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Clause 119

– in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 24th March 2009.

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Sharing of information for education and training purposes

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

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 119, page 69, line 38, at end insert—

‘(c) enables personal data to be shared between persons to whom this section applies without first gaining the consent of the individual to whom it belongs.’.

The clause is one of the many data-sharing provisions in this Bill and in other recently introduced legislation. It is ironic that the Government with the worst track record in safeguarding people’s personal data is the Government who have spawned more data-sharing legislation than any other. The clause allows the SFA, the Young People’s Learning Agency and, as currently drafted, local education authorities to share information to help them to carry out their duties. The Government amendment in new clause 20 will remove LEAs from the list of bodies that can share information under the provision, and that concession is welcome. However, the new clause, which is in the next group of amendments, will still allow an LEA to supply information to the Skills Funding Agency and the YPLA, and vice versa. Therefore, I am not entirely clear how removing LEAs from the list in subsection (2) of the new clause really adds to the protection of data.

The amendment would prevent any of those bodies, including LEAs, from transferring information about an individual without that individual’s consent. That is a pretty standard safeguard, and I cannot envisage that the Minister will have a problem with it. I look forward to his accepting the amendment.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments that this Government have a pretty awful record on safeguarding personal data. They also have a pretty awful record on seeking to ever increase their own powers on the acquisition of personal data for their own purposes, and we will return to that in the stand part debate.

The amendment is specifically concerned with the consent of an individual to have some control over data that is personal to them. It seems that it is a fundamental principle that individuals, first of all, consent to the sharing of that data with a body other than the one that initially holds it, but they should be clear as to what data may be shared with another body and for what  purposes. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s justification as to why the data may need to be shared, and what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that each individual’s privacy is respected.

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)

This is my first contribution today, and it is a pleasure that you, Mrs. Humble, are back, looking after us in the wonderful way that you do.

The clause will give the chief executive of Skills Funding, the YPLA, LEAs and people providing services to any of those organisations the power to share necessary information to fulfil their functions effectively. That will ensure that as those organisations take over the functions of the LSC, they will each have access to relevant data to carry out their functions. The data is currently collected, analysed and used by the LSC to inform policy and funding decisions and to commission provisions—in essence, it is the transfer of those powers from the LSC to its successor bodies.

Naturally, I understand concerns about handling personal information—I recall with affection the debates that we have had on that particular issue. All the normal safeguards that one would expect will apply to the retention and sharing of data under the clause—in particular, to answer to the hon. Member for Bristol, West, the Data Protection Act 1998 will apply. When the information is first collected from individuals, there will be a fair processing notice, which will make it clear for what purpose their personal data will be used and with whom they will be shared.

In addition, the same robust security systems that operate now will continue to operate in the future. Those systems will meet, as a minimum, existing Cabinet Office requirements. It is significant that the main data services function will be carried out by the SFA, which will become part of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. As something that is part of a Department, it will be very much required to fulfil those Cabinet Office requirements. Personal learner data held securely in databases will, as now, be password protected. Only individuals who have a justifiable and business reason to access that data will be able to do so.

The amendment would have the effect that the bodies will not be able to share personal information without the consent of the individual. If we accepted the amendment—I understand that it is well intentioned, to secure individual rights and protections—and individuals were not to give their consent, it would render the aggregated data on the reports, which the YPLA, the chief executive of Skills Funding and LEAs must have to perform their functions, next to useless because they would be unreliable.

In order for the chief executive of Skills Funding or the YPLA to be able to analyse the impact of their policies on learners, they will need to build up composite models from individuals’ data, and, to do that, they will need to be able to match individual data as it moves through the system. Matching is only possible if information that could identify an individual is shared; such data is therefore personal. I reiterate that, while it is possible to anonymise some of the data to a certain extent—by removing names, for example—other aspects of the data are necessary in order to analyse them and answer  the parliamentary questions that hon. Members love quite rightly to ask as part of their scrutiny of the function of government. Those elements of personal data would allow an individual to be identified, and it is important that people understand that, although some aspects of the data could be removed to make them look anonymous, the data would still be regarded as personal in technical terms. That is why I resist the amendment.

