Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Nothing can be more important than ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are properly safeguarded. It is critical that where evidence suggests that an individual presents a risk of harm, they are prevented at the earliest opportunity from having access through their work to vulnerable groups. I know that all Members present agree on that point. That is the primary aim of the Bill, which seeks to improve significantly the current arrangements for vetting and barring.
In putting in place a more robust and tougher system, the Bill is central to delivering one of the five key outcomes of the “Every Child Matters” programme—“Staying Safe”. Equally, it will significantly improve the protections currently in place for vulnerable adults and ensure, as far as we can, that they are safeguarded from avoidable harm at the hands of those who work with them.
In order to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are protected as fully as possible, safeguarding must become everybody’s business—that of Government, regulators, local safeguarding children boards, and, in particular, employers, who have the ultimate responsibility of understanding and carrying out their respective responsibilities to the full. It is important that we get the detail right. The spirit in which it was examined and debated in the other place was testimony to our commitment to do that.
First, there is no Ofsted Bill but a report that the Government commissioned. However, Ofsted undertook it completely independently; that applies to the way in which it was carried out and its formulation. It has not yet been published, and the Home Office did not have prior sight of it a month ago. As I believe the hon. Lady knows, it will be published shortly. We shall respond to it as soon as it is published.
The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is right to say that it is important to get the detail right. The detail of policy, procedure and practice on the ground is important. I have no doubt that the commitment that we witnessed in the other place will be reflected here.
The Bill builds on a sequence of measures since 1997 designed progressively to strengthen the safeguards for children and vulnerable adults. We have tried to ensure that we learn from tragic events such as the Soham murders and the death of Victoria Climbié. In doing so, we have gone further than any previous Government in introducing a substantial programme of legislation and reform designed to protect children and vulnerable adults—rightly so. I should like to acknowledge that hon. Members from all parties have shown interest and co-operation.
We tightened the vetting and barring schemes for those working with children and adults by making operational from 2000 the scheme under the Protection of Children Act 1999, and effecting the protection of vulnerable adults scheme from 2004. Also in 2000, we published the document “No secrets”, which provided for the first time a framework for local authorities to work with the police, the national health service and the regulators to tackle and prevent the abuse of vulnerable adults.
The Criminal Records Bureau was created in 2002, with the task of helping to protect children—and, from 2004, vulnerable adults—by playing a key role in ensuring that unsuitable people were not recruited to positions of trust. In 2003, we passed the Sexual Offences Act, part 2 of which built on the original notification requirements for sex offenders that came into force in 1997, further to ensure that the police are kept informed of their whereabouts.
The Children Act 2004 further strengthened arrangements to safeguard and promote children’s welfare. It required key people and organisations to make safeguarding arrangements for children and ensured that agencies worked together through the local safeguarding children boards. All 150 boards were established by the deadline of April 2006.
The IMPACT—information management, prioritisation, analysis, co-ordination and tasking—programme is another key reform, which arises from Bichard and is in the process of being implemented. It is designed to improve the police service’s ability to manage and share operational information. The IMPACT nominal index has recently been launched, and enables one police force to identify quickly other police forces that hold information about specific individuals. The code of practice on the management of police information was brought into force in November 2005, and a comprehensive set of supporting guidance in March 2006.
The Minister will recall that I represent Soham. I am obviously glad that the IMPACT programme is in place, but can she be absolutely sure that it is available to operate between every force in the country? Four years after the event has been a long time to wait for that development, bearing in mind the fact that a scheme already existed for Scottish police forces that the Home Office could have taken up, had it wished to do that. My constituents and I would like the Minister’s assurance that the scheme is fully operational between every police force in the United Kingdom, and that the position that arose whereby one police force could not inform another properly of the circumstances of a man such as Huntley could never happen again.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s obvious concern. The IMPACT programme is fully operational across all forces, enabling police services to communicate with one another and find out whether a known individual in one force is known by another police service. However, its capacity in relation to the storage of soft information and intelligence will involve a phased development. It will not be fully operational in terms of its full capacity until 2010. However, the police national computer is now able to hold some of that soft information, including information on acquittals, cautions and reprimands. So the vetting and barring scheme that we are discussing today will be able to draw on that information from the police national computer and progressively use the IMPACT scheme, as its capacity expands. But that has to be done in a managed way.
Following the Secretary of State’s statement to the House on 19 January, we took immediate further steps to tighten the present vetting system in the run-up to the implementation of the Bill. Under regulations issued last month, Criminal Records Bureau checks have become mandatory for all newly appointed school employees. We intend to introduce further regulations to enter automatically on list 99 anyone who is convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence against a child or for a serious sexual offence against an adult. We have established a panel of independent experts, chaired by Sir Roger Singleton, to oversee the whole list 99 process. The Ofsted review of existing vetting practice in schools, which was announced on 19 January, will be published shortly. As I have said, we will respond immediately to its findings.
Will the Minister give us some advice on the position of children, particularly those over 16 but under 18, who commit sex offences against other children? The Bill rightly contains provisions for barring adults with a history of sex offending from being in contact with children. What is the position with children between 16 and 18?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be patient, as that will become clear when I get to those provisions in the Bill shortly. I can tell him, however, that there are different levels of protection and different levels of barring decisions that the independent barring board will be able to take. If a person under 18 commits an offence that would, if committed by an adult, cause them to be considered for barring, they will be considered only under a discretionary process. There will be no automatic barring of young people under 18 who commit sexual offences. Each case will be considered on its merits, and not in relation to a list of offences that would involve automatic barring for adults.
We are only too painfully aware of the specific background to the Bill. Indeed, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has just referred to it. The tragic deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham in 2002 highlighted starkly and horrifically the fact that there were weaknesses in the systems that ought to prevent unsuitable people from gaining access through their work to children and vulnerable adults.
In response, we commissioned the inquiry chaired by Sir Michael Bichard to investigate those weaknesses. We welcomed the publication of his report in 2004, and had no hesitation in accepting all its 31 recommendations. Well over half of them have already been put in place, and the remainder are being implemented. It is recommendation 19 that we are concerned with today. It proposed new arrangements requiring those who wish to work with children or vulnerable adults to be registered. We have given a great deal of consideration, in conjunction with many key stakeholders, to how best to implement that recommendation. The new vetting and barring scheme that will be introduced through the Bill is the culmination of that thinking. It represents a step change in the safeguarding arrangements required to meet the Bichard inquiry recommendation.
The Bill is the centrepiece of our overhaul of the present system for vetting and barring, and it is underpinned by four key principles. The first is that the interests of the child and the vulnerable adult are paramount. As we said on 19 January, we need a system in which the protection of vulnerable people is the first consideration. Secondly, everyone has a responsibility for ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are safe. All must play their part, including the state and employers, as well as parents and families.
The third principle is that the new vetting and barring scheme is focused specifically on the world of work, both paid and unpaid. It does not intrude in family relationships.
The final principle that underpins the Bill is that the reform system needs to be proportionate. We intend the breadth of the bar to be proportionate to the risk, and the Bill establishes different vetting requirements for different work contexts, as I shall explain in a moment, in proportion to risk.
Will the right hon. Lady explain the rationale behind there being two barred lists? There will obviously be a great deal of concern that somebody barred from working with children can work with a vulnerable adult, and vice versa. That will be difficult for the general public to understand.
I know that there is a lot of concern about this. Indeed, an amendment has already been made in the other place, as the hon. Gentleman might know, to ensure that when the IBB receives a referral and starts to collect information about an individual about whom there is concern, it is required to consider that information in relation to both lists.
There might be circumstances—for instance, where somebody had caused financial harm to an elderly person by exploiting their financial interests—that do not necessarily automatically translate to concern about a person working with children, but the IBB will have to consider the individual in relation to both lists and, if appropriate, put him or her on both lists.
I can give the hon. Gentleman another assurance. If he looks at list 99 and the Protection of Children Act 1999 and the protection of vulnerable adults list, he will see that there is already considerable cross-referencing.
To deal with inconsistencies in a variety of arrangements, the new scheme will integrate list 99, POCA and the disqualification orders regime to create a single list of people barred from working with children. There will be a separate, but, as I say, aligned list of those barred from working with vulnerable adults. In the light of the debate in the other place, we have made it clear that the IBB is under a duty to consider information in relation to both lists.
