New Clause 1 — English apprenticeships: disclosure of information

Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 14th May 2014.

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(1) The Commissioners may disclose information held by them to the Secretary of State, or to a person providing services to the Secretary of State, for the purpose of the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to approved English apprenticeships.

(2) The Secretary of State, or a person providing services to the Secretary of State, may disclose information to the Commissioners, or to a person providing services to them, for the purpose of arrangements made under section 4(1) or for the purpose of requesting the Commissioners to disclose information under subsection (1) of this section.

(3) Information disclosed under subsection (1) may not be disclosed by the recipient of the information to any other person without the consent of the Commissioners.

(4) If a person discloses, in contravention of subsection (3), any revenue and customs information relating to a person whose identity—

(a) is specified in the disclosure, or

(b) can be deduced from it,

section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (wrongful disclosure) applies in relation to that disclosure as it applies in relation to a disclosure of such information in contravention of section 20(9) of that Act.

(5) In this section—

“approved English apprenticeship” has the same meaning as in Chapter A1 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (see Schedule 1);

“revenue and customs information relating to a person” has the same meaning as in section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act2005 (see section 19(2) of that Act).

This amendment, with amendment 10, replaces clause 4(5) to (8) with a new clause to authorise the sharing of information relating to approved English apprenticeships. The Secretary of State and HMRC may share such information with each other and with each other‘s service providers (if any).

(Tom Brake.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to new clause 1, after subsection (4) at end insert—

‘(4A) The Secretary of State shall, within six months of this section coming into force, lay a Report before both Houses of Parliament setting out—

(a) what information has been shared or is intended to be shared by virtue of this section,

(b) by what process the Commissioners and Secretary of State agreed on the information to be shared,

(c) which departments and agencies will have access to that information and for what purpose,

(d) whether some or all of that information was shared or will be shared in anonymised form,

(e) whether that information included or will include—

(i) confidential information, or

(ii) personal data (including sensitive personal data) as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998, and

(f) how the provisions of this section fit with the Government’s data sharing strategy.’.

Government amendments 5 to 9, 74, 10 and 11, 27 to 35, 55 and 56.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

New clause 1 provides for an information-sharing gateway between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Secretary of State to support the new apprenticeship funding arrangements. The gateway was previously contained within clause 4 of the Bill, and new clause 1 allows it to operate independently from the arrangements in clause 4. As I set out in Committee, routing funding through employers will mean that the Secretary of State will make arrangements with HMRC, and regulations will set out how the administration of the scheme would operate. The Government published a technical consultation on apprenticeship funding reform in March, which sought views on two payment mechanisms: PAYE—pay-as-you-earn; and an apprenticeship credit. The consultation closed on 1 May. We are analysing the responses and expect to announce our next steps later this year.

Clause 4 provides for the use of HMRC systems to administer the apprenticeship payments, but we must also provide for appropriate information flows. The use of HMRC systems means that information will need to be shared between HMRC and the Secretary of State for the purposes of administering the payments. New clause 1 provides for the disclosure of information between HMRC and the Secretary of State or persons providing services on behalf of the Secretary of State in connection with approved English apprenticeships.

The new clause also allows the information-sharing gateway to operate independently of arrangements in clause 4. That will allow flexibility, should it be needed, in any future arrangements. As new clause 1 sets out, information can be shared only provided it is in connection with approved English apprenticeships. The routing of apprenticeship funding to employers will mean that the Government will need to have the facility to check an employer’s credentials. For example, the Government will want to know that the person they are paying is who they say they are, and the new clause will allow the Government to cross-check information with HMRC data.

New clause 1 is a sensible way to validate employer and apprentice data, potentially minimising the burdens on employers and helping to reduce the potential for fraud. As is normal in relation to HMRC information, the information-sharing gateway is provided for in primary legislation and ensures that taxpayers’ information is safeguarded, with a criminal sanction protecting against unlawful disclosure of identifying information. Amendments 10 and 11 are consequential on the new clause, and would leave out the information-sharing gateway provisions in clause 4.

