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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that that was an incredible response? Is he aware that, in less than two hours' time, the Audit Commission is coming to the All-Party Disablement Group to explain the report on the disastrous state of equipment for disabled people in Britain? The Disability Information Trust reports on disability equipment.

This is the very last time that we should be cutting finance for trusts of this kind. With the development of the Disability Discrimination Act, the implementation of that Act and the complexity of the law which disabled people and the public need to understand, the Government should be increasing information about disability rather than reducing it. Will the Government think again?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that comment and I am well aware, as are noble Lords in the Chamber today, how concerned he is about the issue of contributions to the disabled. The Audit Commission report's findings confirm that these services are critically important to disabled and older people. We agree that there needs to be improvement and there also needs to be a higher profile.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the noble Lord has already referred to the Audit Commission's rather damning report referring to wasted money and lack of management structures. In the light of that, can the noble Lord assure us that more funding will be given to other organisations which are covering the work done by the trust and that, if they are not, they will ensure that the trust receives more fundings? There is quite clearly an absolute lack of proper information here and most disability organisations spend most of their time giving out information.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the noble Lord refers to the Audit Commission report. I can say that the Government are already taking a wide range of actions to increase standards as a result of that report. Extra money is available through specific fundings such as partnerships and prevention initiatives. We recently announced a £4 million investment in 2001-02 to modernise hearing aids. We funded the Disabled Living Centres Council to produce good practice guidance on provision of community equipment

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services. We have distributed the guidance widely in the National Health Service and social services. The Government's record in this area is very good. Indeed, by the end of their term of office they will have proved that they have successfully aided the position of those who unfortunately are in disablement positions.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, irrespective of the value of this charity, of which I am well aware, does the Minister agree with me that it is one thing for government departments to give project grants for individual items that charities undertake and it is quite another thing for them to give core grants to continue their operations in a general way, employing staff and such like? In those situations, does not the Minister agree that the charity in fact ceases to be a charity and becomes an organ of the state?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Walton, would want me to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on that issue but I agree with the general thrust of what he had to say. At the time of the Disablement Information Trust becoming a charity in 1991 less work was being done in the field of information about disability and disability equipment. In recent years more organisations have become active in this area. All applications from voluntary organisations wishing to further this work must be considered on equal merits. Unfortunately, that is where the Disability Information Trust falls at the moment.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the Minister has frequently used the word "we" when talking about the allocation of grants. Could he tell us who "we" are?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for correcting me in that area. I can only say that my explanation of "we" is that it is the Government and the Department of Health on this occasion.

Earl Howe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the service provided by the Disability Information Trust is not commercially economic--not remotely so--and that it must depend on grant funding of some nature if it is to survive? Does he not consider that this is a worthy use for taxpayers' money and will he not undertake today to reconsider his department's decision?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the noble Earl refers to the Disability Information Trust surviving only if it has core funding. The decision to taper off core funding was made in 1996 under the then Secretary of State and we are now coming to a point where the core funding has indeed tapered off. It is necessary for the Disability Information Trust to consider its future which lies either on the basis of being able to apply successfully in the future for funding or, perhaps, consider other alternatives such as a merger, which might be a possibility for the future.

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3.16 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Symons will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on defence procurement. If the Report stage of the Electronic Communications Bill proceeds beyond 3.30 p.m., the Statement will be taken after conclusion of that Report stage. If the Report stage ends before 3.30 p.m., the Statement will be taken after the two Northern Ireland orders.

Business of the House: Debate, 17th May

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Tebbit set down for tomorrow shall be limited to five hours.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Business of the House: Standing Order 72

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 72 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with to enable the Motions to approve the draft Flags (Northern Ireland) Order 2000 and the draft Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) (No. 2) Order 2000 to be taken today, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the draft orders has been laid before the House.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, it is not unusual for the Leader of the House to seek to move the Motion temporarily suspending Standing Order 72. However, this is normally done in emergency situations or where matters are evolving very, very quickly. One can well understand why the Government wish to proceed with the draft Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) (No. 2) Order for that very purpose. However, that cannot be so of the flags order. The flags order, temporarily anyway, transfers to the Secretary of State what is a transferred matter: the control of the flying of flags, designs and so forth. I ask the noble Baroness to explain to me why she is asking us to abandon Standing Order 72 for the purpose of that order.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding the House that these matters, particularly those relating to Northern Ireland, have been taken in this form and that the House has agreed to this procedure. On the

