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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Education and Skills Bill

Education and Skills Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: John Bercow, Hugh Bayley
Barlow, Ms Celia (Hove) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Heald, Mr. Oliver (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Lammy, Mr. David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op)
Marsden, Mr. Gordon (Blackpool, South) (Lab)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Soulsby, Sir Peter (Leicester, South) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab)
Nick Walker, Tom Goldsmith, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 19 February 2008


[John Bercow in the Chair]

Education and Skills Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

E&S 16 Fairbridge

Clause 14

Educational institutions: duty to provide information
Amendment proposed [7 February]: No. 17, in clause 14, page 7, line 29, after ‘authority’, insert
‘provided that the relevant pupil or student has given written consent for the information to be provided.’.—[Mr. Gibb.]
10.30 am
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 16, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert—
‘(3A) Any pupil or student to whom subsection (1) applies shall have the right to examine any relevant information requested by a local authority before that information is provided by the responsible person to the authority.’.
No. 19, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert—
‘(3A) Any pupil or student to whom subsection (1) applies shall be given the opportunity to correct any relevant information regarded by him as inaccurate, subject to the agreement of the responsible person.
(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), when agreement cannot be reached between the pupil or student and the responsible person the Information Commissioner shall decide what correction, if any, should be made to the relevant information.’.
No. 170, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert
‘which is relevant to assessing their educational and support needs.’.
No. 18, in clause 14, page 7, line 43, leave out ‘instructed the responsible person not’ and insert
‘not given written consent to the responsible person’.
No. 97, in clause 57, page 30, line 34, at beginning insert
‘Subject to the written consent of the pupil or student,’.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): Good morning to you, Mr. Bercow, and to the rest of the Committee. In your case, welcome back to the Chair.
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to indicate that he supports amendment No. 170, tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, which would have the effect of requiring the information passed by institutions in respect of their pupils or students to a local authority to be
“relevant to assessing their educational and support needs.”
The fact that the amendment is necessary highlights the sweeping nature of the powers that the clause appears to attempt to take. It allows an institution to pass over information of a broad nature about young people—[ Interruption. ] I am happy to give way to the Minister if he wishes to correct anything that I have said.
The clause is widely framed, and when one considers the type of information that educational institutions often collect and the difficult nature of their job in dealing with some young people, there is a fear that some of the information passed over may not be appropriate in the light of the powers in the Bill.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): The hon. Gentleman says that the powers are sweeping. To help him and the rest of the Committee, I point out that subsection (3)(a) and (b) specifies which information would be transferred automatically. Any other information beyond that basic level would be transferred only with consent.
Mr. Laws: The Minister is right that questions of consent are involved. I do not want to return to the debate we had in our last sitting and the points raised by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, but he rightly asked whether young people and their parents would be in a position to exercise the right to opt out; whether they would be aware of all the information kept; and whether they would be notified in a reliable way before the information changed hands.
Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman used the phrase “opt out”. I will assist the Committee by pointing to subsection (4) which sets out the position if
“a parent of the pupil or student concerned...has instructed the responsible person not to provide information”.
Mr. Laws: Yes, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said from a sedentary position, that is opting out. It is not opting in, which is the thrust of the Conservative amendments. The amendments tabled by the hon. Gentleman would have a different effect from ours, although they deal with the same concerns. He has drawn attention to the fact that the end of subsection (4) is rather vague on how those responsibilities will be carried out. It states that the information held by the institution about a pupil or student can be handed over to the local authority unless the pupil or the parent of a pupil below the age of 16 has instructed the responsible person not to provide such information. As I understand it, that leaves open the questions of how young people or their parents might find out that that information will be passed over, precisely what checks and information would have to be available to them first, and whether they would have a right to correct the information and see all of it.
Those are legitimate concerns, because there might be cases involving, for example, child abuse where very sensitive information is kept by schools. I can think of cases in my constituency where imparting such information not only to an outside body, but sometimes to the parent in a case where the child has given the information in confidence, might be an extremely sensitive matter, and the Bill as it stands does not clarify what the checks and balances will be to enable that opt-out to be exercised in practice.
Jim Knight: I apologise. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Bill, as currently written, reads as if there would be an opt-out, but it has to be read in conjunction with the data protection legislation, which requires active consent for that sort of information to be passed on.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. No doubt, he will set out the position as the Government see it when he responds to the amendments. We certainly want to ensure that those checks and balances are effective. We want to know how that process will operate and whether data held that might be inaccurate could be corrected, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton suggested.
We certainly want to know what objections the Minister has to amendment No. 170, which would attach to the end of subsection (3)(c) the proviso that the information that is handed over should be
“relevant to assessing educational and support needs.”
If the amendment was accepted, subsection (3)(c) would still be fairly widely framed, but it would be narrower than in its present form, which would effectively allow any information held by the school to be handed over.
I put it to the Minister that although the bulk of the information held by educational institutions about their pupils and students is likely to be relevant to their education and training needs, it is also quite possible that there might be some sensitive information held that pupils, parents and others might not want passed over. I hope to hear what the Minister will do to ensure that the information that is handed over is relevant only to educational and support needs, rather than being open-ended.