The Opposition’s amendment (a) to new clause 1 seeks a reporting requirement in connection with the new information-sharing gateway that the Government are introducing in the new clause. To direct apprenticeship funding via employers securely and in a way that safeguards public funds, government must be able to verify an employer’s identity and credentials. New clause 1 will allow the Government to do that by providing for an information-sharing gateway between HMRC and the Secretary of State, so that information already held by government can be used to validate payments without placing additional reporting burdens on employers—the Government want to avoid that. Subject to the detailed design and operation of the payment system, which is still to be confirmed following the recent consultation, examples of the types of data that may need to be shared in order to validate payments and manage the risk of fraud include: employers’ PAYE references; apprentices’ national insurance numbers; and details of the amounts that have been paid.

The Opposition amendment is not necessary. Many hon. Members will be aware that information sharing within government is quite normal, provided there are sufficient safeguards. The House will note that the new clause only allows HMRC to share information for the purposes of the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to approved English apprenticeships. HMRC can disclose information only to the Secretary of State or a person providing services on behalf of the Secretary of State—not to anyone else. The Secretary of State, or his service provider, can only disclose information to HMRC to request information from it or for the purposes of arrangements for the administration of apprenticeship payments made under clause 4.

The new clause also provides for the protection that is afforded to HMRC information under section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005. This imposes a criminal sanction in the event of the wrongful disclosure of HMRC information. This is a safeguard against onward disclosure without the consent of HMRC. Quite simply, new clause 1 allows the scheme to operate effectively and minimises the burdens on employers—something that I am sure all Members will welcome.

I now turn to amendments 6 to 9 and 74. This group provides for a number of technical amendments to clause 4 to ensure the Bill provides the necessary powers for the policy options on which the Government have consulted. The origins of clause 4 lie in Doug Richard’s independent review of apprenticeships, which recommended that funding should be routed direct to employers instead of to training providers. The Government accepted that recommendation, which will improve the quality of apprenticeships and make the training more responsive to employers’ needs.

Clause 4 allows the Secretary of State to make arrangements with HMRC to route English apprenticeship funding direct to employers. In particular, it provides for a new function for HMRC. HMRC will set out in regulations how the administration of the scheme would operate. I am sure that all Members will agree with the value of apprenticeships for businesses and young people. Indeed, many in this House may have had first-hand experience of apprenticeships and met apprentices in their constituencies.

The recent consultation sought views on two payment mechanisms, pay-as-you-earn and an apprenticeship credit. As was indicated at Committee stage, the amendments are technical and are being made to ensure that clause 4 provides the necessary powers for the policy options in the consultation. In particular, amendment 6 broadens the arrangements covered by subsection (1) to include the administration of payments by the Secretary of State to any person in connection with approved apprenticeships. This provides that all payments made in connection with approved English apprenticeships are covered by the clause. For example, the amendment would allow flexibility over who is to receive the payments. Employers manage their apprenticeships in a variety of different ways and some employers may wish to make use of an agent to manage their apprentices and their training. Such organisations already exist and some apprentices are employed by an apprenticeship training agency but carry out their apprenticeship with a different employer.

Amendment 6 also provides that HMRC may administer payments to employers or other persons after an apprentice has achieved the standard if that person remains in employment afterwards. Amendments 8 and 9 are consequential on amendment 6.

Amendment 7 clarifies that arrangements may be made for HMRC to recover apprenticeship payments, which would be recoverable to the Secretary of State.

That could happen where the apprenticeship ends early, or in cases of fraud or error.

Amendment 74 is related to amendment 7 and provides that the regulations may allow for HMRC to recover apprenticeship payments by making deductions from payments that HMRC would otherwise have to make. In conclusion, the purpose of this group of amendments is to ensure that the Bill provides the necessary powers for the policy options on which the Government have consulted.

