HL Deb 03 July 2000 vol 614 cc1341-66

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 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 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. 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 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.

Baroness O'Cathain

I was gratified to hear some of the responses to my noble friend's questions. It would be too big a burden to ask the over-75s to provide the information, particularly for those who are disabled in any way. The mentally impaired might watch television a lot but would not be able to fill in a form. Some people cannot read or write. I am happy with the Minister's responses on that.

The BBC will apparently be spending £24 million on mailings, field forces and other items. I am told that the BBC is not awash with money and needs every penny that it can get, so that is quite a lot of money for it to spend. As I understand it, the BBC has to request the information from the social security database. That could be done in one telephone call because the information will be sent in bulk. Surely there is no need to get people to apply or for the BBC to spend any money. Am I being completely stupid?

Someone who has never had a television set and never wants to watch television will still, willy-nilly, have his information sent to the BBC. The Minister has not given a good enough answer on that. People feel strongly about their social security information being given to anyone other than a government department.

Lord Lucas

I am concerned about what the Minister said about how data will be handled. In his previous existence he was involved with businesses that handled data. I am sure that he knows that one principle of data handling is never to duplicate anything. Running duplicate databases causes endless hassle and pain, yet the Government are planning to run a massive duplicated database. The poor old BBC will be up to 12 months behind with address data. Old people do not just grow roots and stay in the same place. There will be all sorts of occasions on which the address data held on the computer are wrong. That will generate a manual query on each occasion. Even death data are likely to be a couple of months out of date, which will generate another host of manual queries to be sorted out on the telephone. It is a recipe for chaos, confusion and difficulty.

Surely anyone in business would run a little query to the DSS over the Internet asking whether the information that they had on the people applying for a reduced or zero-rated television licence matched DSS records. That would require a simple yes or no answer and the information need never leave the DSS. The information about my bank account does not leave my bank when I stick my card into an ATM belonging to another bank. The machine merely asks whether I am good for the money. Rather than shifting databases around the place, people run queries into them. Why are the Government going against all good practice?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I shall try to reply to all those points. If the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has further points that she wants me to reply to, I shall do so afterwards.

I was relieved to hear the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, say that she basically thought that the system was fine and that, for the reasons that I explained, we should not ask people to fill in forms and justify themselves.

The £24 million will not be a cost to the BBC. It will be reimbursed by the DSS. The BBC and the DSS are in an impossible position when people ask whether that sum is justified. They have been criticised elsewhere—although not here today—for spending too much but they would be just as strongly criticised if they were not doing enough to promote the concession and ensure that everybody knew about it.

The alternative that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, seemed to be proposing was that the BBC should issue the free licences on the basis of the database provided by the DSS without requiring any application. That would not be appropriate, because there would be potentially millions of free licences swanning around the country, possibly because of errors in the database. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas; all databases are rubbish. That is a basic law of data processing. They all need to be de-duplicated and corrected in many ways. If we simply relied on the database without requiring an application, a significant proportion of licences might be wrongly addressed or not claimed. That would be disastrous and we would be severely criticised.

7 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

At one stage, the Minister said that a person who cannot write or is not capable mentally of applying for a TV licence will be able to obtain one. How will that be possible if there is to be no application? My proposal is that if a person is in receipt of a DSS application, the name, age and address will be known. Therefore, it may be possible to send out a form which says, "Ask someone to take this to your local post office for a television licence".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It is not the application which is the problem; proof of qualification is the difficulty for old people. I do not know how many Members of the Committee have seen the form. I have received a form at home and it is very easy to deal with. There really is no difficulty about it. It is quite possible for anybody else in the household to complete the form on behalf of an old person. It will then simply be checked against the database.

The noble Baroness then asked me again about Mr Valentine, the correspondent of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. That absolutely minimal information—name, address, age and national insurance number—will go onto a BBC database rather than onto a DSS database. But it will not be interrogated unless somebody makes a claim. Mr Valentine will not make a claim; his details will stay in the BBC database with all of the same conditions relating to security and confidentiality that apply to the DSS database and will never be used. I suggest to the Committee that that is a more efficient system than going from the BBC to the DSS each time there is an application.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was suggesting that we should keep the database in the same place. I do not care where it is kept physically and I do not even know physically what it consists of. Those matters are beyond my ken. But for information which is held by the DSS for social security purposes to be used for another purpose by the BBC, whether it is used in DSS or BBC offices or the offices of BBC or DSS contractors, is a step which requires primary legislation. That is what this Bill is about.

