Clause 1

Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 16 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Disclosure of information

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

‘(2A) Local authorities may, at the request of a relevant person, supply a relevant person with information on persons registered as blind or partially-sighted in their area for use (by the person to whom it is supplied or by another relevant person) in connection with switchover help functions.’.

The amendment stands in my name and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and the excellent hon. Member for Wantage, whose first appearance in his new post we look forward to with relish. I look forward to a passionate speech from him in support of the amendment.

I said in my opening comments about the programme motion that we had difficulty in discussing various aspects of the Bill because we were not in a position to discuss the detailed arrangements for the targeted help scheme and, in particular, who is to be helped by the scheme. However, the purpose of the amendment is to make provision for those who are not registered on the Department for Work and Pensions database but who might be eligible for assistance to be identified so that that help can be given to them. It relates specifically to providing information in respect of some blind or partially sighted people who will not be covered by DWP data, which cover over-75s in receipt of disability benefits. Those people will be covered by the data collection to which clause 1 refers. My argument is that some people may not be covered and we need an alternative source of information.

Clause 5(1) states clearly that the switchover help scheme simply provides help for individuals as agreed between the BBC and the Secretary of State. Bizarrely, that agreement will not come before the House for approval. It says nothing about who those individuals will be.

To find out, we have to look at the Department of Trade and Industry website or at paragraph 7 of the explanatory memorandum for the Bill, both of which make it clear that the targeted assistance scheme will  help households in which one person is registered as blind or partially sighted. We know, therefore, not from the Bill but from ancillary documents that blind and partially sighted people will be helped by the scheme. I am sure that the Committee will recognise that it is important to have access to data about all the people in those categories.

I was not able to attend the Second Reading debate, because I was winging my way to Australia to see how well England’s cricket team would do—we all know the outcome of that—but I have read the report of it with interest. In it, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, said that

“30 per cent. of blind and partially sighted people who could benefit from the scheme will not be identified by the Department for Work and Pensions database,”—[Official Report, 18 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 1194.]

and he was correct. The Government do not keep a register of people who are registered blind or partially sighted but who are not in receipt of Government benefits; that information is held by local authorities. The amendment is about enabling us to access the local authority data on that group of people. Local authorities keep those data because, in many cases, they seek to give blind and partially sighted people access to civic facilities and additional assistance by way of bus passes, blue badges and various forms of social service. Therefore, we know that local authorities have the additional data that would be valuable to us.

We could deal with that situation in two ways. The first is to say to local authorities, “This is the scheme that we have in mind. Please use your good offices to identify those people and notify them that assistance is available to them, so that they can contact a central body to access it.” The second, which I believe is consistent with the approach adopted in respect of other databases, is to enable the body that has been charged with the delivery of the scheme to access those local authority data centrally.

The amendment is relatively simple, but its effects will be far reaching for a large number of blind and partially sighted people who will otherwise find that they are not being identified for the targeted help scheme and could lose out.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 10:45, 16 Ionawr 2007

It is clear from the eloquence and passion deployed by the hon. Member for Bath that he used his 48 hours on the planes to and from Australia to incredible effect. We are grateful to the English cricket team for having ended at least one, perhaps two, test matches early to enable him to prepare such a passionate analysis.

There are two fundamental points in the amendment. The first relates to the stakeholders and partners on whom the company that will be established to proceed with targeted help will be able to call for information. The second relates to the criteria governing those who will receive help under the switchover scheme.

I was lucky enough to bump into the Minister last night and to discuss the clause with him. As he will no doubt make clear in his remarks, he recognises the importance of working with local authorities when the Bill becomes law and when digital switchover scheme is under way. As the hon. Member for Bath pointed out,  the clause pertains particularly to those who are registered as partially sighted or blind. Paragraph 5.22 of the digital switchover help scheme documents, which are published by the Department on the digital switchover website, says:

“Each local authority keeps a register of blind and partially sighted people living in their area, but this information is not held centrally. We are exploring the best way of how to contact blind and partially sighted about the help scheme and dealing with the overlap with age/benefit qualifications (around 70 per cent. of blind/partially sighted claimants will qualify on age/benefit grounds).”

It is quite clear that the vast majority of blind or partially sighted people will fall into the relevant category for the targeted switchover scheme, and that the DWP does not hold that information. It is also clear that the Bill makes no provision to allow local authorities to hand over the information to the company that is responsible for digital switchover, and must be amended. It is therefore extremely important that we discuss the amendment and that the Minister explains in detail how he expects local authorities to participate in the scheme, given the technical, legal lacunae that prevent them from giving the information to the relevant company.

The hon. Member for Bath made it clear that there is a need to debate who will be targeted by the targeted switchover scheme. The Government have issued a draft order, similar to regulations that were passed under the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000, in which the information that will be made available by the DWP is set out. It includes the name, date of birth, address and national insurance number of subjects, whether the subject lives in a care home and whether the subject is dead. There is other peripheral information, but nothing specific on who will be targeted and which benefits they receive.

