Clause 26

Protection of Freedoms Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 5th April 2011.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 3:00 pm, 5th April 2011

I beg to move amendment 88, in clause 26, page 17, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2A) The relevant authority shall notify all parents if they are currently processing, or intend to process, biometric information—

(a) having received such a notification, a parent may write to the relevant authority requesting that their child’s biometric information not be processed, and

(b) the relevant authority must comply with all such requests.’.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

With this we may discuss the following: amendment 80, in clause 26, page 17, line 17, leave out ‘each’ and insert ‘one’.

Amendment 86, in clause 27, page 17, line 41, leave out paragraph (d).

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

These amendments deal with the process of notifying parents of the intention of a school to take biometric information and to set out the process by which parents can notify the relevant authority that they do not want to comply with the request. We have been approached by the Association of School and College Leaders, who are concerned about this area of the Bill. It is a question of whether parents are opting out or opting in and the ability of schools to manage their affairs. If a relevant authority decides that it is in the interests of efficiency to set up a system of this kind, is it the intention of the Government that they should consult parents before they implement it? Or is it the intention of the Government that the relevant authority can make that decision, but must then consult parents as to whether they want to participate in that system? It is about the extent to which parents should be notified.

Amendment 86 would delete paragraph (d). The Bill says that a school should seek consent except where, among other exceptions,

“it is otherwise not reasonably practicable to obtain the consent of the parent”.

This probing amendment is to determine in what circumstances the Government envisage that that would not be possible. We are dealing with schools and places of education. When would it be the case that a school could not contact either a parent or responsible guardian for this decision? The amendment is designed to clarify what that means.

Amendment 80 would replace “each” with “one” parent of the child at the start of subsection (2)(a). The requirement in the clause suggests that, where there are two parents, both have to sign. My wife and I have had to sign requests for school journeys and such things, but the school has not required both of us to sign the consent form for one of our children to go on those journeys. This is a probing amendment to find out why the Bill specifies that “each” parent, rather than just one, needs to sign.

The Minister has just chastised me for being overbearing and bureaucratic, and for wanting to introduce new tiers of bureaucracy, but we do not want to do that in  the Bill. Its principle is rightly that the parents or the person responsible for a child should be consulted when such details are taken, which is a perfectly reasonable proposition. New technology has overtaken regulation, and schools have been quick to adopt that new technology—for example, for the management of libraries and for issuing free school meals.

It is important that we do not limit the capacity of schools to manage effectively, at the same time as they meet the requirements in the Bill. That will be significant if a school cannot allow a child on to its system until it has the signature of both parents. Does the school have to consult parents before it introduces such a system, and does that therefore have to be approved by a majority of parents? Can the relevant body—in this case, the governing body of a school—decide to introduce a biometric fingerprint or thumbprint system for taking library books out of the school, and then write to parents to inform them that it will do so and give them the option to say whether they do not want to participate? It is also important, and we will move on to this under the next set of amendments, to make sure that no child is disadvantaged.

What is the Government’s intention on how much influence parents will have over the decision of the governing body or the relevant body to introduce such systems? Will schools have to secure a majority of parents, or will they have to give parents the opportunity to opt out?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

We move on to chapter 2 of part 1 of the Bill, which relates to the protection of biometric information of children in schools. The principle that the provisions seek to put in place is that parents must have the right to protect the biometric data of children by being able to withhold their consent, which is fundamental. There are reports of children as young as three having had their biometric data collected, and it is unacceptable that any child, but especially one so young, should have their data taken without parental permission. That is at the heart of the provisions in this and subsequent clauses, and that is why it is important that we have introduced them.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Will the Minister assist me? I have read the clause, which includes provision for children to withdraw their consent. Is he telling the Committee that a three-year-old could therefore override parental consent?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and she no doubt knows that it was highlighted by the Information Commissioner in the guidance that he issued in August 2008. There is an issue about the potential ability of the pupil to object to, for example, school fingerprinting initiatives. It is quite difficult to set an age limit, so it is important in setting out the general principle that a child should be able to withhold their consent on whether to provide their thumbprint or a biometric in that way. Given that that is personal to the child, setting artificial age limits would not be appropriate. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that one age is more valuable in terms of biometrics than another? Perhaps that is the point that the Opposition are trying to advance.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 5th April 2011

