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I shall speak, first, to government Amendments Nos. 381 and 382 to explain the Government's thinking. I shall then respond to the points raised by other noble Lords. Amendments Nos. 381 and 382 place a new statutory requirement upon CHAI and CSCI to prepare and publish a code of practice in respect of their access, handling, use and disclosure of confidential personal information. As we discussed in Committee, Sir Ian Kennedy has involved the GMC, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Consumers' Association in discussions about such a code on a voluntary basis. Perhaps I may refresh the memory of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I believe that the two Titans to which he referred were the GMC and CHAI. I should not want him to have forgotten that memorable contribution.
However, I realise that noble Lords have remaining concerns that, unless the code is placed on a statutory basis, future chairs of the organisation might choose not to have in place such a code. I recognise that the handling of personal information is an extremely sensitive issue, particularly with respect to medical information, and it is right that organisations such as CHAI and CSCI, which have wide powers in respect of such information, should account for how they intend to handle it.
These amendments respond to noble Lords' concerns and will have the effect of placing the two commissions under a duty to prepare and publish codes of practice and to consult appropriate persons before doing so. Sir Ian Kennedy has informed me that it is intended that the CHAI code of practice should be in place on a statutory basis by April of next year.
Although the concerns about information expressed in Committee were focused principally on CHAI, the issue of CSCI's access to information was also raised. We believe it is appropriate that both commissions should be under a statutory duty to have a code in place. However, I want to be clear that the circumstances in which CSCI will need to access and use personal data are different from those for CHAI. It will need to do so on a more routine basis in order to ensure that vulnerable individuals are adequately protected.
Perhaps I may make it clear that CSCI will not routinely need to access personal medical records, although it may do so on occasion. It will, however, require regular access to social services records held by local authorities and social care records held by care
Shadow CSCI came into being later than shadow CHAI and is now beginning work on a code of practice. I have written to the chair, Denise Platt, to ask about a possible timescale for putting a code of practice in place. I hope to be able to provide noble Lords with more information on that at Third Reading.
That is the background to the Government's thinking and the Government's amendments. Perhaps I may now turn to some specific points raised by noble Lords. In his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, also provides a role for the Secretary of State to approve such a code. I find it interesting that the Secretary of State, who would have been pushed out of the Bill if a number of other amendments from Opposition Benches had been passed, is now brought in as the wise arbiter on this issue. We do not believe that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to approve the code. We consider that CHAI and CSCI, as independent commissions with expertise in their respective fields, should be trusted to draw up their own codes, in consultation, as I said, with appropriate bodies. Our amendments make provision for that.
I turn to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, concerning the Patient Information Advisory Group. As I said, our amendments provide that both CHAI and CSCI should consult appropriate bodies in drawing up a code of practice and that they should determine that procedure. I am sure that we would encourage CHAI and CSCI to utilise the Patient Information Advisory Group as a resource, but it will not be the only body with an interest in this area; nor do we believe it is right that either the Patient Information Advisory Group or, for that matter, any other single body should have a right of veto over the information that CHAI should be able to access through the code following an appropriate basis of public consultation.
I turn now to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about computerised information. We believe that the noble Baroness's proposal would cause significant problems for CHAI and the Assembly in carrying out their functions. For example, if they were investigating a case such as that of Dr Shipman, such a requirement could be detrimental to patient safety. On the other hand, the approach that we have taken means that the codes of practice will be able to deal with the issue of computer
In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel more confident and comfortable about not pressing her amendment. On the basis of the explanation that I have given, I commend the government amendments to the House.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, if I am not speaking out of turn, perhaps I may comment on what the Minister said. His words about the code of practice are welcome. When he spoke about computerised records, I hope he meant that in general practice they will be anonymised so that no clinician will have to work counter to the GMC guidance, which states that only where it is essential for the purpose may identifiable records be disclosed. That is where there is really significant danger of death or serious harm such as abuse. In those instances it would not be appropriate to anonymise the data. Like all noble Lords I sincerely hope that we never have another episode such as Shipman. However, I fear that there may be need occasionally for named records to be viewed.
