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Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, are of great concern to the NCB and the Early Childhood Forum, which do not want these provisions in the Bill. I have sympathy with that view; a parent's wish must be considered, especially in the early years of a child's life. But I also understand what the Government are trying to do. Providers need to come to terms with complex issues that they may not have been involved with before. I hope that the Minister will reiterate his assurances regarding the regulations and full consultation.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has raised important issues and I am glad again to put it on the record that we envisage that these powers will be used only rarely and in exceptional circumstances. In response to the concerns raised in Grand Committee under Clause 46(1), I should make it clear that the power to exempt will not be used to allow providers to drag their feet in meeting the requirements of the early years foundation stage. It will certainly not act as a get-out clause for providers who simply do not wish to provide quality early years provision. It will provide flexibility to exempt, in exceptional circumstances and for a certain period, providers that face genuine initial challenges in delivering new requirements.
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I can also reassure the noble Baroness that exemptions under Clause 46(1) will not be used to allow newly registered providers to fail to meet or deliver the early years foundation stage requirements. From April 2008, it will be a requirement, on registering as a provider of childcare for children from birth to five, to demonstrate an ability to deliver the early years foundation stage and to be able to meet the early years foundation stage requirements in their entirety. I hope that those assurances meet the first points raised by the noble Baroness.

Turning to Amendment No. 34, we completely understand the concerns that a child might be exempted inappropriately. Clause 46(2) states:

I am happy to put on record that, when we make those regulations, we will make clear that parental consent is acquired before any exemption or modification can be applied.

The noble Baroness went a stage further in asking whether such consent should be only in respect of specific requests that parents have made. I will look further at that issue. We had not thought about it in those terms—about who initiates the process. I will reply to her about that because we need to address that perfectly valid point. I can assure her that the regulations that are laid under Clause 46(2) will ensure that parental consent is acquired before any exemption or modification can be applied. We will also make explicit in those regulations that it will not be acceptable for children to be exempted on the grounds of their special educational needs or disability or because they are learning English as an additional language. The early years foundation stage is more than sufficiently flexible to accommodate all those considerations without the need for an exemption. Exemptions will be in the sorts of cases that I set out at greater length in Grand Committee. On the basis of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendments.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his positive response, particularly in relation to Amendment No. 33. We are satisfied with his assurances on that amendment. I would be grateful if he would look at Amendment No. 34 a little further because, as he will recognise, there is a difference. Parents may be pushed to give their consent by the provider because the provider is not particularly happy to provide a service for the child. They may be pushed into a situation in which they give their consent perhaps not having proactively asked for it. We are anxious that the exemption should be made only when the parents have proactively asked for one. We do not want to encourage parents to exempt their children, but there will be some occasions when, for one reason or another, they wish to do so.

The other point that the Minister did not respond to is the question of the monitoring of these exemptions. Since they are putting considerable emphasis on exemptions being exceptional, I take it that, over the
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course of time, they will be monitored. Perhaps the Minister might write to me on that issue. With those assurances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 not moved.]

Clause 99 [Provision of information about young children: England]:

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 36:

"( ) No information collected under this section may be kept for longer than one year after the child has left early years provisions."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I retabled these amendments as we did not have time to discuss them in Grand Committee and I warn your Lordships that they will be like wading through treacle. I will try to get through them as quickly as I can. They question the Government on the details and intentions regarding Clause 99 and subsequently touch on similar provisions made by Clause 101 regarding the provision of information in Wales and the transitory provisions in Clause 100.

These clauses were added as new clauses in the final stages of the Bill in the other place and have as such received little scrutiny, particularly as our colleagues in the other place had little warning of their appearance and thus little time to prepare to address them in the guillotined debating time. The debate did however highlight significant concerns about the wide-reaching nature of the provisions.

I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for providing information during Committee regarding these clauses, as promised in the other House, which came to us over the Easter Recess. I am sure that that will help to inform the debate that we are about to have.

The Explanatory Notes tell us that Clause 99,

My Amendment No. 36 would ensure that individual child data under this clause may not be kept for longer than one year after the child has left early years provision. Amendment No. 37 aims at protecting the rights of the individual by preventing the transfer of information to other countries that do not have adequate protection for the rights and freedoms of the data subject. These two amendments address concerns regarding data collection and the use of that data with regard to the human rights legislation and the Data Protection Act. Amendment No. 38 is a sunrise clause, preventing regulations being made under the clause until the trials of the index-sharing database have been completed and reported on.
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The NCB, the All-Party Group on Children and the Early Childhood Forum have all asked for clarification on these new clauses. While I understand the reasons for which the DfES would like the data collected, it does raise many unanswered questions. They, like us, would like to know in advance exactly who the Government will prescribe to collect and share this individual data and an exact list of the data that is permitted to be collected. The Minister's note expanded a little on the fact that it will be local authorities and relevant schools, but did not shed much light on the information collators working on behalf of the Government regarding data processing. For example, will this include the workers on the national identity register and the ID cards scheme, on which we had long debates in this House? After all, they could in the words of the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, fall under,

I believe that the link with the NIR is important in both practice and principle—first, because in the other place there was debate about whether medical records would be included as part of the individual data collected. We believe that they should not be so. In fact, we fought on this issue, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in the debates on what became the Children Act 2004, and it is a safeguard that we believe should be upheld. Can the Minister confirm whether medical records will be held under the proposed system? Then again, we were told that medical records would not be held on the NIR, yet the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office is now on record as saying that they will be if the two systems link up. This is a significant point.