The Minister is obviously a learned Member of the House, and will know that in law there have been several cases setting out the age at which children develop the ability to make decisions on their own behalf, including the famous Gillick case. Does the Minister recognise a difference between a three-year-old making a decision to withdraw consent, and a 14 or 15-year-old having the capacity to make that decision?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I would not seek to draw the distinction in this regard, because we are talking about such a personal issue. Opposition Members could table an amendment on Report to put in place an age limit that they believe is appropriate, but they have not chosen to do so in Committee.

It is worth reading the Information Commissioner’s original guidance in August 2008 when he said that it was pertinent to give flexibility to the system.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I will, when I have finished my point. If there are other means of accessing services such as library services where a biometric does not have to be used, it should be open to be able to take those other means of accessing the same services.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I have been following with interest all day what the Minister is saying, and I can follow most of it whether I agree with it or not, but there is utter incredulity that the Minister has not categorically ruled out a three-year-old being able to overrule a parent’s wishes regarding their biometric data. Parental consent is right, and we agree with the point, but the Minister will be in real trouble because people will not believe that he is not saying that there is an age at which parental rights override those of a child. Is he really saying that a three-year-old could say, “I don’t care. I’m not doing what my mum and dad want. I don’t want it.” Is that really what he is saying?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Order. Before the Minister responds, I want the Committee to know that there are no specific amendments on this particular point. I am sure that it is relevant to mention it in passing, but perhaps we could then return to the amendments.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The point in passing is that much of the time we are talking about practical issues involving children talking to their parents and how the issues are managed. I suggest to Opposition Members that there are legal and practical challenges to setting an artificial age limit. Practical issues may arise, but if Opposition Members are suggesting that they value biometrics in one scenario or another, and setting a rigid cut-off point, it is better to leave it to parents and schools to deal with the matter practically.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

Will the Minister concede that if we accept what Opposition Members are saying, and children had to go along with what their parents said, the practicalities would mean that if the  parents said yes but the child said no, the school would have to impose taking biometric data from the child? It would be impractical to place the school in that situation.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The hon. Member for Gedling is obviously sensitive to the use of force, but he is suggesting that teachers would physically have to take the biometric in such a case, and I caution him in that regard. This may be a wider point of debate on the clause, but is he really saying that he wants to use force in such circumstances? I suspect that he is not. I can see that Mr Streeter is shifting in his seat, so I will return to the specific amendments, but no doubt we will return to the broader debate.

As we have heard, amendments 88, 80 and 86 deal with issues around parents’ consent to the use of their children’s biometric data. Clause 26 requires both parents of the child to consent before schools and colleges are able to process their children’s biometric information. This right to consent is one that many parents feel very strongly they should have. Amendment 80 seeks to amend clause 26, such that the consent of only one parent is required before the child’s biometric information can be processed by a school or college. I expect that the intention of the hon. Member for Eltham in proposing the amendment is to reduce the administrative burden on schools and colleges when complying with the requirements of clauses 26 to 28.

The clauses as drafted recognise that each parent should have the right to consent before their child’s biometric data are processed by a school or college. Given the sensitive nature of biometric information and the strong feeling that many parents have on this issue, it would be wrong for one parent to be able to consent to such processing and for the strongly held views of another parent to be potentially disregarded. In many cases, parents will obviously discuss the issues involved and are likely to reach some agreement on whether the biometric data of their child should be processed by a school or college.

