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Appeals about information held on databases

   'The Secretary of State shall establish an appeals procedure by which individuals referred to on a database established under regulations under section 12 (explicitly or implicitly) in respect of a child whose case has been referred to that database may challenge the inclusion of information.'.—[Tim Loughton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Tim Loughton : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 16—Procedures in relation to the processing of personal data—

'(1)   This section shall have effect in relation to the provisions described in section 12 and the processing of personal data.

(2)   The Secretary of State may not make any regulations under the provisions of section 12, or issue guidance or a direction under those provisions, unless the Information Commissioner has been provided with the opportunity to make representations as to any degradation in the protection afforded to data subjects or to any degradation in the effectiveness of any data protection principle which would be caused by the implementation of that regulation, guidance or direction.

(3)   If the Secretary of State issues regulations, guidance or direction under the provisions of section 12 which, in the view of the Information Commissioner, degrade the protection afforded to data subjects or degrade the effectiveness of any data protection principle, the Information Commissioner may publish any relevant information, correspondence, document or advice which relates to the degradation in question.

(4)   For the purposes of this Act, section 10(2) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (c.29) (exemptions from right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress) shall apply as if it read as follows—

"(2)   Subsection (1) does not apply in a case where any of the conditions in paragraphs 1, 2 or 4 of Schedule 2 is met."

(5)   Personal data processed by any data controller for a purpose specified in regulations, guidance or direction made or issued under the provisions of section 12 shall not be processed for any other purpose unless that purpose is also specified in regulations made under powers authorised by this Act.

(6)   For the purpose of this Act, "personal data" shall mean any data which relate to a living individual who can be directly or indirectly identified—

(a)   from those data, or

(b)   from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller.

(7)   For the purpose of this section—

(a)   the definition of "data", "processing", "data controller" and "data subject" shall be the same as in section 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998;

(b)   the "data protection principles" are the principles described in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998;

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(c)   the "Information Commissioner" is the Commissioner established by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000.'.

Amendment No. 46, in page 9, line 32, leave out clause 12.Amendment No. 17, in clause 12, page 9, line 39, leave out 'one or more databases' and insert

Amendment No. 2, in clause 12, page 10, line 15, leave out paragraph (g).

Amendment No. 18, in clause 12, page 10, line 15, leave out from 'of' to end of line 16 and insert

Amendment No. 3, in clause 12, page 10, line 17, leave out paragraph (h).

Amendment No. 38, in clause 12, page 10, line 39, at end insert—

'(   )   The requirement to disclose information for agencies specified in subsection (6)(b) will not apply if disclosure would be detrimental to the child's welfare or safeguarding.'.

Amendment No. 19, in clause 12, page 11, line 2 , at end insert—

'(7A)   The requirement to disclose information for agencies specified in subsection (6)(b) will not apply if disclosure would be detrimental to the child's welfare or safeguarding.'.

Tim Loughton: We now come to what could be, barring the smacking debate that we shall hold later, the most contentious part of the Bill and the one about which the Opposition have the most concerns. I want to talk to clause 12 as a whole. Amendment no. 46 would delete it, but other amendments in the group, as well as new clause 4 itself, would improve and make acceptable the whole section about databases.

This is an important part of the Bill. In Committee, we spent more than a morning on it, rightly, yet at the end of that time we had few assurances from the Minister for Children, Young People and Families about how the provisions would work, so we subsequently decided to vote against the whole clause. The upper House made some improvements to the clause, but although they were welcome they did not go nearly far enough.

In Committee, the Minister mentioned that she hoped our fears would be assuaged by the publication of the consultation document on the whole database system, which duly took place last week. We are grateful for that consultation document, but that is all it is—a consultation document. It is not a White Paper; it does not show a firm direction for the Government to take. The responses will not be in until the end of January, yet we are being asked, at this late stage of the Bill's progress, to write the Government a large blank cheque to set up powerful databases that would include each and every one of the more than 11 million children in this country.

The 10 trailblazer projects—pilots—being set up to try to investigate how such schemes could work are only halfway through their task. That work is being extended until March 2005 and the projects have just been granted second-tier funding, yet we are being asked to give the Secretary of State enormous powers to set up databases, about which there remain a lot of
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unanswered questions. The Government do not even know what the final identity and nature of those databases will be.

Even more worrying is the fact that only in the last week or so have we started to hear details about the Government's integrated children's systems, which, I gather, are to replace child protection registers by December 2005. They will be more detailed than child protection registers and will contain children's social care case records. They will operate in parallel with other case record systems, such as the NHS care record system for health practitioners.

The Minister has pledged £30 million to the project over the next two years, yet that was not mentioned once during the entire proceedings of the Bill in the upper House, on Second Reading or in Committee. Not once did the Minister allude to the fact that another much larger database is being constructed, for which money is already committed, and which will replace child protection registers.

Why was that not mentioned? How will the new system interact with the databases that we are discussing in the Bill? How will information be transferred? What arrangements have been made for security of access under the new systems? In answer to my written question

the Minister replied:

Why was that?

What is this proposal if it is not a national register? We need much more information than we have been given so far.

Yet more alarm bells are sounding. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, warned in an article in The Times earlier in the year that we risk

The arrangements have already been referred to as "Big Brother for children" in The Guardian. Children Now magazine recently warned:

I share those worries.

3 pm

We said from the start that we are not against the principle of databases. We need databases to protect vulnerable children, but they should contain only minimal information and should not be a substitute for professionals talking to each other. Their scope should be limited to vulnerable children, rather than every single child in the country, because the system will otherwise be impractical and unworkable.
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