My second point relates to amendment No. 171, which I wish to mention in passing. There is a slight difference between the thrust of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and amendments Nos. 170 and 171 taken together. My understanding is that the Conservatives’ approach is essentially that there should be opt-ins, that people should have the ability to correct information that is inaccurate, and that there should be consent to information being passed over. Our approach is that the information that is passed over must be relevant to educational and support needs, but when we come to amendment No. 171 we will consider whether there needs to be consent to the information being passed over, or whether there is some information that local authorities, in the exercise of their responsibilities, should have access to if it is relevant to the educational and support needs that they are seeking to maintain. We will come to that point when debating amendment No. 171.
Jim Knight: I, too, am delighted to be back, refreshed after a week’s sojourn. I hope that the Committee will be sharp and businesslike—both of which are adjectives that describe your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, which we continue to enjoy.
I will address the issues that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton raised when we last met and those that were just raised by the hon. Member for Yeovil. I will also explain more widely how the Connexions service works in practice and why that work is so vital to our shared aim of assisting young people to engage in appropriate education and training. I hope that setting that out for the Committee now will enable us to avoid going over these issues in such detail when debating later clauses. I apologise for speaking at some length, Mr. Bercow, but I assure you that this is an attempt to save time—perhaps “invest to save” would be a good phrase.
To be able to provide young people with support that is timely and appropriate to their needs, local authorities and Connexions need first to know who the young people are, how to contact them, and what education and training they are engaged in and where. It is also helpful to know what their needs and interests are so that they can be provided with appropriate, personalised advice and guidance. That will inform the planning of provision.
When a young person drops out and a provider has not been able to prevent it or re-engage them, the provider will let Connexions know, as set out in clause 13. Guidance professionals will get in touch with the young person immediately and help them to find an alternative place and resolve any problems. That is key to the considerable work that is being done across the country to drive up participation, to deliver the September guarantee and to reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training. To achieve that, Connexions and local authorities need a high-quality, accurate system that tracks young people effectively.
The Green Paper “Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16” said that we would build on the system that Connexions currently uses to gather that information—the client caseload information system, which I will refer to as the CCIS. It uses information from a range of sources, including learning providers and other public bodies. Connexions personal advisers record information from their one-to-one contact with young people. I assure the Committee that none of that infringes on young people’s rights to privacy. I will elaborate on that point later.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): This is the crux of clause 14 and subsequent clauses. The explanatory note to clause 16 states that its purpose is
“to allow public bodies to provide information to local education authorities where other statutory provisions would prevent their doing so.”
My vague recollection from my period as a law student is that later statutes take priority over earlier ones. Clause 14(4) is very clear that it requires a student himself to instruct the institution when he does not wish information to be supplied. That implies that that provision, rather than other legislation such as the Data Protection Act, will be the law in relation to this precise transfer of information. Will the Minister give chapter and verse on the sections in the Data Protection Act that he believes will take priority over this later statute?
10.45 am
Jim Knight: I shall come back with chapter and verse in the fullness of time. I am sure that I will be able to do that fairly soon.
Returning to clauses 14 and 57, I would like to be clear that information sharing has been in place for Connexions since the Learning and Skills Act 2000 was passed. It is not new. None of the measures is new, but they are necessary because of the new arrangements between Connexions and local authorities. Learning providers already provide information to Connexions so that it can track young people’s participation and offer support that is appropriate and timely. As local authorities take responsibility for providing the Connexions service, they will need information sharing to continue so that the effectiveness of the service is not jeopardised. These clauses are similar to existing arrangements and are covered by the Data Protection Act.
Clause 14(4) does not require consent for sensitive information to be passed on, but the agencies must give a very strong public interest justification for it being passed on. Consent will not necessarily be required where there is a statutory power for the disclosure to be made, but parents and pupils will be made fully aware of the right to opt out in the fair processing notice that is issued annually. There are clearly some quite complicated issues about data protection, and I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on whether one piece of legislation supersedes the other.
Mr. Laws: Will the Minister clarify two points? First, will the educational institutions involved have to give information of that type about past pupils and students, or are we talking about present pupils and students only? Secondly, how will consent be achieved in practice within educational settings? Who will seek it, what will the opt-out mechanisms be and how will the information be supplied to individuals? He has given us a formal ministerial description, but I would like something that feels a bit more human and comprehensible.
Jim Knight: I shall try to set out the latter point in the course of my longish comments. As far as I am aware we are talking about current pupils as they go through the system, and the various consents apply accordingly. I will correct that if I need to.
Mr. Laws: The Minister may receive guidance from on high or from behind him, but will he clarify that the powers cannot be used in respect of an institution when the pupil or student has already left? That seems to me to be an important point and one that could well arise in some circumstances.
Jim Knight: I will clarify the point if I have to, but my reading of the clause is that it refers to part 1 and therefore relates to pupils who are going through the process. There may be other measures about being able to track the destinations of pupils, but they do not relate to this matter.
I was talking about the similarity between the measures in the Bill and other existing arrangements. The measures are covered by the Data Protection Act. I will write to the Committee about the detailed legal advice on superseding legislation. That will explain the matter more clearly than any comment that I can summon up from my collective wisdom here and now.
On active consent, when Connexions passes on information that it holds on young people, such as the information that is given through one-to-one contact, it asks for the young person’s consent before passing it on. Therefore, a very active consent procedure is already going on.
