Education and Skills Bill
Educational institutions : duty to provide information
to the extent that fulfilling such duty conforms to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights..
The clause is another data-sharing provision, which we touched on when we debated amendment No. 97. Clause 57 is drafted similarly to clause 14, but it relates to data being shared with the local authority to enable it to supply support services to young people, rather than to promote participation. However, the principle of the information that an educational institution holds being shared with the local authority is the same.
The amendment would ensure that the data-sharing powers are consistent with the European convention on human rights by incorporating article 8 into the clause and requiring it to be consistent with that article, which deals with the right to respect for private and family life. It states:
Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence...There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The human rights aspect of the Bill, particularly in relation to information-sharing provisions, has been raised by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The right protected by article 8 is a qualified right that can be interfered with, as the Government have done, if that interference has its basis in law, is done to secure a permissible aim set out in the relevant article and is necessary in a democratic society. Interference must fulfil a pressing social need, pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate to the aims pursued. That is a key aspect. The hon. Gentlemans concerns about the human rights implications of the Bill were raised in a letter of 20 December, in which he states:
The Bill contains information supply and sharing provisions in Parts 1 to 4 which raise potential human rights issues, notably the right to respect for private and family life. The Government has referred to some, but not all, of the information supply and sharing provisions in the human rights section of the Explanatory Notes. In particular, whilst the Explanatory Notes state generally that the provisions in Chapter 2 of Part 1 pursue the aim of economic well-being, the Government does not explain specifically, in relation to each of the disclosure provisions, how each provision is both necessary and proportionate to the achievement of that aim.
The hon. Gentleman specifically asks:
In relation to each and every information supply and sharing provision...what legitimate aim is sought to be protected...are the provisions necessary to achieve the aim and...are the measures proportionate to that aim?
He goes on to ask:
In relation to each and every information supply and sharing provision, what specific safeguards will be in place to ensure their compatibility with article 8 ECHR?
Thus, the question is: what is the legitimate aim?
The Minister responded in another letter:
Economic well-being of the country: the information collected will be used for improving the participation and general attainment in education and training of young people by providing appropriate support to individual young people...thereby ensuring a more skilled workforce.
That, then, is the Ministers explanation of the legitimate aim of the powers, which, on the face of it, could infringe the human rights convention. On the issue of whether the measure is proportionate, his response is:
Only by the provision of this informationname, address, date of birth and other information relevant to Connexions servicesby schools and colleges can the full group of young people be identified in respect of whom LAs have the duty in clause 54 to make Connexions support services available. This enables Connexions services to provide appropriate IAG
information, advice and guidance
at an early stage, thereby helping young people to make informed choices that most benefit them.
The important passage there is the one about the information being relevant to Connexions services. Clause 57(2) states that the information requested must be relevant to the provision of services. However, the information supplied can be any
information in the institutions possession about the pupil or student.
There is nothing in the definition of relevant information that requires it to be confined to the purpose of providing Connexions services. Even if the provisions did confine the information to that purpose, the power would still be very wide, involving supplying details of the academic and personal problems of a student at school or college. I believe that that would be disproportionate to the aim.
Mr. Heald: I support my hon. Friends general point, but if the information was about safetythe safety of other pupilssuch as the fact that the student had regularly carried a knife and was perhaps the local gang leader, or had inappropriately touched other students, or something of that sort, surely it might be quite important for risk assessment.
Mr. Gibb: My hon. Friend is right, and nothing in the amendment would prevent that information from being given, because an exception to the qualified right to respect for private and family life is the prevention of crime. That is one of the exceptions to that sacrosanct right. All the amendment would do is make the Bill conform to article 8 as qualified and as subject to those exceptions. My hon. Friend raises an important point, but I hope that I have convinced him that the information could be supplied if the amendment were accepted. I await the Ministers response to those important points about human rights.
Jim Knight: It is important for the Committee to note that, on the front of the Bill, we have made a statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that the Education and Skills Bill is compatible with convention rights. Clearly, the amendment tests that, and it is perfectly right that it should do so, but I want to be clear from the outset that we think that the measure is compatible with the convention.
Article 8, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, provides for the right to respect for private and family life and that is an important right. I assure him that we have looked closely at the duty in the clause to provide information against that article. I am grateful to him for quoting at length annexe A of
The aims of the clause and of other information-sharing clauses that we are discussing are strongly linked to the economic well-being of the individual and of the country, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has explained. The information that is collected will be used to increase participation in education and training by providing appropriate support to individual young people, as provided for by clause 54. That is the context in which clause 57 should be understood. Support services will be provided by local education authorities, which will thereby ensure a more skilled work force, as well as benefits for the individual and society.