I can correspond with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the technical details for as long as he likes. But it must be done in that way because we must observe proper rules about the protection of public information. We must observe the Data Protection Act 1998 and we must observe the rules of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

Lord Lucas

The only piece of information for which I should like to trouble the noble Lord by letter is the rate at which people over 75 change address. How many people aged over 75 change their address in an average year?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sorry, I failed to answer that. The reason that it is done once a year is because the licence is issued for a year. If a person changes his address, he takes his licence with him. Deaths, which would affect the validity of the licence, will be updated monthly.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I am not understanding the process. If I apply, being over 75, for one of the free licences, I must connect myself with a particular address. If the database of the BBC, being out of date, has me at my old address, that will generate a query. That must be dealt with manually by someone ringing up the DSS and saying, "Has this old codger moved?"

I want to know the number of those exceptions which are likely to be generated in a year. I am sure that that is data which the DSS can supply, given some notice, because that is something about which the wonderful new system can be interrogated.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sure that I can write to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about that. After all, he is describing what will happen at the very beginning of the system when it is introduced for the first time. I do not know the answer. But this is a better system than one which involves individual searches of the DSS database. It is much better to have the bulk transfer which I have described.

In any event, verification by the DSS will involve disclosure of information. That is why we have introduced primary legislation.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I thank the Minister for answering the questions of my noble friends at that point. It has certainly helped to shorten my response.

First, the noble Lord rather took me to task and said that I had asked a series of questions which had nothing to do with my amendment. In my defence, perhaps I may say that my amendment sought to strike out the words, at the request of the BBC", and since the Government's own legislation shows that the BBC comprises all the contractors who are operating the data system, I feel that I was right to pose the questions which I did.

I am grateful to my noble friends for raising specific questions about how the database will operate. I am not too encouraged that even the Minister was moved to say that all databases are rubbish. I must remember that in future.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I should just like to say that my experience that all databases are rubbish comes from the private sector.

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.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 7, leave out from ("includes") to end of line 8 and insert ("a person or persons employed by the companies providing the BBC with services in connection with verifying that a person who applies for a television licence for which no fee is payable is entitled to hold it").

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.

7.15 p.m.

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.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 10, leave out from ("information") to ("obtained") in line 11 and insert ("about the age, addresses, date of birth, and National Insurance number of persons aged 74 or over, and about the date of death of such a person,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 3, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. In a sense, the amendment has been previewed in our debate on Amendment No. 1.

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.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

And, indeed, all those who spoke at Second Reading.

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 decided to avoid putting that list of information on to the face of the Bill. Why leave it to a statutory instrument? I am concerned that the reason may be that there are plans further to expand the scheme about which, at present, the House has no knowledge. That may not be the case. There may be no such intention on the part of the Government. However, by failing to make clear such information on the face of the Bill, the Government raise the suspicion that more information could be transmitted than is currently admitted to be the case. The Explanatory Notes refer in general to "social security information", which could be all the social security files. At Second Reading and today the Minister made clear that he does not intend that to be the case. However, some of the statements by him have referred to other prescribed information which might have to be included. We are certainly led to believe that the information currently referred to may not be the only information to be transferred.

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.

Baroness Fookes

I thank the department for giving the information about the draft order, which was most useful. But although I was pleased to receive a copy of the information, I am still concerned that we should need it at all.

It is an important principle that, as far as possible, information in relation to a Bill should be on the face of the Bill unless there are extremely good reasons for it to be otherwise. I am not at all clear why this fairly simple information should not be on the face of the Bill.

I had not thought about the question of addresses, but am intrigued by the points raised by my noble friend Lady Anelay and shall be interested to hear the Minister's response.

Lord Avebury

In moving this amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, prompted me to ask a question, the answer to which I hope is fairly simple; that is, what happens to gypsies or those who are of an itinerant way of life? They may have an address on a local authority or private site which is licensed for that purpose. They may then move away from that site, particularly during the summer for work of an agricultural nature and then come back during the winter. But there are other people who, because of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, do not reside on a fixed site. They move around the country from one tolerated site to another or may simply live on the verge of a roadside where the local authority allows them to remain.