I now turn to the amendments to schedule 1. Government amendments 27 to 31 are to schedule 1, paragraph 1, which inserts a new chapter about English apprenticeships into the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. In particular, the amendments all concern new section A2, which introduces the new approved apprenticeship standards. Approved standards will replace the apprenticeship frameworks that currently set out the content and other features of apprenticeships within a particular sector. Frameworks include qualifications and other requirements that apprentices must meet. Standards may include qualifications and other requirements, but they will define occupational competence and will focus on what an apprentice is able to do at the end of the apprenticeship rather than collecting the various component parts.

Currently, issuing authorities, generally sector skills councils appointed by the Secretary of State, issue apprenticeship frameworks. In the future, the Government will encourage employers, or consortiums including employers, to be actively involved in developing outcome-focused standards before submitting them to the Secretary of State for approval and publication. The main purpose of amendments 27 to 31 is to clarify the role of the Secretary of State and others in preparing, amending and withdrawing apprenticeship standards better to reflect Government ambitions to put employers at the heart of standards development. The amendments reflect what we have learned from those employers developing trailblazer standards and it is right that that is properly reflected in the legislation.

Amendment 27 removes the requirement that only the Secretary of State must prepare the standard. Amendment 28 provides that the standards may be prepared by the Secretary of State or another person, including any employer. The Secretary of State must approve standards prepared by other persons and there will still be a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish apprenticeship standards. The amendments will allow employers to prepare standards and would ensure that they are all of a high quality and consistent standard.

Amendment 29 clarifies that the Secretary of State may publish a revised version of a standard or withdraw a standard with or without publishing another in its place. Amendment 30 provides that revisions of a standard may be prepared by the Secretary of State or other persons, and revisions prepared by other persons must be approved by the Secretary of State. This will allow flexibility for employers and others to prepare amendments to standards.

Amendment 31 removes the express provision for employers or their representatives to make proposals about standards to the Secretary of State. It is implicit that employers, their representatives, or indeed other persons may make such proposals. It is no longer necessary to spell that out as the effect of amendments 28 and 30 is to allow for an enhanced role for employers and other persons.

These amendments support the Government’s ambition that employers should be actively driving the preparation of new apprenticeship standards. Employers know what competence means in their professions and the phase 1 trailblazers have already shown that they are able to collaborate effectively to produce clear, high-quality standards. Giving employers a greater say in the development of apprenticeship standards will help engage a wider range of businesses and will allow employers to see a clearer link between their investment in apprenticeship training and an increased relevance of apprenticeships.

Amendment 32 will insert a new subsection (1A) into section 100 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The new section will ensure that payments may be made by the Secretary of State to fund approved English apprenticeships. Section 100(1A) will give the Secretary of State power to pay or secure the financial resources to any person in connection with approved English apprenticeships. That supports Doug Richard’s recommendation that employers should be more directly involved in funding apprenticeships. Without the amendment we would have to rely on various other funding powers that the Secretary of State has, in particular those under section 2 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 and section 14 of the Education Act 2002.

Section 100(1A) makes it clear on the face of the amended 2009 Act that the Secretary of State may fund all aspects of the apprenticeship reforms. It achieves that by making specific provision for the Secretary of State first to fund any person for the purpose of encouraging opportunities for the completion of approved English apprenticeships, or to undertake work after such apprenticeships are completed, or, secondly, otherwise in connection with approved English apprenticeships.

Amendments 33 and 34 clarify that the definition of apprenticeship training in section 83 of the 2009 Act includes training provided in connection with either a contract of service or a contract of apprenticeship. The Act specifies that apprenticeship agreements should be treated as contracts of service, but contracts of apprenticeship may apply in some circumstances. The amendments are drafted to be consistent with the new powers that the Secretary of State is to have to make arrangements with the commissioners in respect of the administration of apprenticeships in clause 4.

