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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Earl and the noble Baroness for introducing their amendments. Notwithstanding the proviso that the noble Earl placed on the amendmentthat he did not want to say anything that assumed that he would not later question the existence of the databaseI agree with everything else that he said. I hope that that gives him comfort. I am never sure whether it gives him comfort or makes him nervous.
I welcome the opportunity to reiterate some of the objectives that we have for the databases. They are not intended to focus exclusively on children at risk of harm or abuse or as an alternative to the child protection system. They are intended to help professionals in children's services in health, social care and education to identify quickly basic details about the child with whom they are dealing; identify children who are not getting the basic education or health services; identify other professionals already working with that child so that they can share information with them more easily when that is appropriate; and identify any other professionals who might have a concern about the child's wellbeing or safety.
To use a small and simple example, if we were to put the health service database that exists on children on top of the database that exists on every child in education authorities, my guess is that we would easily find children who were not in school. Education welfare services would be able to identify those children easily. I ask members of the Committee to keep the overlaying of databases in mind. Certainly, in my experience of working on crime and disorder partnerships and as chair of a health authority, if one gets the opportunity to overlay different types of information, one can sometimes identify where children are simply not getting the basicswhen they are not in school, for example.
Amendments Nos. 134 and 210 also raise issues about what information should be held on databases. Noble Lords have referred to the policy statements put
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forward. It is now time for me to move into commitment stage. 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 numberI will return to the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Barkername 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.
These amendments do not appear to provide for names and contact details of practitioners providing specialist services to a child to be recorded on the database, only for one initiating practitioner. But, as I have described, this is a tool for talk. It is a tool for practitioners, a telephone directory to help them share information and better identify and respond to the needs of the child. It should not be a mechanical process that initiates action only once a certain threshold is reached. So we would expect that where a practitioner, for example, a health worker, has a concern that a child is not thriving, they would take appropriate action in their own area of practice but would also readily be able to see other practitioners who were involved with that child. For example, in one place they might find the contact details of the social worker or the housing officer. It would be far easier than at present to discuss the child's needs and how best to meet them.
I welcome the opportunity to think about the issues of local, regional and national databases. We have not reached a final view on this and we have commissioned independent technical advice, taking account of the experience of the local authority pilots. We think it is right to have some flexibility relating to the operational aspects of the databases to ensure that we can implement the right approach. We need to ensure that it is technically robust and operationally possible. The noble Earl gave an example of how one might do that in terms of a national signposting system that would enable databases to get in touch with each other.
Databases might be set up on a national, regional or local basis. For example, in view of the mobility of the population in the capital, we think that it may be sensible to establish a regional database for London rather than databases based on individual local authority boundaries. As the noble Earl has indicated,
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it may be that we need to think about a national database to transfer details of records, but that might be achieved between local databases and the functions of a national database could be limited to records of those children whose whereabouts are unknown and to producing aggregate monitoring data, for example. We want to make sure that we have independent advice. We take on board the comments of the noble Earl about the need to be able to transfer the right kind of information, the information that I have described, to enable children to be found, especially those with particular needs. We want to do this by looking at the work of the Trailblazer project to see how best it might be done so that we do not set up a huge national database if, in fact, this is about enabling local databases or regional databases to talk to each other.
Other amendments raise legitimate concerns about what happens when children move across different parts of the UK or receive services across borders. As noble Lords will know, children's services are a devolved matter and Clause 8 therefore refers only to England, but under Clause 23 Wales has shadow information sharing provisions. We will continue to work with colleagues in Wales to ensure that systems are in place to ensure that children moving between England and Wales are picked up.
Scotland does not yet have parallel provisions in legislation but a number of information-sharing pilots in Scottish local authority areas are under way and officials from the Scottish Executive are keeping in close touch with my officials as the proposals develop. We are also working closely with colleagues in Northern Ireland. It is important that we think about the movement of children across the UK and I hope that noble Lords will feel that we have begun those discussions and that we are able to consider the implications of how best to join up databases in the most appropriate way.
Amendment No. 145A would make the appointment of a person to operate the database a matter of regulation. We do not consider that this is a necessary provision. We think that we should rightly rely on children's service authorities to make appropriate staffing arrangements for fulfilling their duties under this clause. In practice, it is likely that an individual will have day-to-day responsibility for the operation of the database and in regulations and guidance we will be setting out how such persons should operate the database. But that does not mean that we need to require the appointment of such a person in primary legislation.
I can reassure the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that we recognise that carrying out these duties is a serious responsibility. It is for that reason that we have made provision in the Bill for the duties to be among those for which a director of children's services is responsible. That is set out in Clause 13(2)(d) of the Bill. We have placed accountability for this important area on the face of the Bill but we do not believe that we need to regulate for the staffing arrangements to support the director in carrying out this duty.
Amendment No. 135, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, seeks to tie the purpose of the database specifically to the purpose of safeguarding
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and promoting the welfare of children. The purposes of these information databases are tied to those of Clause 6, to co-operate to improve the well-being of children, and to those of Clause 7 of the Bill and Section 175 of the Education Act 2002, to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In one sense, the amendment is unnecessary. Clause 8(1) already makes clear on the face of the Bill that safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is a purpose of the databases.