Mr. Gibb: Will the Minister repeat that last point?
Jim Knight: Certainly. I have been saying that all we are doing is repeating current law and current practice. Now, when Connexions passes on information that is held on young people, such as information that a young person may have given through one-to-one contact with a personal adviser, it always asks for the young person’s consent before passing it on. For example, in the course of a conversation about a young person’s treatment for an addiction, the personal adviser might ask whether they mind if that information is passed on to another body, such as a health body. The young person has the opportunity to say at that point whether they are happy to give that consent.
I can confirm that schools can only pass on information about existing pupils, if that helps to bring absolute clarity for the hon. Member for Yeovil.
The Chairman: Order. I make the point at this stage that interventions are becoming increasingly wordy. Progress to date has been relatively leisurely and I want it to become much less so. Will Mr. Nick Gibb briefly finish his point?
Mr. Gibb: My other concern is that the amendment has been on the amendment paper for some weeks and I delivered my comments before the recess, so it is not adequate for the Minister to say that he will write to the Committee on the basic crux of his argument regarding consent.
Jim Knight: On the hon. Gentleman’s first point on the scale of the criminal consequence, in substance, we are talking about the passing of personal information from one body to another. That is a sensitive matter, regardless of the consequence. It is important that we protect sensitive information now and in the future, regardless of the criminal consequence attached to part 1 and the duty to participate.
In respect of what I said about writing a response on the topic of consent, the only reassurance that I can give the hon. Gentleman now is that the Data Protection Act was passed in 1998, and the governing legislation that we are replacing is the Learning and Skills Act 2000, so the governing legislation was already passed after the Data Protection Act. On that basis I do not envisage any legal problem with the provisions of the Bill. If I need to correct what I have said, as ever, I will write to the Committee to inform hon. Members.
To try to move on, Mr. Bercow: the fact that the provisions are similar to existing arrangements means that a young person can already request a copy of personal information held about them by their school, college or other provider, and that they could put the same request to Connexions or the local authority whenever they wish. If a young person believes that the information held on them is inaccurate, they can write to the organisation to set out what they believe is wrong with it and what should be done to correct it. If the necessary changes are not made, the young person can ultimately take the organisation to court, but they can also ask the Information Commissioner to assess whether the processing of their personal data has been carried out in compliance with the provisions of the Act. Amendments Nos. 16 and 19 are therefore unnecessary. I assure the Committee that the sharing of information specified in the Bill is subject to the Data Protection Act, and that there is no need for the safeguards to be repeated explicitly here to make it so.
Mr. Gibb: Why, then, is the safeguard in clause 14(4)? What is the point of that provision if that too is unnecessary?
Jim Knight: The provision repeats the safeguards already laid out in the Learning and Skills Act 2000. They are to differentiate the basic relevant information described in subsection (3) and the broader information, as described by the hon. Member for Yeovil. A difference needs to be set out in law.
Under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, learning providers pass on young people’s basic identification information to Connexions providers, including their name, address, date of birth, and the name and address of a parent, as set out in subsection (3). They and their parents are informed, normally by way of a letter, that that information will be passed on, and about the uses to which it might be put. The young person, or their parent if they are under the age of 16, has the right to stop any further information about them being passed on, and the Bill allows those arrangements to continue when the responsibility for Connexions passes to local authorities.
Mr. Laws: I want to clarify that point, because it is obviously important. Is the Minister saying that under the existing system it would be possible to pass any of the educational and support information specified in subsection (3)(c) to a local authority without permission, or is the whole of subsection (3)(c) subject to the opt-outs in subsection (4)?
Jim Knight: Yes, my reading of subsection (4) is:
“Information within subsection (3)(c) must not be provided under subsection (1) if”
the pupil or student has instructed the responsible person not to provide the information. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman, because it seems fairly clear to me.
Mr. Laws: I think that that is clear, but can the Minister clarify that no information that would be covered by subsection (3)(c), even if it is educational, can at the moment be passed on without an opt-out provision? I think that that is what he is saying, but it would be useful to be clear that there is that sharp distinction between what is in subsection (3)(a) and (b) and the rest.
Jim Knight: Yes, that is the case.
Mr. Gibb: It is not clear to me. Is the Minister saying that the information covered in subsection (3)(c) will be supplied unless the institution has received written instructions not to do so—in other words, that the institution does not need actively to seek the consent of the pupil to supply that information?
Jim Knight: Yes. Is that helpful?
Mr. Gibb: Yes, it is very helpful and confirms my concern that the active consent that the Minister said would be required will not be. It is still an opt-out situation, is it not? Has not he confirmed that the protection is only in subsection (4) and that the Data Protection Act 1998 does not require the institution to seek consent before supplying the educational information?
Jim Knight: Sorry. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat that last question?
Mr. Gibb: I do not understand the purpose of subsection (4) if the 1998 Act already requires the institution actively to seek the consent of the pupil before supplying the educational information in its possession about that pupil. If the data protection legislation applies, what is the purpose of subsection (4), which requires written instruction from the student not to supply it, and, in the absence of receiving that written instruction, can the institution supply the information regardless of whether they have sought consent?