Amendment 35 supports the transition to approved English apprenticeships and approved standards. The amendment will allow the Secretary of State to make an order to treat work done under a trailblazer apprenticeship as though it was done under an approved English apprenticeship. The trailblazer apprenticeships are pilot programmes led by employers to test the reforms before they are rolled out more widely. The Secretary of State can make such provision only if it relates to arrangements that started before the new legislation comes into force. The Secretary of State will also be able to make provision to treat trailblazer standards as though they are apprenticeship standards under section A2 of the 2009 Act.

Amendment 5 is consequential on amendment 35 and amends clause 3 to provide a signpost to the transitional power in schedule 1. At present, apprentices study towards the achievement of an apprenticeship framework as described in the 2009 Act. Schedule 1 will introduce approved standards that will, over time, replace apprenticeship frameworks. Apprenticeship reforms will give employers greater say in the content and assessment of apprenticeships in England. Groups of employers have come together with partners to develop trailblazer standards. As noted, the trailblazers will test out the apprenticeship reforms.

From September, some apprentices will enter into arrangements with employers to undertake apprenticeships based on trailblazer standards. Because these apprentices are not working towards an apprenticeship framework, the 2009 Act does not apply. Transitional provision as set out under paragraph (a) of the proposed new part 4 to schedule 1 is needed so that these apprentices can be treated as if the whole of their apprenticeship is covered by the changes introduced when paragraph 1 of the schedule comes into effect. Provision set out under paragraph (b) will similarly allow the Secretary of State to recognise a standard published by him before the legislative change as if it were an approved apprenticeship standard.

In conclusion, the amendments support the Government’s ambition that employers should be actively driving the preparation of new apprenticeship standards. Phase 1 trailblazers have already shown that they are able to collaborate effectively in order to produce clear, high-quality standards.

Amendments 55 and 56 make changes to schedule 13. Amendment 55 omits section 85 of the 2009 Act, which currently requires the chief executive of skills funding to make reasonable efforts to secure employer participation in apprenticeship training for certain categories of apprentices, including those over compulsory school age but under 19, care leavers, and those aged 19 or over but under 25 and who are subject to a learning difficulty assessment.

Clause 42 abolishes the office of chief executive of skills funding and we are transferring the duties and functions of the chief executive to the Secretary of State, with suitable modification where necessary. With the abolition of the office of chief executive of skills funding, the Secretary of State will be responsible under section 83A of the 2009 Act for ensuring the provision of proper facilities for apprenticeship training for these persons. The Secretary of State will have a broad remit to encourage employer engagement with apprentices of all ages.

The new statutory scheme in schedule 1 dealing with English approved apprenticeships will be more effective at facilitating the Government’s policy of encouraging employer participation for all apprentices, such that section 85 will no longer be necessary. We therefore do not consider it necessary additionally to transfer the duty in section 85 of the 2009 Act to the Secretary of State. Administrative arrangements can be put in place to ensure the continued prioritisation of apprenticeships for these groups. For these reasons it is considered appropriate to repeal section 85, rather than amend it.

Amendment 56 transfers the funding powers and related provisions of the chief executive of skills funding in sections 100 to 103 of the 2009 Act to the Secretary of State. These existing powers permit the chief executive to pay persons in respect of the provision of education and training within the chief executive’s remit. As a consequence of the abolition of the statutory office of chief executive under clause 42(1), we wish to transfer the relevant powers and functions to the Secretary of State.

Although the Secretary of State has broad funding powers under other legislation, such as section 14 of the Education Act 2002, in the interests of clarity it is desirable to provide an express power in the 2009 Act. In our view, this will make it clear which funding powers are being used for education and training provided under the 2009 Act and will therefore simplify the legislative position.

Section 100 enables payment to be made to persons who deliver or propose to deliver education and training under part 4 of the 2009 Act. This includes further education colleges, private and voluntary sector training providers, and individuals. It also allows for payments to those receiving education. Sections 101 to 103 are consequential on the funding powers provided in section 100 and accordingly we are also seeking to transfer these to the Secretary of State.