It is necessary for educational institutions such as schools and colleges to provide basic information on individual young people to those involved in the provision of supportin other words, to Connexions. Without that, Connexions would not have basic information about its core client group and would be unable to provide young people with information, advice and guidance tailored to their needs. We know that receiving appropriate information, advice and guidance is essential to achieving the aim of increasing participation and that it meets a pressing social need. Our witnesses reinforced that message, even if we were not already convinced of its importance.
It is only by the provision of basic information by educational institutions, as set out in the clausename, date of birth, address, and name and address of parentthat Connexions service providers can identify the full group of young people to whom local authorities have a duty to provide support under clause 54. Information other than that basic information must not be released to Connexions when pupils or students over 16 or the parents of under-16s have instructed the institution not to release it, as we have discussed at length.
In all cases, whether we are dealing with the basic information or the further information, I stress that it must be relevant to the provision of the Connexions service and it may be provided only to a person involved in the provision of the Connexions service. The passing on of the information is under the control of a responsible person, as defined in subsection (5); for example, in a school, that would be the governing body. Those provisions, together with the ability of parents and young people to withdraw their consent for the passing on of all but the basic information, are very important safeguards.
In addition, the Data Protection Act will govern how Connexions service providers can use the information that they obtain under the clause, including how they acquire, store and dispose of it. Any unlawful disclosure or use of the information will be subject to the offences and associated penalties under the Data Protection Act. We will discuss amendments that deal with offences in relation to data sharing later.
As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was content to sign the necessary statement under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998. We are satisfied that the information flow is justified by our aim of improving participation in education and training, and that the provision of information is no more than is necessary to achieve that aim. My conclusion is that the amendment would not add anything to what is already provided in the Human Rights Act. On the basis that it is superfluous, and that we do not think that superfluity in legislation is a good thing, I invite the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: If superfluity were excluded from legislation passed by this House, Bills would be significantly shorter. However, I say to the Minister that to say that the statement on the front of the Bill is evidence that it complies with the Human Rights Act is rather odd. He could not exactly write a statement on the front of the Bill that in his view its provisions are incompatible with the European convention on human rights, so of course he is going to say that it is compatible. We have yet to hear from the hon. Member for Hendon whether the Joint Committee on Human Rights believes that the Bill is consistent with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act. The Minister confirmed in his response to the debate that the protection available to the pupil or student is provided by an opt-out rather than by active consent, just as he said in evidence to the Committee a few weeks ago.
I hope that the Joint Committee will examine our proceedings, particularly our sittings today and immediately before the recess, before coming to a conclusion about whether the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act and the European convention. It would be better to incorporate the amendment into the Bill, because when interpreting it the courts would have an explicit provision to ensure compliance with article 8. However, the purpose of the amendment was to air the subject, and I see no need to press it to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Information: supply by the Secretary of State
(1A) Information may only be supplied under subsection (1) if the Secretary of State regards the provision of the information to be proportionate to the aims of the local education authority in the exercise of its functions under this Part..
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 21, in clause 15, page 8, line 4, at end insert
(1A) Information may only be supplied under subsection (1) if the local education authority requesting the information regards the provision of the information to be proportionate to the aims of the local education authority in the exercise of its functions under this Part..
No. 106, in clause 61, page 33, line 8, at end insert
(1A) Information may only be supplied under subsection (1) if the Secretary of State regards the provision of the information to be proportionate to the aims of the local education authority for the purpose of the provision of services in pursuance of section 54 or 56(1)(b)..
Mr. Gibb: Clause 15 gives the Secretary of State the power to supply social security information to a local education authority about a young person. It is clear that that information comprises simply the name and address of the young person, or that of the parents, held by the Department for Work and Pensions. The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State supplied data to the LEA only if both parties regarded the provision of such information to be proportionate to the aims of the LEA as defined in the Bill.
In a letter to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Minister gave as his reason for that provision the fact that young people tended to move around frequently. He said that from the age of 16 young people become a lot more mobile and that such informationthe social security datais what enables local authorities to keep track of them. However, the Bill gives no guarantee that a young persons private information will be shared only when that proportionate needs test is met.
As drafted, the Bill says that the Secretary of State can provide any information that the local authority would find useful in carrying out the functions placed upon it. However, such information might well be transferred even when the young person in question was not frequently changing address, as the Secretary of State said should be the case, or if there was no other pressing need. If the Minister is comfortable that the power will be used only in a proportionate way, he should have no problem in accepting the amendments.