Not only that, but the Written Statement of 18 April only demonstrates the speed at which function-creep develops in data systems, regardless of assurances, particularly with this Government's data projects. It raises serious questions about whether we can take in good faith the assurances that we are given, although I believe that at the time they are given in good faith; I refer to assurances about medical records and the remaining data collection under this Bill.

On the issue of who is handling the information, will the Minister confirm what training they will have and what checks they will undergo? Will they all be subject to CRB checks and undergo safeguard training? It is vital that we do not unwittingly provide a resource of children's whereabouts to paedophiles.

7.15 pm

Will the Minister make a commitment that the regulations will adhere to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provide for the protection of privacy? We welcome the provisions in the clause that prohibit the publishing of any information received by or under it in any form that includes the name of the child or children to whom it relates. But what steps will be taken to ensure that the child in question may not be identified by other
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associations in the information provided? Indeed, what protection will be provided of the list of names behind the numbers?

That is part of the reason why I believe the information should not be kept beyond a year after the child finishes their involvement in the early years foundation stage. In fact, why should it? The local authority will no longer need to check its entitlement regarding free places once the child has left. I hope the Minister can also clarify in detail—and if he cannot do so tonight, I am more than happy for him to write to me and other noble Lords—that the powers under this clause will adhere to the eight data protection principles under the Data Protection Act, which state that personal data must be kept no longer than necessary, kept up to date, processed fairly and lawfully, be adequate, be relevant for purpose but not excessive, kept safe and secure and processed only for lawful and specified purposes and in accordance with the data subject's rights. Importantly, it should not be transferred to other countries that do not have the same level of protection.

The last point is the reason for Amendment No. 37. I am hoping the Minister can clarify if information collected under these clauses could be shared under the data-sharing agreements we have with other countries in the EU or the USA, and, if so, if this is with or without the individual's permission.

If, as the data protection allows, a parent or child would like to access any information kept on them, what is the process by which they could apply and challenge any inaccuracies in the relevant file? Can the Minister provide us with a clear and detailed definition of what "child information" is likely to amount to? One of the Government's aims for this data is to support local authorities in the fulfilment of their duties to improve children's outcomes. What data will be needed for that? I remind your Lordships of the debate we had on league tables, when we discussed Clause 41 in Grand Committee.

The Government's other reasoning behind the collection of individual child data is that it is essential to ensure that funding for children receiving early years provision is properly allocated. This is a laudable and sensible aim. Will the Minister provide the House with the current estimates on the double counting that goes on at the moment with regard to free entitlement, and the amount of money involved? How will the data collection work, for example, for children whose parents are separated or divorced, and therefore may spend different periods of time in different local authority areas, receiving childcare in each? Who will get the free entitlement, and how will it be worked out?

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 38. I thank the Minister for his clear note on the differences between the information-sharing index database and the proposed information collection under these clauses. I agree that one is intended primarily to be a tool for practitioners working together and the other is for data collection at a strategic level. While the information may be used in different ways, the practicalities, such as the testing of data collection and
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the current accuracy, quality and feasibility of collecting and managing the data, are issues that are shared across both proposed information-gathering systems.

The information-sharing index trial, as the Minister informed us on 20 March, is to,

This issue will be relevant in both schemes as different local authorities collect and store different sets of data in varying ways. Both sets of regulations will require local authorities to comply with the request of the Secretary of State,

Both regulations aim to provide safeguards against the collection and processing of disproportionate amounts of information, and we have been told that they will include stringent security and safeguarding measures.

These practicalities are the same for both proposed systems. I therefore suggest that rather than try to implement full-scale data collection under these clauses at the same time as trials for the SI scheme, the Government should wait for the outcomes of the trial and then use the practical lessons learnt before collecting information under the Bill. This would save time, money and duplicated effort on both systems. Surely the SI trial will only aid with what paragraph 18 in the paper on this issue describes as the "next steps", in that the department needs to carry out analysis of how to collect information from all registered early years providers and how that can be done with minimal burden to local authorities and individual providers. To my mind, these are issues that the Government should be clearer on before asking us to pass enabling legislation. In effect, we are signing a blank page, as we do not know the exact details of what we are enabling.

Briefly on the Welsh issue, I would like to know whether there will be a joined-up approach for families that use provisions in both Wales and England. Who will be responsible for co-ordinating that information, and how will that work? The proposed Welsh foundation stage may cover a different age range of three to seven years rather than the nought to five years proposed here.

I thank your Lordships very much for showing patience in listening to the long-winded reasoning behind my amendments. The length that I have had to take only goes to show the number of unanswered questions and concerns that remain. This Government do not have a particularly good track record in the use of databases and data collection, and I would hate these provisions to add to that. I beg to move.

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