The Disability Rights Commission made a useful point in the briefing that I received for the Second Reading debate. It pointed out that the DWP is planning to target only those who have been registered as blind or partially sighted, but the process of certification begins before registration. Those who are certified as blind or partially sighted may also require a great deal of help. The DRC also made the point that there are 74,000 visually impaired people in the UK who are neither certified nor registered as such.

The role of local authorities extends beyond those who are blind or partially sighted. As several hon. Members mentioned on Second Reading, local authorities are the organisations closest to those who will need help. It would be utterly sensible for the company that is responsible for targeting digital switchover to have a dialogue with the social services under council control, to discuss the sort of information that it may need, such as a list of all the care homes in a local authority area.

On a tangential point, perhaps when the Minister replies to the debate, he will talk about the role that charities will play. No amendment has been tabled on the need for charities to give information to the company that is targeting help. From the information that the Government have released, we know that the large charities are keen to help and will act as digital ambassadors to their clients.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

The hon. Member for Bath was right to anticipate the first appearance of the hon. Member for Wantage in his capacity as Opposition spokesman on this subject. I hope that we will be able to expedite our debates, while allowing proper time for relevant discussion of the amendments. We might even make the kind of speed that will allow the hon. Gentleman to make his Churchillian appearance in Hammersmith this evening. I am equally conscious that if we are delayed we will have to disappoint the people in Hammersmith—or perhaps spare them, but that is a point for debate.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield raised the issue of blind or partially sighted people on Second Reading. We share his concern that a considerable number of them will not be identified on the DWP database because the information is held by local authorities rather than centrally. We have worked closely with the digital television consumer expert group, which comprises leading charities representing vulnerable people including the Royal National Institute for the Blind, on how we should identify those who are registered blind or partially sighted. Those aged 75 or over will be identified from data held by DWP, but about 20 per cent.—approximately 50,000 or 60,000 people—will be identifiable only from data held by local authorities.

I know that the consumer expert group has actively supported the amendment. I have reservations about its wording, but I pay tribute to the consumer expert group for its contribution with the RNIB in particular. We recognise that allowing local authorities to disclose information on the scheme would help blind or partially sighted people by enabling the scheme operator more readily to identify those who are eligible.

On Second Reading I said that we were discussing with the Department of Health and the Department for Constitutional Affairs whether and how to make provision to permit local authorities to disclose the necessary information from their register of blind or partially sighted people. The view of the Department of Health is that because of data protection legislation, local authorities would be unable to share that data with central Government or other contractors. As such, blind and partially sighted people would be put at a disadvantage compared with others eligible for assistance. We are also discussing the matter with and seeking the views of the devolved Administrations, who are also important.

We are very sympathetic to the views of Opposition Members and of my hon. Friends on this important issue, and we are actively engaged in consultation to ensure that data on registered blind or partially sighted people can be obtained by relevant bodies; however, some issues remain to be worked though. The Government intend to continue those discussions in the next few weeks, and I hope that at Report stage it will be possible to bring back to the House the result of the consultation process. We want to ensure that the needs expressed by hon. Members on behalf of charities, the consumer expert group and others are met and that we can agree a way forward that will satisfy all members of the Committee.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I think that there will be a role for local authorities in the switchover process. It may be that social services could get  involved to help people with any problems. However, as somebody from a local authority background I wish to make the point that, although the costs may be marginal, there could be a cost to local authorities. Central Governments are good at saying, “It is in the grant, they can afford it,” but during the consultation it would be useful if realistic costs to local authorities were taken into account so that they could, if necessary, be compensated.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism) 11:00, 16 Ionawr 2007

I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman is saying. It is worth remembering that in the present case the administrative burden will not be particularly onerous. The problem relates to having the power to share the information: the registers are kept; it is a question of access to them. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point, although whether it applies in the present case is moot. Again, in the spirit of wanting to work with all hon. Members I will take their comments on board. We will consider them and if it is appropriate to measure those costs, although I think it probably is not, we will bear that in mind when we bring back any proposals to the House on report.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Wantage for his impassioned support for the amendment. He has clearly demonstrated that he will make a fine figure of a man in his new post.

The hon. Gentleman may be relatively new to his post, Mr. Conway, but you are not. You have chaired and served on many Committees of this House, so you will be aware that often when a Government like an Opposition amendment but do not want the Opposition to have the credit for it, they try to persuade the Opposition to withdraw it so that they can bring back their own, almost identical amendment, at a later stage and claim the credit for it. It might be argued that that is what we have just seen. But I genuinely do not believe that it is. I have rarely heard a Minister say that he is very sympathetic, that he shares our concerns and that an amendment deals with an important issue that we must get right. I am delighted that the Minister said that. I am delighted that he has been engaged in the consultation that I know began long before the amendment was tabled. Clearly the Government are taking the issue very seriously. We are grateful to the various organisations that have provided the Government with information.