If a person aged 75 or over is in one of those groups, presumably they are just as entitled to a free television licence as someone who lives in a bricks-and-mortar house. However, they may not have an address which they can supply to the BBC or Department of Social Security which would qualify them for the purpose. What are we to do about that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I start with the last point first and will come back to the other issues.

I assume that King Lear was over 75 years of age. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that he gave most of his castle to Goneril and Regan, and would have given it to Cordelia if she had answered the question in the way that was intended. He and his retinue—be it 20, 10 or one—live in a little part of his castle. They visit Goneril and they visit Regan, and if Cordelia was not living on the streets, they would go to her as well.

It is not our intention that King Lear should have more than one free licence. It is our intention that King Lear and everybody else over the age of 75 should have a free television licence at their principal address. There is nothing new in that. That is exactly what happens with people who are paying for their licence. They have a licence at their principal address. If they want a television set somewhere else, they have to pay for that as well.

Our assumption is that people will have a free licence at their principal address and that Goneril will not benefit when Regan is looking after her father, and that Regan will not benefit when Goneril is looking after her father. That is entirely reasonable.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to gypsies. I do not know what they do at the moment in relation to paying for a television licence. I assume that on the date they apply for a television licence, they have an address. That address is used for the licence and they carry it around with them. At least they do not have two different places, one for the weekend and one for during the week. They move themselves lock, stock and barrel from one place to another. I assume that that works perfectly well for television licences. We do not feel that there is a problem in relation to principal addresses. We mean the legislation to cover the principal address.

However, I am relieved to learn that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is content with the parliamentary scrutiny which is proposed in this Bill in the sense that the information is not being left to the Government to decide; it has to be prescribed by order. What she is not content about, and what the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, is not content about—I understand their concern—is why we should not place the information on the face of the Bill when I have already stated what it is going to be.

There is a need for the degree of flexibility provided by secondary legislation. Clause 2 states: 'Reduced-fee licences' means television licences … for which a reduced fee is payable: and — which fall within a prescribed category". In other words, theoretically it is possible to extend this scheme for the transfer of information from the DSS to the BBC for any future scheme that there might be of a comparable nature. We have no intention of introducing such a scheme. But we would not want to have to introduce primary legislation if at some time this or any future government wanted to do so. We are confident that the information set out in the draft order is enough for the smooth administration of the current scheme. The way that we envisage the scheme working depends on the interface between the BBC's current licensing scheme and the DSS database as currently structured. We cannot rule out the possibility that one or both of those sets of information will be restructured at some time in the future in such a way that the interface no longer works exactly as proposed at present.

As I said, we do not want to rule out the possibility, at some time in the future, of introducing different reduced-fee schemes, either to replace this one or in addition to it. It would be short-sighted to arrange matters so that a technical Bill of this sort were required if any such changes to the scheme were made. We believe that secondary legislation is the most appropriate method in this case where details may change without upsetting the principles which will be fully debated in the course of the passage of this Bill.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I thank the Minister for his answer. We seem to have been dwelling on two forms of "principle". The first is the principle of what information should be on the face of the Bill and the second is the matter of the principal address.

With regard to what information should appear on the face of a Bill, Opposition parties will continue to disagree with governments as to how far that should go; and no doubt we shall return to that issue. I was particularly interested to hear the Minister say more clearly perhaps than was said in another place that there may be occasions on which different schemes need to be introduced, or may be planned by the Government to provide reduced-fee licences. That may be something we shall discuss further when the future of broadcasting and the licence fee itself are discussed.

I was intrigued by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to gypsies and to how those who were itinerant in general have access to benefits such as this. I confess it is not a question to which I had applied my mind; I should have done so. I shall certainly follow up that issue between now and Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 16, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State shall not supply information to the BBC under the provisions of this section unless he is satisfied that effective systems are in place at the BBC to prevent accidental or unlawful transmission of the information or unlawful obtaining of the information.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 5, with the leave of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6, 8, 9 and 11.

