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Education Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

This is one of a group of amendments on data sharing in relation to education maintenance allowances and free school meals. The previous group of amendments was withdrawn and I would have given the noble Baroness a long and detailed explanation of the exact process—about who receives this information and under what conditions.

I will address the amendments, but I will briefly say in relation to EMAs that the scheme is being administered by Capita at the moment. The information has to be provided by the young people themselves. It is basic information about household earnings and so forth. The school has very little to do with the process. It has to account for the registration of the young person. We need data-sharing provisions essentially to make sure that in the best, speediest and least bureaucratic way the information provided to make a claim for EMA can be verified by the Inland Revenue or benefits people. That is a very short outline about what is happening and I will write at length to the noble Baroness so that she understands the process involved. It is complex and technical.

The answer in relation to Amendments Nos. 152CA and 152CB is particularly technical. EMAs are administered under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002. As I said, the scheme is currently administered by Capita. However, Section 17 of the 2000 Act allows the Secretary of State to transfer his functions in future in relation to the administration of EMA to another body. We have chosen not to rely on the use of regulations in the first instance, which is why the provision is in the Bill, but we may use them in the future, so we must have the power to do that. When I write and explain the process, which I will do with pleasure, I will explain how this particular power will be used to secure proper future administration. What the noble Baroness said about the financial accountability, privacy and security of data is extremely important and we are alert to it.

Amendment No. 152CC, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, relates to the devolved administrations. Quite simply, we have a situation in which each of the devolved administrations operates a separate EMA allowance scheme. They are all members of a cross-departmental team that includes officials from the Treasury, the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions. They have been discussing how best to share data in a secure and effective way. They have designed what they think is the best operational process which will cover the devolved administrations by having only one nation sending data and receiving it from the Inland Revenue. Having a lead nation to do that will provide the best and most effective operational process. At the moment, because England has the largest volume of cases, the administrators of EMA in England have agreed to take on the lead nation role. Welsh and Northern Irish administrators will pass information to English administrators to be sent on to the Inland Revenue, which will return the information to the devolved administrations.

Clearly, noble Lords will find it much more helpful if I write and explain in detail how that will happen and the safeguards that are around that in terms of managing a secure process that gets the EMA where it is needed as swiftly and safely as possible.