As clause 2 makes clear, the barred list will be established and maintained by the IBB. Using its expert members, the IBB will take all discretionary decisions about whether to include an individual on a barred list, as well as receive representations as part of that process. Ministers will not be engaged in discretionary decisions by the IBB on individual cases in any respect whatsoever. That delivers on the commitment made on 19 January, and I think represents a fundamental shift and improvement on current systems.
The IBB will work closely with the Criminal Records Bureau, which will provide the administrative function enabling the scheme to be operated effectively. It will receive applications from individuals to be monitored by the scheme, as well as gathering and monitoring that subsequent information on behalf of the board. The board and the CRB will work closely together to deliver on key reforms of the current system and the need for vetting and barring decisions on an individual’s application to work with children and vulnerable adults.
I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is going to elaborate, but will she explain the rationale behind the need for one list for people working with children and a separate list for people working with vulnerable adults? I am not clear why we need two lists. It may be that I ought to declare an interest; I did not check beforehand. I have a 33-year-old son who has severe learning disabilities. He has the mind of a four-year-old—the mind of a child—but the body of an adult.
I am very aware of my hon. Friend’s personal interest in the matter and why she raises the question. I responded to a similar point from the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and explained that the IBB will now be required to consider the information in respect of both lists. On the basis of current practice—which I imagine will continue, given the expertise of the board—people will be placed on both lists when appropriate, but, as I have said, there might be some cases, perhaps involving financial abuse of adults, in which people would not necessarily be disqualified from working with children. That is why there are two separate lists. They will be aligned, and the board will have to consider whether individuals should be on both lists when it makes its assessment.
Schedule 1 outlines the arrangements for membership and staffing of the IBB, as well as its incidental powers. The board will be required to issue annual reports and to keep accounts, which will be audited by the National Audit Office and laid before Parliament.
The new scheme for which the Bill provides increases safeguards significantly by covering a much wider work force than is currently covered. In doing so, it provides for three levels of protection for children and vulnerable adults, which are set out in clauses 5 to 20 and in schedule 3. The first level of protection is the requirement for employers to check the barred status of individuals whom they intend to employ, and to check that the bar applies. That is defined in the Bill as “regulated activity”, and covers circumstances in which an individual would be working most closely with children and vulnerable adults. It covers work in key settings such as schools and care homes. It covers certain specified activities that bring an individual into close contact with children and vulnerable adults. There are several specified key positions of authority to which the bar and the duty to check also apply, such as directors of children’s services and adult social services.
We are committed to making the system far more robust. Clauses 7 to 13 provide for new criminal offences to ensure compliance with the scheme. Barred people, and those who are not subject to monitoring, who seek to engage in regulated activity will be committing criminal offences. An employer who knowingly employs a barred individual in a role in which the bar applies will be liable to a prison sentence of up to five years, a fine or both.
My right hon. Friend has said that the Bill covers a far wider work force than is covered by current legislation. What measures will she take to ensure that people are aware of it? She referred to “an employer who knowingly employs a barred individual”. An employer who is unaware of the Bill might unwittingly employ a barred individual. What publicity will my right hon. Friend give the proposals?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We need a wide and detailed campaign or communications strategy for everyone who might be affected. The board itself will have to initiate and maintain a continuing dialogue, particularly with employers, about the criteria and thresholds required for the referring of information to it, and the processes for doing that. We are very conscious that that is an essential part of the implementation of the scheme.
If an employer employs a person not subject to monitoring by the scheme, or fails to check an individual’s barred status in the first place, he will risk being fined up to £5,000.
The second level of protection is defined in the Bill as “controlled activity”. It will be made clear to employers through statutory guidance that they must check an individual’s barred status, but they will have discretion to employ an individual who has been barred. Controlled activity covers support workers in general health, further education and social care settings—for example, catering staff in a general hospital or cleaners in an adult day centre.
I am a little confused about the differentiation between further education establishments and schools in respect of ancillary workers, given the 14-to-19 agenda to get young people into FE and the large array of courses offered by FE colleges for those with special educational needs.
Many students in FE colleges will be over 18, but I am referring to support work, not to direct teaching work. The principle underlying the Bill is that the frequency with which people might have close contact with children, or young adults aged under 18, is one of the factors that determines whether an activity is in the regulated activity category. The opportunity for catering staff to have unsupervised close contact in an FE college is much less than it is in a school. But the hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, where judgments have to be made and lines drawn; we will doubtless get down to such issues in Committee, and she might well want to raise it again then. Throughout the process of making the definitions included in the Bill, we have had to make such judgments, and it is right that they be open to scrutiny because they deal with important issues.
On the way in which lines have been drawn in the Bill, another important issue is that, increasingly in education—as in health—workers are being recruited from abroad. Does the Minister think that any of the Bill’s provisions will ensure scrutiny of people recruited into education or social services from outside this country?
The Bill makes no distinctions whatsoever in terms of the requirements for checking whether an applicant is a British or foreign national. However, we certainly have more to do in enabling employers, as far as we can, to access and check the criminal records of people in certain foreign countries. The Criminal Records Bureau already provides an information service—it is now an online service—for employers on how to do that. The CRB is working very closely with the countries that send the largest numbers of people to the education sector, and it is developing protocols where possible.
The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is right, however, to suggest that if some countries outside the EU—and outside the 21 with which we are developing protocols—provided us with a criminal record, we would be unsure how robust it was compared with criminal records here. For example, in certain countries such information is provided only if the person in question has served a prison sentence. We therefore have to think more carefully about the advice that we give employers in those circumstances. We clearly cannot control the criminal record procedures in far-flung countries, but we can give advice to employers here on what their position should best be if they are not sure that the criminal record information from a foreign country is adequate or complete. We will do further work on that very issue.
No, I do not think that that would be the case. The law will require, as it currently does, employers to assure themselves that people are fit for the jobs they are applying for, and one requirement is to check the criminal records of people wanting to work in close contact with children and—through this Bill—of those wanting to work with vulnerable adults. So that statutory duty to get adequate information would be paramount.
We were discussing controlled activity, which covers support work in general health, further education and social care. The guidance that we will issue communicating the requirements for engaging an individual in controlled activity will firmly state that extra safeguards will need to be put in place if an employer is considering employing a barred individual, and we will set out what those safeguards should be. They could include a longer probation period, extra supervision, and ensuring that the individual is never left alone in situations involving children or vulnerable adults.
The Minister touched on the issue of people who do controlled jobs, and on them receiving supervision. However, there is no provision in the Bill for any sanctions against people who do not properly supervise those in such positions. Is that an error of omission, or did the Government deliberately adopt the stance that no sanctions will be taken against employers who do not properly supervise their employees? Will the Minister elaborate a little on what the supervision mentioned would consist of?
That is an interesting point, which I think we will discuss further. In respect of an activity for which there is a duty to check but it is not illegal to employ a barred person, thus far the view has been that sanctions would be inappropriate. However, I have asked for further work to be done on that point, because we might want to look into whether there should be sanctions not only for the issue that the hon. Lady raises about the putting in place of safeguards, but for the duty to check even if a decision is made that a job offer is appropriate and can be managed. I would be happy to re-examine that in Committee.
We will set out in great detail in statutory guidance the extra safeguards that employers will be obliged to follow in such circumstances. Normally, the monitoring will be performed through the inspection processes that pertain in particular settings; that is how such matters will usually be regulated.
The third level of protection is where there is the ability to check barred status, but no requirement to do so. Where an individual is engaged in an activity offering specified close contact with children or vulnerable adults but they are employed by a domestic employer such as a parent, there is no duty on the parent to check the individual’s status in the scheme. However, for the first time, a parent will be able to check whether a prospective employee has been vetted, is subject to continuous monitoring, and therefore is not barred. The fact that a parent is able to check the status of their nanny, for example, is a significant improvement on current arrangements, and critical to increasing parents’ confidence in the individuals whom they employ to work with their children. However, while the duty to check does not apply in such situations, the bar still does. A barred individual seeking to do, or doing, any such work would be committing a criminal offence.
