Information Sharing Index (England) Regulations 2006

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:34 pm on 20th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools) 7:34 pm, 20th March 2006

My Lords, these regulations provide for data-matching trials to take place as essential initial work in the development and implementation of the information sharing index, to be established under Section 12 of the Children Act 2004. Section 12 provides that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills may make regulations in relation to the establishment and operation of an index. The Government announced on 8 December of last year, in a written parliamentary Statement, their plans to make an initial set of regulations governing data-matching trials. The regulations before us this evening give effect to that commitment. Later this year, we will consult on and lay before Parliament more substantial draft regulations to govern the operation of the index itself.

Better information sharing is essential for early and effective intervention to improve the five Every Child Matters outcomes for children: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieving economic well-being. The information sharing index is a key element of the Every Child Matters programme to transform children's services. It will support more effective prevention and early intervention to ensure that children get the additional services that they need as early as possible. The aim is to improve the reliability and quality of public services for all children, young people and families.

The index will provide a tool to support better communication among practitioners across education, health, social care and youth offending. It will allow them to contact one another more easily and quickly so that they can share information about children who need services or about whose welfare they are concerned. The index will hold basic identifying information on all children in England. It will also contain the names and contact details of practitioners providing specialist and targeted services to a child. Practitioners will also be able to indicate that they have information to share, have taken action or have completed a common assessment framework.

It is important that practitioners and the public can be confident in both the accuracy and robustness of the index, when fully developed. A number of concerns have been expressed, not least by your Lordships during the passage of the Children Bill, about accuracy, security and the feasibility of collecting and managing such a large volume of data. That is why we are proceeding by way of trials. The regulations will provide us with the legal basis to undertake key tests in relation to the accuracy and quality of the data that will populate the index. The fact that we are bringing forward these regulations at this time, and in advance of the work to load data on to the index proper, is wholly consistent with our careful step-by-step approach towards the whole of the index project. The results of the trials will not only inform the final design of the index but refine the statutory guidance and the full regulations which will support its operation.

To create a record on the index containing basic information for each child, it will be necessary to draw upon a number of existing sources for the relevant data items. No single data source currently contains them all. To prepare the way for this, we need to examine a sample of records from each of the data sources. This will enable an assessment of how comprehensively each source covers the population of children and which is the most reliable source of accurate and up-to-date information. It will also enable us to assess how disparities in the way in which data sources record each item can most efficiently be overcome, so that data from different sources on the same child can be brought together or matched accordingly.

The regulations provide a clear legal basis for these tests, and provide for the organisations that hold the data sources to be tested to supply data so the tests can take place. The regulations require local authorities in England to comply with a request from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to supply, from their existing source systems, basic child information. By basic child information, I mean the child's name, address, date of birth, gender, any number used to identify a child's record and the name and contact details of anyone with parental responsibility or who has care of the child, when that information exists. The authorities will also be required to provide the name and contact details of any practitioner providing a specialist or targeted service to the child. We are, however, engaging the participation of only nine local authorities, chosen to represent geographical spread and different size and type of area. I should stress that we have secured the agreement of all nine authorities to take part in the trials, and the Government will meet their reasonable costs. There will be no charge to the council tax payer.

We will also collect a sample of basic child information from national government data sources under powers provided by Section 12(9) of the Children Act 2004. This permits any of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State to provide information for the index. The Department for Work and Pensions, as data controller for the child benefit records that it holds, will provide basic child information from its child benefit records. This will include the name and address of the child benefit claimant, as proxy for parental details. The Department of Health will provide basic child information and GP practice contact details, and my department will provide basic child information and contact details of any educational establishment the child attends.

I assure noble Lords that under the terms of Section 12 of the Children Act, no personal or medical records can be included on the index. I also want to make it clear that the draft regulations provide safeguards against the collection and processing of disproportionate amounts of information. We will be taking only a sample of data records. The sample size will be no greater than is sufficient for statistically valid testing of data accuracy. The information will not be used in any operational sense. The output of the trials will be a summary report on the outcome of the tests, and it will not include any personal data that could identify an individual.

In addition, we will ensure that there will be stringent security measures controlling the physical security of the hardware and systems used to transmit and hold the data for testing. Only a strictly limited number of authorised staff from my department and its contractor will have access to it. The draft regulations provide that the information supplied for these tests will be retained for no more than three years, and we will ensure that it is securely destroyed once our use for it has ended.

The regulations are a prudent and necessary first step in establishing an accurate and up-to-date information sharing index. I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 2 March be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee and 27th Report from the Merits Committee].—(Lord Adonis.)