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Mr. Malik: On the issue of data protection, it is obvious that mistakes have been made where data is concerned. We have seen it in the media and have heard statements about it in the Chamber. It is important that the handling of personal data, both within and between organisations, is appropriate and secure. That is why the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Secretary to review data handling procedures across the Government, as I stated earlier. That review, which reported in June 2008, requires Departments to, among other things, introduce protective measures—such as encryption and penetration testing—and controls, including access to records, and to enhance and standardise information management risk processes. That is a genuine concern, but there is no perfect system—there never will be. But, certainly, as time has elapsed, and with the mistakes that have been made including human error, the system has improved, and will continue to do so.
Tom Brake: Does the Minister know whether encryption will be used in the exchange of data under the statutory instrument?
Mr. Malik: I can only assume that it will be. There will be different kinds of thresholds for security, where encryption and other forms of secure protection will kick in. I cannot say to the hon. Gentleman categorically what the case might be with respect to the particular issue that he raises, but I am more than happy to write to him. He also raised a point regarding the Coroners and Justice Bill. The proposals for information sharing in the Bill will shortly be discussed in Committee, which—I am sure he would agree—is a more appropriate forum for that debate.
The hon. Gentleman focused on fraud. Patently, it is critical that information is as accurate as it can be when carrying out a means test. As for the people who have to fill out the forms, it is pretty obvious that their propensity to engage in inaccuracies will be greater than the general public’s. In that sense, the regulations ensure accuracy where means-testing is concerned, but the change is very narrow.
I hope that I made it clear that the information will be used only for the purposes set out in the regulations. It is not a case of developing this further to deal with fraud issues. There have been no convictions because of inaccuracies on forms that we have sent somewhere else, because we would not pass them on. Clearly, it is a narrow but extremely simple change that will mean justice is swifter and that those who want to abuse the system have less chance to do so.
I think I have probably covered all the questions that were posed.
Tom Brake: My question has escaped me; the Minister may have answered it. I will sit down for a few seconds while he carries on.
Mr. Malik: Taken as a whole, the framework supported by the new instrument will ensure greater accuracy in the decision-making process, which is good news for all legal aid applicants.
Tom Brake: The Minister is doubly generous for giving way and allowing me to come back with my point. He has set out carefully how he expects the new instrument to lead to greater efficiency and faster turnaround. I asked whether there were savings and, if so, whether that money would be ploughed back into the criminal legal aid budget or end up going somewhere else.
Mr. Malik: I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, if there are any savings, they will stay within the legal aid framework from which they originated. If anything, the new system might cost a bit more. However, in the interests of getting swift and accurate access to justice, it is a small price worth paying. We estimate that the cost will be about £140,000, so unfortunately there will not be any savings. But it is not a cost, it is an investment, and it delivers greater accountability for the taxpayer. I believe that that strikes the right balance in terms of fairness, and I commend the instrument to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Defence Service (Information Requests) Regulations 2009.
3.4 pm
Committee rose.
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