As the Minister has given us an assurance that he will continue the discussions to ensure that an amendment is produced that has a similar effect to that of my amendment but deals correctly with the data protection issue, I will be happy to withdraw my amendment, but before I do so, I wish to say two things. First, I was slightly surprised when the Minister told us that it was the Department of Health and not the Department for Constitutional Affairs that was advising him about the data protection issue. I hope that we will have confirmation that they shared that advice.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

It just demonstrates how joined-up the Government are, that the Department of Health can offer that kind of advice.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We have to be a little bit careful in that respect. We may see on Thursday, when we have the statement on the licence fee and learn the outcome of that battle, just how joined up the DCMS and the Treasury are.

Secondly, I want to thank the hon. Member for Poole for his helpful intervention. While the Minister may say that the costs for local authorities may be small, none the less the burdens that actions by central Government are placing on local government are increasing. Local government is under significant strain and I would hate this to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for addressing that issue. I am also grateful to the Minister for assuring the Committee that he would also look at this. He will no doubt comment on it when he brings back an amendment on a suitable occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Ceidwadwyr, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 9, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out sub-paragraph (i).

No. 10, in clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out ‘the BBC or’.

No. 11, in clause 1, page 1, line 18, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—

‘( ) the person or persons duly appointed to manage and operate the switchover help scheme.’.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Mr. Conway, I hope that as I explain the importance of the amendment, you will not think that I am trying to find a clever way to debate the details of the digital switchover scheme. You will recall that I said in my remarks on the programme motion that we did not know who was going to deliver the scheme; what is clear is that we are unclear about what role the BBC will play.

The excellent Library briefing and the Department’s excellently prepared explanatory notes to the Bill contain little or nothing of the detail of the BBC’s role in delivering the scheme. Indeed, any assiduous Committee member will have looked in detail not only at the new BBC charter but at the agreement that accompanied it and came into force on 19 December 2006. Such assiduous readers will have noticed in section 39 of the agreement the following immortal words:

The BBC must comply with a scheme agreed with the Secretary of State concerning the provision of specified help to specified categories of persons for the purpose of enabling them to continue to view the UK Public Television Services when and after they are affected by Digital Switchover.”

That is it. We have no detailed knowledge whatever of the BBC’s role. We know from clause 5(1) that the details of the scheme are to be agreed between the BBC and the Secretary of State, but beyond that the BBC’s role is extremely murky.

The amendments would remove all mention of the BBC as a relevant person under clause 1. If the BBC is not to play a significant role, other than perhaps co-ordinating the provision of the targeted help scheme  for digital switchover, it is unclear why it needs to receive all the detailed data that the Bill will allow to be collected and shared. If the BBC is playing a relatively minor, though no doubt important, co-ordinating role, it could be argued that there is no need for it to have data other than in aggregate form, so that it knows the total number of people who will be affected and the numbers broken down by the regions where switchover will occur.

Paragraph 5.1 of the DCMS digital help scheme summary says that

“the help scheme will be managed and operated by a single organisation or a consortium formed for the purpose.”

That gives us further reason to believe that the BBC will not be the body managing and operating the scheme. With those two bits of evidence—the absolute silence about any details of the BBC’s role and the hint in paragraph 5.1 that the BBC will not be managing and operating the scheme—I surmise that there is no reason for the BBC to receive all the detailed data to which the Bill will allow it access.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I suspect that this amendment will not be received by the Minister with the same joy as the previous amendment. It goes to the heart of the Bill, and I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Bath. In effect, the amendment asks why the BBC must appear in the Bill. Ostensibly, the BBC has been put in charge of conducting targeted help for digital switchover, but the Bill makes it clear and previous experience with television licence fee administration shows us that, in effect, it will not be the BBC we know and love that will conduct the digital switchover; it will be a company formed specifically for that purpose. As the hon. Member for Bath said, paragraph 5.1 of the document from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport states:

“It is envisaged that the help scheme will be managed and operated by a single organisation or a consortium formed for the purpose. The successful supplier will need to demonstrate a strong track record of delivering large customer facing programmes and with the logistics involved in sorting equipment and delivering in-home assistance and support.”— so we know that it will not be Capita. The document continues:

“The successful supplier will also need to demonstrate a strong IT capability— so we know it will not be a Government organisation—

“for the setting up and management of customer accounts tracking those eligible through the scheme and linked with a contract centre designed around and capable of meeting the need of older and disabled people.”

One of the things that concerns me is that there is no provision in the Bill for the Minister to report back to Parliament on who will be responsible for digital switchover. It would be extremely helpful to the House, and right and proper, if the tender documents were made available in the Library for hon. Members to peruse and if the Minister regularly gave the House updates on what is happening. The House should also have a chance to debate the selection of the organisation that is ultimately chosen to conduct digital switchover. Given the Government’s track record of managing large-scale projects, it is important that they should benefit from the input of hon. Members.

As the hon. Member for Bath made clear, the information that we are discussing will be disclosed by the Department for Work and Pensions, and potentially by local authorities, which will identify individuals and households meeting the eligibility criteria based on social security records. The information will therefore be sensitive, but it will be disclosed without the express or implied consent of the individuals concerned. We believe that such information should be made available only where necessary, and the clause fails that test. It is not necessary to put the BBC in the Bill to make the scheme workable. In practice, the only people who need the detailed information on individual households under the scheme are those who are responsible for contacting eligible people—that is, the suppliers.