This group of amendments addresses the question of how secure the transfer and the storage of information will be as it flows from the DSS to the BBC's contractors. In relation to Amendment No. 5, the intention is to make it clear on the face of the Bill that it should be the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place before he agrees to release it to the BBC and the contractors.

The Minister referred briefly to the fact that the Secretary of State should have the duty to ensure that proper systems are in place before the information is transmitted. After all, the Secretary of State has been given information for one purpose and it is now being used for another by the contractors of the BBC. The concern is that their information technology systems may not come up to scratch. At Second Reading the Minister sought to reassure me on this point. He said: The regime proposed for BBC subcontractors is exactly the same as that used by the DSS, which for many years has used subcontractors to process the data in question".—[Official Report. 15/6/00; col. 1846.]

The point that I am trying to get across is that surely there is a difference between the past experience of the DSS and that proposed in the Bill. Previously the DSS has had direct contractual contact with its own sub-contractors; in other words, there has been a direct interface. But under the Bill the relationship of the DSS with the BBC's contractors is indirect—it is on a loop via the BBC. So the BBC faces towards the DSS in one direction and in the other towards its own sub-contractors. My concern is: how can we make sure that the link between the DSS and the sub-contractors is secure enough to ensure that the transfer of information is properly made?

The Minister said earlier that the way in which the Secretary of State would relate to the sub-contractors would be set out in a memorandum of understanding between the DSS and the BBC. My question in that respect is posed simply to obtain information because I do not know the answer. What is the legal status of the memorandum of understanding? If such a memorandum is produced, what recourse does either party have if it is not adhered to? I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I apologise if in my enthusiasm to answer Amendment No. 1 at some length—because I was trying to anticipate the range of the Opposition's concerns—I probably answered quite a number of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has now raised.

Amendment No. 5 would prohibit the Department of Social Security from supplying information to the BBC under Clause 1 unless it was satisfied that effective systems were in place to protect that information from accidental or unlawful transmission or otherwise from being unlawfully obtained. But both the BBC and the DSS are bound by the Data Protection Act 1998, which must be adhered to when data are being processed. In particular, the eight data protection principles must be observed. We do not have to say so in the Bill because that is an overriding obligation.

Principle 7 states: Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data". As I said in response to Amendment No. 1, the Secretary will be concerned to ensure that effective systems are in place to that end. 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 applies in the DSS and in accordance with the principles, especially Principle 7, of the Data Protection Act. When that memorandum of understanding has been produced, I undertake to send it to all noble Lords taking part in this debate. I shall also place a copy in the Library of the House.

However, there is a further point that the noble Baroness raised regarding what legal sanctions apply. Clause 3 of the Bill makes it an offence to disclose the information supplied by the DSS "without lawful authority". This provision and the penalties that apply are designed to protect the information in the same terms as would apply if it were protected in the hands of the DSS. It has been modelled on Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992—of which we shall hear more—which prohibits unlawful disclosure of social security information by DSS employees and others.

Therefore, the effect of subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1 is that information from the DSS can be supplied either to the BBC or to persons supplying services to the BBC; and we have already covered that ground. To protect this information, subsection (1) of Clause 3 provides that anyone to whom information is supplied under Clause 1, defined in subsection (1) of Clause 2 as "a recipient", is guilty of an offence if he or she discloses the information without lawful authority. Subsection (2) of Clause 3 provides that anyone who could, in practice, get the information—either the BBC, a contractor or the staff of either—is also capable of being charged with an offence.

Taken together, Amendments Nos. 6, 8, 9 and 11 would simply replace the expression "a recipient" with the words "the BBC". But in the Bill as drafted "a recipient" is simply a label for the person receiving information under Clause 1. Therefore, if we were to change that label as proposed in these amendments, it would have no practical effect. The offences would cover the same people as is the case at present.

Both the Government and the BBC are keenly aware of the need to secure proper security for personal information. The Bill limits the use to which this information can be put and provides stringent penalties for unlawful disclosure. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendments.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to check with the Minister whether my understanding of the flow of information—and, indeed, the flow of money—in this business is correct. The BBC or its contractors receive the database. They receive applications from members of the public which they check against the database. If the person is entitled to a free licence, he or she is given one. The BBC or its contractors notify the Government in some way that the free licence has been given and the Government then give them the money for it. Am I correct in that assumption?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, that is right.