It will be very important that we communicate to parents not only the details of the scheme, but the new opportunities that they will have to check online somebody’s current status in the scheme. We are still considering the details of what I have acknowledged will have to be a very considerable communications plan, and we will discuss how best we can do that with stakeholders, children’s organisations and local authorities.
The ability to check online is not covered by the Bill, despite the fact that it was heavily trailed when the Bill was first announced. Will she explain how the Government intend to deal with some of the problems that people have experienced with online facilities in the US, where 11 American states experienced extreme problems with their security systems when they were compromised, leaving sex offenders able to change their own data online? Will the Minister outline the Government’s plans to ensure that we do not have the same problems in the UK?
There are security questions, which we have considered in great detail. Parents will be able to check, with the applicant’s permission, whether the person concerned is subject to continuous monitoring. That will be the relevant information. I understand that the language is rather tortuous, and we have to get around language problems for the communication plan, but if a person is in the scheme and is subject to continuous monitoring, it means by definition that they are not barred and that there is no known information about the individual that would cause them to be barred. They are therefore safe to employ, as far as we know. At that level of information, the security issues are much reduced and we think that we can manage them. As the hon. Lady says, the details will need to be explored more fully and we are currently in the process of doing so.
Someone such as a parent can look online to check the details of someone they are employing, but what if I am a neighbour with serious concerns and the parent has not taken the opportunity to check? Am I entitled to check up on someone living next door to me who may have access to my child, or will it be strictly employers only who can use the service?
This facility will not be open to all and sundry. The person who wants to check online has to have the consent of the individual who is seeking the job. That person will probably have a unique identifying number that will enable access to be made. We are looking into how the system will be accessed and certain things will have to be unlocked in order to do so. Again, it will require the consent of the applicant. It will not be possible for anyone not interested in employing another person to go fishing on the list in the manner suggested by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). As I was saying, a barred individual in this category would be committing an offence if he sought to do any work.
Following fruitful debate in the other place about the extent to which checks in certain situations should be mandatory or optional for vulnerable adults, we intend to introduce amendments in Committee to reduce the exemptions under clause 14.
Paragraphs 1 and 6 and 2 and 7 of schedule 2 allow for the automatic inclusion of individuals on the barred lists, following conviction or caution for a specified offence or order. The list of offences will be prescribed in regulations, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. An automatic bar, without the right to make representations, will result from the most serious sexual offences against the vulnerable group, such as the rape of a child in the case of a children’s list and sexual offences against those with a mental disorder in respect of the vulnerable adults list. The commission of such an offence in itself is clear evidence that the individual poses a manifest risk to children or vulnerable adults.
A further list of offences will also lead to an automatic bar, but with the individual retaining the right to make representations to prove, if they can, that they do not pose a risk of harm to vulnerable people and so should be removed from one or both lists. Examples of offences being considered for this category are those relating to trafficking children, prostitution and specific types of pornography.
My hesitation arises from the fact that the form of words in the Bill in relation to pornography is different for children and adults. We have given a commitment to table amendments to reconcile the references on pornography for both children and adults, but I certainly expect that the offences that relate to pornography, whatever their eventual written formulation, will be part of this category.
Paragraphs 3, 5, 8 and 10 of schedule 2 set out a discretionary route to barring for all other cases. Where the information suggests that a person’s behaviour has harmed a child or vulnerable adult or that they pose a risk of harm to them in future, the IBB will gather all the necessary information to consider the case. The IBB is under a duty to provide the individual with all the information that it intends to rely on in making that barring decision and to give them the opportunity to make representations about why they should not be included on the barred list. The IBB will then consider carefully, using its expertise, whether the person should be barred.
Paragraph 16 of schedule 2 will make provision for an individual to request a review of their inclusion on the list after a prescribed period of time. A review provides an opportunity to demonstrate that the individual no longer poses a risk to vulnerable groups and therefore that they should no longer be barred.
Clause 4 provides for appeals to the Care Standards Tribunal on a finding of fact made by the IBB or on a point of law following a barring decision. I reiterate that the spirit of co-operation that marked the debate on that issue in the other place enabled the provision to be refined, so that the transparency of the scheme as a whole has been enhanced.
In the critical role that the IBB and the CRB will play in keeping barring decisions updated—a fundamental change and improvement in the operation of the current systems—clauses 21 and 27 to 38 provide for the board to receive ongoing information from a wide range of sources. Not only will information come from the police, but the Bill will place duties on employers, on local authorities and on supervisory and regulatory bodies to provide information to the IBB in certain circumstances, as well as if and when the board requests it. The IBB will also exchange information with bodies such as the General Teaching Council and the General Medical Council.
Of course, in one respect, although the Bill is the culmination of long-term thinking on the strengthening of vetting and barring arrangements, it is also the beginning of the process of implementing the new scheme. We are working hard to finalise the design of the processes required by the scheme, drawing on the expertise of a large number of experts, as well as police and employer bodies and so on.
I hope that, by outlining the provisions of the Bill, I have made it clear that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is a top priority for all hon. Members. That sentiment was shared in the other place, and I think that it will be in the House. Indeed, several key improvements to the Bill that have been announced but not yet made will be introduced in Committee. We are committed to make the necessary improvements to the current arrangements for vetting and barring and to respond effectively to recommendation 19 of the Bichard inquiry and to establish a scheme, as I think the Bill does, in which parents, carers and the public can have confidence.
I stress, however, that any system is only as good as the people using it and that no Bill can take away from employers their ultimate responsibility for making safe appointments. We need to inculcate a safeguarding mindset and the understanding that the recruitment of people to work with children and vulnerable adults must be based on robust procedures, on meticulous practice and, in the end, on sound judgment at the point of recruitment.
Has my right hon. Friend considered the impact of implementing these proposals on the recruitment timetable? When people leave work, how long will it take to replace them? That is a problem at the moment, but if we rightly and properly extend the vetting procedure what will be the impact on staff, children and vulnerable adults?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. When the scheme is fully implemented and when employers have the ability to make checks online, it might take less time than it does at the moment to obtain the information required to make a safe judgment about people’s criminal convictions, about their behaviour and about any concerns that there may be. I know that there are stories of some problems in some areas but, by and large, the CRB is meeting high standards in terms of the turnaround times for both standard disclosures and enhanced disclosures. I am sure that that process will continue.
My hon. Friend is right to make that point. It reminds us that nothing can take away the responsibility of employers at that point to be assured themselves that they have all the information they require to make a safe appointment, and the information that they need to make a judgment.
The Minister has been generous in giving way. I entirely agree with what she has just said. Nothing can replace competent personal judgment. In too many cases, people have made unwise decisions; most people would have made different decisions in those situations. I ask her about one specific issue that stems from the Soham situation and relates to spouses or partners. Will there be any information in the IMPACT system or available to the board about records relating to spouses or partners? There are many occasions—Soham was one—where the spouse or partner of someone employed will also come into contact with the children in the school, on school outings or because they happen to be at an adjoining school. Therefore, any information that may relate to the partner or spouse may be of significance in reaching a judgment on whether to appoint another individual, whose own record may be unblemished, but whose presence in the school might bring the children into contact with someone they should not be in contact with.
I understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that point. It is a delicate issue, which we need to be careful about. There will be special situations in which not necessarily the spouse but, more broadly, the associates of a particular individual might be cause for concern. There may be intelligence on that, which the police feel it is appropriate to pass to the IBB in the event of a person entering the scheme and being monitored and all that information being collected. Therefore, there could be circumstances in which associates more generally are relevant to a particular job, but the police will have to make the decisions about when that information is relevant.
I refer the Minister to the point made by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) about recruitment. Many organisations recruit overseas. Have the Government made any specific IMPACT assessments of delays in recruitment from overseas? For example, a residential home in my constituency that recruits from the Philippines has experienced such delays. I am sure that there are potential problems.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I responded to an earlier point about overseas workers and foreign nationals coming here to work. I said that the Bill does not discriminate. Exactly the same checks have to be made about foreign nationals as are made about British nationals. However, we recognise that, from some countries, there are difficulties in employers obtaining either full records or assurances that they have a complete record of someone’s criminal history. We are giving further thought to the guidance that we need to give employers in that situation.