As the hon. Member for Bath said, the BBC only needs to see aggregated information in order to administer the scheme. It simply needs to know the number of households that are likely to be contacted in any given area so that it can make proper accounting and budgeting arrangements. It does not need to see the individual data. The help scheme will not be operated or managed by the BBC, which is simply the overall supervisor of the scheme, and it is extremely important that, as far as possible, we restrict the distribution of the information.

As we are debating the organisation that will undertake the switchover, will the Minister, when he responds to the amendment, give the Committee some indication of how the digital switchover timetable is progressing? We are a mere nine months away from the launch of the greatest civil project in recent British history, in Whitehaven of all places—a town whose name that will be carved in stone for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren when they sit down to watch digital television in years to come.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman wishes to talk about his great-grandchildren.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

No. I just wanted to ask, in view of what we heard about the hon. Gentleman’s range of speaking engagements, whether he is telling us that it is his intention shortly to promote the Conservative interest in Whitehaven, too.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Ceidwadwyr, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Order. Before the hon. Member for Wantage is tempted down that road, I remind the Committee that this is not a stand part debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will keep his remarks fixed on the amendment.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I was coming to the conclusion, Mr. Conway. I will certainly be visiting Whitehaven, but I know that the Minister has already accepted an invitation and I will let him go up there first.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I have to say that this seems a very convoluted way to organise targeted help. I am quite a fan of the BBC, but if one puts the BBC next to whatever organisation is set up, I do not think that the responsibility will be clear. One has to be able to answer the question: who gets the blame and who gets sacked if things are not being done properly? Will the BBC catch the blame? Are the Government trying to  insulate themselves from some of the unpopularity that will result if things start to go wrong? There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether the BBC should be specified in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that there will be a clear line of responsibility, so that if things do not go right and delivery does not happen, we shall not find that somebody was given a very big contract worth a lot of money but we can do nothing about it.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism) 11:15, 16 Ionawr 2007

I am aware, Mr. Conway, of your strictures on how far-ranging we can be. As to whether you would be comfortable with my discussing the timetable for switchover, I suspect that you would quickly rule that out of order, although I hope that you would allow me to echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Wantage in recognising the significance of Whitehaven as we begin roll-out. The name Whitehaven is already carved in stone, not least because of the excellent leadership offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland. He has done extremely important pioneering work in making sure that digital switchover roll-outs in the excellent way in which I believe it will.

The issues raised by amendment No. 8—and by the amendment group as a whole—are clear in terms of the purpose of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The purpose may be deliberate, but I think that the amendments are misconceived in terms of consequence, because of the damage that they would do—first, to the groups who will benefit from the way that we intend to roll out targeted help and, secondly, to the information access that is required and enabled by the Bill. Taken together, the amendments would remove the BBC from all definitions of a relevant person with whom the Department for Work and Pensions, the Social Development Department in Northern Ireland and indeed the Ministry of Defence could share social security or war pensions information. Their effect would be to remove the BBC from the list of bodies that can receive data, and hence make it much more difficult for the BBC to play a central and important role in establishing and funding the help scheme

That issue is fundamental and goes to the heart of the Bill’s purpose. I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said and have been cognisant of their concern, which is in part well intended. I say “in part” because I think that there is also an element present that would not be unhappy if it scuppered the Government’s timetable—through Her Majesty’s Opposition. That wish is one that we have no intention of giving way to. We do not agree with the view that the BBC should not be involved in helping to establish and fund the digital switchover help scheme. Nor indeed do we agree with the observations of the hon. Member for Bath that because the help scheme is social policy the BBC should not be involved.

It may help if I briefly outline why. The aim of the scheme is to help some of the most vulnerable citizens with an area that is technical and confusing for many of us, but particularly for many of the people in the eligible groups. Accordingly, we believe that it is right for the BBC, who are world leaders in the use of television technology and which is a widely trusted organisation, to have a leading role in running the scheme. Its operation is linked to the regional roll-out  of switchover and to the timings of regional dates. There are obvious links between the general communications needed to deliver switchover and targeted communications that are crucial to the scheme. The scheme will be most effective if fully integrated with the wider programme of work, which is best done by linking it with the BBC’s wider responsibilities for building digital Britain. It is therefore right that the BBC should take a leading role in making digital switchover happen.