Jim Knight: As I understand it, subsection (4) allows us to differentiate the basic information set out in subsection (3)(a) and (b) and other information, in terms of the law. Alongside subsection (4) are the measures in the 1998 Act, which will also apply to that sort of information.
Mr. Gibb: This is crucial to the whole essence of the data-sharing provision. If an institution is requested by a local authority to supply educational information about that student, does that institution need to obtain written consent from the student?
Jim Knight: Sorry. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat that question?
Mr. Gibb: If the local authority requests information about a student from an educational institution, does it have to obtain consent from a student before supplying that information?
Jim Knight: Clause 14(4) is based on presumed consent, so that that information can be passed on more quickly, but obviously the 1998 Act applies on top of that.
Mr. Gibb: That is not an adequate response. Imagine that I am an educational institution. I receive a request from a local authority for educational information about a student in my institution. Do I need to obtain consent from the student before I supply that information—yes or no?
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Jim Knight: No, in response to the question about written consent before supply. Before an educational institution has to supply information, written consent does not have to be obtained, as I understand it. However, all the protections in the Data Protection Act that I have set out remain in the case of the individual and their parents.
Mr. Laws: On how many young people is the clause likely to impact? Does the Minister envisage a large-scale data transfer in the years running up to a person’s 16th birthday, or does he think that it will be used in a small minority of cases?
Jim Knight: Every young person will be affected by the clause, because when someone reaches the age of 13, information is passed from the school or institution to Connexions so that it can offer advice as they move on to make choices at 14. Subsequently, as and when they have contact with Connexions, their record will develop. That further information could include the courses that they have studied, their grades, their attendance and changes of address. That gives Connexions softer intelligence on each young person, enabling it to tailor the support on offer.
Amendment No. 170, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Yeovil, would ensure that information is passed on only if it is relevant to an assessment of the young person’s educational and support needs. I can reassure the Committee that that is already the case. The first word of clauses 14 and 57 is “Relevant”. That will continue to be the case regardless of whether the information is passed on to Connexions or to the local authority. The law already regulates the circumstances under which information can be passed on. The Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act 1998 and a common law of confidence all ensure that the sharing of personal information without consent takes place only when necessary and proportionate. For example, in this case, it is relevant to the local authority’s duties under part 1 to promote participation or to provide the Connexions service. Amendment No. 170 is therefore unnecessary.
Mr. Laws: Would it be relevant if a child had been abused by their parent, causing mental health problems, and if the school had information about that on its file?
Jim Knight: I dare say it may well be relevant if those sorts of things have happened. That information would be extremely relevant in respect of some clauses that we will discuss on public bodies passing information to Connexions and vice versa. The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment to exclude health authorities and primary care trusts from passing on information. It is exactly that sort of scenario in which someone has mental health needs where we want a facility in law, so that that information can be passed on and the relevant support provided. In respect of mental health, the information would be held on a school’s pupil leave annual school census database—PLASC—but it would not be passed on by the school, because it passes that information up to the Department, and from there, the PLASC data will go down to local authorities and Connexions.
Mr. Laws: Earlier, the Minister said that this provision could involve large numbers of children. His assumption, therefore, is that this information will be accessed for most of the cohort. Is that correct?
Jim Knight: As I said, data are held on PLASC and on CCIS in a very basic form. That is set out in subsections (3)(a) and (b) as
“the name, address and date of birth of the pupil or student”
and the
“name and address of a parent of the pupil or student”
for every pupil and student in the country. It therefore applies to the whole cohort. Is that the information that the hon. Gentleman was seeking?
Mr. Laws: These are quite sweeping powers on the scope of information, and the need for an opt-out or an opt-in may relate to the size of the transfer. I think the Minister is saying that the transfer could affect quite a large number of young people whose permission would be sought.
Jim Knight: The basic information requirement affects every pupil. The duty to provide the name and address of the pupil or student, and the name and address of a parent of a pupil or student is set out in subsections 3(a) and (b). Subsequent information, such as that in respect of the DPA and whether there is an opt-in or an opt-out depends on the circumstances. In most cases, much of that information will be passed on, because parents will not withhold their consent, as they value the support generated from the Connexions services and others.
Let me try to make some progress by returning to amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 97, which deal with consent. The Data Protection Act 1998 already requires public bodies, including schools, colleges and training providers, to inform an individual if personal data relating to him or her is disclosed. In practice, that means, for example, that the school will actively approach the young person, or their parent, to inform them about the purposes of data processing, such as the type of information and the bodies with whom data may be shared and why. The school would need to repeat that annually, and every year, it should send some kind of notice home to parents setting out how the data will be used.
This requirement exists even where consent for the sharing of information is not required as a matter of law. The interests of the young person, and any consequences for them of information sharing, must be the paramount consideration. Adding a specific requirement for young people to give their written consent every time their school or college passed information to the local authority or its Connexions service would greatly increase bureaucracy and add complexity to the system. More importantly, it would reduce the ability of the Connexions service to provide timely and appropriate support to young people in finding and accessing appropriate courses.
In cases where young people did not consent to their basic identification information being passed on, the local authority and Connexions would not be able to track young people or know when someone had dropped out of education or training. That means that they might not be able to provide that person with any support, let alone timely support. The sooner the Connexions service contacts someone who needs support, the better the chances that that will be effective in getting them back into learning.
