Queen's Speech: Government boosts data sharing powers

New measures to increase government data sharing are included in bills announced in the Queen’s Speech today.

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New measures to increase government data sharing are included in bills announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The new powers are included in outlines of two bills, on counter-terrorism and the sale of student loans – a bill that would enable HM Revenue and Customs data to be handed to private firms.

But briefing papers published alongside the Queen’s Speech suggest that data sharing measures have been dropped from a third piece of legislation – the proposed Education and Skills Bill.

A draft legislative programme issued by prime minister Gordon Brown set out powers for the Education and Skills Bill that were described as “subject to policy clearance” to enable data sharing, particularly with HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions. This was aimed at helping to “report on whether the system as a whole is delivering economically valuable skills”. But today's new papers do not include this measure.

The Counter Terrorism Bill will “help the investigation of terrorism by ensuring the police and intelligence and security agencies have access to all the information they need by providing data sharing powers and making full use of DNA”, the briefing papers say.

Data sharing powers will also be included in the Sale of Student Loans Bill. July’s draft legislative programme said the measures would allow information on student loans currently held by HM Revenue and Customs to be disclosed to any purchasing company.

But the documents issued with the Queen’s Speech take a more cautious tone. “The government’s intention is for the Student Loans Company to continue to administer all accounts. Purchasers would only be allowed to use data about borrowers for the specific purpose of managing the loans,” they say.

It is unclear how the government’s legislative timetable will dovetail with a review of data sharing announced by Brown last month.

The review, to be carried out by information commissioner Richard Thomas and Mark Walport, director of medical research charity the Wellcome Trust, will examine data sharing in both the private and public sectors – and is likely to have an impact on how data sharing measures in the forthcoming legislation are drafted or received.

Opposition parties protested that the government’s data sharing plans had not been properly scrutinised in the wake of the July draft legislative programme announcement, with Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Nick Clegg complaining that the measures were being introduced “piecemeal”.

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