive personal information freely available to people working within the television licensing system who have no good reason to see it. As the noble Baroness said, I reassured the House at Second Reading that post office counter clerks would not have any access to confidential data. I am grateful for her acceptance of that assurance. However, clearly it has not reassured her on the wider issues. That is fair enough.
There are two possible interpretations to the amendment. However, the effect would be that the DSS and the Northern Ireland department could supply information only to the BBC and persons employed by companies providing the BBC with services in connection with verifying entitlement to a free licence. That is what the amendment states.
That could mean two things. It could mean that information would be supplied only to companies providing the BBC with services in connection with verifying entitlement to a free licence and nothing else. That would mean that nobody could have it because the contractors to the BBC who will be handling this information provide the whole range of TV licensing services to the BBC. Alternatively, it could mean only those who are providing the services, although they could provide other services. If that is the case, the amendment is unnecessary, because that is what the Bill states.
I reassure the noble Baroness that in practice the DSS and the Northern Ireland department will provide information only to those companies which the BBC has confirmed are involved in the administration of free television licences or any future prescribed concessionary scheme, which is what Clause 2 states.
Information will not be provided unless the DSS and the Northern Ireland department are satisfied that the contractor requires it for the administration of the concession. If the contractor then released it to anybody else--another contractor who did not genuinely need it for that purpose--the first contractor would fall foul of Clause 2 and Clause 3 on offences, so the amendment is unnecessary.
The amendment could make it difficult to operate the verification system. As I have said, in practice, the BBC's contractors provide a range of services. That would create great difficulties. I am sorry to have to say what I do say on occasion to the Opposition Front Bench; that is, that the amendment is either unnecessary or it could be extremely damaging. I hope that it will not be pressed.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns : I thank the Minister for his explanation. I certainly have no intention of trying to find the best answer. It sounds as though I have proved how difficult it is to find any wording which closely fits the Bill. I am grateful for the assurances given by the Minister with regard to the intention that those people who will have sight of the information will be only those involved in carrying out the verification process. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that there is, on the face of the Bill, a definition of the categories of information which could be transmitted to the BBC. On at least two occasions the Minister has referred to the fact that one does not need to worry too much because the information that is to be transferred from the DSS to the BBC will be closely defined and confined to age, address, death and national insurance number. The Minister also referred to the fact that the information will be defined by an order.
I thank the officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who put copies of the draft statutory instrument in the Printed Paper Office and, indeed, ensured that Front Bench spokesmen have had an advance copy, for which I am grateful.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I was not aware of that. I am grateful to the Minister for making that clear. However, having read the statutory instrument, I am even more puzzled about why the Government
Perhaps I may refer to a second, entirely different issue which is also raised by my amendments. Noble Lords may have thought that I had allowed a misprint in my amendments to go through. In listing the information to be made available to the BBC, I stipulated that included should be the addresses, in the plural, of people aged 74 or over. The Government's intention is to hand over only the principal address that is registered. My purpose is simply to ask the Government whether they intend that the benefit of a free TV licence will be enjoyed only by people who are 75 and over at just one address. That seemed to be the implication of what the Minister said at Second Reading when he referred to "principal address".
On the first occasion when I began to think about it, the answer to the question, "Why only at one address?" sounded obvious. But are there not circumstances in which people who live as members of the same household might be allowed to claim in respect of more than one address? I refer, for example, to a person aged 75 or over who has a holiday home and might spend six months in each and consider both to be his home. Or--this might be considered rather frivolous but it has a serious import too--perhaps one works in London during the week and then goes on to one's principal home at the weekend. After all, I am advised by the Library that 38.8 per cent of Members of your Lordships' House are aged 75 or over and therefore could benefit from this particular payment.
If the Minister responds that the Government's intention is not to give this benefit to people who are not financially in need, my question will be: in that case, why have they made this a universal benefit, not linked to need? More seriously, and perhaps more reasonably, what about the position of a husband and wife who live apart, perhaps because one is seeking medical attention in the area where the other cannot live? Are those two households to enjoy the benefit of a free licence?
These are detailed questions. I realise that the Minister may not have had the opportunity to consider them at this stage. However, I should be grateful if he could answer as far as he may at this point. I beg to move.
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