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question of the two orders before the House, my understanding is that both are regarded as equally important and that both have to go to meetings of the Privy Council tomorrow. It was therefore thought relevant that this procedure should be adopted and it has been agreed by the usual channels.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Electronic Communications Bill

3.18 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Arrangements for the grant of approvals]:

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Regulations under Part I]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 6, line 3, at end insert--

("( ) Before making any regulations by virtue of section 2(3)(a) or (b) the Secretary of State shall consult--
(a) such persons appearing to him to be likely to be affected by those regulations, and
(b) such persons appearing to him to be representative of persons likely to be so affected,
as he thinks fit.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville. I should explain that my noble friend apologises to the House for his absence, but he is in Japan for the whole of this week on, needless to say, government business.

Before turning to Amendment No. 3, I should like briefly to say a few words on the important topic of data protection in connection with Clause 4 of the Bill. During the discussion in Grand Committee, my noble friend Lord Sainsbury noted that there was a somewhat complex interaction between the Data Protection Act 1998 and this legislation. He promised the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, who had raised the subject with him, to say a few words at Report stage about this interaction.

Clause 4 concerns regulatory information obtained for the purposes of Part I of the Bill. One of the purposes for which this information may be disclosed is in connection with criminal proceedings. But in deciding whether to make such a disclosure, the Secretary of State would have to take into account whether that disclosure is consistent with the Data Protection Act. So there is no conflict between the two pieces of legislation.

To be precise, information in this case comes into the possession of the Secretary of State through the powers invested in him in Part I of the Bill. The information, from those bodies seeking "approval" under Part I, may be commercially confidential or affect people's privacy, so it is important to define precisely the purposes for which the information can be disclosed. The clause thus makes it an offence to disclose information obtained under Part I of the Bill

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unless it is for the purposes spelled out in the clause, or the data owner has given his consent to its disclosure. There are precedents for such disclosure provisions, including legislation on competition, utility regulation and financial services.

Turning to the Data Protection Act 1998, in relation to Clause 4, perhaps I should start by noting that the Act does not, in the most part, lay down cast-iron rules on the circumstances under which information might be disclosed. Instead it lays out a framework under which those holding information can judge the extent to which it can be disclosed and to whom. This, in turn, will depend on the nature of the information--what it might identify about the person or body concerned--on what basis it was obtained and the purposes for which disclosure is to be made. A further consideration would, of course, be whether the subject of the information had expressly consented to the information being made available to other than the data holder.

In turning to Clause 4 in this context, the important point to make is that it does not mandate the Secretary of State, or anyone else, to disclose any information at all. Instead, in subsection (2), it limits the purposes for which information can be disclosed if the Secretary of State so decides. And in deciding whether information should be disclosed, the Secretary of State has to be mindful of the Data Protection Act. In other words, in each circumstance where data were to be disclosed, say, for example, in connection with the investigation of a criminal offence under subsection (2)(c), the Secretary of State would need to be satisfied that such disclosure was compatible with the Act and the data protection principles it outlines. This, as I said, would, inter alia, depend on the exact purpose of the disclosure, the nature of the information and what the data subject had been told about such potential disclosure when the information was submitted.

Such decisions, which the Secretary of State is obliged to make in each case of potential disclosure, are not uncommon. They occur with respect to other legislation and are the basis on which the Data Protection Act has been drafted. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, and others, that, for the reasons I have outlined, Clause 4 is consistent with the Data Protection Act, and indeed strengthens, rather than weakens, the protection given to information submitted by those seeking approval under Part I of the Bill.

I turn to Amendment No. 3. I hope that noble Lords will welcome this amendment. It merely reflects a commitment made by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury in Grand Committee to write on the face of the Bill our decision to consult on the approvals criteria. I beg to move.

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