However, members of the Committee will appreciate that circumstances will arise where parents may have very different views on such a complex and emotive issue. One can easily imagine a situation where parents are separated and where one parent is content for the biometric data of their child to be processed when the other parent is not. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that for those reasons we should respect the rights of both parents to consent to the use of their child’s biometric data by a school or college.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The Minister uses the example of parents living apart. In those circumstances, is it the parent with care who has the final decision on whether material is taken? In the case of parents disagreeing, are they not capable of making the school aware of the fact that one parent agrees and one does not? Is it right for the Government to interfere to ensure that both parents have to be in agreement before schools can go ahead in this way? Is that reasonable?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

We believe that it is reasonable and proportionate, given that there will be strongly held views potentially by either parent. The consent of both parents should be required in such circumstances. I  want to reassure members of the Committee that the requirement to get written consent from both parents should not be too onerous. Obtaining written consent is a usual practice for schools and colleges and should not be difficult or costly for them. The requirement does not prescribe that written consent must be in paper form, so schools and colleges will be able to use electronic mail if that is more convenient for them.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons)

What sort of guidance will the Minister provide for schools? The more he goes on, the more complicated and confusing the whole thing becomes, whether it is the parents, the children or whoever.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I am sorry if the concept of getting both parents’ consent is complicated for the hon. Gentleman, but that is fundamentally— [ Interruption. ]

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

That is what we are talking about in the provision. I am surprised if the hon. Gentleman finds it complicated to understand the consent of the parents and the ability of a child to withdraw the provision of their biometric data if they so choose. The concepts are pretty simple. I hope that members of the Committee will agree that it is important that each parent is given the right to consent to the use of their child’s biometric data by a school or college. The requirement for consent from each parent is proportionate, given the sensitive nature of the information and the strong feelings of many parents regarding the processing of this information in this way. Ultimately, Opposition Members need to decide whether they think this is a good or a bad thing. In a sense, they are quite content and relaxed about whether children’s biometrics should be retained. We certainly are not. I find their highlighting of the issues rather surprising.

Amendment 86 would remove the exception in subsection (1)(d), which provides that a school or college does not have to gain the consent of a parent where it is not reasonably practicable to do so. I expect that the intention behind the amendment is to ensure that schools and colleges do not attempt to use the exception to justify non-compliance with the requirement in clause 26 for parental consent to be obtained.

I would like to make it clear to the Committee that no processing of a child’s biometric information will take place unless at least one parent or other person who cares for or who has parental responsibility for the child consents. The exceptions in clause 27 do not alter that. At least one person will always need to consent to the processing of a child’s biometric information before any such action by a school or college may take place.

The hon. Member for Eltham was suggesting when speaking to amendment 86 that somehow paragraph (d) would be problematic. In fact, that will aid colleges where it may be impracticable or impossible to track down another parent, where there is only one parent and where it is known that there is no other parent. In terms of practicability, paragraph (d) intends to provide aid in that manner, ensuring that no unreasonable obstacles are placed on a school or college’s ability to implement biometric identification systems if they choose to do so.

I suppose that that is what we are talking about—a school or college deciding whether they wish to use biometric information to aid the processing of their library or school meals, which I know the hon. Gentleman is highlighting. These are not official estimates, but information that has been disclosed indicates that around 30% of secondary schools and probably only about 5% of primary schools use biometrics in that way. Ultimately, it comes down to the issue of consent.

I emphasise that where a parent can be located, is of sound mind and poses no risk of harm to a child, it is highly unlikely that a school or college can rely on paragraph (d) to dispense with the requirement to obtain that parent’s consent. The point comes back to getting the consent of both parents in the context of the importance and significance of what we are talking about.

