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 Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools) 7:48 pm, 20th March 2006

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their comments. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, rehearsed her party's opposition to these regulations, which I fully understand. However, I think that she would agree, since I always aim to promote the maximum possible area of consensus when I speak to your Lordships, that proceeding by way of trial as we are and as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reiterated, is by far the best way of going about testing a number of the propositions that she laid down and many of the concerns that she raised. Of course, the areas of concern that she raised are legitimate—in many cases, to do with the robustness of a large project of this kind. It is precisely for those reasons, to bottom out a number of the operational, practical and cost issues—including those cost issues mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, a moment ago—that we are proceeding by way of trial.

The robustness of the data is important as are issues to do with confidentiality and cost; hence the pilot. We intend to engage in extensive consultation as the pilot proceeds and I give an undertaking today that I will seek to engage both of the Opposition parties in that consultation. Indeed, once we have early results from the trials, I will speak to both noble Baronesses to share more information—on the basis that it is not more widely shared and is destroyed immediately afterwards.

I will take the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, one by one, but I may need to respond to some of them afterwards in writing. She asked why the index was not limited to vulnerable children but would be extended to all 11 million children. Although I was not party to the previous debate, I understand that this issue has been rehearsed before when the Children Act was undergoing its passage. We believe that it is important and appropriate to cover every child because it is estimated that, at any one time, 3 million to 4 million children and young people need additional targeted and specialist services. It is not possible to predict accurately in advance which children will have such needs or which children will never have them. Any child or young person could require the support of those services at any time in their childhood. Moreover, we believe that all children have the right to the universal services of education and primary health care and the databases will show whether or not they are receiving those services and will then help trigger local action to ensure that they do receive them.

In our view, a universal index is much less stigmatising and therefore much easier to operate than one that is simply focused on children who are on the at-risk register because no threshold decisions have to be made concerning who should or should not be on the register.

The noble Baroness asked whether the index complies with the European Convention on Human Rights concerning privacy. Any measure that might constitute interference with ECHR rights to privacy must go no further than is necessary to the pursuit of the legitimate aim. The Government have opinion from Treasury counsel that supports our view that the inclusion of all children on index systems is proportionate and justified and will not interfere with Article 8 of the ECHR. The type and amount of information on the index is stringently restricted with no case information recorded.

The cost issue was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I simply reiterate the figures that she herself gave to the House, which we have made publicly available. We will keep a close eye on those costs as we conduct the tests and trials and will be happy to report back to the House further.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and her colleagues have claimed that the information sharing index was a system of ID cards by stealth. The objectives of the index are to support local agencies and their duties to co-operate to promote the well-being of children, to safeguard them and promote their welfare as set down in Sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004, and no more. There is no comparability with the ID card. The purpose of the index is to improve services to children with a strong emphasis on early intervention and prevention where children have additional needs. The data about children to be held is clearly specified and limited. The objectives are quite distinct from those of ID cards, which are in any case for post 16 year-olds.

How will we be certain that the index will be secure? The index is designed from the bottom up with security in mind. Robust security measures relating to access to, and misuse of, data will be introduced. These issues will be reflected in the regulations, guidance and staff training that will govern the operation of the index. Unauthorised access will be prevented by using a combination of measures. First, strong, two-factor authentication involving the need to possess a physical token and to know a secret password will be used. A good analogy would be chip and PIN, which is used to authorise payments. This will prevent the guessing of passwords and other forms of attack on password access, and will also render a stolen token useless. Secondly, all users will be trained in the importance of security and good security practice. They will be made aware that misuse of the index could result in disciplinary action or a criminal conviction.

The noble Baroness asked how we would stop unauthorised people gaining access. All users will have their use of the system monitored and there will be an audit trail of their use of the system. All users will have to state a reason for accessing a child's records, and all access to any data will be recorded and reviewed regularly for suspicious patterns of access. Misuse of the system will be detected. Children who have a reason for not being traced—for example, where there is a threat of domestic violence or where the child has a celebrity status—will be able to have their details concealed. No case information will be held on the index.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked who will have access to the index. Practitioner access will be granted according to the role of the practitioner. All practitioners with access will have to have had relevant training and undergone appropriate CRB checks. Based on trailblazer experience, we estimate that between 300,000 and 400,000 users will access the index. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill which is currently before your Lordships provides that the operators or administrators of the index be included in the top category of regulated activity under the Bill's proposed barring scheme. They would not only be subject to mandatory checks, but, if this led to inclusion on the children's barred list, also be barred from employment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked me whether the index satisfies the requirements of the Data Protection Act. We believe that it does. The full regulations and statutory guidance will clearly set out that all information on the index will be handled in a manner that is consistent with the Data Protection Act, and they will address issues of accuracy, retention, security and confidentiality.

I was asked who was responsible for the index. Accountability for a child's records will lie with the local authority in whose area the child is ordinarily resident. This includes responsibility for ensuring that the index is operated in line with the regulations and statutory guidance, and that all data are current and up to date.

I was asked by the noble Baroness about training. I can give a commitment that all users will undergo training before they have access to the index. Included in that will be training on legal responsibilities. The costs of this training are included in the published costs of £224 million for implementation.

I was also asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, what systems would be used. Only specialist, closed systems for data analysis will be used. Only analysts will have access. The data will be securely eradicated after analysis.

I reiterate why these regulations are before us today. They provide for data matching trials as an initial step in establishing the information sharing index. The index is a tool to help support improved communication between practitioners working with children and young people. By knowing who else is involved, practitioners will be better placed to help children, young people and their families get the help they need more quickly.