Jim Knight: The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton proposes to include in the clause a specific test of proportionality. I suggest that such amendments are not necessary to ensure that consideration is given to the proportionality of supply of information.
The Secretary of State and the local authority must both act in a way that is compatible with the European convention on human rights, according to which any interference with the right to respect and family life must be necessary and no more than is necessary to achieve the desired aim. That requires a public body to ensure, before putting in place arrangements to release information that potentially infringes that right, that the information released is no more than is necessary for the purposes it will servethat it is proportionate. That is why the powers in these clauses restrict the information that may be shared and what purposes it can serve. In clause 15, the purpose is to enable or assist local authorities to fulfil their duties to promote participation and identify young people not participating. In clause 61, the purpose is the provision of Connexions services.
The aim of increasing participation in education and training justifies the supply of information provided for in the clauses, but every public body must satisfy itself that the extent of the information that it releases to local authorities under the provisions is proportionate to those benefits. Local authorities must also be satisfied
The hon. Gentleman referred again to the letter I sent to the Joint Committee on Human RightsI am grateful to him for, as ever, assiduously doing his homework. The letter sets out our analysis and justification of the information-sharing provisions in the Bill. Local authorities are taking on new functions of promoting participation and identifying young people who are not participating so, clearly, the information sharing needs to continue so as not to jeopardise the effectiveness of the Connexions service. In the light of that reasoning, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: I can see no reason why the term proportionate cannot be included in the Bill to make it explicit and clear that the supply of information should be proportionate. However, the purpose of the amendment was to air those issues in the Committee. Having done so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
( ) Information may only be supplied under subsection (1) if the person to whom the information relates has given written consent that such information can be supplied..
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 104, in clause 61, page 33, line 8, at end insert
(1A) Information may only be supplied under subsection (1) if the person to whom the information relates has given written consent that such information can be supplied..
No. 105, in clause 61, page 33, line 8, at end insert
(1A) Any person about whom information is supplied under subsection (1) shall have the right to examine any relevant information requested by a local authority or other person before that information is provided by the Secretary of State to the authority or other person..
No. 102, in clause 61, page 33, line 19, after unless insert
consent has been given by the person to whom the information relates and.
Mr. Hayes: It is good to come back to our labours after a brief respite from scrutinising the Bill with the assiduity and diligence that the House demands and which our constituents deserve, is it not?
The debate this morning focused on the Oppositions sensitivity to the storage and use of data. The Minister repeatedly assured us that the information is solely for advising young people through the Connexions service but, when pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, he was forced to admit that the information is actually about local authorities fulfilling their duties under the Bill and, of course, those duties specifically include the promotion of participation. Given that enforcement is the end of
It would probably be helpful if I said a few words about the explanatory notes on clause 15, because they make clear why we feel that the amendments are important. The notes state:
The Secretary of State, under clause 15, may supply social security information to enable a local education authority to fulfil its functions under this Part,
as we have heard. They continue:
The clause sets out under what circumstances further disclosure of this information is permissible, under what circumstances it is an offence and the penalty that may be imposed.
Indeed, the explanatory notes to clause 61, which is relevant to this group of amendments, say that the powers under the Bill enable the
Secretary of State to supply information to a local...authority or other person for the purposes of the provision of Connexions services for young people. Specifically, it gives the Secretary of State the power to supply social security information in relation to young people. In order to identify young persons, it may be necessary to use information held by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (for example, as supplied to JobCentre Plus by a young person claiming benefits). In this way, Connexions services can maintain accurate and comprehensive records.
The point is that that can be done without the young persons explicit consent. Amendment No. 22 would provide that the information should be supplied only
if the person to whom the information relates has given written consent that such information can be supplied.
Amendment No. 104 says much the same, and amendment No. 105 would provide that the young person concerned should have
the right to examine any relevant information requested by a local authority or other person before that information is provided by the Secretary of State to the authority or other person.
If the purpose of the supply of information is entirely to provide advice and guidance to assist the business of promoting participation, it seems irrefutable that permission should form part of the process. If someone wished to receive advice, they would be happy for information to be passed between the agencies that might be best placed to offer it. On that basis, I expect the Minister to find the amendments highly seductive. They build upon the sentiment that he has expressed that the provision is about helping people, taking them with us, encouraging them and providing them with all the guidance they need.