We have worked closely with the BBC to develop the scheme, and I should like to take this opportunity to thank and commend the BBC team who led the development of the core requirements for receivers, which will ensure that equipment meets the higher usability needs of those covered by the scheme. We in government could not have done that by ourselves. Again, it is a practical example of why it was right to ask the BBC to take a leading role in this area. The scheme is integral to the digital switchover programme.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I apologise for intervening on the Minister when he is in full flow, but he has now said three times that the BBC will play a “leading role”. It would help the Committee if he agreed to specify the details and nature of that leading role. I did not table the amendments to try to delay the digital roll-out; there was no malicious intent. I was seeking to understand why the BBC needs the data. After all, we are all concerned about data being made too widely available. We should therefore limit the availability of data to only those individuals and organisations that have a legitimate need for them, in order to perform their function in delivering the targeted help scheme. I am still confused about what the role of the BBC will be and why it specifically needs the data.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

It is important for the hon. Gentleman to recognise the specific contents of the Bill before us. He has perfectly legitimate concerns in this area and there will be other ways of debating the issue. I shall therefore seek your indulgence, Mr. Conway, and continue with my initial response, which may allow me in part to satisfy the hon. Gentleman on the question that he raised. I will come at the end of my remarks to the specific issue that he raised.

We first proposed that the BBC should be responsible for helping to establish and fund the help scheme in the BBC Green Paper in March 2005. We clarified our proposals in the BBC White Paper in March 2006. The provisions are set out in the new BBC charter and agreement, which came into force on1 January.

The BBC believes that it should be involved. On 15 November 2005, Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s chief operating officer, told the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport:

“We are very keen to ensure that everyone gets digital, including the most vulnerable groups and that is one of the reasons why we have agreed in principle with the Government’s request to take part in the targeted help scheme funded from the licence fee.”

The amendments would remove the BBC from the definition of relevant persons with whom the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department  for Social Development in Northern Ireland and the Ministry of Defence in respect of war pensions could share social security and war pensions information in connection with help scheme functions. We believe that the BBC and the scheme operator will and may need access to that information. The amendments would make it much harder for the BBC to be involved in the running of the help scheme and, as a consequence, make it much harder for the scheme to help vulnerable people who may have difficulty in making the switch to digital.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The Minister is muddying the water further. In addition to talking about a “leading role”, he has said that the BBC will take part and has then gone on to say, rather cryptically, that it “may” need access to the information, rather than to give us an assurance. Earlier, the Minister said specifically that the details were set out in the charter and agreement. I have referred to the relevant section in the agreement. Is the Minister telling me that there is more detail in the charter and agreement that would help me and that I have missed? If so, could he tell me where to find it?

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

I am making it perfectly clear to the Committee why the Government believe that the BBC should be able to have access to the information. The BBC may well contract out some of the day-to-day operations of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman made a number of semantic points about a leading role, part role and so on, but under the Bill we are enabling the BBC to do its job. It is right that it does that job precisely because of what I said earlier.

The hon. Gentleman perfectly legitimately took a different view from mine on the matter from an early stage. Regrettably, the disagreement continues. However, because he has a different view from the Government, it does not mean that we shall change our position. We intend to continue to work with the BBC and when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes a statement to the House in which the details of the forthcoming licence fee settlement will be set out and, indeed, by implication and explication, the consequences of that for digital roll-out and targeted help, the hon. Gentleman might find the answers to some of his questions. In anticipation of that happening, he rightly probes away, trying to glean a little more information here and there in advance of the statement that we anticipate hearing from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am unable to satisfy his appetite on such matters, so he will just have to wait a bit longer until my right hon. Friend makes her statement.

The issue about the scheme being funded from the licence fee and delivered by the BBC has been debated extensively. We are willing to live with the fact that, even if I am unable to convince Opposition Members that the BBC should be involved in the way in which we are explaining, we believe that it is the best way forward for the success of the scheme and switchover if that is to work along the lines that we have outlined. The general spirit of our proceedings has been one of consensus, but the area currently under discussion goes back to a fundamental disagreement between Opposition Members and myself at a much earlier stage, so it is with regret that we cannot assist Opposition Members in their wish to amend the Bill.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I hate disagreeing with the Minister because he gets so upset, so I assure him that we shall return quickly to a spirit of consensus. It might help the hon. Member for Bath if the Minister could update the Committee on negotiations with the contractor who will carry out the switchover scheme. I mentioned Whitehaven not simply to have an opportunity to praise the outstanding efforts of the hon. Member for Copeland, nor to flag up the Minister’s imminent visit there, but to point out that there are nine months to go. Therefore, substantial negotiations must already have been completed that the hon. Gentleman can now share with the Committee.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

I am sure, Mr. Conway, that in respect of this specific set of amendments you would quickly rule me out of order if I were now to go into detailed discussions about the proposals for Whitehaven. I say in a sensible spirit of co-operation with all members of the Committee that we want the scheme to work. It is in the interests of everyone in this country that it works well and I am happy beyond the Committee proceedings and the Bill to sit down with all hon. Members and go through the proposals and, in so far as it is helpful—I am sure that it will be—to outline how the Whitehaven project will work. I do not want to take up the time of the Committee doing so now because it would not be appropriate. However, I am more than happy to sit down with the hon. Member for Wantage, particularly if he wants to meet at 8 o’clock this evening in Hammersmith, and discuss the details of the project, explain how we propose to roll it out and outline the advanced state of preparedness that is taking place, not least because of the co-operation and leadership offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland who represents Whitehaven and those who will benefit from the switchover.