Lord Lucas

In that case, two further questions arise. First, if this information did leak out, what use is it? Are we merely talking about a privacy matter here or is there a use that can be made of this information? For example, could the person holding the information use it to extract money in some other way? Alternatively, is it information that is entirely without consequence, except for the knowledge of the addresses of, say, elderly people, which might lead to them being mugged, or something? Are we talking about something of real financial consequence or something that is just an issue of privacy?

Secondly, what check can there be to ensure that the BBC and its contractors do not collude vastly to inflate the number of free licences issued, thereby increasing the revenue to the BBC and presumably splitting the amount between them? I presume that the Government will have no right of audit, so who will check the process?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Lord's first question was whether there is a real risk. I have a very nasty mind and I can think of all sorts of risks. I can imagine being a burglar and wanting to go round and burgle people aged 75 and over. I can also imagine being an insurance company that, say, wants to sell annuities to people aged 75. So there is a real risk here. It is not just the fact that we must do it because it is the law and because that is what the Data Protection Act says. In any case, a fundamental principle of the way that public service works in this country is that we do not use other people's information for purposes for which it was not intended. I have no problems about what we are doing in that respect.

I am sorry. I was so enthusiastic about the noble Lord's first question that I have forgotten the second one—

Lord Lucas

Thinking the impossible, I had in mind that the BBC and its contractor could start putting in a lot of false claims about the licences issued.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, collusion. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has a very suspicious mind; and quite rightly so. There is no more reason why the BBC and its contractors should engage in collusion than the DSS and its contractors. The rules are the same; the audit procedures will be comparable; and there will be the same controls as exist in any other case. The BBC is independently audited and the National Audit Office has jurisdiction over licence fee collection. I cannot think of any new opportunity arising here for criminal activity.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

Again, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I was intrigued by the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Lucas with regard to the use of information. Between now and the Report stage, I shall certainly want to follow up some of the implications of how information might be used. Indeed, it might be more wide-ranging that I previously considered.

I was also most intrigued by the way that my noble friend Lord Lucas brought in the issue about potential collusion, or otherwise. I almost thought that he was about to propose that the BBC might not be audited by its own auditors but might perhaps be brought within the Government Accounts and Resources Bill. However, as the Minister has reminded me, we shall consider that Bill tomorrow.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he will place a copy of the memorandum of understanding in the Library of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Use to which information may be put]: On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I have given notice that I intended to oppose the Question, That Clause 2 stand part of the Bill. However, the grounds on which I did so have now been addressed fully by the Minister in his comments on Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I therefore have nothing further to say with regard to Clause 2.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Offences]: [Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 24, after ("he") insert ("knowingly").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 7, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 10 and 12. These amendments address a problem that arises out of the terms of Clause 3, which makes it an offence for certain persons to disclose the information we are discussing without lawful authority. The noble Lord referred briefly to that matter.

This would on the face of it seem a sensible and straightforward provision. However, I am worried that the special circumstances that can be involved in the electronic communication of information mean that individuals could fall foul of these penalties without intending to breach the terms of the Bill.

Amendment No. 8 refers to "a recipient". Amendment No. 11 seeks to amend Clause 3(2), which states, A person who is or has been employed by a recipient, or engaged in the provision of services to a recipient".

However, the objective of both amendments is the same; namely, that one should be guilty of an offence only if one knowingly discloses that information.

At Second Reading, the Minister tried to reassure me with regard to the dangers of accidental disclosure. Then as tonight, he was in a literary mood. He said that if one is reckless or just plain stupid one can easily release information by accident. He illustrated the point by quoting from the latest Philip Roth novel—that is rather more up to date than "King Lear"—in which a character sends an e-mail but by mistake clicks on the wrong button and sends it to everyone in her university department with some embarrassing results. I argue that mistakes can happen in electronic communication even where the sender is neither reckless nor plain stupid. The accidental disclosure that I am considering is far more complex and would not be the fault of the sender, nor indeed of the recipient, if it were forwarded unintentionally.

