Children Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the Minister. We all look forward to bottoming out some of the information lacking from the Bill. I am particularly grateful for her clarification about amendment No. 35. She gave some more detailed assurances about how that would become clear and, though it raises an important point, is, perhaps, unnecessary. It is useful that she put on the record some of those assurances.

On amendment No. 36, things were going relatively well until the Minister used the fact that practitioners ''would have to think'' before they started to make decisions about what information should be placed on the database as an excuse for not accepting it. I hope that they will have to do that anyway and I still have concerns about allowing professionals to use their professional judgment where it may otherwise compromise the child's welfare. That is the whole point behind the amendment.

11 am

I will not press the matter to a Division and I am happy to drop the lead amendment, but we need further assurances on the second amendment. I reserve the right to return to that point on Report, when I hope the Minister will give us more concrete assurances about why it should not be in the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Column Number: 265

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 212, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 36, leave out from 'details' to end of line 37 and insert

    'the name and contact details of any educational institution of which he is a registered pupil or at which he is registered as a student'.

We now come to the question of the information that is to be kept on the database. One category, which is set out in clause 9(4)(d), involves the details of the education that is being received by the child in question. This is a probing amendment to find out a little more about the details of the education that will be required to be kept on the database.

It is clear that any institution attended by the child will have to be included on the record. Paragraph (d) goes wider than that, because it refers to

    ''details of any education being received''.

That would include other forms of education. The explanatory notes on the clauses refer to

    ''details of any education being received whether in an educational institution or other setting;''

The purpose of the amendment is to probe what those other settings might be and what is the extent of the duty to record the education that is being received by the child. The education of such children is an important subject, especially those who are in care, and it is important that we should have as full details as possible about the education that they receive.

Tim Loughton: I rise to back up the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). The amendment was tabled in the name of our hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, who sadly cannot be present this morning. I undertook to make some points on his behalf.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): He's electioneering.

Tim Loughton: The hon. Gentleman knows more about the activities of my hon. Friend than I do.

The point of leaving out clause 9(4)(d) and qualifying it with the words that we propose to insert, returns to a point that we touched on with the Minister. She told us the reason she had been given by her officials why the terminology must be in the form that it is. I was not convinced and we need to probe a bit further in to why we need to use a rather wide and vague phrase. In addition, if the intention is purely to name the educational provider, whether it be a school, an academy, a special educational needs provider or at home tuition, why cannot that be said in plain English in the Bill? Why must it use the strange configuration that appears to allow greater details about the type, nature, extent, inadequacies and failures of the education that is being provided to the child? The Minister assures us that that is not the intention. Therefore, why can we not just use our wording in the first place? I look forward to further clarification as a result of this probing amendment.

Margaret Hodge: This is the way parliamentary draftsmen chose to draft the provision to ensure that we have information about where the child is being

Column Number: 266

educated. There is nothing more or less to this matter at all. It is simply as it is because a child could be in an institution, or be educated at home, or be in a pupil referral unit, or a hospital, as well as being in a school or a college. It is simply worded to encompass all of the possible institutions. The hon. Gentleman does not understand quite why we want it, but one of the advantages of the universal database would be that those missing from education could be identified much more readily. That would be a good advance.

The hon. Members for Isle of Wight and for Hertsmere might like to indicate any further details, beyond what I have said, that they require. I shall see whether we can address those in the regulations, which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. However, the provision involves nothing more than telling us where a child is being educated.

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend and I shall want to reflect on what the Minister has said to establish what light has been thrown on this matter by her remarks. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Brooke: I beg to move amendment No. 109, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 43, leave out paragraph (g).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 37, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 43, leave out from 'of' to end of line 44 and insert

    'concern for his welfare, such basis for concern having been set out in national guidance'.

Amendment No. 225, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 44, at end insert—

    '(ga) details of the person (''the informant'') who has provided information in accordance with subsection (6)(b) or (c);'.

Amendment No. 190, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 45, leave out paragraph (h).