With that said, I hope that members of the Committee can see that the amendments probably have a different purpose from the genuine, noble inquiry that is related to helping the most vulnerable in our community and that the BBC is rightly recognised for the role that it will play in such matters. It is essential that it and those who represent it will have access to the information. It is therefore with regret—I genuinely mean regret—that we will have to resist the amendments if Opposition Members in extraordinary circumstances press them to a vote.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 11:30, 16 Ionawr 2007

We have experienced this in the past. On this occasion a Minister has implied dishonourable intent with his tongue stuck very firmly into his cheek.

Although it was a relatively brief intervention, the hon. Member for Poole went to the very heart of what this debate is all about. He questioned the nature of the relationship between the Government and the BBC in the delivery of the targeted help scheme. He almost went so far as to imply that the Government’s intention was to set up a scheme in such a way that, if it went wrong, they would leave the BBC to hang out to dry. Were that the intention of the Government, I could perhaps understand the vital importance of the BBC having access to all of the data to at least make sure that every aspect of it was working in detail.

The Minister has failed to answer any of the questions that we have asked about the nature of the role of the BBC in delivering the scheme. We have heard that it is to play a leading role. We have heard that it is to take part. We know from the agreement that it has to comply with the scheme set out by the Secretary of State. We know from the Bill itself that it has to agree with the Secretary of State on the detail of the scheme—an interesting juxtaposition, incidentally. We know nothing, however, about what the BBC is going to do. The Minister has not been able to tell me where additional information is provided in the charter and agreement, so we are still left wondering why it is the BBC needs access to this information.

We have a bit of hope because the Minister has implied that the Secretary of State’s statement on Thursday on the BBC licence fee will reveal all this information. We are suddenly apparently going to discover all of the details of the nature of the work being conducted by the BBC. Since the Committee has the opportunity to be continuing on Thursday afternoon, and if not then at Report stage, which will be after the licence fee settlement statement has been made, we will have more information then and perhaps we will have discovered what the precise role of the BBC is. We will then have the opportunity to come back to this particular issue.

I am not satisfied at all by what the Minister has said, but I can see that I am not going to get very far now. Maybe after Thursday lunchtime we will have more information and perhaps I will have an opportunity to have another go then. At this stage, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Minister (Arts and Culture), Culture, Media & Sport

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 1, after first ‘with’, insert

‘, and providing information in formats accessible to visually impaired persons to,’.

The amendment is clear and self-explanatory. To be effective, the help scheme will have to communicate effectively with older and disabled people who are likely to qualify for help. To do so it has to contact them in a way that is accessible. This amendment specifically requires that the contractors will provide information accessible to all of those relevant target groups. This is necessary to ensure that the scheme is run according to the provisions of the disability equality duty that came into force on 4 December 2006 as part of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.

Some requirements of that duty are that public sector bodies must promote equal opportunity for disabled people and that, in doing so, they must take steps to meet the needs of disabled people, even if those require giving more favourable treatment than is provided to other people. The duty must therefore clearly require the DCMS and the BBC, which are both covered by it, to plan to meet the needs of disabled people in relation to digital switchover.

It is recommended that 12-point print is used as an absolute minimum standard in all communications, but 14-point is much the best practice. That will make it easier for the huge numbers of people who will have some difficulty reading standard print to access information about the help scheme. Among people  with sight loss, 19 per cent. cannot read their personal mail, 39 per cent. find it difficult to do so and a full 58 per cent. have difficulty reading personal e-mails. Over-75s are twice as likely to be unable to read their personal mail as those of working age. One in 12 people become blind or partially sighted by 60 and by 65 that figure rises to one in every six. A total of 2 million people in the UK have varying levels of uncorrectable sight loss and experience difficulty reading standard print, hence the importance of the amendment, which requires that all communication to those target groups should be in accessible formats.

It would be reasonable for initial correspondence to people who are registered blind or partially sighted to be in a minimum of 16-point print, although, ideally, it should be in 18-point. As well as being in large print, initial correspondence should state that letters and information can be made available in other formats, such as Braille, audio tape and electronically. The format preference should be recorded by the operators of the help scheme, who should then ensure that all following correspondence is in the target audience’s preferred format.

If that does not happen, recipients of the help scheme might not know, for example, when a visit from a technician or other staff is to take place, leading to missed appointments, negating the whole point of the scheme and adding to the costs of trying to arrange repeat visits and contacts. Those people might miss out on other important information regarding the assistance being offered with the help scheme, what they may or may not be entitled to, and so on. I suggest to the Secretary of State that this important amendment makes it clear what are the requirements on the contractors who are to deliver this important assistance.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I support the amendment, which makes an important point about the need to provide specific help for the visually impaired. Indeed, when we debate my amendment later, which seeks to write platform neutrality into the Bill, we will see that it is important that the technology provided to people who need targeted assistance for digital switchover is interactive, can be upgraded and can provide the specific help that people with visual impairment need.

