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Children Bill Clause 8 - Information databases - not amended by the House of Lords

The "Big Nanny" database powers which the UK Government is trying to give itself came a step closer when the Children Bill - Clause 8 - Information Databases passed another legislative milestone last week when it went through the Committee stage of its progress through the House of Lords unamended

There is quite a lot to read in the House of Lords Committee stage debate on the Children Bill Clause 8

The peculiar procedures and conventions of the House of Lords are such, that despite the withdrawal of all the tabled amendments on Clause 8, the Government Minister Baroness Ashton of Upholland has been embarassed enough by the criticism of Clause 8 to promise some Government amendments at the Report stage of the Bill, which might allay some of our fears, and those of the people such Baroness Barker, the Earl of Northesk or Earl Howe.

"Baroness Ashton of Upholland:
24 May 2004 :Column 1075

As noble Lords will know from the early provisions of the Data Protection Act, the purpose of putting in this regulation making clause is to enable us to use the databases without having to refer to anyone each time a piece of information is shared. We do not expect to change data protection law in respect of notification. Nor is it our intention under this clause to create such an entitlement in relation to information sharing. We would have a bureaucratic nightmare if every time a piece of information was entered onto or shared through the database it had to be printed out and copies sent to the child and the parents."

Destroying the principles and the letter of the Data Protection Act simply for bureacratic convenience is not acceptable. There should be a full audit trail of all such transactions which can be inspected electronically, for free , by parents or children.

"Noble Lords will remember that I have said many times that there will be no case notes on this database"

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I offer a commitment that we will bring forward amendments on Report to address the comments made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the concerns of noble Lords about putting more of the detail on the face of the Bill.

We intend to table a government amendment at Report that will list the types of basic information that the databases will contain. That includes: name; date of birth; address; a unique identifying number?I will return to the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker?name and contact details of the person with parental responsibility or in charge of day-to-day care of the child; educational setting; GP practice details and health visitor if there is one working with the child, although the inclusion of health visitors is subject to discussions about their new titles. Likewise, we are intending to put forward an amendment that will set out on the face of the Bill a list of statutory bodies and other bodies that will be required or permitted to supply information to the database. "

There is no list of statutory bodies limiting exactly who in this country and overseas, has access to this controversial database on all 11 million children and their parents or guardians in the UK.

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5.45 p.m.

"This database contains nothing that would constitute opinion about any child; it is purely detail about the matters I have already indicated: name, address, date of birth, educational setting, name of person with daily responsibility for the child and GP services. All the other information would concern which practitioners are involved with that child.

Think of it as the yellow pages of the telephone directory. There will be no consequential access into another database"

Address information is hugely controversial in the National Identity Register and Compulsory Biometric ID Card debate. In the area of child protection and battered wives and familes etc. leakage of the address
of a "safe house" or of the acrtual school which a child attends can literally be a matter of life or death.

"The provision is not about allowing anyone to access detailed information through another database. That would be completely and utterly outside the scope of the Bill. "

As was pointed out by the Lords, inferences can be made from such a database record or false conclusions can be jumped to e.g. from the name of a health practioner who is known to be say a psychologist or a pregnancy advisor.

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"I reiterate that it is not our intention that case notes about children should be recorded on the database. Nor should the system contain data on the nature of concern that a practitioner might have"

"The noble Earl, Lord Howe, rightly said that subsection (5)(a) is widely worded and it suggests that case details could be entered, which we do not want to see happen. The government amendment we are proposing will change this to the name and contact details of any person providing services. We do not know how subsection (5)(b) will change, but we do not
believe it contains the same suggestion about case detail"

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"As part of our undertaking to provide a package of amendments at Report, we will look at including in subsection (9)(e), comparison as well as transfer of information between databases"

Just to remind people of how much value people should put on ineffectual Government promises about privacy of even the most sensitive medical data:

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Earl Howe: There is an important point which I should like to pick up. It harks back to debates we had some two years ago on the Health and Social Care Act, in which the noble Baroness was not involved. Section 60 of that Act covers the current provisions relating to disclosure of confidential medical information to cancer registries and elsewhere. We were all reassured by the statements of the Minister at the time that the tightest possible conditions would apply and that there would be no possibility of information that should not be disclosed being disclosed or of a patient who did not wish his or her information to be disclosed having those wishes overridden.