Although responsibility rests firmly in the procedures, practices and judgments of employers, the measures in the Bill will help them by establishing a much more comprehensive but simpler system for them to use. It will greatly improve safeguards for children and vulnerable adults, not least by constantly monitoring those who work with them. The Bill constitutes a step change that measures up to the high demands that Bichard rightly made of us in his report, so I commend it to the House.
The most fundamental role of Government is to help to ensure the safety of their citizens, so it is of deep concern to parents, teachers and other professionals who work with children and other vulnerable groups that sometimes the procedures and practices that the Government put in place can seem wholly inadequate.
When the Minister presented the Bill, she rightly said that its background is painfully lodged in our memories, with the tragic murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. But that is only part of the story that we cannot forget as we start our consideration of the Bill: each year, 500,000 older people are abused and 1,400 adults with learning disabilities are the victims of sexual abuse. It is a startling situation that graphically illustrates the need for fundamental change.
The Government appear to be good at passing laws and regulations but, on occasion, less good at ensuring that they can be implemented and followed through in detail.
Is the hon. Lady aware that sometimes the problem with regard to vulnerable adults and elderly people is that they are reluctant to report abuse, especially if the abuser is a member of their family or a neighbour, but even if it has taken place in an institutional setting? We cannot legislate to force them to report an abuser, so how would she ensure that people being abused feel confident enough to come forward so that they can be part of the process and protected?
The hon. Lady makes a good point: we cannot force people to report those who may be committing offences against them. That is why it is imperative that there is a robust process to ensure that people working with vulnerable adults or children are vetted sufficiently in advance, and we shall be pressing further to make sure that that is the case.
The Government are good at passing laws but not perhaps always as good at implementing them and looking at the details. In January, the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills was forced to issue emergency changes to procedures after it had been exposed that convicted sex offenders were being given permission to work in schools. She said that she could give the public an
“absolute assurance that the process is as robust as possible to ensure that the risk to children is minimised”.—[Official Report, 19 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 978.]
Yet we have heard today that the Government’s own research shows that 90 per cent. of schools ignore the scheme that the Government set up four years ago to help to stop paedophiles working as supply teachers. Indeed, last week, the Commission for Social Care Inspection exposed widespread failure to vet staff who work with some of our most vulnerable people: 43 per cent. of children’s homes fail to use safe vetting procedures for staff, as do 65 per cent. of adoption agencies and 49 per cent. of care homes for young adults with physical or mental health problems. Those figures show that the problem is widespread.
The embargoed Ofsted report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) referred in a point of order, identifies widespread confusion in schools about who has responsibility for vetting staff and others who may come into contact with children. Surely that will fuel further concerns that the vetting systems in our schools, as they stand, are wholly unreliable.
Does the hon. Lady accept that it is premature of her to make such a sweeping statement—certainly given that she has not seen the Ofsted report—and to say that vetting procedures in schools are wholly inadequate? I want to check that she understands that, although there is a kite mark scheme for supply agencies, it is a voluntary scheme. All supply agencies have their procedures regulated by the same regulations and exactly the same standard is required. Whether schools choose to use a kite-marked agency should not make any difference to the rigour with which supply agencies carry out their duties.
I am pleased to say that members of the press feel that it is important that Her Majesty’s Opposition have copies of reports that are pertinent to the debate and that I have been able to read the Ofsted report. I feel that the comments that I made are entirely—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe that “Erskine May” specifically states that no Member of the House can use a document that is not available to other Members. The Ofsted report is embargoed until one minute past midnight. The hon. Lady is using information that is not available to Members.
Thank you for that clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am astounded that it would be felt at all appropriate to have a debate without using all the information available. It is most important that we get things right and that we do not put any information into the background. We need to make sure that we are looking at the full facts of the matter.
Does the hon. Lady accept that part of the reason why we know how many employers are not following the appropriate checks, and why that information is in the public domain, is because the inspection services are reporting that back and requiring providers to carry out those checks? The Care Standards Act 2000, which the Government enacted, brought in such requirements. Previously, those requirements were not in place and many care homes and schools were not checking, but now, thanks to the inspectorate, they are in place and are being rigorously pursued.
That is an excellent point and the hon. Lady is right to say that it is important that we know the figures. My point is that the problem is widespread. The lack of enforcement of vetting is not exclusively a problem in schools. It is also a problem in care homes, adoption agencies and all the other organisations that I listed, which makes me feel that the procedures themselves need some consideration because they are so widely flouted.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is still the time that it takes to get information back from the Criminal Records Bureau? We hope that the procedures that are being put in place will not mean that getting a job stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s is preferable to working in a care home because it takes four or five weeks to get a response from the Criminal Records Bureau.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we are talking about the accuracy of reporting? Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, Maurice Smith, says:
“Schools and authorities must keep up-to-date and reliable records to prove that the necessary checks … have been carried out.”
That is done quite often. However, the problem is not whether the checks are carried out, but that schools do not keep a record of such checks to demonstrate that the safeguarding of children is secure. The haphazard recording system used in schools is thus a problem. Some 58 schools have been surveyed and their records were “very patchy”.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and raising the broader issue that we cannot view vetting and barring in isolation. They must be viewed in the context of where they are put in place. Whether in schools or care homes, the systems must be workable and cannot be viewed in isolation.
The House might find it useful to know that, as an ex-care standards inspector, I am well aware of the delays that can be caused in the Criminal Records Bureau. The care standards inspectorate bends over backwards to be supportive. There is a system in place that allows a home to take on a member of staff before a new criminal records check has been carried out, if such a check has been completed in the past, as long as that member of staff is not allowed unsupervised access to vulnerable people. If a person has had a check, which might be a matter of weeks, months or even a year out of date, that person can still work, provided that he or she does not have sole responsibility for providing unmonitored and unsupervised care to a vulnerable person. The system allows people working in the care profession to move between jobs and thus not lose opportunities to work. It also enables employers to take people on. The only time that such a system is not in place is when a person comes into the profession for the first time.
The hon. Lady has a great deal of experience in this area and makes a valuable contribution to our debate. I hope that she will serve on the Committee, because it is by teasing out such details that we will make the Bill better and work more practically.
We can never completely protect children and vulnerable people from the possibility of abuse or attack. Our concern is that, in the preparation of the Bill, the Government have listed yet more processes and procedures, but have not made those that are in place work properly. The Bill fails to consider the basic practicalities of implementing an effective vetting system. I want to work with the Government to identify such problems and will try to address them by tabling amendments in Committee. We should ensure that the possible shortcomings in the Bill do not remain as such. I bring three specific matters to the attention of the House.
The concept behind the Bill is that everyone who works with vulnerable groups or children should be monitored to prevent abuse, instead of merely waiting for problems to arise. One of the main aspects of the Bill is the establishment of the independent barring board. The Bill is complex, so I would welcome the clarification of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), about these matters. It appears that the key role of the IBB will be to hold barred lists for children and vulnerable adults and to hear appeals from people who feel that they should not be on those lists. More detail might be planned, but I have summarised the key provisions in the Bill. When the Minister replies to the debate, will he tell us who will be responsible for monitoring the people who put themselves forward to be monitored? Who will deal with the soft data that anyone in the country will be able to send in as evidence of individuals’ inappropriateness to work with vulnerable adults or children? Who will monitor the database and decide whether individuals should be considered for barring as a result of such soft data?
There is little specific provision in the Bill on the monitoring role of the IBB, even though a strong case can be made that monitoring and barring are part of the same process and that, if the IBB is to be effective in its barring role, it must play an effective part in the monitoring process or, indeed, be responsible for that process. How the monitoring database will work is unclear. The IBB has a tremendous role to play in supporting safer employment practices in a broader fashion than is currently articulated in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will share his thoughts on that.
I hope that we will also hear more detail on how the IBB will reach its decisions. Nothing in the Bill specifies how the IBB will do that. Issuing a code of practice to ensure greater transparency was discussed in the other place, but there is nothing on the face of the Bill.
Finally, the IBB’s accountability to Parliament should be clarified. It will be an important body dealing with highly sensitive issues and I feel strongly that we should ensure that it is accountable to Parliament, not a Minister. There is an opportunity to broaden the IBB’s role to make it work much more effectively in providing safer employment practices for people working with vulnerable groups.