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

The right hon. Gentleman implies that data sharing is necessary for research and to analyse the effectiveness of policy. The clause heading, however, reads, “Sharing of information for education and training purposes”, which implies that it is meant to help individuals who are concerned about their own training and education, and that it is not about Government research.

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)

Let me give the hon. Gentleman some other examples, apart from research, of why data sharing is necessary. On data flows from the YPLA to the SFA, the information and business service unit will be located at the SFA, which is where data, in the broad terms outlined by the clause, need to go to and from. The YPLA will process the education maintenance allowance grant system, and, in order to assess how well the EMA works in encouraging individuals to progress to level 3 in further education colleges, we need to match recipients of the EMA to those doing level 3 in such colleges. The SFA therefore needs information, such as a postcode or unique learner number, which identifies EMA recipients. If the flow of data was not allowed, or if individuals refused permission for their personal data to be shared, there is a risk that EMA policy would be based on very poor data. That is an example of the need for analysis.

On data flows from the SFA to the YPLA in relation to an individual, the individual learner record and the school census data will be held by the SFA’s data service. The YPLA will secure and monitor provision for learners with learning difficulties or a disability. That will be done on an individual learner basis, because it relates to each learner’s statement of special educational needs, so the YPLA must have access to personal data as recorded on that statement in order to provide appropriate provision and support for individuals. That data will be held by the SFA, and, if the data flow is not allowed, some people with special needs would not receive appropriate provision and support to engage in learning.

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

But in those circumstances, why would an individual refuse permission for his or her personal data to be supplied?

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)

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point that that might be of advantage to an individual, but the powers are necessary to help individuals and to inform analysis. I have a series of examples of such matters. When problems with a local authority commission cannot be resolved through guidance and support, the YPLA will be able to consider invoking the powers that we discussed previously to commission provision and take it away from local authorities.

In such a scenario, the YPLA would need access to the analysis of local information and trends—where groups of learners may be dropping out, for example—that  informed the local authority commissioning plans. While the YPLA would have access to learner data from the SFA, it would also be important for it to have access to the local authority data to ensure that the YPLA could commission appropriate provision on the authority’s behalf. If the flow was not allowed or was not reliable, the YPLA would not be able to assess and resolve local difficulties for learners as we want it to so that the intervention works.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 12:45 pm, 24th March 2009

Numbers on the rolls of colleges and schools are not personal data, but belong to the college or school. Again, there is no requirement in such circumstances for the information to be supplied. The Minister’s other examples involve either personal issues, in which case it benefits the person to supply the information, or research, which can be based on sampling and market research. All private sector companies resort to that in carrying out their market research and research generally.

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)

I simply disagree with the hon. Gentleman that sampling is sufficient for these purposes. It is hugely important that information is accurate and based on reality when commissioning the provision to meet individual learner needs. The situation already exists; we are not talking about imposing swathes of new powers. We are talking about replicating what currently exists for the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that commissioning is accurate and appropriate.

The amendment would risk the funding and commissioning decisions of all three organisations being flawed because they might be based on incomplete or misleading data. Ultimately, the operation of the whole system would be adversely affected and we would not be able to ensure that learners get the best possible provision. We cannot accept the system being impaired so that learners lose out. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment, although I am not optimistic.

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

I was very disappointed in that response. I intended the amendment to be probing, but the more answers the Minister gives, the more concerned I am. It is clear that if information is needed for an individual’s education, there is no reason why they would not give permission for the data to be supplied. The Minister gave the example of a young person with a statement of educational needs.

All the Minister’s other examples related to high-level aggregated research to assess the effectiveness of Government policies. I do not accept the view that personal data must be supplied in those circumstances. It is precious information about an individual’s academic record or other matters. It has been given for different purposes and in some circumstances in confidence. When a tutor or an institution asks for such information, it is not on the basis that it will be used for research. The individual is asked for it and wishes to give it because it is necessary for their interaction with the agency.

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)

I will have just one last go by giving another example. It relates to a data flow from a local authority to skills funding, in respect of the National Apprenticeship Service. Local authorities will need data  to identify learners who drop out of apprenticeships in order to support and re-engage them as appropriate. If an individual has dropped out, it is not practical to say to them, “Can we share your data because it is in your best interests for us to re-engage you?” If we have that information from the outset, it will enable the individual to be properly supported.