I have recently been made aware of some shocking breaches of those undertakings. It is shocking to me because even when the patient's request not to have her details disclosed was brought to the attention of the cancer registry, it still went ahead and disclosed it, citing Section 60 of the Health and Social Care Act as the legal basis for so doing.

"24 May 2004 : Column 1122

Baroness Ashton of Upholland:

"I have also referred to the audit trails, which will identify how people have been accessing the databases. That will enable us to check for any emerging patterns of potential abuse so that they can be dealt with.

We need to specify that the conditions relating to the security of the databases be set out in guidance and directions in order for us to be able to look at the nature of the design and the technical specifications that will be developed over the coming months."

"our commitment to bring forward a government amendment to remove the power of the Secretary of State and the Assembly at subsection (9)(a) to determine the conditions of access in guidance or directions and instead provide for such conditions to be set out in
regulations. "

"Individuals will need to meet minimum requirements. They will need Criminal Records Bureau clearance; they must sign a relevant practitioner-level protocol; and they must have undertaken training on safe and secure use of the system, including compliance with the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and, where relevant, the Caldicott principles"

Is the Government intending to ensure that all people who gain access to this Children Database indirectly via section 29 Data Protection Act requests to these named professionals are also vetted to the same level ? Or is this data going to leak out to private investigators, tabloid newspaper journalists, abusive and violent spouses, divorce lawyers, foreign extradition warrant systems etc. etc. ?

Children Bill Clause 8 as amended in Committee on 27th May 2004:

"8 Information databases

(1) The Secretary of State may for the purpose of arrangements under section 6 or 7 above or under section 175 of the Education Act 2002?

    (a) by regulations require children?s services authorities in England to
    establish and operate databases containing information in respect of
    persons to whom such arrangements relate; or

    (b) himself establish and operate, or make arrangements for the operation
    and establishment of, one or more databases containing such

(2) The Secretary of State may for the purposes of arrangements under subsection (1)(b) by regulations establish a body corporate to establish and operate one or more databases.

(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision in relation to the establishment and operation of any database or databases under this section.

(4) Regulations under subsection (3) may in particular make provision?

    (a) as to the information which must or may be contained in any database
    under this section;

    (b) permitting or requiring the disclosure of information for inclusion in
    any such database;

    (c) permitting or requiring the disclosure of information included in any
    such database;

    (d) permitting or requiring any person to be given access to any such
    database for the purpose of adding or reading information;

    (e) in a case where a database is established by virtue of subsection (1)(b),
    requiring children?s services authorities in England to participate in the
    operation of the database.

(5) The information for which provision may be made under subsection (4)(a)
includes in particular?

    (a) information as to services provided to, or activities carried out in relation to, a person to whom arrangements referred to in subsection (1) relate;

    (b) information as to the existence of any cause for concern in relation to
    such a person.

(6) The provision which may be made under subsection (4)(b) to (d) includes
provision for a person of a description specified in the regulations to determine
what must or may be done under the regulations.

(7) Regulations under subsection (3) may also provide that anything which
must or may be done under the regulations must or may be done
notwithstanding any rule of common law which prohibits or restricts the disclosure of information.

(8) Any person or body establishing or operating a database under this section must in the establishment or operation of the database have regard to any guidance, and comply with any direction, given to that person or body by the Secretary of State.

(9) Guidance or directions under subsection (8) may in particular relate to?

    (a) the conditions on which access must or may be given to a database under this section; (b) the management of any such database; (c) the technical specifications for any such database; (d) the security of any such database; (e) the transfer of information from one database under this section to another.

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