My second point has already been touched on. Concerns were expressed about overseas workers in the post-Bichard consultation, so it is surprising that they have not been picked up and fully addressed in the Bill. In February, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant wrote to the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills asking for assurances in respect of overseas workers in schools, but we have not yet received a reply. Is the DFES still considering its views on the issue? Earlier, the Minister for Children and Families said that she felt that further discussion would be beneficial.
It is worth bringing the scale of the issue to the attention of the House to show that it is not a peripheral matter. Growing numbers of overseas workers work in the key sectors that deal with vulnerable groups and children. Almost one in five nurses and one in three medical practitioners come from overseas. Some 18 per cent. of social workers and 15 per cent. of care assistants, who work with some of our most vulnerable people in almost domestic settings, come from overseas. We are therefore talking about a large number of people, yet the Bill contains no provisions on how to deal with them. It is important that the matter is discussed further in Committee and is not put to one side.
The majority of overseas workers who come to this country come from countries in Africa and Asia and from India, which do not necessarily have similar recording systems to ours for criminal activities, so it is difficult for us to access data from them. When the Bill was debated in the other place, Lord Adonis said that the matter could be covered through regulations, but that fails to grasp the issue. We need to make sure that employers know how to deal with overseas employees and that they understand that a different approach is needed. The Bill must provide a robust mechanism for dealing with that group of workers. My hon. Friends and I will table amendments that require specific activities on the part of employers who employ overseas workers—for example, pre- and post-appointment checks to ensure that any issues are properly covered. This is not a unique problem. There are other professional organisations that have to deal daily with professionals who are coming into the country to work. They have found processes to be able to deal with this and it is important that we do too.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which was raised earlier. It is important that we ensure that, however people come into employment, there is a robust process in place to scrutinise their background and appropriateness for the job for which they have applied.
There is a third area in the Bill where we would benefit from further detail. In his report, Sir Michael Bichard said that effective vetting depended on information, much of which inevitably comes from the police. At present, the only provision in the Bill on data collection is that it can be outsourced by the independent barring board to the Criminal Records Bureau.
Data is the IBB’s lifeblood. It has been at the root of many of the concerns in the reports produced in recent years by Sir Michael Bichard, Chris Kelly and Ronnie Flanagan. To be effective, IBB data must be of the highest quality. Those who are monitored need to have confidence in the way in which the data are collected, stored and updated. The IBB needs to have a quality control role on data, which it does not have at present given the way in which the Bill is constructed.
That is particularly important when we consider the scale of changes that are happening to data collection, particularly in respect of the police. Hon. Members will be aware that the CRB has been criticised widely in the press for wrongly categorising 3,000 people as criminals since it was set up two years ago. That is a concern and I know the CRB that has been working on it. Given the volume of applications that it works with, it is perhaps in some ways inevitable.
In terms of the data that the IBB will be dealing with, who will be weeding soft data? Many of the advances in the Bill concern the fact that the IBB can accept soft data that is not necessarily connected with a conviction or caution. Yet there is little clarity in the Bill about how that data will be dealt with, especially when perhaps soft data that are received are not felt to be information required to be kept on a person’s record.
Who will monitor the reliability of the new PLX––police local cross-check––system, which is the police flagging system to which reference has been made? It is new and I have heard that it has questionable reliability at times.
Finally, on data collection, there will be a new procedure for courts, rather than the police, to update criminal records. This is a big change. We all know that our courts systems are overloaded and that there is great time pressure. It will be important to ensure that, in giving a new responsibility to the courts, they can undertake the updates in a timely manner. Given all these changes, it is important that the IBB has a role in ensuring that the changes are appropriate and that they are introduced speedily. Ultimately, it must have confidence in the data with which it is dealing.
On CRB checks, I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees that it is important that the CRB always errs on the side of caution. Last year alone, it interrupted about 25,000 people who may well have ended up working in areas where they should not have been by being thorough in its checks.
The Minister makes a good point. It is important that the CRB errs on the side of caution. It has been effective in ensuring that people who are inappropriate do not work with children and vulnerable adults. However, 3,000 people found it difficult to gain employment, because their records had been erroneously marked as containing a criminal element. The IBB must deal with that and act as a quality control to ensure that the Criminal Records Bureau does everything that it can to tighten its procedures so that instead of a 0.03 per cent. failure rate it has a zero rate, otherwise people’s confidence in records will be undermined. Those are important points of detail but, unfortunately, the Bill does not deal with them.
That is a good question. I believe that an amendment was tabled in the Lords on damages for malicious claims against an individual, but the Bill is unclear about people who suffer serious losses as a result of errors in the record system. We will therefore advocate a broader role for the IBB in Committee to ensure that data are of acceptable quality and that the present situation does not continue. If data are not sufficiently robust, that will undermine the organisation’s reputation, and it is imperative that that does not happen if the system is to work.
The problems that the Government have experienced with IT systems are not unique—that picture, however, is sometimes painted by the media—as many organisations find it difficult to set up large databases and maintain their accuracy. Will the Minister therefore update the House on the IT systems that the Government plan to use for the monitoring database and tell us when it will be ready? What is the effect of the three-year delay of the implementation of the new IMPACT police intelligence database on the Bill, and who will fund the £200 million increase in the costs of that project? I have already voiced concerns about online capability, which was heavily trailed in the media, so will he explain how we can avoid the problems experienced in the US?
We are indebted to the Lords for their important amendments, which ensure that there is a better read-across between the two lists in the Bill. They have addressed points of detail, thus making significant improvements to the way in which the Bill works, and I congratulate my noble Friend Baroness Buscombe in particular on the amendments that she tabled. Further work is needed on other parts of the Bill, particularly its terminology. The Minister will not be surprised to hear me say so, because the issue has been raised by almost every interest group that has contacted me. Indeed, it is included in the embargoed Ofsted report, which he will doubtless read at 12.01 am.
The Bill relies on employers and organisations understanding their responsibilities, but they may not have access to a legal team such as the one available to the Government to help them understand its nuances. Indeed, Lord Adonis has sent out a raft of notes—I have collected them in a large file—to try to explain some of the terms in the Bill. We must take the opportunity in Committee to ensure that the Bill does not remain in its present form, and that those terms are clearly articulated.
Indeed, as a basic principle, who needs to be monitored? The Bill refers to occasional and frequent contact. The meaning of those terms was discussed in the Lords, and the Minister spoke of occasional contact as less than one contact a month or contact on no more than five days in a row. The Minister of State gave us an assurance that no sex offenders could work in schools again, as a result of the measures that she put in place, yet the loophole in the definition of monitoring potentially allows organisations to run five-day half-term clubs in schools, employing people who are not monitored under the scheme. It is important that we deal with such a serious loophole and iron out the definitions in Committee.
What does it take for someone to be reported to the IBB for barring? The Bill clearly outlines four types of behaviour, but it is still uncertain what the threshold for reporting is. At one level of reporting, someone may feel that an individual may harm a child, or an employer may think that a person has done something that would lead to them being barred. More certainty about these terms is needed if we are not to leave employers in difficulty. I endorse the Minister’s view that it is important for employers to take responsibility for their actions, but it is equally important for the Government not to couch the terms in such vagueness. We need certainty in the Bill. To some extent, it is lack of certainty that has led us to where we are today.
Under the Bill, a barred person can work in a controlled job under supervision, but as I pointed out earlier, there is no offence relating to supervision and no detail about what supervision means. We are creating a morass of vague terms for others to interpret, and that is not acceptable in an area where vagueness has created so many problems in the past. Organisations will need an army of lawyers to unpick what is meant by the Bill. It is important that we deal with these issues to help those who will have to implement the measure.
I agree with most of what the hon. Lady has been saying and sympathise with her comments about the vagueness of the definitions in the Bill. However, is she not concerned that if we create more and more criminal offences, we might create even more problems than we started with?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and for her support. It is not my intention to create more criminal offences. I am trying to show what would happen if we retained so many vague terms. At best, we would create confusion and, at worst, jobs for lawyers trying to unpick the legislation. If it is difficult for us to pin the language down, it will be much more so for those in the workplace who confront these issues.
It is for the Minister to provide that, rather than asking the official Opposition to do the work. If he wishes to involve me in that discussion, I am more than happy to take part.