Section 101 enables conditions to be attached to the provision of financial resources. For example, funding may be granted on condition that specified information is provided to the chief executive or, in future, the Secretary of State. Section 102 enables schemes for performance assessment to be devised and applied to those providing education and training within the remit of the chief executive and, in future, of the Secretary of State. Such assessments may be taken into account in funding decisions made under section 100.

Section 103 enables the chief executive—in future the Secretary of State—to carry out means tests in respect of support provided to individuals undertaking education or training under section 100(1)(c) to (e). This could include support towards child care or travel costs associated with education or training.

I apologise for the length of my explanation. I note that there have been no interventions, which I can confidently say means that everyone has understood every word of what I have said. I urge the Opposition to withdraw amendment (a) and to support Government new clause 1 and the Government amendments to clauses 3 and 4 and schedules 1 and 13.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 5:30 pm, 14th May 2014

It is fitting that for the last debate in this Parliament we should be speaking of apprenticeships, as they are so important to the future of our country, and of data sharing, which is an increasingly important issue to many constituents.

Labour believes that the better use of data can reduce the costs of public services and improve them while making them faster, more efficient, more individual and more personal. In certain areas, such as health, data sharing could lead to new applications and innovative ways of predicting service need and supporting service provision, so we support data sharing in the public interest, but we must ensure that citizens are in control. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear in his Hugo Young lecture, information on individuals should be owned by and accessible to the individual, not hoarded by the state.

It is therefore deeply troubling that the Government have tabled a last-minute new clause to the Bill to authorise data sharing among the Department for Business,

Innovation and Skills, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and persons providing services to them when it comes to apprenticeships. This may be both necessary and useful—the actual data to be shared may be entirely harmless—but it should be done transparently, with the right safeguards and accountability in place, and it should be done as part of a coherent strategy. This is clearly not the case here. The “person providing services” could be anyone, from individual consultants to big multinational companies.

The Government have form on this. In February, their shambolic handling of care.data saw them take what at its origin was potentially a good idea, linking together our individual GP data to improve health care and support new treatments, and single-handedly destroy everyone’s confidence in it. In April, the Government announced that tax data would not only be shared but would be sold to private firms, causing real fear and further eroding public trust in the Government’s ability securely and safely to share our data. I shall come back to those two examples.

We therefore tabled amendment (a) to ask what information was being shared, with whom, by what process, with what accountability, and how it fitted into the Government’s data sharing strategy. If the Minister can answer all those questions, perhaps the amendment will prove superfluous. If not, why not?

Yesterday, in another example of Labour standing up for ordinary people, my hon. Friend Stella Creasy sought to amend the Consumer Rights Bill to create a framework allowing individuals to have more rights over their personal data. The aim was to empower individuals through access to data to have a better understanding of their finance, energy bills, health and shopping habits.

I mention the excellent work of my hon. Friend to make it absolutely clear where the Opposition stand. We believe in the potential of data sharing, we recognise the power of data, but we believe that that power should be with the people, not with big business or Government.

The substance of many of the proposals on apprenticeships is such that we support them, but this last-minute new clause needs further debate and probing. To begin with, even without the data concerns, why are the Government using the Deregulation Bill for this purpose. Is that how they see deregulation: making life easier for them, rather than for citizens and businesses? Around half the proposals in the Bill do just that.

Let us move on to our specific concerns. The Government hold significant data on individuals, companies and organisations in order to deliver services and meet statutory duties. Sharing data across different Government Departments, with local government and with third sector agencies could help improve services while reducing costs and the burden on service users. How many times have we been frustrated at having to give one Government Department exactly the same information that we have already given another? How many times have businesses complained about repetitive form-filling? Data sharing can help reduce the burden on individuals and businesses. Labour supports that. With regard to apprenticeships specifically, small businesses often complain to me about the perceived bureaucracy.

