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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wonder whether the Minister can help me with a question. When moving the amendment, I asked whether such matters will be covered by the code of practice which was granted, so to speak, by the Minister in reply to amendments we moved at the beginning of Tuesday's debate. Will the inspectors of the fraud squad, so to speak, monitor the compliance of local authorities with that code of practice, and will that code of practice embody the concerns that I have raised?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We are a little confused about the role of inspectors and the code of practice which we discussed at the beginning of Tuesday, which was put in as part of the data protection measures, and is designed to ensure that the people who are doing the data matching and running the systems, comply with the provisions of Acts such as the Data Protection Act. That is what that code of practice is about.

If the inspectorate sees something that infringes the Act or indeed the code it will report that to the monitoring officer of the local authority, whose responsibility and duty it is to deal with these issues. That will be the clear line of reporting of any matter that the fraud inspectorate comes across. To add to its role and make it police the Data Protection Act as well is simply not sensible. The policeman for the Data Protection Act, and indeed other statutes, is the monitoring officer employed by the authority.

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5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am rather disappointed by that reply. After all, the code of practice is the DSS code of practice, not that of the registrar. It is not unreasonable therefore that when government fraud inspectors investigate the performance of the local authority, they should also assess and review that same local authority's observance of the code.

The Minister persists in thinking that data protection on the one hand and pursuance of fraud on the other are two parallel responsibilities which do not meet, and to layer the one on to the other is to produce an additional role, responsibility and expense. That is profoundly to misunderstand the issue. Data protection is about how it is done. Dealing with fraud is what is being attempted.

The amendment tries to ensure that in the process of pursuing fraud--a matter on which we are entirely at one--nobody cuts corners by failing to comply with the principles of data protection. Therefore an inspectorate that is concerned, which is pressing and possibly harassing and hounding a local authority to meet its fraud targets, should at the same time be required to hold in consideration that in so doing the local authority must conform to the principles which I hope will be laid down in the code of practice and are certainly laid down in the Data Protection Act 1984. If not, there is a danger that corners will be cut and that, in the pursuit of fraud, with the inspectorate at their back, the local authorities will not comply as they should because there will not be an equivalent weight of consideration.

I am very disappointed by the Minister's reply. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

5.32 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 49) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 138.

Division No. 1


Addington, L.
Alderdice, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Borrie, L.
Broadbridge, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Carlisle, E.
Carter, L.
Clancarty, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
David, B.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Falkland, V.
Fisher of Rednal, B.
Geraint, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. [Teller.]
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grey, E.
Harris of Greenwich, L. [Teller.]
Haskel, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hughes, L.
Jeger, B.
Judd, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Serota, B.
Shepherd, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurso, V.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Winston, L.


Acton, L.
Ailsa, M.
Aldington, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Ampthill, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B.
Annaly, L.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Balfour, E.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Berners, B.
Biddulph, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brentford, V.
Bridgeman, V.
Brigstocke, B.
Brookes, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Butterworth, L.
Cadman, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnock, L.
Chelmsford, V.
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Coleridge, L.
Courtown, E.
Craigavon, V.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Crathorne, L.
Crickhowell, L.
Cross, V.
Cumberlege, B.
Davidson, V.
Denbigh, E.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Downshire, M.
Dundee, E.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elibank, L.
Ellenborough, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Feldman, L.
Flather, B.
Forbes, L.
Gibson-Watt, L.
Gisborough, L.
Goschen, V.
Gray, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Harrowby, E.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L.
Holderness, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Inglewood, L.
Kenilworth, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kinnoull, E.
Kintore, E.
Lauderdale, E.
Lindsay, E.
Liverpool, E.
Long, V.
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.] Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Macleod of Borve, B.
Marlesford, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Merrivale, L.
Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Monk Bretton, L.
Mottistone, L.
Mountevans, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Munster, E.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Nelson, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Orr-Ewing, L.
Oxfuird, V.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pike, B.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Quinton, L.
Rankeillour, L.
Rees, L.
Rennell, L.
Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Saint Albans, D.
St. John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Teynham, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trumpington, B.
Ullswater, V.
Vivian, L.
Willoughby de Broke, L.
Wise, L.
Wynford, L.
Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

13 Mar 1997 : Column 461

5.41 p.m.

[Amendment No. 50 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 51:

Page 11, line 40, at end insert--
("(3) Any report which relates to an obligation to satisfy the requirements of any of the data protection principles (as set out in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1984) shall be sent to the Data Protection Registrar within three months of its delivery to the Secretary of State."").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 51 proposes that the report to the Secretary of State should, within three months, also be sent to the Data Protection Registrar as she is the custodian of civil liberties in respect of privacy, appointed by Parliament to undertake that function on our behalf. Her work will be greatly extended as a result of the Bill, monitoring a much more extensive and complicated set of information transactions between the DSS and the Inland Revenue, between Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue via the DSS to local authorities.

We are obviously pleased that the registrar will be expecting data matching bodies to conform to the DSS code of practice. Could we ask the Minister what additional staff the Data Protection Registrar will have in the light of the additional responsibilities placed on her under the Bill? Am I right in thinking that the Home Office has cut the grant in aid to her office? Can we hope that the Minister will support what is, after all, a modest amendment but will lock the Data Protection Registrar into the system? As the Minister said on the previous amendment, she is the protector of these concerns. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This amendment is similar to the last one, but in this case it places a statutory requirement upon the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate to send to the Data Protection Registrar reports on the local authorities' compliance with the Data Protection Act 1984.

For the reasons I outlined a short time ago, we do not believe that the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate ought to be asked to monitor compliance with the Data Protection Act. The proper place for that role is with the Data Protection Registrar. This amendment would considerably alter the role of the inspectorate, as would the previous one, and I believe that widening its scope would reduce concentration on its main task, which is housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud. It would also increase the running costs.

There is little difference between this amendment and the last one relating to the fraud inspectorate. Any authorised persons conducting an inspection on

13 Mar 1997 : Column 462

behalf of the Secretary of State will, of course, need to be aware of the legal context within which local authorities work. That will include the legislation relating to data protection. It will also include responsibilities relating to the employment of the health and safety laws. The noble Baroness is not yet asking that the fraud inspectorate monitor these Acts as well, but the inspectorate would have to be aware of the Acts, particularly the Data Protection Act. The inspectorate will not be able to ask local authorities to ride roughshod over the Data Protection Act, as the noble Baroness seems to think, in order to meet some fraud objectives.

Any concerns about possible breaches of data protection legislation encountered by the inspectorate will, as I have already explained, be reported to the chief officers within the local authority. It is the clear legal responsibility of those officers to comply with the Act. They are accountable for procedures in the local authority and it would be wrong to dilute that by placing a statutory responsibility on the inspectorate. The Data Protection Registrar gives advice to local authorities on issues concerning data protection.

To reiterate, it would not be appropriate to extend the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's remit in the way suggested by the amendment. Nor do we believe that the amendment would offer any additional safeguard to an individual's personal privacy.

I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment, but if she wishes to go to a vote, I am sure that my noble friends will support me in the Lobby.

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