Other aspects of the Bill require further consideration, but time is too limited to go through them today. In Committee, we will return to direct payments, as well as to the continued exclusion of the Prison Service and the probation service from monitoring under the scheme. That was discussed in the Lords, but there was a less than clear answer as to whether, over time, those services would be covered by the Bill. I am particularly concerned about that given that 90 per cent. of young offenders suffer from mental health disorders—we are dealing with vulnerable group of people.
Along with many other Bills considered in this House in recent years, this Bill relies heavily on secondary legislation. We are seeing increasingly hollow Bills that lack detail, yet we are supposed to debate them in great detail and put them on to the statute book. This issue is highly charged and the Bill benefited greatly from the debate in the other place. I hope that the Minister will confirm in his response that as many affirmative orders as possible will be used to deal with the detail of the debate. It is important that the issues are debated and that the legislation is not pushed on to the statute book without debate.
The scale of the change contained in the Bill must not be underestimated and a balance needs to be struck, because we rely on dedicated workers to work with children and vulnerable adults and cannot allow the legislation to discourage them. The measures in the Bill are not a slight on those workers’ professionalism or commitment, and the Bill should not be viewed as a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads—on the contrary, the Bill should improve the situation and protect those with whom they work. That point is important, because men in particular are being disincentivised from working with children and vulnerable adults—for example, the number of male teachers in our schools is declining. It is important that we correctly communicate the provisions of the Bill, so that it does not fuel further concerns and deter people from involving themselves in such important work. I am also concerned that employers are not deterred from offering work experience. I know that that issue was debated in another place, but further clarification would be useful.
When the current Home Secretary issued the third Bichard review less than one month ago, he said:
“The safeguarding agenda is becoming increasingly coherent”.
Indeed, the report states:
“Real progress is being made and…working practices are being changed…Existing employment vetting procedures continue to be strengthened via the CRB”.
The evidence of what is happening on the ground suggests that the Home Secretary’s analysis is, at best, somewhat optimistic. I will not quote the Ofsted report again, but I ask the Government to consider some of its recommendations, because Ofsted, too, thinks that the Home Secretary’s position is a little optimistic.
There is no room for complacency. We support the Bill and hope that we can work with the Government to make sure that it is better fit to protect those vulnerable adults and children who badly need support.
I am pleased to participate in the debate and wholeheartedly support this excellent legislation.
I recall a long and detailed debate in the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Care Standards Act 2000. That landmark legislation introduced for the first time new inspection and registration procedures to safeguard the most vulnerable groups in our society. This Bill builds on the 2000 Act, and I am pleased that the Government have such a proud record in this area.
I recognise the Government’s significant moves to improve the Bill, which represents an important step forward in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, including people with learning disabilities, from abuse. I particularly welcome the change that will ensure that the independent barring board examines all information received about an individual and considers whether an individual should be included on each of the barred lists. I believe that the link between the two lists is crucial and that this will give all vulnerable groups a greater degree of protection from abuse. Katharine Jeary and Olive Stevenson at the Ann Craft Trust have carried out research backing that up, which shows that one in five people who sexually abused older people had also sexually abused children. Abuse is about power, not age.
I feel reassured by the Minister’s confirmation in the Lords debates that the Bill’s use of the word “harm” includes harm by omission, which covers neglect or failure to act, and that the Government guidance issued to local authorities and other bodies will be explicit about acts of omission, as well as commission.
Much of the coverage of this debate has focused on safeguarding children in schools. I will turn later to a particularly vulnerable group of young people, but I should like at this stage to focus on vulnerable adults—by whom I mean vulnerable adults in the usual social care sense as opposed to the much wider definition in the Bill, which would cover every Member of this House at one time or another.
Charities such as Respond and Voice UK with helplines for people with learning disabilities who have been abused assure me that they receive calls every week from families, carers or people with learning disabilities who are worried about abuse. All too often, those concerns, whether they relate to sexual, financial or physical abuse, are about those who are employed to care for them. We must do our utmost to ensure that unsuitable people do not work with some of the most vulnerable groups in society, but we must also respect and protect everyone’s independence and choice.
It is vital to communicate the vetting and barring scheme that the Bill establishes. Further to my earlier intervention, I would be interested to hear what the Government have planned in that respect. I am thinking in particular of the many small independent residential care homes which have no big human resources department and limited knowledge of new laws. We must bear them in mind, as they will be under the same obligations as bigger companies. Of course, abuse of children and vulnerable adults can happen in any home, no matter what size it is.
I welcome the Government’s promise to issue guidance to carers of people who lack capacity, so that it is expected that they will check those people who provide services in the home. It will be useful for those carers to be able to say, “The Government expect me to do these checks”, to someone coming into their home caring for a family member who lacks capacity. It will not be as awkward for them to have to make the checks because they will have been informed that that is what the Government expect of them.
I remain concerned about the fact that all posts in day centres will not be covered by the bar, and about risk assessment. Employers must be able to prove that they have considered relevant risks and documented any action that they have taken to minimise them. There are excellent employers out there who will take every possible step to safeguard their clients from abuse, but there are also employers who are under pressure, short-staffed, and perhaps not quite as aware of the risks. The Commission for Social Care Inspection should be able to inspect employers on risk assessments that they carry out when they decide to appoint a banned person into a less hands-on post. Only last week, we read that the commission has released findings from its report, “Safe and Sound”, revealing that care homes and other social care services failed consistently to apply safe vetting procedures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) said, we should be pleased that the Commission for Social Care Inspection is an organisation, which was set up under the Care Standards Act 2000, that goes into establishments so that we can benefit from its findings and learn from it.
The research states that only 57 per cent. of children’s homes, 35 per cent. of adoption agencies and 61 per cent. of residential care homes for younger adults, such as people with learning disabilities, met the minimum standard required. We must find out why those employers fail those whom they are there to support and safeguard from abuse. I sincerely hope that the Bill will go some way towards tackling that, making it more straightforward for employers to perform checks and for tough sanctions to be applied when they do not.
The Bill lists several establishments in which the bar covers all posts. They include schools—as we would expect—children’s hospitals, children’s homes and residential care homes for vulnerable adults. The latter is the only establishment for adults that the Bill treats in that way. I am concerned that day centres are not treated in the same way. Many people with learning disabilities attend day centres as part of their weekly routine. Whatever people’s feelings about them, day centres are used by many people throughout the country. I am worried that people who are on the barred list will be allowed to work as cooks, cleaners and in administrative positions in day centres. They could work in positions of trust where, especially in smaller day centres, they help vulnerable adults every day.
I know that the Government are worried that it would be disproportionate to cover every setting in which a day centre may meet, for example, a church hall. The last thing I want to do is suggest that we should stop some of the amazing and fulfilling activities for vulnerable adults in existing settings. However, I would be interested in any amendment that the Government could table to introduce sensible changes to rules about day centres that cover formal day centre settings.
I want to make some observations about a specific group of young people. I am not sure whether the measure covers them and I would therefore like some clarification from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) in his winding-up speech.
In a statement on 19 January, the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills said:
“Nothing matters to parents more than the safety of their children”.—[Official Report, 19 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 966.]
As Chair of the newly-established all-party group on Army deaths, I work closely with families who have suffered the loss or ill treatment of children at military barracks at Deepcut, Catterick and elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom and overseas. I am acutely aware of the pain and anger that arises from the suspicion that those with responsibility for the care of children fail to protect young recruits from sexual abuse.
In his review of the tragic deaths at Deepcut barracks, Nicholas Blake QC found:
“The system for selecting and vetting instructors, and other members of the permanent staff, for training posts, reporting on their progress and recording concerns that reflect their suitability to perform such a challenging task appears, to the Review, to be in need of revision and improvement.”
At the close of the review, recommendation 12 states:
“Instructors should be vetted for their suitability to work with young people, applying standards that are no less rigorous than those applied to civilian establishments educating or training people under 18.”
I welcome the Bill’s intention to provide proper arrangements for vetting those working with children and barring those who are unsuitable. Family members of the Deepcut and Beyond group believe that we need a system in which child protection comes first, and that nothing about the particular nature of the military environment should contradict that principle. It must be a rigorous system, which draws on the best expert advice. There must be absolute clarity about who does what. The system must command public confidence and be accountable.