However, there are also legitimate concerns about privacy, individual rights and the risk that Government data stores might be targets of cybercrime. The Government have been heavily criticised for their handling of health data in the care.data project, in that it was difficult for individuals to opt out of sharing their health data, which could then be sold on to the private sector. That data-sharing project has now been paused. In April the well-known author and advocate of data sharing Ben Goldacre withdrew his support from the project, stating:

“a government body handed over parts of my medical records to people I’ve never met, outside the NHS and medical research community, but it is refusing to tell me what it handed over, or who it gave it to”.

Our shadow Health Minister, my hon. Friend Mr Reed, said that the Government needed to do three things: make it easier for concerned patients to opt out of the proposals; ensure data are genuinely anonymous; and make the Secretary of State accountable for the use of patients’ data. Accountability, transparency and choice—that is what we were asking for, and that is what we are asking for in this amendment.

One might have thought that the Government had learnt from care.data, but it seems not. In April they were at it again, proposing to “sell off” some HMRC data to private sector companies. Mr Davis, a former Minister, called the proposals “borderline insane”, while the Opposition sought urgent Government explanations. Incompetent handling of data sharing reduces people’s trust and makes it more difficult to implement data-sharing projects that genuinely and responsibly deliver a public good.

Our amendment also relates to HMRC data, so we are at a loss to understand why the Government have not learnt from their experience, or indeed from their own consultation, because last year HMRC consulted on data sharing. In December it announced:

“The Government has decided to proceed with the proposal to remove legal restrictions that currently limit HMRC’s ability to share general and aggregate information for public benefit… HMRC accepts that it will need to be clear and transparent on what is meant by ‘public benefit’. In addition, HMRC accepts that it will need to set in place comprehensive governance, policies and processes, including the evaluation of benefits, risks and costs of a disclosure, before any data is shared or published.”

Can the Minister explain where they are? In April, the Treasury said:

“We shall be consulting further on implementing the proposals for sharing anonymised data, and would only take forward specific measures where there was a clear public benefit and subject to suitable safeguards.”

Yet since the consultation in December we have seen no coherent, concrete proposals, only ad hoc policy, on-the-hoof announcements and this proposed legislation.

The Government deliberately confuse open data and data sharing. The Open Data Institute says:

“Data sharing is providing restricted data to restricted organisations or individuals….Open data is providing unrestricted data to everyone.”

As the chief technology officer of the Open Data Institute said a few days ago,

“confusion is understandable when the government tries to justify its data sharing as satisfying its wider open-data policy.”

With open data, everyone can see the data. However, the new clause is not about open data but about Government deciding to share potentially sensitive data with people they choose without explaining the what, why or who. The Minister talked about an “information-sharing gateway”, the definition of which I do not see in the Bill, and mentioned employers’ PAYE reference numbers and national insurance numbers as some of the information that would be shared. I think he will agree that that is potentially sensitive information. To comply with HMRC’s guidelines, he will need to set out the safeguards and processes, and how the data will be anonymised if appropriate.

The Open Data Institute says:

“Open data is not a ‘valuable revenue stream’ for government. It is a public good.”

Does the Minister agree? Will he guarantee that these data, as part of the “information-sharing gateway”, will not be sold off and will remain within the public sector? As part of Labour’s policy reviews of digital Government and the creative industries and digital, we are developing policies for a coherent data strategy that puts citizens in the driving seat. That is why we are asking the Government to report to the House in six months to explain what information is being shared, with whom, by what process, and with what accountability—and, crucially, how that fits in with the Government’s data-sharing strategy.

In fact, I have not yet been able to identify a Government data-sharing strategy, but perhaps the Minister can help. There is a data-sharing policy unit within the Cabinet Office, so I would have thought that some policy might be coming out of it. The unit recently met representatives of civil society, who have many concerns about data sharing, and agreed that it was necessary to map out the current data-sharing landscape, but we do not know how far they have got with that. This new clause, which is not set in the context of any data-sharing strategy apart from the Minister’s reference to an “information-sharing gateway”, suggests that they have not got very far at all.

