Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Twenty-First Report



ANNEX 1

TELEVISION LICENCES (DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION) BILL

Memorandum by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Introductory

1.  The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Secretary of State—in practice, the Secretary of State for Social Security—and in Northern Ireland the Department for Social Development ("the Northern Ireland department") to supply to the BBC, or to persons supplying the BBC with services in connection with television licensing, limited descriptions of personal information. The information will be used by the BBC to help verify the eligibility of persons applying for free television licences.

2.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in November 1999 that persons aged 75 or over will become entitled to receive a free television licence. That proposal is due to be implemented on 1 November 2000. With upwards of three million people potentially eligible for free licences, it has become clear that the most effective way for the BBC to verify an applicant's eligibility is for it to set up a data base for the purpose, by receiving an electronic copy of certain kinds of personal information held by the Department of Social Security ("DSS") and the Northern Ireland department. The BBC can check that the information (e.g. age, address and national insurance number) supplied by an applicant matches the social security information, and in general need make further enquiries only where there is a discrepancy between the two sets of data. Such checks are needed in the interests of detecting mistaken or fraudulent applications. The chosen system would relieve most applicants of the need to submit documentary proof of entitlement, making the application process less burdensome for them and removing what would otherwise be a significant administrative burden for the BBC.

3.  The Bill gives the Secretary of State[2] powers to make delegated legislation in two areas, namely—

    (1) to prescribe the descriptions of information that may be supplied ("social security information"): clause 1(3) and (4); and

    (2) to prescribe, if in future it becomes appropriate to do so, other schemes for concessionary licences as schemes in connection with which social security information provided under clause 1 may be used: clause 2(2)(b).

Any order under these powers must be made by statutory instrument and is subject to negative resolution procedure: clause 6.

POWERS UNDER CLAUSE 1(3) AND (4)

4.  In clause 1, subsection (3) provides that the kind of information that can be supplied under clause 1 ("social security information") is, in relation to the Secretary of State, "information of a prescribed description held by him (or on his behalf) and obtained as a result, or for the purposes, of the exercise of functions of his in relation to social security or war pensions". Subsection (4) makes corresponding provision in relation to the Northern Ireland department, except that the department has no functions in relation to war pensions.

5.  Attached as Annex A to this Memorandum is an illustrative draft of the order it is intended to make. The Committee will note that the order specifies only a very limited range of information, namely, information consisting of the name, date of birth, address and national insurance number of a person aged 74 years or over, and in a case where such a person has died, that fact and the date on which they died.

6.  Careful consideration was given to the question whether the Bill ought itself to specify the information concerned, but it was decided that this would have been too rigid an approach. Although the Government is confident that the information set out in the draft order is all that is presently needed for the smooth administration of the free television licence scheme, the successful operation of the scheme depends on the interface between the BBC's current system for administering television licences, and the information available on the DSS and Northern Ireland department data bases. The possibility that either the BBC's system or the DSS or Northern Ireland department data base may be restructured in the future so the interface no longer works in the way intended cannot be ruled out. That might necessitate a change in the description of information that needs to be supplied. Likewise, while the Government at present has no proposals for other concessionary licence schemes that might be administered using information supplied under clause 1 (see paragraph 3(b) above and paragraphs 8 and 9 below), such schemes might one day come to be prescribed, in which case different descriptions of information, or information about different age groups, might become relevant.

7.  Thus, it was considered appropriate to provide for the information concerned to be specified in delegated legislation, rather than being set out in the Bill. Any order would be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, as it could be annulled by a negative resolution passed in either House. That procedure is considered to provide an appropriate level of Parliamentary control in a case such as this where the principle underlying the order has been fully debated in the passing of the Bill, and the order is confined to supplying the necessary detail.

POWERS UNDER CLAUSE 2(2)(B)

8.  Clause 2, which specifies the purposes for which the information can be used provides that such information can be used in connection with "reduced-fee licences". These are television licences for which a reduced fee is payable and which fall into a prescribed category: clause 2(2)(b).

9.  The inclusion of reduced-fee licences builds in to the Bill a degree of flexibility, so as to avoid the need for additional primary legislation of a largely technical nature in the event that, at some point in the future, the government of the day introduces a new concessionary television licence scheme which requires a system of validation similar to that being put in place for the over-75s' scheme. However, it was considered inappropriate that the creation of a new concessionary scheme should automatically give the BBC and its contractors a right to use social security information for the purposes of administering that scheme. Thus, if a new scheme is created, social security information could only be used for that purpose if the scheme was designated by order as a "reduced-fee licence" for the purposes of the Bill. Again, the principle of using social security information for the administration of concessionary television licence schemes having been debated in the passing of the Bill, it is considered that the negative resolution procedure provides the appropriate level of Parliamentary control.

23 May 2000


ANNEX A

DRAFT FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY: NOT MADE AND

NOT FOR LAYING


STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS


2000 No. XXXX

WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY

The Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000 (Prescription of Information) Order 2000

      Made - - - - 2000

      Coming into force 2000

The Secretary of State, in exercise of the powers conferred upon him by section 1(3) and (4) of the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000([3]), hereby makes the following Order-

Citation and commencement

1.  This Order may be cited as the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000 (Prescription of Information) Order 2000 and shall come into force on [date].

Prescription of "social security information"

2.  (1) Information of the description mentioned in paragraph (2) is hereby prescribed, in relation to the Secretary of State and the Department for Social Development ("the Northern Ireland department"), as "social security information" for the purposes of section 1 of the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000 (supply of information to the BBC etc. by the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland department).

  (2) The description of information referred to in paragraph (1) is information consisting of—

    (a) the name, date of birth, address and national insurance number of an individual aged 74 years or over, and

    (b) in a case where such an individual has died, that fact and the date on which they died.

[ th] [ ]2000   Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport


EXPLANATORY NOTE

(THIS NOTE IS NOT PART OF THE ORDER)


This Order prescribes the descriptions of information that the Secretary of State (in practice, the Secretary of State for Social Security) and, in Northern Ireland, the Department for Social Development, can supply to the British Broadcasting Corporation ("BBC").

The Order is made under the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000, section 1 of which permits the Secretary of State and the Department for Social Development to supply the BBC with "social security information". Section 1(3) and (4) of the Act (read with section 4) provide that "social security information", in relation to the Secretary of State and that Department respectively, means information of a description prescribed by order, being information held and obtained as a result, or for the purpose, of the exercise of his or (as the case may be) the Department's functions in relation to social security or (in the case of the Secretary of State only) war pensions. By virtue of section 2 of the Act, information so supplied may be used only in connection with television licences for which no fee is payable, or reduced-fee licences. Since no licences have been prescribed as reduced-fee licences, the information will in practice be used in connection with free licences.

Article 2 provides that the information in question is the name, date of birth, address and National Insurance number of a person aged 74 years or over, and in a case where such a person has died, that fact and the date when they died.


2  The Bill concerns wireless telegraphy (since television licences are a form of wireless telegraphy licence issued by the BBC under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949), and that is a reserved matter in relation to Northern Ireland. Hence, it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to have power to make orders applying to Northern Ireland. Back
3  2000 c. **. Back

 
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