Clause 17

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 19th February 2008.

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Sharing and use of information held for purposes of support services or functions under this Part

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I wish to raise the issue of definitions in clause 17(7). We touched on the meaning of relevant information in earlier debates, The Minister asserted that the definition of relevant information meant that it had to be confined specifically to the purposes of providing support services. However, subsection (7) states that relevant information, in relation to a person providing or holding information, means

“information which...is held by the person for a relevant purpose”.

It goes on to define a relevant purpose in relation to a local education authority as

“the purpose of, or a purpose connected with, the exercise of any function of the authority...under this Part”.

That definition of relevant information contradicts the Minister’s assertion that the information shared under the preceding clauses will not be used for enforcement purposes. What this definition provision explicitly says,  in addition to the fact that all the other clauses talk about “this Part” of the Bill, shows that the Minister misunderstands his own Bill and therefore may wish to reflect on whether amendments should be proposed on Report or in another place to confine it to the purpose for which he thinks that it has been drafted.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

When Mr. Head gave evidence to the Committee, he talked about the young person

“who turned up to our NEET event in a brand new BMW series 3, who clearly was economically active”.——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 162, Q363.]

That raises the prospect that some of the 10 per cent. who will be encouraged into education may be people who, for example, are drug pushers. If someone turns up in a brand new BMW and information from health authorities or the police suggests that they have that sort of background, will it be possible to share that information with the staff, so that they can keep an eye on what is going on and ensure that the further education college does not end up being turned into a place where drugs are pushed? Can the information be used in circumstances in which it would defeat crime—that is, for a different purpose from that for which it was originally provided? If the Minister does not have the answer to hand, perhaps he will write to me.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Clause 17 puts in place the legal mechanisms necessary to enable local authorities and service providers to share information among themselves where appropriate. It is particularly important in resolving the difficulties of tracking young people who move across local authority boundaries. It also enables relevant information to be collected once and used for the two purposes outlined in the clause, and so indicates our intention that that information should be stored in one place rather than two.

I think that there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and myself about “relevant purpose” and the importance of guidance in clause 18. As has been said, the information could be used only for the purposes of delivering a Connexions service or for the purposes of delivering on the local authority’s duty to promote the fulfilment of the duty to participate. As far as I am concerned, that is not for enforcement purposes, because people cannot enforce until they have supported, so the transfer of data will be for the purposes of support. Ultimately, young people identified as not participating can be subject to enforcement, but the information is not shared for that purpose, as I have said, because clause 39(5) and (6) say that support has to come before enforcement. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the Committee to support the clause.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Whether or not support should come before enforcement is neither here nor there, because that is not what the Bill says. It says that the relevant information can be used for enforcement purposes. I have listened to what the Minister has said and if he wishes to be true to his word, he needs to ask his officials to draft some amendments so that the Bill reflects the intention that he expressed to the Committee, because the clause and the Bill do not reflect the intention that he has just conveyed.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Order. I do not wish to be excessively antediluvian about the matter because, as most Members know, I am a moderniser. I take a modernising view of most matters of procedure when I have the discretion to do so, but I gently say to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that in Committee we do not refer to officials. They are invisible—and anonymous.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.