In another sense, it would restrict the purposes for which the databases can be used. We do not agree that the databases should be restricted only to the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. They are not primarily a child protection measure. They aim to enable information sharing so that a preventive approach can be taken, through early identification of the needs of children, in order to promote their well-being. There is an implied duty in Clauses 6 and 7 for practitioners working across the range of children's services to share information to fulfil their duties. That should include services in relation to education and training, social and economic well-being and the child's contribution to society: that is the full range of positive outcomes for children as reflected in the objectives set out in Clause 6(2).
We all want our children not just to be safe from harm, critical though that is, but also to thrive in education, to stay out of crime and to have good relationships with their peers. We think that these databases have some role in enabling information sharing to support children to achieve these aspirations. So we think that it is important that they are linked to the improvement of children's well-being as well as to their safeguarding.
Amendment No. 135A seeks to ensure that regulations made under Clause 8(4) should relate only to matters concerned with improving the well-being of children and safeguarding and promoting their welfare. We think that this amendment is unnecessary. Clause 8(1) already makes clear on the face of the Bill that the databases should be created only for these purposes.
Amendment No. 152A would remove the power to sub-delegate decision-making about the detailed operation of the database to local level. I understand that noble Lords have concerns that the current sub-delegation provision at subsection (6) is too widely-drawn. Again, I am offering a commitment. In response to the concerns expressed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and by noble Lords today, I would like to offer a commitment that we will table a government amendment on Report to ensure that decisions about permitting or requiring disclosure of information cannot be sub-delegated and that only decisions about granting access to individuals would be sub-delegated. In other words, decisions about permitting or requiring information to be disclosed could not be sub-delegated but decisions to grant access to individuals could be, simply because the Secretary of State could not name individuals in each area who would be granted access. It would be impractical to do so; we cannot specify individual
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practitioners. We can talk about safeguards. I hope noble Lords will feel more comfortable that we have addressed those concerns.
These issues are being addressed in this way because, as I have indicated, we will look at this afternoon's debate on Clause 8 to see what further issues may need to be taken on board. As I said at the beginning of our discussions on this, we want to bring forward a package that reflects what I have already said. I will continue to indicate where we have already decided that we need to take action and we will reflect on our deliberations so that in good time I present the full package to your Lordship's House.
I am sure that the issue of flags of concern will come up in our further deliberations. I want to help noble Lords a little on that, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who raised the issue. We think that recording concerns on the database is a simple way in which one practitioner can signal to another that he has a concern about a child. There will be a clear expectation that the practitioner recording the concern will do something about it, which will usually involve talking to another practitioner. If other practitioners have reason to be concerned about the same child, they too can see who they should be talking to.
We hope that such discussions will enable practitioners to form an accurate early judgment on how to work together to deal most effectively with a child's needs. I reiterate that, time and again, professionals cannot act on those early concerns because they do not know who else is involved. For example, housing issues and concerns might arise in the case of a child who frequently suffers from bronchitis. The ability to have those conversations could be critical in early prevention and addressing issues in a preventive way. I know that noble Lords would wish to see that.
We do not want to constrain the recording of concerns only to circumstances where there is a significant risk of harm to a child. We want to ensure that practitioners communicate effectively. However, we are fully aware of the existence of that concern and the fact that we will have to convey our intentions very clearly. The decision about whether a concern exists and should be recorded must remain one ultimately for professional judgment. However, as noble Lords indicated, we have to set the context for practitioners.
We are looking carefully at the different approaches currently being taken by the trailblazer pilots. I hope that noble Lords will have the opportunity to listen to the different approaches of those pilotsall of which are working very closely with all of the practitioners and, of course, with families in their area as wellto look at how they are developing the different models. We also want to consider the comments made in your Lordships' House, both on Second Reading and today in Committee, before concluding that there should be an amendment at Report to clarify how we will provide in regulations for the recording of concerns. That is to show how seriously we take the points that
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have been, and will be, well made by noble Lords. I am listening very carefully. We will take those points away and look at what has been said.
I should like to focus for a minute on the four points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I heard what she said about the NHS number, but I do not think that I understood it. I apologise for that. As we have made no decisions about this perhaps she and I could have a further conversation about it. I think she was alluding to the access that such use would give. On the other hand, the NHS number is the first number that children are given; they receive it when they are born. It is therefore the obvious number to use. However, we have not made any decisions. Perhaps we can pick up those interesting concerns.
The audit trail will indeed have the date of entry. It will trace who has accessed the system and at what point and what date so that one can see the history and patterns of access by individuals as well as dates of entry on the database. I think that that deals with that point.
As for "comprise" versus "include", all I would say to the noble Baroness at this point is that although we recognise what she is saying, we are also concerned not to become completely inflexible about adding additional factual details or the need to add in a new type of individual or organisation. So I will reflect on what she said on those issues and see whether we can do more. However, as she would expect, we want to ensure that we do not constrain the Bill inappropriately.
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