Amendment No. 218, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 47, at end insert—

    '( ) In this section a ''cause for concern'' shall not include any matter internal to the child's family unless the informant has reasonable cause to believe that a crime may be or may have been committed.'.

Amendment No. 219, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 47, at end insert—

    '(4A) Any regulations made by the Secretary of State under subsections (1) to (4) must provide that—

    (a) where information recorded on any such database is disclosed to another person, the person making the disclosure must notify the person about whom the disclosure is made of the information being disclosed, and provide them with a copy of it; and

    (b) where information recorded on any such database is disclosed to another person, and the information relates to a child, the person making the disclosure must notify—

    (i) the child if he is of sufficient maturity, and

    (ii) his parent, carer and anyone with parental responsibility of the information,

    and provide each of these persons with a copy of it.'.

Amendment No. 223, in

    clause 9, page 7, line 47, at end insert—

Column Number: 267

    '(4A) In this section a ''cause for concern'' shall not include any matter internal to a school, youth club or voluntary organisation unless the informant has reasonable cause to believe that a crime has been or may be committed.'.

Amendment No. 224, in

    clause 9, page 8, line 20, at end insert—

    '(6A) Nothing in this section shall entitle any person to any information about the cause for concern other than information of the kinds described in subsection (4).'.

Amendment No. 226, in

    clause 9, page 9, line 6, at end insert—

    '(12A) Any regulations made by the Secretary of State under subsections (1) to (4) must provide that—

    (a) where information recorded on any such database is disclosed to another person, the person making the disclosure must notify the person about whom the disclosure is made of the information being disclosed, and provide them with a copy of it; and

    (b) where information recorded on any such database is disclosed to another person, and the information relates to a child, the person making the disclosure must notify—

    (i) the child if he is of sufficient maturity, and

    (ii) his parents, carer and anyone with parental responsibility

    of the information and provide each with a copy thereof.'.

Mrs. Brooke: I address in particular amendments Nos. 109 and 190. No one will be surprised that we have tabled the amendments, because we oppose the inclusion of subjective data on the database. On amendment No. 109, ''any cause for concern'', as outlined in subsection (4)(g), is subject to wide interpretation. A number of professionals, rightly, will be involved and we want them all to access and use the database, but different professionals obviously have different thresholds for causes for concern. We must worry about the fact that something could be flagged up, accessed by other people and perhaps affect a child's whole future one way or another, and all because there was no common threshold.

The report on the Children Bill by the Joint Committee on Human Rights notes that the phrase ''any cause for concern'' is open-ended and subjective, and bound to include very sensitive information about a child. That raises questions about whether it is compatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights. I have met a number of the trailblazers and found that experience worthwhile. However, it was clear that some—I think, most—of the people whom we spoke to did not feel that the flags of concern were necessary. Having had that debate, I believe that we need the simplest possible database; we want to concentrate on enabling professionals to talk to one another. The danger of flags of concern is that there would be a risk of information overload and some important messages might not be picked up. The tool might begin to become a substitute for talking to one another. If a professional is concerned, there should be direct communication so that there is no misconception. There can be misinterpretations as a result of merely ticking the box on the database. I feel that that could make the situation less safe. It is also subjective, which is wrong.

Column Number: 268

Our first instincts were to aim for the deletion of paragraph (g). However, it has occurred to us, having considered paragraph (h), that the provisions are very open-ended and could enable the Secretary of State, by regulation, to put flags of concern into all sorts of records that were being returned to the database. Only medical or other personal records are specifically ruled out at this stage. Clarity is needed from the Government about what information they consider could be covered by paragraph (h). As we are also concerned about paragraph (g) we should prefer both paragraphs to be deleted. That would enable us to give more confident support to the Minister's tool kit.

In the other place there was a suggestion that an alternative name might be found for flags of concern. I would not find that any more satisfactory; the principle is wrong and changing the name will not help at all. It is with the greatest strength of feeling that I speak to the amendments, because they would make a big difference to the confidence and wholeheartedness of our support for the clause.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 21 October 2004