All the amendments would ensure that personally sensitive information could be disclosed only with an individuals consent. That is especially important given recent historythe Committee will not need reminding of it, but I shall do so none the less. The Government have had a pretty poor track record. I do not blame the Minister, although I have no doubt that he accepts collective responsibility for the failures and the Governments very sorry record on handling data. My wife received a letter saying that her own personal data had been spread far and wide without permission or due cause. You can imagine the shock waves that went through the Hayes household as a result, Mr. Bercow.
In that context, it is not unreasonable for parliamentarians to have doubts about the storage and transmission of sensitive data. As the hon. Member for Yeovil made clear earlier, that data may be very sensitive. I intervened on him to point out that Connexions deals not only with advice and guidance on careers, but with a number of other aspects of support for young people, including advice on drugs, sexual health and other highly personal matters. Given that the Connexions database is to lie at the heart of the process, hon. Members will understand that our concerns and doubts are exaggerated by the fact that we know that many young people currently dealing with Connexions are doing so because they have some kind of challenge or problem. The purpose of the amendment is clear, and its attractiveness to the Government should be plain.
Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend envisage that the individual concerned would be able to ask for reassurances about how information would be treated in its transfer from the Secretary of State to a local authority? For example, would it be possible for the individual to say, Look, I dont want this just to be stuck in the Royal Mail on a disc, or, I dont want it to be couriered round London on the back of a motorbike.? Does he feel that we should ask for assurances that the information will be safe?
Mr. Hayes: Or, indeed, left in the back of a car on a laptop computer, only to be stolen. My hon. Friends points are reasonable. How information is stored and the security measures and protocols that are put in place are critical. The more involvement and empowerment we can offer individuals as a means of providing the necessary checks and balances that my hon. Friend suggests, the better.
As I said, the amendments are clear; their attractiveness to the Government is plain, and I believe that they are extremely helpful. Given the tone and tenor of todays debate so farmy hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, who is well known in this House and increasingly in this Committee for his generosity, even temper and measured approach to all that he does, became at some point if not alarmed then certainly gravely concernedI think that the Minister had better accept these amendments as a way of re-establishing the measured mood that my hon. Friend normally exemplifies.
Mr. Heald: May I make just one point? It is one thing for this type of information to be transferred from the Secretary of State to the local authority if somebody has gone missing and if it is an individual case where it is necessary for, say, the Connexions service to have information about where someone is. I would not be so concerned personally about an individual exercise of that sort. However, if what is being proposed is that all the information for all the young people in the age group concerned will just be sent en bloc to local authorities right around the country, without any event that triggers that transfer such as a person not being able to be found or whatever, I would be concerned.
Can the Minister give some assurance that the exercise will concentrate on individuals, that the information transferred will be the information relating
Jim Knight: It is obviously a delight for the Committee to listen again to the dulcet tones and poetry of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings after such a long interlude, and we were all sad to hear of the loss of Mrs. Hayess data.
Provision in clause 61 empowers Government Departments to pass information about a young person to the Connexions service in order to support young people to participate. Amendment No. 105 would mean that the young person would have the right to examine that information before it was released. As I have explained in relation to previous amendments, young people already have rights of access to personal data held about them under the Data Protection Act 1998, and they can make a request under the Act for a copy of any personal information held by any organisation. They could make this same request of Jobcentre Plus and the Connexions provider before or after any information had been passed.
Let me address the question about data transfers that the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for North-East Hertfordshire have raised. In practice, the social security information that is shared is that of 16 and 17-year-olds and it takes place locally between the local Jobcentre Plus and the local Connexions service. It is shared on an individual basis, when a 16 or 17-year-old turns up at the local Connexions or Jobcentre Plus offices. It is a requirement if someone is in receipt of jobseekers allowance that they are registered with Connexions. Effectively, the individual must have a form stamped by Connexions that says that they have been registered with the service; that is a mechanism by which that transfer of information takes place, via the individual themselves. There is also a national feed on young people aged 18 and 19 on a consent basis.
That information is uploaded on to the national Connexions customer information system website, which is managed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the data are then separated into individual area files and distributed via the website to local Connexions services. The website is, of course, secure and not open to public access. Only named individuals with appropriate access rights within the Connexions service are able to access data for their own area. All CCIS databases conform to the requirements of the Data Protection Act. I hope that that gives hon. Members all the information that they need on data transfer.