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

That all goes back to the debate about data sharing, which the Minister referred to with affection. It is wrong for information given for one purpose to be used to enforce a Government policy, such as participation to the age of 18. I do not believe that personal information should be used to enforce Government policy in the way that he has suggested. If an individual does not wish to participate in or engage with an apprenticeship, with higher learning or with further education, it is a matter for that individual. It is up to the state to provide high-quality provision, services and access to education and training, but if individuals do not wish to access it, it is not the role of the state to bully and badger them into taking part.

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)

I am not talking about bullying and badgering, but about providing support. If someone has dropped out and become disengaged, we must be able to support them. We need to know about them to be able to offer that support. We do not want to bully and badger them, but to help them to get on.

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

I agree: the state should provide support, but whether an individual decides to access that support is, at the end of the day, up to him or her. The only reason that the Minister wants that information flow from a local authority to the Skills Funding Agency is to enable badgering to take place.

The Minister has not convinced me. I do not believe that the flow of information is necessary in any of the examples that he has given. Where it is necessary, it is clear that the individual concerned would want to give consent because without it he or she would not get the particular type of education that the statement of educational needs enabled them to access. The other examples are about either pursuing Government policy or high-level aggregated research, which can be conducted in different ways without jeopardising personal information that is garnered for one particular purpose and should not be used for another purpose. The state needs to adhere to that important principle at all times. In the light of the unconvincing response to amendment 30, I intend to test the opinion of the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division number 18 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 119

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment 422

New clause 20—Sharing of information for education and training purposes.

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)

In speaking to amendment 30, I have already set out the importance of the information sharing powers in clause 119. As it stands, the clause extends local education authorities’ existing statutory powers to share information with each other. On reflection it is thought that the existing information-sharing powers are sufficient for local education authorities’ new responsibilities under the Bill. We do not wish to extend information sharing gateways where they are not necessary. Hence, new clause 20, which we propose as a replacement to clause 119 in its entirety, differs in only two respects. First, local education authorities’ existing statutory powers to share information will not be widened and, secondly, the new clause clarifies that a

“a member of the Chief Executive’s staff” includes those appointed by him as well as those provided to him by the Secretary of State. That clarity is necessary to provide consistency with earlier revisions made to schedule 4, which make it clear that the functions of the chief executive may be delegated to staff in either category.

We propose replacing the clause in its entirety to aid Members in their consideration of the clause. Therefore, I propose that new clause 20 replaces clause 119 and I oppose clause 119 standing part of the Bill.

Mr. Gibbrose—

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

I am still not clear why the new clause takes local education authorities out of the list of persons to which subsection (2) of clause 119 applies and replaces it with a smaller list that omits local education authorities. The two subsequent subsections in new clause 20 put back the power for LEAs to supply information to the various bodies. Can the Minister explain the difference between the provisions of new clause 20 and old clause 119?

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)

The difference is as I set out. I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to subsection (3), where local authorities have been taken out of the list. In subsections (4) and (5), “person” includes local authorities. My understanding is that allowing local authorities to share information with Skills Funding and the YPLA is necessary for the information sharing to work. By removing those organisations from the earlier list, we are excluding their ability to share information with each other. In essence, we would regard that as unnecessary. If the situation is different I will write to the hon. Gentleman, but that is my understanding.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the Minister deal with the issue of what is necessary and what is allowable? He said that the measure is about excluding things that are unnecessary, but both the original clause and the new clause bar only information that is not allowable in law. That is not about necessity, but whether something is allowable. For example, the original clause mentioned information that it would be an offence to share or when other restrictions would prohibit disclosure.

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)

When I talk about what is necessary, I mean what is necessary in order for the various LSC successor bodies to be able to carry out their functions. Such data sharing is necessary for the LSC, and we are simply transferring that ability to the successor bodies in response to debate on an earlier amendment.

On Government amendment 422, in order to administer the education maintenance allowance, the LSC requires information held for tax and tax credit purposes by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and information held for social security purposes by the Department for Work and Pensions, so that it can check the validity of applications for the allowance. The amendment will enable such information to be passed to the LSC successor bodies so that the existing arrangements can continue. I hope that the amendment is agreed to in due course.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 120 ordered to stand part of the Bill.