Someone who is employed by BBC contractors may receive an e-mail but, unknown to that person, his PC is infected with a virus which may be far more complex than the "Love Bug" virus, which attached itself to the address book. The virus attaches itself to their Outlook programme or equivalent and automatically directs the PC to forward all received e-mail to whoever has been in contact with that PC. Should one be guilty in that situation of an offence under this Bill when one has not knowingly transmitted the information?

Amendment No. 13 provides a different solution to the same problem. I have tabled it to enable all the options to be disposed of in one go in Committee. It would extend the definition in Clause 3(4) of what constitutes a defence for a person charged with an offence under this Bill.

7.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I believe that the noble Baroness refers to Amendment No. 12, not Amendment No. 13.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I beg the pardon of the Committee; I am speaking to Amendment No. 12. Amendment No. 12 provides a different solution to the same problem. It extends the definition of what constitutes a defence. It would mean that if someone disclosed information to someone who had the authority to receive it under the terms of Clause 1 and then the information was transmitted onwards in error—or perhaps because of a failure of the Internet service provider's own systems—he would have a defence to the absolute offence that is created in Clause 3(1).

I have provided two alternative solutions to give the Government the opportunity to say whether they intend that someone who has transmitted information unknowingly should be subject to penalties along with those who knowingly transmit information. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I ought to start by referring again to the Data Protection Act and Principle 7, which states: Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data". Clearly, the implications of the offence in Clause 3 go further than is strictly implied by Principle 7 of the Data Protection Act. However, we must consider this matter from the point of view of the people whose personal data are being used in the circumstances that we are discussing.

The effect of Amendments Nos. 7 and 10—and of Amendment No. 12 through a different route—would be to make it easier for those covered (that is, the BBC, or one of its contractors, or the employees of the BBC or one of its contractors) to get away with disclosing the information supplied by the DSS under Clause 1. This is because an offence under the amendment would be committed only if the action of disclosure was a deliberate act. It would mean that a careless or thoughtless person who released information accidentally in any of the ways which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has described, would not commit an offence. It would mean that if the person thought that the information had been obtained in some way other than under Clause 1, he or she would not commit an offence by disclosing it. It would mean that a person who thought, however unreasonably, that he or she had lawful authority to release information, would not commit an offence.

I understand the fear that someone who is not fundamentally a bad person might find himself or herself having committed an offence which could send them to prison, without having had the slightest intention to do so. However, if personal information is disclosed, the person affected (whose personal information it is) may not care very much whether the disclosure was malicious or accidental, careless, negligent or reckless—the damage is done, although the damage is not of the same order as I mentioned when I quoted from a Philip Roth novel. My fundamental point is that degrees of culpability are best left to the courts to consider and to reflect in sentencing. An action that was clearly carried out unknowingly would be unlikely to attract a severe penalty.

The Bill as drafted preserves an important principle; namely, that personal information should be protected. It protects it in the same terms as it would be protected under Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, which was passed by the previous government. That section makes it an offence for an employee or former employee of the DSS to release personal information obtained in the course of his or her employment.

The defences in Clause 3 are the same as those in Section 123 of the 1992 Act. It is a defence for a person charged with the offence to prove that the disclosure was made in the reasonable—even if mistaken—belief that he or she was making the disclosure with lawful authority, or that the information was already public. One would be able to use that defence provided one had deliberately considered the question of whether one could disclose the information and had decided on reasonable grounds that one could. The Government believe that the clause as drafted strikes the right balance between the flexibility that the courts need to have and defences which are comparable with those which apply under the Social Security Administration Act 1992. We do not think it desirable to accept the amendments.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I was interested to hear that reply. One becomes a victim when one's personal information has been released. Whether that was done accidentally or not does not matter too much to the victim. However, the question of intent goes to the heart of whether one is prosecuted rather than to the heart of the level of penalty that is imposed. Between now and Report, I shall want to consider further what the Minister has said about that.