While there are a number of support services that seek to reach out and support young people, the Connexions service is the only one that has responsibility for supporting all young people between 13 and 19. That is one of its strengths. None of the other partner agencies has been tasked with tracking all young people, and most other systems would only record information on those young people with whom they are working. Connexions is required to know about everyone in its area. It is the information provided by schools and colleges that forms the basis for the support that it provides, and enables it to identify young people who may need additional help.
I can reassure the hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and for Yeovil that, in line with data protection principles, only information relevant to the provision of the Connexions service would be shared under the clause. This is likely to include gender and ethnicity, whether the young person is receiving support through SEN school action or school action plus, and which year group they are in. For those in their final year of compulsory education, it would include whether they had an offer to return to school for the sixth form. That allows the Connexions service to target support on those who are not planning to stay on at school and to help them obtain a suitable place elsewhere.
The information shared is unlikely to include more personal information such as whether the young person had been in trouble at school or had problems at home. Given that protection and the other safeguards in the process, I do not think there is a risk that young people will be deterred from raising academic or personal problems with school staff.
Mr. Gibb: Does the information requested under clause 14 relate only to the Connexions service and not to the general duty in part 1 of the Bill?
Jim Knight: Clause 14 refers to local authorities sharing information. Later clauses refer to Connexions sharing information. Was the hon. Gentleman asking whether the clause referred to that duty?
Mr. Gibb: The Minister has just said that the information is necessary to enable Connexions to carry out its service, but I assumed that clause 14 related to the duties in part 1 of the Bill, which are about raising participation, and not merely to the Connexions service.
Jim Knight: Clause 14 relates to part 1 functions—similarly, clause 57 relates to part 2 functions—so it relates to the raising of the participation age, which is what we were discussing with regard to part 1.
Mr. Gibb: Why did the Minister focus his arguments about the clause on the fact that Connexions wishes to carry out that service?
Jim Knight: The scale is not significantly different. Parts 1 and 2 cover all young people. The Data Protection Act protections require institutions to let young people and their parents know that the information that is shared will be used for part 1 purposes, so it could be used to identify the fact that they are not fulfilling their duty to participate. The point of sharing the information, in relation to both parts, is to enable Connexions to support young people.
Mr. Gibb: Yes, but there is a difference in scale. The Minister is justifying those sweeping information-sharing powers as though they were a minor thing that simply provided services to a student. They are not to do only that; they enforce a duty in part 1. There is a huge difference of scale, so he cannot use that argument to justify the powers in clause 14.
Jim Knight: But the CCIS—and I have been very clear with officials—will not be used for some kind of trawling exercise to enforce the duty. It will provide support to help young people fulfil their duty as in part 1, but it is not meant to assist the local authority in carrying out any kind of enforcement. The hon. Gentleman describes the measures as sweeping powers, but as I have made perfectly clear, they are set out in the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
Mr. Gibb: And where is the provision in clause 14 that says that?
Jim Knight: Clause 14 sets out replacement clauses for the 2000 Act. With regard to trawling exercises and enforcement, we are absolutely clear that that does not apply. I have already told the hon. Gentleman clearly that the clause relates to the support that Connexions provides to enable people to fulfil their duty, rather than to any kind of enforcement.
We believe that the nature of the information that will enable Connexions to fulfil its duty of support to all young people means that it is proportionate to have an opt-out approach to consent. We take a slightly different stance on the information that is held by Connexions and may be passed to other agencies. That information includes the basic information and any other information passed on by schools and other learning providers, but it also includes information gathered by Connexions in the course of its interactions with a young person. That latter category of data held by Connexions can be sensitive.
In some cases, because of an individual’s needs, the Connexions service may want to pass specific information to another professional working in a specific area, such as a social worker or a health professional. That would be done on a case-by-case basis and with the active consent of the young person. The young person can agree to information being passed to one professional but not to another. The provisions strike the right balance between enabling the local authority to fulfil its duty of promoting participation by providing the Connexions service and tracking young people effectively, and respecting young people’s right to prevent certain information about them from being shared. That balance that has been proved to work over the past eight years, as these provisions replace measures, as I have repeatedly said, in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 in a largely unaltered form.
Mr. Gibb: The Minister has just read out a phrase or sub-clause of a sentence in his brief saying that the information-sharing provision has been included to promote the duty to participate. If this is simply about providing information for the Connexions service, I cannot understand why there are two different clauses—clause 14 relating to part 1, and clause 57 relating to support services—saying the same thing:. Why have two identical clauses in different parts of the Bill?
11.15 am
Jim Knight: We have two clauses: one in relation to local authorities and one in relation to Connexions. That is because of the new arrangements between local authorities and Connexions, as the Connexions service is something that local authorities can provide themselves or contract out. The scale is not significantly different from now. There is a new purpose, which is why we have separate clauses, but the powers are not new. They enable local authorities to identify young people, but clause 57 already allows that. Clause 14 is important, because it makes the new purpose clear with regard to the role of local authorities. They cannot perform their part 1 duties if they do not provide support through, for example, Connexions. It is absolutely fundamental that we have these provisions in place. They can promote participation, but they are not meant to enforce it.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for his patience and generosity. In relation to the sensitive information in subsection 3(c), who would make the judgment about whether it should be passed to the local authority? What would be the process of deciding whether that information should be handed over?