Finally, amendment 88 proposes an approach to parental consent different from that provided for in the Bill. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman envisages that his opt-out approach would be less burdensome on schools and colleges, and I know that that approach is also favoured by the Association of School and College Leaders. However, I do not believe that such an approach would go far enough in protecting the use of sensitive biometric information in schools. A requirement that parents actively consent is, in my view, a proportionate measure and will ensure that the rights and wishes of parents are respected. That is particularly important given the sensitive nature of biometric information and the strong feeling about it that many parents have.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Will the Minister confirm the following? I think he just said that the Bill will require schools to seek a majority among parents before they can implement the system. We are seeking to clarify whether the relevant body is free to introduce the system if they think it is in the interests of the efficient running of their school, and parents who object may opt out.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Clause 26(2) states:

“The relevant authority must ensure that a child’s biometric information is not processed unless…each parent of the child consents to the information being processed, or…such consent is not required in one or more cases and is given in any other case.”

That talks about clause 27. If a school were to consider the introduction of such systems, they would no doubt wish to consult parents in advance. It would need the consent of each parent to be able to take the biometric details of their child. The Bill outlines the prior approval approach, which we think is the appropriate way to proceed, given the sensitive issue of biometrics and the understandably strongly held view about it.

Many parents have concerns about the exposure of their child to such factors and the security of their child’s sensitive data. They would be rightly upset if their child’s data had been taken before they had the chance to notify the school or college of their wishes; hence the Bill is framed as it is.

It is not clear whether the hon. Gentleman’s proposal would significantly reduce burdens on schools and colleges, if that is one of the intentions behind the amendment. His proposal still requires that all parents are notified  and that those children whose parents opt out are provided with alternatives on the record. Again, I am not sure that the amendment necessarily deals with some of the bureaucracy issues about which the hon. Gentleman might be concerned.

I hope that even if, for the hon. Gentleman’s Whip, I have not been able to provide complete clarity on those matters, the hon. Gentleman is minded to withdraw his amendment on the basis either that it is not effective or that it will not add to the Bill.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 3:30 pm, 5th April 2011

I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. The Association of School and College Leaders has made it clear that it is opposed to this chapter of the Bill. We want schools to be able to run their affairs without becoming too bureaucratic and interfering too much, while at the same time respecting the rights of children and parents.

I still have concerns about the requirement to ask each parent to give consent and whether that is reasonable given that the primary function of a school is to educate children. Placing an over-bureaucratic and burdensome system in the way of schools would be regrettable, but I accept the principle that it will be a requirement to seek the permission of the parent before taking any such information from a child.

We have to remember that every day we hand our children into the care of the people managing those systems. Those people have to have regard to the care of those children while they are in the school or education establishment. They are not people who would treat such information lightly, and we need to bear that in mind when we take a balanced judgment about the best way forward.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I beg to move amendment 51, in clause 26, page 17, line 30, leave out subsection (6) and add—

‘(6) The relevant authority must ensure—

(a) that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed;

(b) that enrolment at the school is not conditional upon consent;

(c) that parents are informed by the school about—

(i) the purpose for which the biometric data will be used,

(ii) who has access to the biometric data,

(iii) how secure the data are, and

(iv) how long biometric data will be kept; and

(d) that no data are ever transmitted to third parties.’.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 40, in clause 26, page 17, line 33, at end add—

‘(7) A person who contravenes or fails to comply with any requirement imposed on him by this section is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.’.

Amendment 79, in clause 26, page 17, line 33, at end add—

‘In particular, a child on free school meals who does not give biometric information must still be afforded a protected way of receiving their meals.’.

Before I call Mr Steve Baker to introduce his amendment, it might be helpful to the Committee if I indicate that I do not intend to call a stand part debate on clause 26. Colleagues may want to take that into account when addressing the amendments.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I welcome this chapter. For me this is a totemic subject. I remember well when I first learned that children’s biometrics were being taken and how horrified I was, but I will not dwell on that. I will move on to my specific amendment.

I welcome the provisions of subsection (6), but my probing amendment would provide three more measures. First, my amendment retains the existing provision, which ensures that children are not excluded if consent is withdrawn. But for me it is very important that enrolment in a school should not be conditional on consent to take biometrics. I offer that in paragraph (b).

