Information Sharing Index (England) Regulations 2006

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:48 pm on 20th March 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills 7:48 pm, 20th March 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for explaining the regulations to us. I share many of the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. During the passage of the Children Bill we, too, opposed this clause and argued that it was quite unnecessary to set up so large a database. We also felt that in so far as any database was required, it should be limited to vulnerable children. That said, the Government are determined to attempt to set up this huge database. We should remember, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, that there are 11 million children and we are effectively aiming to gather basic identifying information such as, the Minister told us, the name, address, gender, date of birth and unique identifying number of children. Basic identifying information about the child's parent or carer and contact details for services involved with the child—the school, GP and other services—will be included. There will also be a facility for practitioners to share information with others to flag up areas of concern—there was a lot of discussion during the Children Bill on that.

Ultimately, the aim is to establish this huge database—an identity card for every child, in effect. However, it is sensible that there should be trials before the Government proceed with this. In that sense, as far as these regulations are concerned, we on these Benches feel that it is sensible to see the trial go forward before we endorse what the Government are doing. We are particularly pleased that the draft regulations that will be issued later in the summer will be issued in the light of at least some of the early developments from the trial. I understand that there will be extensive consultation on these draft regulations, which is vital. We are also reassured that this database is seen very firmly as a trial and that all the data will be securely destroyed after the trial has been concluded.

Our concerns when we discussed the Children Bill were about maintaining the accuracy of the information, particularly the difficulty of keeping tabs on a population which moves rapidly around in rented accommodation, as is true of vulnerable children. Keeping up-to-date information on addresses, schools and GPs will not be easy. Undoubtedly, a key feature of the trial will be to see how far the data from different sources can be married up. It is essential that the trial includes a substantial example of this highly mobile population.

It is particularly unclear, other than through the process of reconciling conflicting information, how far and how it is proposed to test accuracy and reliability. I am also unclear about how far aspects of this database will be available to the general public. I assume that information about the name of the child, its gender, address, GP and school contacts would, through the Data Protection Act, be available for the individual parent or carer—indeed, as the child is older, for the child itself—to see to assess its accuracy. I do not know how far the trial will be using that ultimate test of accuracy to test the quality of the information as it goes along. Will it include an opportunity for individuals concerned to see the data about themselves?

Equally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned, there was considerable concern about preventing others from obtaining information—I am particularly concerned about vulnerable children or mothers who have been open to abuse and so forth. It is important that the trial tests security systems. The database must be secure and cannot be accessed by non-authorised personnel. I assume that that will also be part of the trial.

Finally, one comes to the whole question of how much the trial will cost. Estimates given in the Explanatory Memorandum suggest that during the period of setting up the database from 2005-08 there will be a one-off implementation cost of £224 million and that the annual operating costs will subsequently be £41 million. I am very sceptical about those figures. Given the costs of implementing the identity cards database that we have seen—somewhere in the region of 25 per cent of the population will be put on the identity cards database—we ought to be talking in billions rather than millions. However, those are the costs that have been put down. I hope that the trial will provide accurate estimates of the cost of putting such databases together.