Jim Knight: The Connexions service, the schools and institutions, and the local authorities themselves have well established procedures. It would be well known what information is helpful in providing the service. I have set out some of that, including the courses they provide and so on. In the end, the people operating the Connexions services locally or the local authority could make a request for certain information to be passed on and then the consent procedures would kick in.
Finally—hopefully, it is finally—on the subject of the capacity of the CCIS system to perform the new role, both the National Audit Office and the Prime Minister’s delivery unit have commented favourably on the information system. In addition, my Department has reviewed the system’s capabilities for supporting the raising of the participation age—RPA—and while it is always possible to make improvements, I am satisfied that the specification will do the job. Kieran Gordon, who gave evidence to the Committee, offered a very helpful description of how the system works in practice. In addition, he said:
As part of the proposed directions to local authorities provided for in clause 55, local authorities will have to comply with the national specification for CCIS, to ensure vital information flows and availability is safeguarded. CCIS will, of course, need some adaptation to cater for 100 per cent. participation, and that is a key consideration for the RPA implementation work to follow in the next five years I hope, although I am not all that optimistic, that in the light of my reasoning and lengthy explanation, hon. Members will not press their amendments.
Mr. Gibb: I have to say that I am very unhappy with the Minister’s attempts to justify the provisions. He is extending limited powers that applied to Connexions—an advisory service to help young people with advice on careers and future training—much more widely to promote participation. He makes a distinction between promoting participation and enforcing it. But the Bill makes no such distinction. Clause 14(2) says:
“A local education authority may request information under subsection (1) only for the purpose of enabling or assisting it to exercise its functions under this Part.”
Its functions under that part, which includes every clause that we have debated, relate not only to promoting participation but to enforcing it. The Minister is not correct to say that this is solely about promoting participation and trying to enable the local authority to provide a tailored service to an individual, as it is also about enforcing participation to ensure that young people are attending. That is what part 1 is about. I am also unclear, despite extensive interventions on the Minister by the hon. Member for Yeovil and myself, about the purpose of clause 14(4), which states that sensitive information in subsection (3)(c) about which we are concerned must not be provided if the young person
“has instructed the responsible person not to provide information of that kind”.
If there is no written note from the young person saying that the information should not be provided, according to the Bill, the educational institution can provide it.
The Minister said that the Data Protection Act provisions required active consent from the pupil before that information can be provided, but on probing, he fell back on the explanation that it required written instructions from the pupil that the information should not be provided. Those things do not stack up, and he has been unable to tell the Committee chapter and verse which provisions in the Data Protection Act require active consent from the pupil. I think that he is playing fast and loose with the provisions, although I hate to be so argumentative in making my point.
Jim Knight: I apologise to the Committee if I have not been able to satisfy it in respect of the minutiae of how the provision works. I would be very happy to set out the technicalities in a note to the Committee. If hon. Members are not happy with the technicalities that I set out, we can return to the matter on Report.
Mr. Gibb: I am grateful for that assurance and I am sure that we will return to this matter on Report. I have asked the Minister quite explicitly, if I were an educational institution and had a request from a local authority to provide sensitive educational information, whether I would be required to obtain consent from the pupil. His answer was no: there had to be written instructions from the pupil, and the institution would not have to seek that consent. That concern underlies the amendment, and that is why I will press it to a Division.
Jim Knight: Just to clarify my point that these powers are to be used for support rather than enforcement, the powers in clause 18 on guidance make it extremely clear that that will be the case. There are further measures in clause 39(5)(a) and (b), which set that out in a little more detail. We will come on to those provisions.
Mr. Gibb: I do not regard guidance, which is a tertiary form of legislation that we do not scrutinise and which has no real power over primary legislation, as a safeguard, particularly as the Committee has not seen a draft of that guidance. I remain unconvinced and very unhappy about the Minister’s response. As a consequence, I will press the amendment to a Division.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful, Mr. Bercow, for your patience, as we have not made quite the progress that you hoped for. I hope that we will make more rapid progress once we have dealt with this extremely important clause.
Perhaps I should start by saying what we would be happy to see in the clause, rather than raise further problems with it. Given the principles behind the Bill, we would be happy to see a situation in which basic information relating to pupils’ names, addresses and so forth, together with core educational information, are transferred to a local authority to help it discharge its responsibilities under the legislation.
We have concerns about the passing over of very sensitive information. I have cited some examples from my constituency where schools often hold extremely sensitive information about young people that they have gained not because of their strict educational responsibilities, but during course of contact between children and particular teachers. Subsection (3)(c) will allow that information to be passed to a local authority unless an individual has instructed the responsible person in the educational institution not to do so.
When pressed, the Minister thought that he was giving me reassurance, but he actually causing me further concern about the types of case that I was already concerned about. For example, he said that a case in which information was held on a school database concerning a young person who had been, or claimed to have been, sexually abused by a parent, and had developed mental health or other problems, could be passed over as a result of the provisions in the clause. That is a very sensitive matter.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The nature of the information is likely to be sensitive, given that Connexions will be its repository. We have heard both at this stage of the Committee and in the evidence sessions that the Connexions database is at the fulcrum of the matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Connexions holds immensely sensitive information about a large number of young people. Surely that exacerbates his fears?