Finally, I would like to share with the House an unfortunate occurrence that I recently suffered. My wallet was stolen, including my European health insurance card. Obviously, I was very upset about that, but I was pleased to discover that an automated line was available 24/7 through which I could replace it for free. I rang it up and heard the following message: “The NHSBSA has a data-sharing agreement with other Government agencies. By continuing this call, you signal your awareness and agreement to data sharing.” I was somewhat surprised by that. If this Government believe that all it takes to signal agreement to data sharing—or an information-sharing gateway—is a voicemail, why are they introducing primary legislation in order to enable it?

Labour believes that digital can transform the relationship between people and Government. It can make it flatter, more direct and more accountable, putting people in charge. The next Labour Government will need to do more with less, and better use of data could not only reduce the costs of public services but improve those services.

The key question is: will citizens remain in control? We want to answer that in the positive, and in order to do so we need to know who decides what restricted data get shared and with whom. We need to make sure that citizens retain control over their data, be it in the public or private sector, and I hope the Minister will agree that it will take more than a voicemail message and an ad hoc amendment to ensure that that happens.

I want to say a few brief words about the other amendments, which I will not enumerate. We will not seek to oppose them. In Committee, the Minister said he would write to my hon. Friend Toby Perkins about the proposals and how they would work specifically for small businesses, but he did not refer to that in his opening remarks. Small businesses have expressed concern that total control of funding will create extra burdens for them and that that may be more favourable to big business. Indeed, the Minister observed that a different model might be needed for small businesses, particularly as they do not have the cash flow to benefit as much from the scheme. I would therefore welcome an update on that issue.

We believe that employers should have more say in the provision of skills and we welcome their involvement in setting the standards, but we must not compromise on quality. It is regrettable that in Committee the Government voted down our amendments that would have made all apprenticeships level 3 by 2020. It is also a shame that the Government could not find time to add to their amendments Labour’s plans to boost apprenticeship opportunities through public procurement, which is the approach we adopted when in government. That could have created thousands of new opportunities for apprenticeships. It is something we will have to do when we are in government, along with our plans to protect the trusted and historic apprenticeship brand, which this Government are putting at risk.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Conservative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport 5:45 pm, 14th May 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last year, I attended the Chelsea flower show. I was given two tickets by Japan Tobacco International, which I declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Two weeks ago, I submitted three questions on e-cigarettes. Although I understand that JTI has no commercial interest in e-cigarettes, on reflection I think I should have made sure that I declared it in my interests when I filled out the form. I do not want to pre-judge any inquiry by the Standards Committee, but I made sure that I came here at the earliest opportunity to ensure that the House was aware of my mistake. It was not my intention to mislead anybody. I just want to make sure that what I have been doing is put on the record.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It was perhaps remiss of me not to say how much I have enjoyed resuming our jousts across the Chamber on the Bill. I remind the House that the Bill will save businesses £300 million over 10 years, and that it will save the public sector £30 million. The Opposition say that it amounts to nothing, so in practice they are saying that £300 million of savings are not worth having. In our view, they are worth having.

I am glad that Chi Onwurah has welcomed apprenticeships and the growth in their number. That is something on which we can all agree.

On to the issue of data sharing and the use of data, the hon. Lady underlined how, under the new Labour party proposals, citizens will be in control of their data.

That is of course an interesting departure from what Labour Members did in government. With such things as identity cards, the retention of innocent peoples’ DNA, the massive database they wanted to create and indeed CCTV, they did the complete opposite of giving citizens control over their data.

The hon. Lady suggested that new clause 1 is a last-minute amendment, but of course it is not. It was flagged up in Committee, where we discussed the need for HMRC to share taxpayer information with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and others. I am therefore surprised that she was surprised.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

To be absolutely clear, the original Bill had a provision for the disclosure of information to the commissioners, but only for the purpose of arrangements made under clause 4(1), which very narrowly defines the purpose as being for payroll administration. However, new clause 1 is much broader, in that it is for anything

“in relation to…English apprenticeships.”

