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The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also asked about guidance to ensure that children and young people will give consent to sensitive services being included on the database. I reassure her that the guidance will address this issue and that consent must be, as will be made clear under the guidance, freely given and explicit. ContactPoint will not hold details of consent on the system, which was another issue she raised.
The noble Baroness asked whether the audit records of ContactPoint usage would be monitored by computers or by human beings. I assure her that audit records will be monitored both by computers and by human beings, each complementing the other. She asked whether shielding the records of children meant that the system was not secure, a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. We do not believe that the fact that some records will be shielded indicates that ContactPoint will be insecure. It is
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The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of the views of young people about ContactPoint and whether we took them seriously. I assure her that we take their views very seriously, which is why we have taken considerable time and effort directly seeking the views of over 1,100 children and young people from a wide range of backgrounds. We have also looked at a wide body of research about the views of children and young people and taken on board the experience of local authority trailblazers, which developed local pilot systems and, as part of such development, consulted children, young people and families. I should stress that this consultation, as part of the development of the trailblazer pilots, generally showed that children understood the benefits of information-sharing and of ContactPoint. Understandably they wanted reassurance that the system would be secure and accurate. That is precisely why we are developing the system as we areto ensure those robust protections. We will continue to engage children and young people directly, particularly to inform the development of communications material. We are doing so in collaboration with the Information Commissioners Office, the Office of the Childrens Commissioner and the Childrens Rights Director.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, asked whether eliminating some delayshe thought that they would be short delayswhen a child first exhibits a need for a service was not itself a justification for a universal database. The key issue, we believe, is that practitioners are not able to make good decisions in all cases about need when they do not have the full circumstances of the child available. It is not simply a question of the delay in making entries on a database, but the quality of the decisions that will be made by practitioners in the first place, whether or not they have this information available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked me a number of questions. Would children and families have the right to challenge information that is wrong or out of date on the database? Yes, they will. That right is enshrined in the Data Protection Act 1984. A child or their parent can ask to see their data and, if the data are incorrect, they must be corrected. She asked what safeguards were in place to prevent misinterpretation, such as children visiting GPs several times a year, but as I said, that kind of information will not be on the database. She also asked what processes would be followed to ensure that staff who left would have their access revokedthe 330,000 are staff in service, with a right to see the information on the database. I can assure her that the accounts of users will be cancelled immediately the users supervisor notifies ContactPoint. Staff debriefing will recover the access control token, so that the user will not be able to access the system thereafter.
The first broader theme raised was adequate safeguards. I reaffirm the importance of security as a
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Secondly, all data are secured by encryption or scrambling while moving between computer systems, so that anyone trying to monitor communications will not be able to see the information. Thirdly, it will only be possible to access ContactPoint from computers that are either known directly to ContactPoint or connected to corporate or local networks approved by ContactPoint. The biggest risk for hacking is through the internet and from public access into computer systems; we are countering this by ensuring that any attempt to access ContactPoint from any system other than those known to be legitimate systems for access is rejected. Furthermore, we are taking active steps to ensure secure use. Systems that use passwords alone are vulnerable to misuse. ContactPoint users will therefore need to have an identifier, a password, a PIN and a physical token. We are restricting the user numbers, as I described in my opening speech. Finally, the ContactPoint system will monitor every user activity and record that securely in an audit log. The audit log will look for patterns of unusual or potentially suspicious behaviour, which will be reported to the users manager.
I also refer directly to the submission made to the Merits Committee by the Information Commissioner, in which he reported that he had had considerable involvement with my department during the development of ContactPoint. For noble Lords who have not been so closely engaged in discussions about the development of the scheme, I quote from what the Office of the Information Commissioner said:
It is the case that we had reservations about certain aspects of early proposals for creating an index of Children ... However, we have enjoyed very constructive relations with those responsible for implementing ContactPoint. We are pleased that our suggestions concerning the privacy, transparency and security aspects of running ContactPoint have been taken on board ... we are satisfied with the overall design of ContactPoint ... We are pleased that the ContactPoint Guidance, which we have worked closely with DFES on, sets out a practical set of rules and procedures for those using ContactPoint. This guidance will provide a sound basis for developing the training that DFES will be carrying out, and which the Information Commissioner will participate in. It is also encouraging
We will, of course, continue to keep close contact with DFES, and with ContactPoint end-users ... We are prepared to devote the resource necessary to make sure that ContactPoint is
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On balance, our arguments in favour of the security of the scheme are justified. That is not to say that there is no risk whatever, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. No Minister could stand here and say that. However, we have taken all reasonable precautions against it. The Information Commissioner looked objectively at the safeguards we have put in place, and they are of the most robust kind. We must set aside the continuing risk that there may be on that front against the huge gain to be had from the database. The judgment of Parliament should lead us to want the gain that could be had from making the information on children available to practitioners to help those who may, at some point in their young life, be at risk.