Mr. Laws: The hon. Gentleman is quite right that, inevitably, local authorities and schools may consider a lot of sensitive information relevant to the question of establishing a young person’s support needs. When pressed on those matters, the Minister told us a number of things. He said that the data transfer could affect a large proportion, or even all, of the cohort. We accept that a smaller proportion will be affected in relation to the transfer of very sensitive information, but none of us really knows quite how small that will be. He said that the information will be required to be passed over by the education establishment while the pupil or student is on the roll and not afterwards, which also raises concerns. If the information has to be passed over at that time rather than afterwards, it creates more of a presumption that more data will be transferred.
For example, a young person post-16 may not comply with the duty in the Bill to be in education or training, and a local authority might get involved at that stage. It might start to think: why is this person not complying with the provisions of the Bill? What are their support needs? What can we find out about them that will help us to understand their needs and ensure that we put that support in place? If the presumption is that accessing such information, which is often held by the education establishment, must be done while the pupil or student is at that establishment, there is a greater risk that the local authority would expect the school to provide as much information as possible that might be relevant in future to assessing those support needs. I fear that quite a lot of information of a sensitive nature might transfer from the schools to the local authorities during that process.
How will the approval work, and how will it be given? A small number of people with high needs will have a Connexions adviser, and they may have a conversation of the type that the Minister cited, leading to the question of whether the young person would be happy for information about their drug abuse to be passed on as a result of that conversation. However, we could be talking about a much larger number of young people.
I was trying to elicit from the Minister a flavour of how he thinks that permission will be given in practice. Could a teacher or head teacher come to a class in the final year at school, or whichever year is relevant, and say, “We are going to download all these boring data to the local authority to help with your future education needs. Let me know if there is a problem with that, and now over to the maths test”? Or perhaps it could take place in assembly. Perhaps I am being too cynical and simplistic, but it is unclear on a human scale how the permission will be stored.
11.30 am
That is directly relevant to what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton seeks to do, which is to firm up the provision so that it is not left to people to have specifically to opt out when they realise that the data are sensitive. However, if the data are sensitive, people will have to opt in with some type of agreement. The more that the Government want to make subsection (3)(c) open-ended, so that lots of potentially sensitive data can be transferred, the more it is necessary to have something stronger than the current opt-out, which might not turn out to be as effective as the Minister says.
Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman is clearly concerned about sensitive information. He is right to be so. We are all concerned about that. We are very clear that sensitive information about child abuse, for example, will not be routinely shared. It may be shared with a personal adviser in school to support the young person, but a teacher or case worker would have to seek the young person’s consent for that unless there were safeguarding considerations, in which case the safeguarding legislation would come into play. The hon. Gentleman must also bear in mind that there will be a build-up of information from the age of 13 when the initial record is created in CCIS. That is then subject to the annual notice under the Data Protection Act, which I set out in my speaking note.
Mr. Laws: I am still confused about how the provision will operate. Let us take the case of a young person who has allegedly been sexually abused by a parent. That information would be held on some kind of database within a school. The abuse would clearly have a big impact on the young person, which could mean that they often truanted from school or that they had mental health or other problems. If the school was aware of the young person’s duty to be in education and training post-16 and it was aware of the young person’s problems as a consequence of those allegations, would it not, under this part of the Bill, feel some obligation to pass that information over? Is that not precisely the type of information that needs cast-iron protection to ensure that there is not an opt-out, but an opt-in? The very fact that the Minister said, in response to my question, that he would regard such information as very relevant to a young person’s potential future support and educational needs indicates that it is the kind of information that could flow over as a consequence of the provisions.
Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman is a generous and reasonable man. Does he not see that clause 14 starts with the words,
“Relevant information about a pupil or student”?
In that case, relevant refers to relevant part 1 of the Bill, so the hon. Gentleman is getting what he wants already.
Mr. Laws: Unfortunately, I do not think that I am getting what I want. The word “relevant” can be enormously open-ended, as the Minister has already indicated in response to questions. For it to be that open-ended, with only the protection at the end of subsection (4) that the information will be passed over unless the person proactively sets out an instruction that it should not be, does not seem to be an adequate protection nor is it a realistic one in the circumstances. Although we understand the need for some of that data to be passed over, and we would want a lot of straightforward data to be passed over in a non-bureaucratic way, we are obliged to be sympathetic to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. We feel that there needs to be some protection from subsection (3)(c). In addition, I would like to press amendment No. 170 to a separate Division if that is acceptable to you, Mr. Bercow, and to the rest of the Committee.
Mr. Gibb: I intend to press the amendment to a Division. Nothing that I have heard from the Minister convinces me to do otherwise.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 12 ]
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Laws, Mr. David
Walker, Mr. Charles
Watkinson, Angela
Barlow, Ms Celia
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Griffith, Nia
Knight, Jim
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Wilson, Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: No. 170, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert
‘which is relevant to assessing their educational and support needs.’.—[Mr. Laws.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 13 ]
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Laws, Mr. David
Walker, Mr. Charles
Watkinson, Angela
Barlow, Ms Celia
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Griffith, Nia
Knight, Jim
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Wilson, Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Bercow. The official record of proceedings on Thursday 7 February shows me as not attending. However, I took part in two Divisions on that day, so could the record be amended to show that I did indeed attend that sitting?