In paragraph (c) I seek to ensure that there are additional safeguards to ensure that consent is not lightly given and that parents properly assess any request in light of all the information. Finally, paragraph (d) provides that no data are ever transmitted to third parties. If we are to avoid a panopticon state it is vital that children’s biometrics, when taken, are not transmitted.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I rise to speak to amendment 79. It highlights the concern about some of the unforeseen consequences of introducing the measures. Schools seek to use biometric information to protect the privacy of some of their pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils who receive free school meals and can be stigmatised if that is known. Daily they have to go through the public humiliation of receiving a token for their meal and they would welcome its being done discreetly using this system. While we are all in agreement with the principle that parental consent should be sought for young children, we do not want to prevent schools from protecting children in those circumstances. There may be other circumstances that are not covered by the amendment. We will not press it to the vote but it is an important area, which the Government should not overlook.

In view of your warning, Mr Streeter, that we will not have a stand part debate, I make a brief aside on the age of consent. I accept to some degree what the Minister says about children who decide that they do not want to have biometric information, a fingerprint or an iris photograph taken, and that there would be a very ugly scene to try to force them to do so in those circumstances. The Bill empowers a child; if a parent says yes and the child says no, the Bill says that the child’s word takes precedence. I wonder whether some parents in future will question the Government’s wisdom in interfering in family matters in that way. The example that was used was that of children as young as three being able to tell their parents that they would not give a thumb print for their library books. A parent, having looked into the matter, might say that it seems perfectly reasonable. The hon. Member for Wycombe highlighted some issues around security which are very important in these  amendments. That is the sort of thing on which parents will want to satisfy themselves.

In our earlier debates on DNA material, we accepted that some very personal information that cannot be destroyed will be retained by forensic science services. As long as that information is secure, we are happy for it to be there. The same principle applies here to the security of the system. I would not want the police to turn up at a school and say, “We believe you might have the fingerprint of this young person. Can we have access to that?” That clearly should be ruled out. That is not what this is for. It is purely to enable a school or education establishment to manage its library, school meals and other matters efficiently. We should not interfere too much with schools’ ability to do that.

Parental consent is right, but where we said that a child as young as three or four should be able to defy their parents—that they would be given that authority by the legislation—a wider issue is raised about how we empower young people. The image conjured up by the Minister is that of chopping off a child’s thumb to get their thumb print. I am being flippant. It would cause anyone concern if, for whatever reason, a child decided that they could not bear to have something done—they might not understand the mechanics of the process that they were being asked to go through, but because something had upset them they could become distressed—and I understand that might be difficult, but giving a child as young as three the authority to say “absolutely no way” to something, as in the example, seems extraordinary.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that schools should force the taking of biometric data in those circumstances? We are trying to address the practical situation and it is a sensitive and difficult issue to deal with. There can be consent from the parents, but if the child is so upset that they do not want to give their consent, would the hon. Gentleman honestly want the school to force it?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

We have to reconsider the issue and remind ourselves of the institutions we are talking about. Schools are charged with the care and welfare of children, and they would not get into a situation where a child is upset about going through a process. We have such situations with vaccinations for children and we must work around the issue. [ Interruption. ] —My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling said that some children do not want to do PE and might get upset when they have to change. I used to hate country dancing in bare feet in halls. Could I have demanded that my civil liberties not be infringed and that I should be able to wear trainers? We did not have trainers in those days; we had Green Flash plimsolls—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The question is about where the process would stop. The Minister made an important point. We do not want to empower people to distress children in such situations. Nobody is suggesting that, and it is not fair of the Minister to say that they are. We are talking about a situation where parents have given permission, looked into the matter, understood the process and  come to a conclusion, and are satisfied that any information taken will be secure and will not be used for any other purposes. I would want to be satisfied about that if I were giving permission on behalf of my child. The suggestion, however, is that my child of nursery age could then say, “No, I’m not going to do this”, and that I would not be able to work with a teacher to get round the problem and suggest we do it another way because she—I have only daughters—is too distressed and will not do it. If one particular daughter decided that she was not going to do something, hell would freeze over first; believe me, it would not happen. I can understand such circumstances, but we cannot legislate for them. We must let schools work through those issues and it is for parents to make the decisions.

