Joint Committee On Human Rights Nineteenth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We welcome the Government's recognition of the "increasing autonomy" of young people approaching adulthood and the positive duties incumbent on the state to respect and facilitate the enjoyment of their rights, independent of their parents or carers. However, we suggest that it is, at the very least, confusing why, given this recognition, the Government has chosen to coerce young people into education and training through the use of criminal sanctions, in a way which it could not possibly do in relation to those over the age of 18. We also regret the Government's failure to give any real consideration to the human rights implications of the proposed duty in the Explanatory Notes. This hinders effective parliamentary scrutiny of the clause's compatibility with human rights. (Paragraph 1.9)

2.  The duty to participate in education or training raises issues under Article 8 ECHR (the right to respect for private life, which can include aspects of an individual's working life and employment). Such rights may only be interfered with when it is necessary and proportionate to do so, in pursuit of a legitimate aim. Whilst we do not deny the potential benefits to some young people and the economy of their continuing in education and training, in our view, relying on criminal coercion for its enforcement is potentially disproportionate. (Paragraph 1.15)

3.  We question whether simply "enabling" or "assisting" the performance of statutory functions is sufficient, in every circumstance, to meet the necessity test. We recommend that these particular provisions of the Bill be amended to provide more precise purposes for which information may be disclosed. (Paragraph 1.24)

4.  Whilst we are pleased to note that the Government has chosen to deal with the categories of information which may be disclosed in primary rather than secondary legislation, we draw attention to the vagueness of many of those categories. We recommend that the Bill be amended to ensure that the information which may be disclosed is defined with greater specificity, preferably in an exhaustive list. This is vital to ensuring that both the authorities making the disclosures and the individual subjects of disclosures understand the information which may or may not be disclosed and the circumstances in which that disclosure may take place. (Paragraph 1.26)

5.  We repeat this conclusion [that the existence of the Data Protection Act does not exhaust the obligation on the State to provide adequate safeguards] in relation to this Bill. (Paragraphs 1.29-1.30)

6.  We are concerned by the confusion surrounding the operation of the purported safeguard in clauses 14(4) and 57(4), which is exacerbated by the need for public bodies to have regard to a number of pieces of legislation to interpret their statutory duties in relation to both clauses. We are therefore dubious as to whether the position will be sufficiently clear to enable staff to be sure when they may disclose information without consent, and when consent will be required. Such confusion is likely to be detrimental to the privacy rights of individuals. We recommend that the issue be clarified in guidance under clause 18. (Paragraph 1.34)

7.  We recommend that, in relation to any of the information sharing provisions dealing with personal information, the Bill be amended to require that an individual and his or her parents be notified, at a minimum, annually of the personal information (beyond an individual's name and address) which may be disclosed, and be required to decide whether to opt-in to permit such disclosures being made. However, before the disclosure of sensitive information may take place, written consent should be sought and received. (Paragraph 1.35)

8.  The lack of safeguards on the face of the Bill is in our view unacceptable. Specific core safeguards in relation to the powers to enter, inspect and take copies of records should appear on the face of the Bill, not least to provide protection for documents subject to legal professional privilege. Requiring the surrender of documents subject to privilege would create a significant risk of incompatibility with Articles 6(1) and 8 ECHR. (Paragraph 1.39)

9.  We are pleased to note that the Bill proposes to permit sixth-form pupils to opt-out of religious worship in non-maintained special schools. However, we question whether the Bill gives sufficient weight to the rights of a child to freedom of thought, conscience and belief under Article 9 ECHR and to Article 12 of the UNCRC. (Paragraph 1.42)

10.  We recommend that the Government reconsiders its objection to permitting a child of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding to withdraw from religious education and takes into account our previously expressed views on this issue. As for religious worship, we recommend that children who are not in the sixth-form but who have sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding be permitted to withdraw. This could be simply remedied in the Bill by replacing "sixth-form pupil" (in new section 342(5A)(b)(i) of the Education Act 1996 - see clause 127) with "child of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding." (Paragraph 1.45)

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