Incidents of child abuse cases in schools and the outcry about staff not receiving enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks concern all parents. However, Deepcut and Beyond families point out that that problem also exists in military training establishments. Non-commissioned officers and civilian staff do not have Criminal Records Bureau disclosures of any kind.
Mrs. Lynn Farr, whose son, Private Daniel Farr died at the age of 18 at Catterick, has been told by senior officers at the barracks that CRB disclosures are not required because the recruits are in full-time employment. Those young people are in training. They are being supervised by trainers, most of whom are NCOs. Some trainees are taking NVQs. Surely, Mrs. Farr argues, that must put Army recruits in a position that is analogous to young people working on modern apprenticeships. If those young people were working full-time in civilian life and attending college, as is the case with modern apprenticeships, all the training staff and assessors would be CRB cleared to an enhanced level.
For the first few weeks on phase 1 training, young people are at their most vulnerable. They are away from home—in some cases, for the first time—and they have a genuine culture shock. Yet, despite the susceptibility of recruits, the trainers and staff involved with them have no CRB clearance of any kind.
The Government place a high priority on “staying safe” and make it one of the five thematic outcomes of “Every Child Matters”. Although some recruits may fall outside the target group of children and young people aged between 0 to 19 years, it is already recognised that, when there are special or additional needs, the age range of the at-risk group may extend to 25 years. The closed nature of the military environment, the strict disciplinary regime and the absence of parental oversight make young soldiers especially vulnerable to the attention of sexual predators.
Deepcut and Beyond families point to the conviction in August 2003 of former Lance Corporal and serial abuser Leslie Skinner, who was initially charged with male rape and later convicted of multiple charges of indecent assault committed while employed as an NCO trainer at Deepcut barracks in 1996 and 1997. Officers from Surrey police gave evidence to the Defence Committee’s inquiry into duty of care that Leslie Skinner had previously been convicted of a sexual offence in Northern Ireland, demoted and transferred by a military court. He was able to obtain employment as a trainer at Deepcut barracks without being subject to any background checks.
Officers also testified that, while Skinner used his rank to secure compliance from young recruits, none of the 13 complainants had sufficient confidence to utilise the chain of command or any of the then existing mechanisms to register a complaint about their abuse.
In my capacity as Chair of the all-party group on Army deaths, I wrote to the then Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig)—I am standing next to two Welsh Members and I am sure that they will tell me off for my pronunciation of my hon. Friend’s constituency. I wrote to my hon. Friend on 13 February. He replied on 9 March that
“you are correct that under the Criminal Justice and Court Service Act 2000, CRB checks cannot currently be carried out on Armed Forces personnel supervising or training young recruits, in particular 16 and 17 year olds, because the recruits are in full time employment… We are therefore working, as a matter of urgency, with DfES and the Home Office on new legislation that would allow employers greater flexibility in carrying out CRB checks on employees in the future.”
In his winding-up speech, will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary give me an assurance that there is no exercise of Crown immunity in relation to the Bill? Will he tell the House what steps have been taken to ensure that young service recruits are equally protected by law?
The Department for Education and Skills has written to all schools setting out how the checking system will work, and informing them of the change to mandatory Criminal Records Bureau checks. The Home Secretary has written to all chief constables, chief officers of probation and youth justice boards to restate how the present system works, how it will change, and what priorities are involved. Will the Under-Secretary work with the armed forces Minister to ensure that all commanding officers at military training establishments are also made aware of the strengthened protection that should be available to young recruits? In monitoring the implementation of the legislation, will the Under-Secretary also undertake to assist the Ministry of Defence in ensuring that all staff who will be part of the vetting process receive appropriate training, support and advice on child protection issues?
The Army has learned lessons as a result of the tragic deaths at Deepcut and elsewhere. Having the will to address the issues of harassment and bullying honestly and without embarrassment is the first step towards creating an environment free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. We have learned to our cost that voluntary compliance and good will need to be strengthened through legal enforcement.
We need to get the balance right between adopting a witch hunt mentality and not showing due care and attention in recognising people who are unsuitable and unfit to work with children and/or vulnerable adults, including vulnerable elderly people. We also need to strike a balance between the need to protect children and vulnerable adults and the needs of employers to keep vital education, training and social care services running without getting bogged down in bureaucracy and delay. The Bill does get that balance right, but it will be essential to ensure that the new system is properly resourced, that the independent barring board is adequately staffed and, above all, that those who should know about its work do know about its work, so that the vulnerable people whom we are here to protect can be properly protected.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) on raising those important points about military training establishments. I, too, look forward to hearing the replies from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). I also thank the Minister for Children and Families for her clear explanation of the Bill.
I welcome the Bill, and I should like to place on record the Liberal Democrats’ broad support for the measures that it proposes. It is vital that we increase the protection of the most vulnerable members of our society. I should declare that I have not had the advantage of seeing the embargoed Ofsted report, so I shall be unable to comment on it in my speech.
Reaching this point today seems to have involved an extraordinarily long process, following the tragedies in Soham and the subsequent Bichard inquiry and its recommendations. The former Secretary of State for Education and Skills made statements to the House on 12 and 19 January, while stories in the press centred on cases in which it was revealed that Ministers had made decisions that certain individuals should not be placed on list 99. One of the cases was in Bournemouth, so there was inevitably a great deal of press coverage in my local area. As I reflect on that media frenzy, it seems clear that the outcome of this legislation must be a system in which the public can have confidence.
The then Secretary of State recognised the necessity for specialist advice for herself in this area, as well as the need for training at all levels—for example, for school governing bodies when making appointments. The proposals for an independent barring board are generally welcome. Its independence, and the fact that Ministers will not be involved in discretionary decisions made by the board, are also welcome and reflect a fundamental change from the present system. The need for widespread relevant training and, even more, for a whole culture of vigilance regarding risks to children and vulnerable adults are vital if we are truly to improve protection.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has made the point that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and that was endorsed by the Minister today. Everyone needs to work with that in mind. Age Concern England has stated that public awareness initiatives will be important in informing the public of the existence of the new processes. It is shocking to read examples of the abuse perpetrated day after day on children, older people and those with learning and other disabilities. Some of the examples in the Help the Aged briefing include financial and physical abuse, and remind us of the extent to which many types of abuse remain unreported and undocumented. Campaigns by the NSPCC to encourage children to speak out, and reports from ChildLine, underline the need for vigilance.
I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Voice UK, which aims to bring to the attention of Members of both Houses of Parliament the needs of people with learning disabilities who have experienced crime or abuse, and to discuss redress and reform. We would certainly welcome any Members who wish to join our discussions. I recognise that the Bill does not cover family and personal relationships, but I hope that it will contribute to real changes in our society. To that end, I look forward to working on it on a constructive cross-party basis.
It was ironic that when the then Secretary of State was placed under such pressure earlier this year, consultation on these new proposals was already well under way. However, time is passing, and I would like the Under-Secretary to give us an updated timeline for the projected introduction of all the proposed measures, and tell us how any interim measures will impact on recruitment for September.
The Minister for Children and Families confirmed earlier that Criminal Records Bureau checks are now mandatory for all newly appointed members of the school work force. I welcome that move, as it is long overdue. Will the Under-Secretary clarify whether work will be allowed to commence pending the completion of a CRB check? In response to a parliamentary question on this issue, I was told that in 2005 the average time for an enhanced disclosure was 31.5 days.
I am worried that a possible upsurge in demand for checks will mean that schools could face difficulties with late teacher appointments. At the very least, clarity is needed, along with a statement on the capacity of the CRB to deal with the checks. I well recall the fiasco when the Government had to retract their requirement for CRB checks for teachers when they were first introduced several years ago, and I am a little worried that we might be heading down that route again as a result of this very welcome initiative. Has sufficient provision been put in place for the CRB? What action will the Under-Secretary take to ensure that it will have sufficient capacity for its enhanced functions as the new procedures are put in place? It will certainly be required to do a great deal more than it does now. It has already been pointed out that the CRB has made some dreadful mistakes, and we shall need to reflect on this matter in Committee.
I should also like to comment on what appears to have been some very successful cross-party working in the other place, and to put on record our thanks to Lord Adonis, the Minister there, who was so responsive to the discussions that took place at all stages. Perhaps we can look forward to similar responsiveness in this House as we probe some of the outstanding issues, mainly on detail. I have to confess, however, that if that were to be the case, it would be an agreeable surprise.