The next question is about where the age limit should be set. The Minister has a good point; these things are not simple to legislate on. Do we set the limit at 10, or at secondary school? Do we put it at nursery age or when the child is 16? What age do we select for the point at which the decision of the parents cannot be challenged by the child? As the Minister said, that area is difficult to legislate, but there must be a limit and we must consider that point. If we are going to give children the right to refuse, we must consider at what age that is appropriate.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 3:45 pm, 5th April 2011

This is a fascinating discussion. A straw man has been erected that we are attacking furiously; it is great sport. Does the hon. Gentleman not concede that certain rights are inherent for an individual of whatever age? We, on the Government Benches, happen to think that a person’s decision on whether to give their biometrics is an inherent right irrespective of age. I detect that he thinks otherwise.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If he is talking about the ethical considerations of taking someone’s biometric details, surely the person who is making the decision has to have some understanding of that debate. Surely the parental decision has to be the one that takes precedence.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

The hon. Gentleman was asked a simple question earlier, which was, in a scenario where, yes, the parents have given consent but the child—whether they are three or 18—has said that they do not want this done to them: what is he suggesting should happen?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I am suggesting that we leave it to the management of the school and the parents to come to a reasonable arrangement. I do not think anyone—the parent or the school—would drag a child screaming to a scanner to scan their thumbprint or take a photograph of their iris if they were distressed about it. We are talking about parents and people who run schools and who are charged with the care of young people. If the hon. Gentleman is saying on the basis of some principled position that a child of three can come to a decision about whether they want that information taken from them, as a parent, I disagree.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons)

I jokingly talked about the idea of the dentist and injections. We, as parents, make that choice because we think it is in the best interests of the child. I am sure we all know what the answer would be if we asked a child, “Do you want an injection? Do you want to go to the dentist?”

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I think if I go too far down that road, you will pull me up short, Mr Streeter. My hon. Friend has made the point. There are always situations where parents have to deal with such circumstances and this is one of them. We are talking about situations that are few and far between. I question the Government’s rationale in trying to legislate for such circumstances.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Surely the difference here is that the school does not have to adopt a biometric system.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The school does not have to do anything. It does not have to adopt a biometric system at all. Let us say that the relevant authority, for example, a governing body, decides that adopting such a system is the most efficient use of its resources and is the best way to keep track of its books and manage its library service or administer free school meals—as referred to in the clause, getting back to the amendments. It must be able to do that if it thinks it is in the best interests of the school. As much as anything else, such a body has to manage its resources efficiently. That is in the interests of the children. If such a decision is made, it is absolutely right—this is what the clause will achieve—to give parental say over whether the child should participate. Parents should be given that opportunity. Whether the school has to go through the whole bureaucracy of getting the permission of both parents is another matter, but parents should be given the right to have that say.

Once parents have had a say, I question the wisdom of the Government in legislating to allow a child of any age to determine whether they will participate. I suspect that there will be very few cases where that happens. If it does, the wise parent will convince the child because it may be a matter of convenience for the parents to participate; for example, it might make life much easier when taking out library books. I do not know whether parents will be able to take the books back if the child is off ill and they used a thumbprint, but those are issues for the people who want to introduce these systems.

Going back to the amendment and the clause stand part debate, we are concerned that whatever action we take, we do not diminish the ability of schools to avoid stigmatising children who are receiving free school meals or other benefits. That would be the wrong thing to do and we would not want to make that mistake. I am sure that the Government are in accordance with that.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

We have had a lively and impassioned debate, underlining the sensitivities in the relative responsibilities of the parent, the child and the school on individual freedoms. As we are debating the Protection of Freedoms Bill, it is good that we have these debates, because we are considering some difficult issues.