When the Bill comes back from the Lords, perhaps the provision will cover anything in relation to any BIS functions whatsoever. It is clearly being made wider and wider.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do not agree. The hon. Lady will find that the provision is quite tightly defined, and that should satisfy her.

The hon. Lady also referred to the need for safeguards. There will clearly be very significant safeguards for data exchange, and I will give some examples. For a new apprenticeship funding mechanism, as for any new system, the Skills Funding Agency will expect expert assessments of the information and security risks as part of the development on an ongoing basis. An action plan will be developed to address the risks identified, and the senior information risk owner will have to be satisfied that those risks have been sufficiently mitigated before any system goes live. There will be periodic system tests to see whether anyone can break into it. Staff duties will be segregated to protect information. All staff will complete annual training on protecting information, and any security breaches, including near misses, will have to be reported and acted on.

HMRC has a criminal sanction for wrongful disclosure of customer information. As I have stated, in providing its data to other Departments, the continuing protection of HMRC data is a vital safeguard that must remain in place. That is why the HMRC criminal sanction in section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 applies to any wrongful disclosure by staff or contractors of a Department that receives HMRC information. In addition, while a legislative gateway may allow for the supply of information from HMRC to another Department, it is generally constructed so that the other Department is not permitted to pass on that information to another organisation, public or private, without recourse to HMRC, and that is the case with new clause 1.

The safeguards that the hon. Lady wants are therefore already in place. The data are secure, and any exchange of data will be done only under very tightly controlled procedures.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Minister’s words offer some reassurance on the systems to be put in place, but not on accountability. We have seen with universal credit that accountability for identity management and for the success of a project can be very diffuse. Who will own and therefore be accountable for this new IT system?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I would love to be able to answer that question immediately, but, as the hon. Lady is aware, the consultation on the solution closed on 1 May, so the technical solution has not been devised. I am therefore not in a position to clarify precisely where the responsibility will lie, because the system is not yet specified. At the point of specification, I am sure we will be able to provide her with the clarity she needs.

I have provided examples, which the hon. Lady quoted, of the data that might be shared. As I have just said, the consultation closed on 1 May, so I am not in a position to give her an extensive list of the data that will be shared. I assure her that it will be restricted to the purposes for which it is required.

The hon. Lady asked why this matter is in the Deregulation Bill. One major thing that the Government are trying to deliver in the area of deregulation is to provide employers with a much greater say over the way in which apprenticeships are managed and the standards developed. We also want to ensure that employers have a greater financial stake in apprenticeships, because we believe that that will drive quality in apprenticeships. The Bill is therefore the appropriate vehicle in which to make the arrangements for the data sharing that we have discussed.

It is the Government’s clear objective to avoid, as far as is possible, any unnecessary exchange of data and any additional burden on businesses, especially small businesses, to provide information that they might already have provided to Government for other reasons. We want to minimise the need for businesses to provide additional information.

I hope that I have dealt with all the hon. Lady’s points.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Clearly I have not, so I will give way once more.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for being generous in this last debate. It concerns me that he implies that a system does not have an owner until it has been specified. It is the owner of the system that should be specifying it in order to avoid the car crashes in IT development that we have seen under the Governments of both major parties. Again, will he come back to me with who owns the specification of this information-sharing gateway or data-sharing system?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am not in a position to do that. Assuming that HMRC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are involved, they will want to play a major role in providing accountability for that system. The hon. Lady and I both went to Imperial college London. I went on to work in the IT industry, so I understand perfectly the importance of having somebody who is accountable for a system. I am certain that the Government will ensure that someone or a particular Department is very clearly accountable, and that the lines of responsibility and accountability are very clear.

With that, I commend the Government proposals and urge the Opposition not to press amendment (a) to new clause 1.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.