This statement is to inform the House that regulations were made on 15 March 2018 to bring into force specified provisions in parts 5 and 6 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 (“the Act”). The part 5 provisions, also known as the “Digital Government” provisions, provide powers enabling public authorities and other persons to share information for particular purposes, as well as introducing new powers of access to information for the UK Statistics Authority to assist it in exercising its functions.
The Digital Government provisions in part 5 of the Act allow information sharing in the areas of public service delivery, civil registration, debt, fraud, research and statistics. Between 21 September and 2 November last year, the Government carried out a public consultation and obtained the views of statutory consultees on draft codes of practice and other guidance which support these provisions, and on draft regulations which set objectives for the public service delivery provisions. The Government expect to lay the draft codes and regulations for consideration by Parliament shortly.
The research and statistics provisions (at chapters 5 and 7 of part 5) will be brought into force in Northern Ireland as well as in England, Wales and Scotland. Some of the purposes for which information may be shared under part 5 are devolved with respect to Northern Ireland.
Although it was intended that a legislative consent motion (LCM) would be sought from the Northern Ireland Assembly during the passage of the Act, the Assembly was dissolved before the motion itself could be passed. With that in mind, the Government have sought to keep open the ability to commence the provisions separately in Northern Ireland, in the hope that a restored Executive could seek legislative consent from the Assembly before the provisions were commenced.
In the light of the ongoing absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, however, a point has been reached whereby a decision on whether to commence the research and statistics provisions cannot be further deferred. The UK Government have therefore decided to proceed with UK-wide implementation on a limited basis for those provisions, taking into account representations from officials and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland. This decision has not been reached lightly. Not commencing these specific provisions UK-wide at this time would undermine the comprehensiveness and consistency of statistics about society and the economy for both the UK as a whole, and for Northern Ireland in particular. It could also affect the ability of bodies in Northern Ireland to access essential statistical data and to make policy on the basis of relevant research. In both respects it would impact on the ability to make effective, timely and evidenced decision-making at the local and national levels. Given this, and noting the support the measures commanded from the previous Executive (with a legislative consent motion laid in the Assembly albeit not passed) and as part of a public consultation which included Northern Ireland, we assess that now is the right time to move forward with commencement.
When an Executive has been restored, we will write to Northern Ireland Ministers to confirm that they are content for the commenced provisions to remain in place. We will also consider carefully any further representations from stakeholders in Northern Ireland to commence other provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2017, while recognising the broad support that these measures have commanded previously.