I dealt with most of the arguments about proportionality and cost in my opening remarks so, rather than rehearsing all those points again, I shall deal with some of the specific issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to show that her concerns are substantially either unfounded or exaggerated. She queried the £88 million annual saving, but a robust case for that saving is set out in the memorandumwhose methodology she did not seek to underminewhich my department submitted to the committee.
The noble Baroness specifically asked, and this was a key point, whether the £88 million and all the hours of practitioner time that would be saved would predominantly affect front-line practitioners. I assure her that it will. At the moment those practitioners time is often used or wasted in having to get in touch with other practitioners or in making duplicate referrals, which would not be necessary if the database was available and access could be gained much more quickly.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, the £88 million is only a gain if the figure of £41 million is accurate, and the noble Earl has raised severe concerns that those are perhaps very optimistic figures for both the set-up and the annual running costs. You only have a gain if the figures for the running costs are correct.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, that is not the case. Even if the running cost figure is higher than £41 million, that does not of itself undermine the £88 million saving. Page 17 of the committees report, which prints the relevant memorandum, identifies the practitioner groups whose time will be saved by the availability of the database. I shall read out the list: school nurses, health visitors, social workers, educational administrators, Connexions workers and youth offending teams. Those are front-line practitioners; we are not just dealing with back-office staff and functions.
The alternative before the House is not no scheme at all but a partial scheme, a register for those at risk, which the noble Baroness supports. If it is not to be a national scheme, local schemes will need to be maintained for identifying those at risk. All our advice is that the cost of a partial scheme simply identifying those at risk would be higher than that of having a universal scheme. The cost in terms of time of having to make constant decisions about the addition and subtraction of names on the list would
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The point made about Victoria Climbié was quite telling. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, quoted somebody who said that Victoria Climbié would not have been identified on the universal register, as she had been presented to some services as being in England only on a temporary basis. I am advised that she would have been on the register. It is important that we understand that, as a good deal of the concern that has motivated the development of this database was precisely that very harrowing case and what could happen in future if we did not safeguard against it. The aunt of Victoria Climbié was claiming child benefit and had registered Victoria with two GPs, so she would have been on the database if it had been available. In weighing up the costs, benefits and fine judgments that noble Lords have to make this evening, that is a factor to be considered.
Having ready access to the wider network of care around a child will mean that all practitioners are better informed about the range of services being provided, and any gaps that there might be, such that an early intervention can be effected if needed, rather than costly remediation once something has gone wrong. The system
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I appreciate the contribution of all noble Lords, who with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, have all expressed great anxiety. I especially thank noble Lords from the Merits Committee, who I understand are nominated for an award at tonights HouseMagazine ceremony; I wish them well.
The speech of my noble friend Lord Jopling summed up perfectly our objections to the regulations. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her support. I agreed with every word of her powerful speech, and we support her amendment.
The Minister was, as always, thorough and courteous in his reply and I accept that his undertakings are made in all good faith. However, I am not reassured and remain deeply troubled both by the principle of this database and by its operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said that the system was safeor as safe as it could bebecause it
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For the sake of our childrens privacy, for the sake of their sense of self and for the sake of those children who most need our protection, I urge the Government to think again to avoid the nightmare of which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, spoke. Even though the hour is late and many noble Lords are at the HouseMagazine awards, we feel so strongly about this that I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Baroness Walmsley rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of Lord Adonis, at end to insert but this House regrets that the cost is likely to be disproportionate to the benefit and could have been more effectively and safely spent on professional staff.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert but this House regrets that the cost is likely to be disproportionate to the benefit and could have been more effectively and safely spent on professional staff.(Baroness Walmsley.)
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