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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there will be no change to primary legislation as a result of the announcement. That is why we drew up Clause 103. We are ahead of the game, even if only slightly. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Lord whether it will make any difference to the draft licences, but I shall certainly write to him with the information.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I find it difficult to answer that question, because I do not understand the figures about the losses that would occur to sub-postmasters. A sub-postmaster is currently paid 13p for every benefit transaction that he undertakes with the claimant and 17p for every transaction that comes through the banking system. There are no proposals to change that. I do not know where the figures for lost payments come from. The payments that sub-postmasters receive for those services will remain the same.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I welcome the positive points in the Statement, but I hope the Minister does not think that the population is declining in all rural areas. It is certainly not declining in Somerset and I imagine that there are several other areas where it is rising. Will the postmaster's salary be kept available when the existing incumbent retires, given the length of time that is often needed to find a suitable replacement? Will the Minster also give some thought to places where the village shop has already gone? Sometimes it has been replaced by a community shop manned by volunteers and in other cases there is still a pub or garage available to which a new post office business could be linked.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the decline in rural population is not a universal phenomenon. If I implied that it was, I was clearly incorrect; but it is an important factor in some areas. The question of payments to sub-postmasters is a matter for negotiation between the Post Office and the sub-postmasters. I cannot give any guarantees. Where there is no sub-post office, there is no intention to make an effort to bring one back, because such a huge number have gone. As I said, 3,000 were lost under the previous government. We are still working on the details of how the financial system will work.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I hesitate to ask a question, knowing that we are debating the subject tomorrow, but I have two points for the Minister. First, he talked about pilot projects. How many are anticipated and what is their time-scale? Secondly, although he has not been able to answer our questions on funding, we shall want to press him further in tomorrow's debate. He used the word "we". I understand his difficulty, but I do not know whether "we" means the Government, the Post Office, the taxpayer or the local authority. Clarification would be helpful.
The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 106 and 109. If the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, wants to know how to make small groups, the answer is to ask for them. The Government complain mightily, but they give in eventually.
There are three minor problems with the wording of the Bill on which I should be grateful for elucidation. Amendment No. 105 relates to subsection (3)(a), which says that surveillance is deemed covert if it
Amendment No. 106 would delete subsection (3)(b), because I do not believe that merely watching something from outside falls within the ordinary definition of "intrusive". Perhaps the Government do not agree and feel that the entirety of what happens in a house should be sanctified.
I should be grateful for some guidance from the Government as to where they think the line should be drawn between "intrusive" and "not intrusive" and how the wording in subsections (3)(b) and (5) work together to make that a line which is understandable to officials in practice. I beg to move.
Lord Monson: I have no firm views on Amendments Nos. 106 or 109. But it seems to me that if the Government do not accept Amendment No. 105, or something very like it, they will be shooting themselves in the foot. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, if Clause 25 is left unamended, the people doing the surveillance will be caught and that is surely not the Government's intention.
I also raise the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner, whose views must surely be given some weight in these matters, responded to the Bill in March of this year by citing the instance of a picture from a long-lens camera. That may not be quite as clear as a picture from a camera placed in the room but it did not necessarily reduce the infringement of privacy.
Finally, in response to a reply from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on an earlier amendment moved from these Benches, from a practical standpoint, in terms of working those complex provisions, how is one to know in advance whether the quality and detail of information obtained by a device is or is not of a consistent quality commensurate with information obtained from within the premises?
As before, that distinction may not be perfect in terms of pure issues of privacy but we need to give a clear steer as to the circumstances in which an authorisation will be appropriate. The Bill does that and it is compatible with convention rights in that regard.
Amendments Nos. 106 and 109 would lessen the controls placed on the use of intrusive surveillance. The aim of Part II has been to cover the activities of law enforcement and other agencies and to place the most stringent controls on those activities where a person has the highest expectation of privacy--in his home or his own vehicle.
To accept these amendments would remove from that category those operations or investigations where the police or others used highly sophisticated equipment--for example, laser microphones--to obtain details of a conversation inside a person's home without installing a device on those premises. We are not prepared to lessen that control which is why we cannot accept the amendments.