Turning to the matter of obtaining young peoples consent before disclosing information, as I said in response to previous amendments and just now, it is a condition of 16 and 17-year-olds claiming certain benefits that they are in contact with Connexions, so that we can be sure they are getting the help and support that they need. On the vast majority of occasions, the young person is happy to register voluntarily with Connexions, so personal information does not need to be passed without their consent. Where a young person is reluctant
Eighteen to 19-year-olds do not have to be in contact with Connexions in order to claim certain benefits. It is none the less vital that Connexions learns about them from Jobcentre Plus as soon as they claim, as they will invariably not be in employment, education or training. We will have the best chance of re-engaging them if Connexions is in a position to provide them with appropriate support without delay. Although in practice the vast majority of 18 and 19-year-old claimants, like other young people, view the service provided by Connexions positively and give consent, there are a few young peopleoften those most disaffectedwho may be more resistant. The power provided by the clause means that Connexions can identify and inform them again of the type of support available.
Accepting the amendments would add bureaucracy and complexity to the system, and could delay or prevent Connexions from intervening to support young people. For the Connexions service to work effectively, it needs accurate and up-to-date information on who young people are, what they are doing and how to contact them. The information that Jobcentre Plus provides is particularly valuable because young people become much more mobile from the age of 16 and are therefore more difficult to track. In essence, we can intervene much earlier if we have early information transfer rather than having to go through a process of obtaining consent in every case.
Returning to the point made about the Data Protection Act, in my view, the protection is adequate and we do not need to add to the legislation, either by explicitly requiring consent or by inserting other forms of protection in the Bill. I hope that, in light of my reasoning, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, who is a reasonable man, will withdraw his amendments.
Mr. Hayes: I do not buy the Ministers argument because the essence of his case was that when someone claims jobseekers allowance, there is an automatic process by which they are referred to Connexions, which is about trying to marry them with appropriate opportunities. However, they are making an application for jobseekers allowance: by their own choice, of their own will, they are beginning a process which is, understandably, about both receiving a benefit and attempting to get a job, with the advice that goes with that.
My anxiety about the provisions in the Bill is that the duties in the Bill on local authorities are not solely about providing advice and guidance; they are about promoting and, indeed, ensuring participation. The process is therefore very different, and it is not entirely reasonable to apply the same logic to such a very different process. The measure is not necessarily about the voluntary acceptance of advice; it is about the promotion of a duty to participate. To that end, I think that the protectionthe check and balance, as I described itof asking for peoples permission to share information about them is entirely reasonable.
Jim Knight: I will have one more go at persuading the hon. Gentleman. Does he accept that, by definition, someone who is claiming benefits is not in education, employment or training and that it is desirable for them to be so? If he does, he will acknowledge that it is desirable to ensure that we have taken every opportunity to give them the support that they need. Therefore, a simple transfer of information, so that we can intervene as early as possible to give them support and to get them off benefits and into reasonable training, with or without work, is good. The provisions are therefore proportionate.
Mr. Hayes: I start from the assumption that increasing participation is good. We have established that in our deliberations thus far. We have found common ground because we think that it is good for young people to be trained, guided and advised, to encourage them to increase their employability. There is no doubt about that, but the issue that has created disagreement throughout the Committee is compulsion. The reason why there is sensitivity this morning about information is the relationship between information and compulsionthe way in which the information might be used. That sensitivity has permeated the discussions about amendments this morning.
Jim Knight: I shall have another go. We will make it clear that the CCIS is to be used for support, not for enforcement.
Mr. Hayes: That is what the Minister said when he intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton half an hour ago. The Minister described the clarity of the guidance that he will offer. However, the amendment would introduce an extra protection to the Bill, and given that he has told us that the vast majority of young people would readily agree to the information being shared because it would be in their interests, and so, given that he is dealing only with a fewthose were his wordsyoung people who might be recalcitrant, he is effectively saying that he would resist the amendment, which would check the excessive use of information and power that it might engender, for the sake of a handful of young people who would not agree to have the information shared anyway.
Participation is best ensured by the encouragement, willingness and commitment of young people to engageto be part of a process. A critical part of that process is advice and guidance, and part of advice and guidance is sharing information properly. Of course, we believe all that, but we are not sure that a degree of commitment is not assisted by an amendment suggesting that if one does not want the information shared, it will not be, and that if one does, one has to give written permission.
That is not such a big deal; it is not an alarming change to the Governments proposals. It is a modest, sensible and cautious change that the Government might be wise to accept. Unless the Minister can offer to me more than he did to my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, which was a fairly woolly pledge of guidance, we shall press amendment No. 22 to a vote, as a means of illustrating that sovereignty in such matters lies with young people, and that their rights must be protected.
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 14 ]
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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