Lord Lucas

Before my noble friend withdraws her amendment, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether there is in English law a concept of "culpability". I have listened to his arguments and clearly the concept of "knowingly" is wrong in this case. But, when a person is dealing with information of this kind, there could be occasions when it is stolen from him in a way that he could not reasonably prevent. As the Bill is drafted at the moment, it seems that he will acquire a criminal record when a court may consider that he should not have one. Is there not a let-out for someone who a court may ultimately consider is in no way to blame for what happened? I presume that, under the Government's new system, he will not have a jury trial—and therefore there will be very little option for a jury to fail to convict because it thinks that the person is blameless. Should there not be at least some let-out to enable a court to say, "No blame attaches to this man; we shall not convict him", rather than for a court to say, "We convict him, but we shall let him walk free"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We have moved away from my level of competence in the law. The only mantra I have on this is that ignorance of the law is no defence. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, after taking legal advice about degrees of culpability, which I accept is the phrase that I used.

Lord Avebury

Does the Minister agree that in the circumstances described by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the Crown Prosecution Service would not bring charges against somebody who is the victim of a virus which caused his or her system to transmit personal information to an unauthorised person without their knowledge? How could anyone be charged with an offence under those circumstances?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That sounds reasonable to me; but, not being a lawyer, I shall not comment on it from the Dispatch Box.

Lord Lucas

I am delighted that the Minister is prepared to trust his liberty to the Crown Prosecution Service and the wisdom thereof. I shall bear that in mind on future occasions.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

This issue certainly bears further examination between now and Report stage. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised a very important question about whether or not one can expect the CPS to take a particular action. The only thing I learnt overall as a magistrate was that one could never anticipate what the CPS might be expected to do; but that is another matter.

Clause 3(1) creates an absolute offence. The CPS might be in some difficulty if it knew that an offence had been committed and decided not to take action; it might be taken to task for that and its decision reviewed. Like the Minister, I am not a lawyer; I need to take further advice. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 12 not moved.] Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Liability of directors etc.]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo)

Before calling the next amendment, I should inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 13 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 14.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 13: Page 2, line 38, leave out ("any neglect") and insert ("negligence").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 13, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 14 and 15.

As has been made clear by the Deputy Chairman of Committees, these amendments are, to some extent, contradictory. Again I have tried to assist the Committee by bringing forward at this stage all the amendments that might reasonably be considered in order that issues may be disposed of now, and not brought back on Report.

These amendments seek to give the Committee an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of Clause 4, which was inserted into the Bill at a late stage, at Third Reading in another place. It therefore may not have had the full scrutiny there that one might normally expect.

Clause 4 extends the offence of unlawful disclosure to cover company directors. I support the intention behind that. Clause 4(1)(b) states that if an offence committed by a body corporate is attributable to any neglect on the part of an officer, then, the officer as well as the body corporate is guilty of the offence".

Several problems may flow from this. In another place, my right honourable friend Douglas Hogg pointed out that because the Bill uses the words "attributable to any neglect" on the part of a director, and because the offence is a neglect of duty, it will be necessary, first, to define the director's duties before it is possible to determine what a neglect of them would be. So what is the duty? Can the Minister say to whom the duty is owed? Is it a duty of confidentiality to the BBC, to the Secretary of State, or to the original provider of the information?

Another problem flows from the use of the word "neglect". On its own, "neglect" perhaps has far too wide a meaning. It will penalise officers of a company who, perhaps, because of a dishonest or incompetent employee or processor, fall foul of the Bill. It could be over-burdensome on business.

As currently drafted, the word "neglect" defines a failure to do what? Is it perhaps a failure to supervise other people; or perhaps a failure properly to police internal guidelines on the processing of information? It is not clear. The Government should be clear about this before penalising an officer for a failure to do something.

There is a great deal of difference between the meanings of the two words "neglect" and "negligence". "Neglect" implies that one omits to do something that one is required to do; whereas, to me, "negligence" implies that perhaps I do something but I do it only badly or in part. "Neglect" surely means "omission", but not necessarily "negligent omission". In order to judge whether one has done one's duty negligently or in part, one comes back to the original premise: one needs to know what one's duty is. What advice have the Government received on this point from their lawyers and from the Institute of Directors?

Amendment No. 14 refers to the words "wilful or deliberate". The amendment seeks to give some protection to an officer who is acting in good faith. It provides that he will be liable to prosecution only if his neglect or negligence is either wilful or deliberate. It suggests a need for some intent by an officer of the body corporate before he can be guilty of an offence. I return to my original intention in the last group of amendments—that is, to ensure that people who are trying to do their job properly are not prosecuted under the Bill. After all, we are trying to catch the people who are doing wrong, not those who are trying to do their work well.

