Education and Skills Bill

[back to previous text]

Clause 62

Information: supply by public bodies
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 107, in clause 62, page 34, leave out lines 9 to 13.
Clause 62 replicates the data sharing provisions of clause 16 to facilitate local authority support services. I will not repeat all the concerns that were raised in relation to clause 16, except to say that it would have been better if the protections that the Minister outlined in his last contribution had been incorporated into these two clauses for the sake of certainty and clarification. I will not repeat all the arguments that have been made about the dangers and threats to privacy arising from such a vast power to share information.
The amendment seeks to remove from the list of bodies from which a local authority can request information all those organisations that do not relate directly to the education and training of the young person. It would remove the primary care trust, the strategic health authority, the chief officer of police, the local probation board and a youth offending team. It gives the Minister, should he need it, the opportunity both to justify why the power is needed and to set out the protections that he will introduce to ensure that the information is protected in transfer, and will not result in the long term in people being reluctant to disclose information lest it be used for purposes other than those for which it was originally intended.
Jim Knight: The debates we held at some considerable length on clause 16 could all be repeated in respect of this clause. I will not seek to fail to persuade the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton again using the same arguments, and will restrict my remarks to saying that the amendment would limit the supply of information to Connexions to information from local authorities and learning and skills councils. It would mean that the service would not have access to particular kinds of information that may be essential for it to determine the appropriate support for the young person.
We disagree about whether the Data Protection Act safeguards should be included in the Bill. I have said previously that it is not good for us to duplicate things in law. Overlapping measures can create confusion, which is why the provisions have been kept separate. That is perfectly normal, with the unfortunate side effect that it enables lawyers to make their money. We have that disagreement. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not agree with me, but on the basis that we have had the argument, I simply urge him to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Gibb: I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the grounds that we have had the debate, albeit we do not agree with the Minister about the practicalities of the powers in the two clauses. Given that we have had the debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Sharing and use of information held for purposes of support services or functions under this Part
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: I wish to raise the issue of definitions in clause 17(7). We touched on the meaning of relevant information in earlier debates, The Minister asserted that the definition of relevant information meant that it had to be confined specifically to the purposes of providing support services. However, subsection (7) states that relevant information, in relation to a person providing or holding information, means
“information held by the person for a relevant purpose”.
It goes on to define a relevant purpose in relation to a local education authority as
“the purpose of, or a purpose connected with, the exercise of any function of the authority...under this Part”.
Mr. Heald: When Mr. Head gave evidence to the Committee, he talked about the young person
“who turned up to our NEET event in a brand new BMW series 3, who clearly was economically active”.——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 162, Q363.]
That raises the prospect that some of the 10 per cent. who will be encouraged into education may be people who, for example, are drug pushers. If someone turns up in a brand new BMW and information from health authorities or the police suggests that they have that sort of background, will it be possible to share that information with the staff, so that they can keep an eye on what is going on and ensure that the further education college does not end up being turned into a place where drugs are pushed? Can the information be used in circumstances in which it would defeat crime—that is, for a different purpose from that for which it was originally provided? If the Minister does not have the answer to hand, perhaps he will write to me.
Jim Knight: Clause 17 puts in place the legal mechanisms necessary to enable local authorities and service providers to share information among themselves where appropriate. It is particularly important in resolving the difficulties of tracking young people who move across local authority boundaries. It also enables relevant information to be collected once and used for the two purposes outlined in the clause, and so indicates our intention that that information should be stored in one place rather than two.
I think that there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and myself about “relevant purpose” and the importance of guidance in clause 18. As has been said, the information could be used only for the purposes of delivering a Connexions service or for the purposes of delivering on the local authority’s duty to promote the fulfilment of the duty to participate. As far as I am concerned, that is not for enforcement purposes, because people cannot enforce until they have supported, so the transfer of data will be for the purposes of support. Ultimately, young people identified as not participating can be subject to enforcement, but the information is not shared for that purpose, as I have said, because clause 39(5) and (6) say that support has to come before enforcement. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the Committee to support the clause.
Mr. Gibb: Whether or not support should come before enforcement is neither here nor there, because that is not what the Bill says. It says that the relevant information can be used for enforcement purposes. I have listened to what the Minister has said and if he wishes to be true to his word, he needs to ask his officials to draft some amendments so that the Bill reflects the intention that he expressed to the Committee, because the clause and the Bill do not reflect the intention that he has just conveyed.
The Chairman: Order. I do not wish to be excessively antediluvian about the matter because, as most Members know, I am a moderniser. I take a modernising view of most matters of procedure when I have the discretion to do so, but I gently say to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that in Committee we do not refer to officials. They are invisible—and anonymous.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18

Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 29, in clause 18, page 10, line 20, at end insert
‘and such guidance shall be placed in the Library of the House of Commons and notice given of the publication of the guidance by written Ministerial statement.’.
Clause 18 requires local authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to part 1. The Bill is full of delegated powers. In its 150 clauses, we find 65 regulation-making powers. It is no wonder, therefore, that, on page 3, the memorandum on delegated powers published by the Government at the same time as the Bill refers to a
“framework Bill containing a range of powers to make delegated legislation.”
Delegated or secondary legislation has been used increasingly often over the past 20 years, with more and more primary legislation comprising merely a skeleton on which scores of new secondary legislative powers are hung. Every year, thousands of statutory instruments pass through the House, the overwhelming majority of which go through on the nod, unnoticed and undebated. Even if the statutory instrument is debated—perhaps a Member has prayed against it because it is subject to the negative resolution procedure or it is one of the rarer orders or regulations that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure—debate is usually confined to 90 minutes in a Committee Room. Given that we spent more than 90 minutes debating clause 16, that period is probably not enough time for us to deal with the powers proposed in the Bill.
On page 5, the delegated powers memorandum states:
“In the majority of cases, powers to make Statutory Instruments are to be subject to negative resolution procedures except clause 3(5)...clause 5(1)...clause 49...clause 70...and clause 117...and clause 146 to the extent that the power is used to amend primary legislation”.
There are also five delegated powers to amend primary legislation—a practice that has grown during the 10 years in which I have been a Member. Over that period we have also seen the growth of tertiary legislation or guidance. It is legislation—it is known as statutory guidance—but it is rarely debated in the House. We debated the contents of the admission code because it was incorporated into law by a statutory instrument, but the vast majority of guidance is issued by the relevant Department, sometimes accompanied by a press release, some of which may, or may not, be reported in the newspapers. There is no parliamentary procedure to pray against guidance or to trigger a debate, and there is certainly no mechanism to vote against such guidance. The detail of policy contained in guidance is often fundamental to the policy, as we heard today from the Minister. He said that guidance will overrule a major part of the Bill in relation to what information can be shared.
The purpose of the amendment is to require the Government to place in the Library any guidance issued under clause 18. In order to alert Members to the fact that guidance has been issued, the amendment also requires the Minister to make a written statement announcing the issuing of the guidance. Given the importance of guidance, and the volume of statutory instruments and guidance, I believe that the amendment is fundamental in enabling Members to carry out their primary role of holding the Government to account and scrutinising legislation.
Jim Knight: I entirely agree with the intentions behind the amendment, and I shall ensure that all statutory guidance relating to part 1 is placed in the Library and that notice will be given that that has been done. It will also be published on the Department’s website. That is routine practice, and there is no need for it to be stated in primary legislation. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: Given that explicit assurance, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause s 18 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Appropriate arrangements
6.15 pm
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in clause 20, page 11, line 4, after ‘constituting’, insert ‘sufficient’.
You will know, Mr. Bercow, that the explanatory notes to clause 20 say what constitutes “making appropriate arrangements”. They state:
“A person has made appropriate arrangements if they have enrolled on a course or courses constituting relevant education or training (defined in clause 6), or arrangements have otherwise been made for them to receive relevant education or training, or if they are participating in full-time education...A person does not need to have enrolled for sufficient (that is, enough hours in the relevant period) relevant education or training in order to count as having made appropriate arrangements”.
I emphasise that the amendment is intended to probe the Minister for greater clarity. It would ensure that the training is rigorous and of high quality, as well as sufficient, and not merely relevant, to the needs of the learner who requires new skills. I emphasise the word “sufficient”, because I am talking about the level of learning. It is critical, if we proceed with the legislation, that the training we put in place is fit for purpose and so does the job. The amendment would ensure such an outcome, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge.
Jim Knight: Clause 20 requires employers to check that a young person has made arrangements to participate in accredited part-time training. Requiring them in addition, as the amendment would, to check the number of hours that a young person spends in education or training would significantly increase the burden on employers. Such detailed checks would be complicated and time-consuming, and the Government do not think it appropriate to expect employers to do it.
We want provision to be of quality, but we do not think that that should be policed by employers. Young people in full-time employment have a duty to participate in sufficient part-time training, meaning for at least 280 hours a year. Employers of those young people have a duty to check that they are participating, but they do not have to check that they are doing enough hours. The amendment would put an unnecessary burden on employers and, potentially, stop a small number of young people getting a job because of the extra burdens.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister is speeding through his account, and I am anxious that he does not reach his conclusion before he has dealt with this central point. Does he accept the argument about sufficiency? Training can be “relevant” but insufficient. Will the Minister dwell momentarily on that point?
Jim Knight: I accept the argument on sufficiency, which is why we have specified that young people should do 280 hours a year. I do not accept that that should be policed by employers. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman withdraws the amendment.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister has accepted the principle that sufficiency is important. Doubtless he will say in a moment that he will add guidance, which is his usual fall-back position. However, I do not wish to be cruel. He accepted that sufficiency matters and, because I buy his argument that where the burden of policing and checking falls is an issue, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 20 February 2008