Therefore, I am happy to withdraw my amendment but with the caveat that I shall seek reassurance from the Minister that it will be normal, routine practice for the records to be anonymised unless there are strong stated reasons otherwise.
Perhaps I may comment on the independent review of the records. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, highlighted a group with which those drawing up the code of practice would be well advised to consult. That group now has experience of considering various applications and formats of records. I would have hoped that on guidance too the Minister's words would have been a little stronger concerning the role of the Patient Information Advisory Group. However, I accept the Minister's comments on Amendment No. 320 and in the mean time beg leave to withdraw it.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall speak also to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2003, the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2003 and the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003 (Consequential Modifications No. 2) Order 2003.
These orders are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and have or are being made in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 31(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 34(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Section 6 of the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003 respectively.
The Northern Ireland (Date of Next Assembly Poll)Order 2003 setting the election date as 26th November was made on 22nd October by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. As noble Lords know, the Secretary of State made a Statement to the House that day setting out the progress that had been made over the previous days and weeks towards a restoration of devolved government on a stable and inclusive basis.
Although it was not possible to rebuild the atmosphere of trust we had hoped to see at the start of the election campaign, major steps forward have occurred. After the election the British and Irish Governments will work with the parties to resolve the issue as quickly as possible so as to enable devolved government to be restored to the people of Northern Ireland. We remain optimistic that that will be achievable, building on the progress we have made.
Noble Lords may be wondering why this election is being held on a Wednesday. The election has been called at short notice and we have sought to minimise the disruption to electoral office staff that would be caused by continuing counting into the weekend. There is also the advantage that the results should be known by the weekend as the two-day count will take place on the Thursday and Friday.
I also point out that for political and practical reasons this is the most realistic week in which we can hold an election. If the date was set any later there would be obvious implications because of the season with colder, darker nights and the onset of Christmas.
The Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2003, which was also made on 22nd October, changes the date from 1st December 2003 to 1st February 2004 that the revised version of the electoral register, following the annual canvass, should be published by. It also provides that no notices of alteration need to be published during the four months prior to February 2004.
It may be helpful if I explain some of the background to this necessary change. The new electoral register was due to be published on its usual date of 1st December. However, because the Assembly election has been called, the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff will be involved fully in election preparations. All noble Lords will recognise that this effectively means that the Chief Electoral Officer will be unable to publish a new register on 1st December. This order puts back the publication deadline to 1st February 2004.
Furthermore, the order modifies legislation to stop a resettlement allowance being payable to former MLAs who have given a termination notice under a determination made by the Secretary of State. MLAs who have given such a notice would have already received payment equivalent to a resettlement allowance by virtue of the termination notice. It effectively ensures that such persons do not receive a double payment.
The draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2003 amends rule 32 of the parliamentary elections rules set out in Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 as it is applied by Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001 for the purposes of an election to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The effect simply adds electoral commissioners, members of staff of the Electoral Commission and persons appointed by the Electoral Commission for the purpose of attending at polling stations on behalf of the commission. The order is being introduced now to be in use for the Northern Ireland Assembly election on 26th November and will apply to all elections to the Assembly unless amended or revoked. A similar order is due to be introduced for the whole of the United Kingdom next year in time for the European parliamentary elections.
We believe that allowing the Electoral Commission access to polling stations would be beneficial. It will allow the commission to report fully on the conduct of the election and will help provide clear evidence as to how electoral office staff implement key aspects of the Electoral Fraud Act, such as checking photographic identification. Furthermore, a number of Northern Ireland politicians have indicated to us that they are unhappy at inconsistencies in polling stations and the commission will be able to judge whether these complaints have any substance.
The final order before the House is the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003 (Consequential Modifications No. 2) Order 2003. This purely technical order modifies Section 118A(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, as it is applied to Northern Ireland Assembly elections by the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001 in connection with provision made by Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Act 2003.
I conclude by saying that we hope that the election campaign will be positive and constructive, and that after the elections we can build on the good working relationships between all the parties in Northern Ireland which have developed from their work together in the Executive and subsequently in the negotiations that have taken place since suspension.
Moved, That the order laid before the House on 22nd October be approved [29th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)
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