The Chairman: An amendment will indeed be made and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a genuine point of order.
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment No. 171, in clause 14, page 7, line 37, leave out subsection (4).
I will try not to detain the Committee too long on the amendment, nor shall I contradict the position that I set out in the previous debate, but I want to raise a parallel concern about the way in which the Government are framing their policies in relation to the transfer of information, because as well as running the risk of quite sensitive information being passed over without proper checks, the provisions in subsection (4) allow parents and pupils to opt out of passing some quite basic educational information to the local authority.
This probing amendment is designed to find out why the Government have decided to insert that provision and whether it is simply a manifestation of the fact that subsection (3)(c) is so sweeping in the powers that it could give that protection of this type is necessary. It is designed to tempt the Minister into indicating that there may be a distinction between information that is purely educational—most of us would regard it as sensible for there to be a right to pass over such information—and more sensitive information that might require an opt-in.
In its response to the Bill—a clause-by-clause briefing—the Local Government Association suggests in relation to the subsection that
“This appears to suggest that if parents and/or young people are unwilling to provide information, we”—
the local authorities—
“will not necessarily be able to arrange for the most helpful support to that young person”.
The briefing goes on to state:
“There may be other legal reasons for this, but it does seem potentially unhelpful if we are pursuing the principle that the local authority has a duty to promote participation and support the young person in so doing.”
Previous debates have shown that we do not support the elements of compulsion and criminalisation in the Bill. However, if those duties are to be included in the Bill and if the local authority is to be charged with ensuring that the young person is in an education and training setting, is it sensible for young people and parents who do not want to comply with the measures to have an opt-out from all educational information, other than the minimal information contained in clause 14(3)(a) and (b)? Surely basic educational information should be able to pass without that hindrance and my probing amendment is designed to elicit a response from the Government on that point.
Jim Knight: As the hon. Gentleman has set out, the amendment would remove the right of the young person, or if they are under 16 their parent, to prevent additional information—apart from the young person’s name, address, date of birth and the name and address of their parents—that might be in the learning provider’s possession from being passed on to the local authority. On the face of it, that is a remarkably illiberal amendment, but I accept that it is a probing one and that it does not necessarily reflect the liberal values that the hon. Gentleman has displayed.
Mr. Laws: I cannot let the Minister get away with that. Does he understand that there is a basic difference between raw educational data and the type of sensitive information that we are discussing, on which my party has certainly taken a very liberal line?
Jim Knight: Of course there are distinctions. We make a straightforward distinction between basic information that is not at all sensitive—name and address or date of birth—and other information, whether about education or the more sensitive sorts of information to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The whole point of the subsection about which he is concerned is to distinguish between basic and other information, whether that is in relation to education and training experience or other personal information, in respect of the person’s needs.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Let us suppose that the individual concerned is a violent person who has been found carrying weapons in a school. Would that person be able to say, “Well, you can’t pass that information on”? If that is so, it is difficult to see how the local education authority could make a proper risk assessment of that individual and where they might be deployed in the education system.
Jim Knight: In that context, without information, the LEA would not be able to pass on the data, but in that sort of scenario one would expect the enforcement agencies to be called by the police, who would have their own records. If there were an overriding, strong public interest justification for sharing information—whatever it might be—that would come into play. It is difficult to comment on the exact scenario that the hon. Gentleman describes, whereby a number of different agencies would be engaged and would be collecting their own data on individuals and an individual case. They would not be solely reliant in terms of support, as we might be, on an agency’s being able to share information, but it should be on the basis of consent.
Let me address the amendment in more detail. Clause 14 sets out the requirements on learning providers to pass on information, as we have discussed, and replaces section 117 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. In practice, as I said earlier, schools write to parents of all pupils approaching the age of 13 when they are in year 8 to let them know that information about their children will be shared with the Connexions service. That core information covers the young person’s name and address and the name and address of a parent. Schools will also pass on additional information about the young person unless they, or their parent if they are under 16, request that it is not passed on. The information could include the courses that the young person has studied, their grades, attendance or a change of address.
Parents are provided with a form to sign and return to the school if they do not want the additional information to be passed on to Connexions, in which case it would not be. In practice, few currently opt out—less than 10 per cent. In practice, if Connexions did not obtain the additional information from the school but had other contact on a one-to-one basis through a personal adviser, it might acquire the information from the young person through that route.
Clause 14 sets out similar arrangements to those already provided for. It enables learning providers to pass on information to the local authority so that it can fulfil its new responsibilities for delivering Connexions and promoting participation. As happens at present, clause 14 will give young people, or their parents if they are under 16, the right to prevent learning providers from passing on their additional information to the local authority. I hope that in the light of my reasoning the hon. Member for Yeovil will withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Laws: I shall withdraw my amendment, but that is not because I am persuaded. I tabled the amendment simply to highlight the fact that the Government need protection in subsection (4) that creates some impediments to the rational transfer of data, because in other parts of the clause and the Bill excessive powers are granted to allow the transfer of data that we would seek to protect. I hope that we will be able to return to that issue later in our proceedings. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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