In the provisions in clause 26, we are talking about ease of administration at the school. We are not talking about life or death or health, or about education per se; this is purely about administration. The system would necessitate alternative provisions such as swipe  cards, which do not necessarily need biometric data to be taken. There will always be alternatives, so it is worth giving that context and background to the clause.

Although I in no way wish to cast doubt on the passion or understandable beliefs that have been set out about the role of the parent, it is worth framing the debate in its context, rather than on some of the broader and more health-oriented issues that have been highlighted in the course of this helpful and interesting discussion. However, taking those factors into account, we believe that we are discussing something that is simply administrative, where alternatives will be provided. Biometric data do not have to be given in any circumstance, because there has to be an alternative option. It would not be appropriate to force a child to give their biometric data, because alternatives are available. That would put the school in a difficult position, when this is simply a system for the ease of administration.

The point that the hon. Member for Eltham made about free school meals is understood. That is why I said that alternatives have to be provided, such as swipe cards. Many systems already operate in that manner. The information I have from the Department for Education is that systems currently in place in schools allow for alternatives. There would not be a sudden shift. There are other ways in which services can be provided electronically, whether that be through specific cards, swipe cards, with chips in them or otherwise. There is no necessity to have biometrics.

We have to cover a situation where, for example, parental consent might not be forthcoming. We have to ensure that systems can operate in a way that did not put the child at a disadvantage in those circumstances. It is important that we frame the overarching debate in that way. The point that the hon. Gentleman made about free school meals is fair. It is why alternatives will be provided.

Amendment 51, on parental consent, both informed and free, for the processing of biometric data in schools and colleges, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, makes a valid point. I hope that he will see that the provisions in clause 26 expressly require that a parent must consent before their child’s biometric data are processed. It is established in law that any consent must be both informed and freely given.

The first part of the amendment seeks to ensure that parents are not forced to give their consent to the processing of their child’s biometric data, because the school or college have made it a condition of enrolment to that establishment. As I have indicated, the provision on obtaining parental consent implies that such consent must be freely given. In seeking to impose such a condition, a school or college could be challenged on the basis that free consent as required by the provision had not been obtained, which would mean that any processing of a child’s biometric data by a school or college where the parent’s consent was a condition of the child’s admission would contravene the clause.

Should my hon. Friend need further reassurance, I point out that all maintained schools and academies must comply with the statutory admissions code, which expressly prohibits making admission to a school subject to any condition relating to the admission of a child to  a school. For a maintained school or academy to require that prospective parents consent to their child’s biometric information being processed would therefore not be permitted under the code.

The second part of the amendment seeks to ensure that parents are informed about the purpose for which their child’s biometric data will be used, who will have access to the data, how the data will be kept secure and how long the data will be retained. As I have explained, consent under the requirement must be informed. For a school or college to meet the requirements under clause 26, it must ensure that parents are aware of the nature of the biometric data collected and the purpose for which they will be used. It is worth highlighting the broader context of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the various principles underpinning the Act that are directly relevant.

We have had a useful, healthy and positive debate.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for putting his remarks on the record. Will he touch on the transmission of data to third parties, which was the final part of my amendment?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The Data Protection Act makes it clear that data controllers must process personal data only for the use for which they were obtained. I point my hon. Friend to the specific provisions in the Act, which apply also to the disclosure of personal data to third parties and prevent schools and colleges from sharing personal data with other organisations. The only exceptions are when one of the narrow exemptions in the Act applies: for example, when the sharing of data is necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting a crime. I point him to the specific provisions in the Act, which we would argue give assurance. It is important to consider the provisions in the Bill in that broader context. In light of my comments, I hope that my hon. Friend will be minded to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for putting those remarks on record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I remind the Committee that amendment 87 rightfully belongs under clause 27, which is why I did not deal with it under clause 26.