Amendment No. 15 seeks to obtain from the Government a clear definition of what they consider to be an officer of the company. What do they mean by the definition in Clause 4(3), which refers to, or a person purporting to act in any such capacity"?

Do the Government intend it to cover consultants to a company? What about non-executive directors who, strictly speaking, are not employed by the company? What do the Government say about the position of shadow or alternate directors who may be third parties appointed by a director and not employees of the company? Who is meant to be covered by Clause 4? I beg to move.

Baroness O'Cathain

I rise to support my noble friend in this group of amendments, even though one or two of them contradict each other.

This is a completely new area of responsibility for company directors. They will be handling social security information—or, at least, they will be ultimately responsible for an organisation which handles social security information in a semi-commercial or commercial world. The responsibilities on company directors are getting more onerous by the day. There is no question but that unless people really go into the nuts and bolts of their responsibilities, and unless those responsibilities are clearly defined, fewer people will be willing to accept these onerous jobs. It is important that people should realise the duties of directors, but in this case those duties must be spelt out.

It is nothing like dealing with a normal commercial organisation where one has information. One has responsibilities in terms of one's customers. For example, if one is in a grocery distribution business one has to make sure that everything is done to ensure that customers are not poisoned by the groceries that one distributes. If one is in the airline business—both of my examples come from experience on my part—one has to make sure that, as far as is humanly possible, safety comes first. To that end special committees of the board are set up for air safety, ground safety or whatever.

In this area, which is a completely new area, where government information which is solely in the hands of civil servants will now be used by contractors to the BBC, one just needs to know the responsibilities of the directors of those contracting companies; otherwise, there could be a real problem in terms of the liability of the company directors.

8 p.m.

Lord Avebury

The responsibilities of the directors and the contractors are the same in respect of this information as they are regarding the information about their own employees. They are bound by the Data Protection Act. As the Minister has already explained, the principles of the Data Protection Act, particularly Principle 7, govern the behaviour of the contractors and they have to take appropriate measures to see that this information does not get into unauthorised hands, just as any information of a personal nature within their own companies does not get into unauthorised hands. Therefore, I do not see that the responsibilities that are being placed on directors are any more difficult or onerous than those which they already undertake as directors of their own company.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I can go further than that in disagreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. It is not just that there is an analogy between these obligations which a director has to his own employees; this formulation is exactly that which is used in Section 115 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. It is not new. The wording is the same as has been in force for eight years. It has not caused any of the problems to the Institute of Directors or anyone else that the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady O'Cathain, seem to think it might cause.

The fact that we are using the exact wording used in 1992 means that it was dangerous to change the wording because it might be assumed that we were implying something different, which we certainly are not. The word "neglect" is perfectly clear. There is not a significant difference between "neglect" and "negligence". Neglect means that, if someone fails to do something that he ought to have done, he has been careless. It is clear enough that directors must exercise their management responsibilities in a way that ensures that all data are kept confidential. It would be impossible to define all of their duties because all companies are different. The roles of individual officers in a company will also vary. All disclosures will happen in different circumstances. The expression "negligence" is no more precise than "neglect". It may have some different meaning in some other circumstances, but it still does not say what the duties are. The same is true about "wilful or deliberate" disclosure. If we were to introduce that and not have it in the 1992 Act, we would have a difference on which someone would seize and which could mean that the degree of protection provided for people's personal data, with which I think and thought we were all concerned, would be weakened.

Finally, I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, had to say on Amendment No. 15. I was not clear whether she meant that it should apply to non-executive directors or shadow directors. If she does, all I can say is that it ought to apply to non-executive directors because non-executive directors share a responsibility for the activities of their company. "Shadow directors" is a concept used in company law for people who are not directors, and do not purport to be directors, but are listened to by the real directors. Under certain circumstances in other cases they can be liable and they ought to be liable here.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I am grateful to the Minister, particularly for his final words about the Government's views as to who should be caught within the remit of Clause 4. I think that that takes us forward in a helpful way, which was not achieved in another place. I still have some concerns about the Government's attitude towards the definitions of "neglect" and "negligence", but I think that is to be resolved on another occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Orders]:

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.