Earlier this morning we were debating the BBC’s role in providing digital switchover help. I am surprised that the Government have decided to put all their eggs in the BBC basket, because those of us who talk to other broadcasters know that they are also advanced in helping vulnerable groups, particularly the visually impaired. This amendment gives me the opportunity to advise the Minister about Sky’s services for the visually impaired, which include a dedicated accessible service team with a ring-fenced telephone number giving direct access to an adviser, accessible TV listings information, disability awareness training for all engineers and the availability of alternative media—including Braille, large print and audio—to all correspondents. As far as the technology is concerned, an easy-to-use remote control device is also available. I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to set out in specific detail the training that will be given to the engineers responsible for targeted help.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

Again, I am tempted to debate far and wide the details of the help scheme. The hon. Gentleman is putting that temptation before me, knowing full well that the Bill is about access to information. None the less, he has made an important point, as well as a good commercial on behalf of Sky television, to which, he might wish to declare to the Committee, he is a regular contributor late at night, providing us all with great amusement as he attempts to analyse the newspapers.

The amendment deals with an issue rightly recognised by all hon. Members as important. It would be extremely unfortunate were we to go ahead with a targeted help scheme that could not help people as fully as we intend. In the best spirit, the amendment probes whether the legislation will achieve its objectives as far as possible. Hon. Members are quite rightly probing whether there may be a more effective way to achieve them, but there is no difference between us on the outcome that we want. The question is whether there is a better way of achieving it.

My comments relate to whether the amendment will achieve its stated ends. I must say at the beginning that I am advised that the amendment as drafted might do less good than he intends. Drafting is always a problem for Opposition Members, and where the Government can accept and improve an amendment, it is a problem that we always wish to help with. However, I hope if I give an explanation that the hon. Member for Chesterfield will recognise why the amendment is unnecessary.

I shall begin by outlining the amendment’s effect. It would effectively ensure that when the relevant person defined made contact with persons who might be eligible for help under the switchover help scheme, he would have to ensure that any information about the scheme supplied to visually impaired persons was provided in formats accessible to them. However, there is no need for the amendment in this case because of existing duties under the Disability Discrimination Act.

In rising quickly to his feet, the hon. Member for Wantage, who joined the hon. Member for Chesterfield in tabling the amendment, might not have had the opportunity last night to do his homework on the Act and discover that the issues that he presented to the Committee are already set out in the Act’s duties and requirements. Provisions in part 3 require service providers in providing their services and public bodies in delivering their public functions to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to access those services and functions. Such duties will apply to the relevant person when making contact with and providing information to disabled persons who may be eligible for the switchover help scheme.

In light of that, I hope that hon. Members will recognise that we are not for one moment trying to water down or undermine accessibility for target groups. The Disability Discrimination Act already establishes and imposes duties on individual bodies in such a way that everything intended in the amendment is already provided for in legislation, so the amendment would not improve the Bill.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Minister (Arts and Culture), Culture, Media & Sport 11:45, 16 Ionawr 2007

May I first make it clear that I do not associate myself with adverts for Sky TV, an organisation to which I would not want to lend my  name? Before I moved the amendment and the Minister replied, I wrote my likely response. The first sentence reads, “The Minister says, and it might well be, that of course the information would be provided in an accessible format because it is already required by law.” I made that point in moving the amendment. However, I know from my experience that what is required in law under the Disability Discrimination Act is not always followed through.

From 2002-05, in the last Parliament, I was my party’s spokesman on disability. It is an area I have taken a strong interest in since the last election. The Department for Work and Pensions has a central role in dealing with equality issues, but is often slow in producing White Papers, annual reports and consultation documents in accessible formats, even though it should be the foremost Department in ensuring that that happens. One reason for this probing amendment was to press that point.

In this short debate, we have at least put it on record that we absolutely and clearly expect the contractors who end up implementing this scheme to make every effort in the initial and subsequent contact that they have with people to provide the information in accessible formats. They will have to go out to the target group of up to 2 million people, some of whom may, for example, have sight problems.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

Again, it is important for all hon. Members to understand that legislation alone is not enough; it is about the spirit with which we enter into the whole enterprise. I say to the hon. Gentleman that we will see that in Whitehaven with the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland. We want this to work and we must ensure that everyone who is in receipt of the information can access it, regardless of disability. I give an undertaking now to the hon. Gentleman that regardless of legislation, we will work with the charity groups and with those helping target groups to ensure that the information is available in a form that is accessible. I want to put it on record that that really matters to everybody living in this country regardless of political persuasion. Wherever people live and whatever constituency they come from, this information must be made available in a format that is accessible. We undertake to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Minister (Arts and Culture), Culture, Media & Sport

I thank the Minister for those repeated assurances. I am sure that organisations such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the Disability Rights Commission or its future replacement, the Equality Commission, will in years to come quote that in evidence if needs be, as will we. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

May I detain you, Mr. Conway, and the Committee briefly to ask two quick questions on aspects of clause 1 that have not yet been debated? In determining the relevant people who will be eligible for access to data, we note that subsection (3)(c) states that a relevant person would be anyone carrying out

“any function connected with switchover help functions.”

Clearly, that enables a very broad definition of the number of people who might be helped. For example, a very small aerial erection company might be contracted to put up one or two aerials in a particular locality. It would clearly be carrying out a function connected with the switchover help function and would be given data about the people that it was expected to assist. However, one assumes that it would not receive access to the wider data. I would be grateful if the Minister could give some assurances in respect of the way in which data will be given out at the minimum level and how it will be ensured that people who get data receive only the minimum amount that they need in respect of the function they are to perform.

The Minister will probably reply that clause 3 should give me the comfort that I need because it ensures that it is an offence for people to disclose information that they are given without lawful authority. The Minister may well tell me that there are a number of aspects of data protection legislation covered in paragraph 9 of the explanatory notes and that that should give me some assurance that data would not be given to people who did not need them. In fact, having looked at those aspects, I did not get the reassurance that I seek.

I should like an absolute assurance from the Minister that no individual or organisation covered by the clause will be provided with more data than it needs for the purpose of carrying out the specific help function that it is required to provide.

Clause 1(4) defines switchover help functions as, in paragraph (a),

“the identification of persons who may be eligible”,

in paragraph (b),

“making contact with such persons with a view to the provision of such help” and, in paragraph (c),

“the establishment of any person’s entitlement to such help.”

I should be grateful for some clarification from the Minister, because the explanatory notes tell us clearly who, in broad terms, will be eligible. I have to rely on the notes because the matter is not covered in the Bill. The last sentence of paragraph 7 of the explanatory notes says:

“Help will be available free of charge for those who are eligible and in receipt of pension credit, income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance; others will pay a contribution towards the cost of assistance.”

That sentence is slightly odd compared with the statement on the Department of Trade and Industry website that

“We will charge a modest fee to others.”

One is left wondering how high the fees will be for other people. However, were I to probe that matter, you would rule it out of order, Mr. Conway. However, can the Minister give me an assurance that the aspect of the switchover help function referring to the establishment of a person’s entitlement to such help includes establishing the level of fee that they should pay, if such a fee is required to be paid by such a person?

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

I am pleased that we are making good progress. I can see Hammersmith looming towards the hon. Member for Wantage, if he so desires. Of course, whether he goes to Hammersmith this evening is entirely in his hands.

We have debated some of the details of the clause in discussing the amendments. Clause 1 is critical to the Bill: without it, the Bill fails. It is central in the purposes that the Government have set out for access to information. The clause provides the legal authority for the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland and the Ministry of Defence to supply social security or war pensions information to the administrator of the digital switchover help scheme. It enables the DWP, the DSDNI and the MOD to disclose information—I am beginning to answer the questions asked by the hon. Member for Bath—for limited purposes only, that is, for use in connection with switchover help functions.

It may be helpful to remind the Committee that there is extensive primary legislation setting out the circumstances in which and to whom social security information about individuals may be disclosed. Unauthorised disclosure of such information is, and remains under the Bill, a criminal offence under section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. The provision in the Bill is very similar to the one in the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Act 2000 that enables social security information to be provided to enable those aged 75 and over to have a free television licence.

I remind Committee members that, under the Data Protection Act 1998, the disclosure of the information in question must be necessary and, under third party data protection principles set out in that Act, the information must be relevant and not excessive for the purpose. It is critical that hon. Members recognise that information is supplied on the basis that it is necessary and proportionate to the purpose.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

May I suggest to the Minister that that answer would have been more helpful had it been given in his response to my amendments relating to the BBC? If he is saying that there will be a clear calculation of the minimum amount of data sufficient for the BBC to carry out its role in switchover—and, similarly, for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and my little aerial man in some sub-region—we might have made a lot of progress very quickly.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism)

I hope that we have made a lot of progress quickly. I did not respond to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier probes on the BBC because I am quite sure that you, Mr. Conway, would have ruled me out of order as it was not appropriate at that point. I resisted being tempted by the hon. Gentleman putting the amendment before me. It is sometimes difficult to resist temptation but it was the right thing to do in this case if we managed to put on record and remind hon. Members about the importance of information only being passed if it is necessary and proportionate.

It is not only the safeguards in the Bill on handling information that are relevant; provisions on the handling of information covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 are found in many other statutes and have an impact on the Bill. I understand why hon. Members might wish to probe to ensure that those protections are offered, but of course they are. Subsection (1) provides legal authority to the Secretary  of State and DSDNI to supply social security information to a “relevant person”, as defined in subsection (3), for use

“in connection with switchover help functions.” as defined in subsection (4).

As I have said, the clause is important. The hon. Member for Bath asked about the “modest fee”. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that the fee would be approximately £40, but I am happy to answer questions outside this Committee and to continue corresponding with hon. Members. I wish to underline to hon. Members that our purpose, and the reason for the Bill enabling information to be derived from social security data, is to ensure that the targeted help offered in the scheme achieves its ends. If we are able to improve the Bill, either in the course of its passage through Parliament or through guidelines and practice, we are open to doing so. We therefore wish to enter into continued consultation beyond the Bill itself.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.