This is the fourth Bill with which I have been involved in this Session. Ministers have come and gone, but I welcome the new Under-Secretary to his position. I also thank him for his recent courtesy in meeting me, and others involved with the Bill—[Interruption.] I can hear by the response from Members on the official Opposition Benches that they agree that the success of Opposition parties in persuading the Government to accept amendments has been rather limited, to put it mildly.
From a sedentary position, I am getting some support on that point. However, we are optimistic that we will secure some important amendments.
As with the other Bills I have served on, there is great reliance on future regulations and the issuing of guidance. I welcome the information notes already published, but inevitably, there are outstanding concerns about many of the issues covered, further areas of promised guidance and questions as to why certain matters cannot be included in the Bill. I concur entirely with the way in which the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) expressed those concerns.
There will be a great deal of detail to cover in Committee, so for now, I too would like to highlight concerns in a number of key areas. First, I want to consider the principle relating to the creation of the lists and the operation of the IBB. As we have heard, the Bill originally proposed two quite separate lists—one for people who pose a risk to adults and one for people who pose a risk to children. However, in the light of the important evidence supplied by the Ann Craft Trust that one in five of those who sexually abused older people had also sexually abused children, I was pleased that the Government proposed an amendment that the IBB should have an automatic duty to consider someone for both lists. I am not sure whether the amendment adds up to automatic cross-referencing. We will have to tease that out.
As we know, there are four types of behaviour that may or may not, or must, require inclusion on the barred list. Those include cases where there has been a caution or a conviction, which may result in automatic inclusion, or inclusion subject to representation, and those where there is not a conviction or a caution, but the basis is behaviour and risk of harm.
Specifying the precise types of behaviour that will result in automatic inclusion and inclusion subject to consideration of representations is reserved for secondary legislation. Concern has been expressed that automatic inclusion will not allow any representation to be made, and is exempt from the appeal process in clause 4. Liberty suggests that the absolute nature of the bar might raise issues under the European convention on human rights. I shall be interested in the Minister’s comments on that.
There are two issues here, which have a compound effect that concerns me: the automatic bar without representation and the limited parliamentary scrutiny offered to us of which offences will be included on the respective lists. I understand that the proposed list of offences will not be amendable, even through the affirmative resolution procedure. At some time, we shall therefore have to vote for or against a whole list. As we are all so concerned about the issues, it is clear that we would have to vote for the whole list even if we were worried about one or two offences on it. That, together with the lack of a right of appeal on the automatic bar, gives me cause for concern.
On the other types of behaviour that can lead to an entry on the barred list, the IBB will have greater discretion. That is clearly appropriate, but as we have heard before, it relies on soft information. There is a balance between information that should be passed on and that which perhaps should not. In the Ian Huntley case, data had not been stored. Obviously, we can look back on the tragedy of that information not being passed on, and something not being picked up that should have been. On the other hand, should we pass on, for example, information about a teacher which might clearly be established as malicious, or is it up to the IBB to do the sifting or weeding—or whichever term hon. Members want to use?
It is important to establish the procedures. Who should be passing information on to the IBB? The police and social services, we assume. Will there be a duty on public offices to inform the IBB of revocation of appointeeship or attorneyship due to abuse? There are a lot of issues to consider.
With reference to risk of harm, there are clearly issues about the precise criteria, and I am pleased that the Government are committed to publishing guidance in this area, but will the IBB publish any criteria that it establishes, thus ensuring transparency, openness and clarity, and also reference to any risk assessment model that it uses?
We welcome the Government amendment that widened the right of appeal beyond a point of law to include the ability to appeal on the finding of fact. I am not clear whether an appeal to the tribunal may be made on the basis of facts not available to the IBB at the time of the original decision. I would be grateful for clarification.
Like other Members, I am concerned about the lack of definitions of certain terms in the Bill. The four obvious ones are “frequent”, “occasional”, “harm” and “incidental”. I want to refer to the Government’s information note 1(iv), as I find some of the sentences there quite the reverse of reassuring. One states:
“The approach that has been adopted in relation to these expressions is that they will take their normal meaning…Broadly speaking we believe that the terms should be interpreted in the following ways…we broadly consider anything more than once a month or any contract that lasts longer than a week to be ‘frequent’”.
That is very imprecise and, I suggest, difficult to apply. I quite understand the need for flexibility, but this could lead to serious consequences.
We have already heard of the example of the short-term play scheme, perhaps operating for five days. I might ask the Minister for Children and Families, while she is still here, about a crèche that operates for less than two hours a day, perhaps on four successive days. I would be concerned about what could happen over that period. I am sorry to have made that particular point, but as people know, I have a concern about crèches that operate for less than two hours a day.
Moving on to the definition of “harm”, the information note states:
“‘Harm’ should take its normal meaning for a range of reasons specified”.
Paragraph 26 states:
“In both these cases we believe that ‘harm’ should take its normal, commonsense meaning so that a special definition is not required on the face of the Bill. We are clear that the normal meaning of the word covers our original intentions for the scheme.”
The Government might be quite satisfied about that, but I feel that Opposition Members are not.
For example, will “harm” include withholding the personal expenses allowances in a care home? That is not clear. Will it include definitions based on retaining the dignity of older people, which the Government are concerned about in a general sense? I could make much more of that, but I have probably made the crucial points that I want to make. I do not think that that is good enough, and I am sure that many workers in this sphere will not think it good enough either.
I have a concern about consistency for children and vulnerable adults, particularly in the realm of controlled activity and regulated activity. We have had some good examples already, such as the day centre. I concur that, for a local authority-run day centre, for example, there is a case for a full vetting and barring scheme.
I have already mentioned some of my concerns about further education colleges. Those concerns remain. I asked a parliamentary question about checks by the Criminal Records Bureau on people in further education colleges. What would happen when a young person entered the working environment, not just for work experience? The answer I received did not reassure me at all. I hope that the Minister will tell me now exactly how the new system will affect those attending further education colleges, and how the existing system affects a range of young people who are involved in a number of activities, and might be based primarily in schools.
A housing support worker recently came to my surgery. That person was doing excellent work, giving a great deal of support to a couple with particular difficulties related to mental health conditions, and meeting them probably once a month. I would expect the vetting and barring scheme to come into effect in such cases of fairly regular contact. That is no reflection on the person who came to see me, because I was very impressed by the level of support being given, but I feel that the Bill ignores one aspect of vulnerability.
All the different categories and definitions could well cause much confusion to employers, organisations, employees, parents and others. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children gives the example of a receptionist in a dentist’s surgery, who could be employed even if on the barred list, but points out that employers are responsible for ensuring that extra safeguards exist. That was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Basingstoke. We need to know how such arrangements will be monitored. I do not think that the introduction of extra criminal offences is the answer.
I shall not say much about the direct payments system, because it was dealt with extensively in the other place and has also been mentioned today. It is difficult for the Government to achieve the right balance. Carers who have already been burdened have been frightened away as new regulations have been introduced. They have not been prepared to continue, and become involved in the direct payments system. It is important for us to retain our great army of loyal helpers, but we need equality of protection. There should be more than an expectation that local authorities should inform potential direct payment recipients of the vetting and barring scheme; authorities should have a duty to give everyone the opportunity, without the burden necessarily being involved.
I welcome the commitment given by the Government in the other place that those under 18 who commit an offence will never be barred automatically without the right to representation.
I would expect that person to be barred, but I think that as a general principle it is better for the needs of those under 18 to be assessed, and for the whole case to be assessed. I support the right to representation, but I would expect someone in a case like that to end up on the list of those automatically barred. It is a question of the route that is taken. I support the right to representation because with some offences, treatment will be possible. There is evidence of the effectiveness of therapeutic services. Again, that is a matter for the discretion of the IBB, and the type of offence involved will affect the exercising of that discretion.
I spoke at length about the need for therapeutic services during the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The NSPCC is currently campaigning for the provision of therapeutic counselling for the abused. We should bear in mind the fact that those who have been abused may become abusers themselves.
I have a constituency case, which I have mentioned before, involving a couple who have moved into my constituency; their son has been in prison for many years, and will probably never come out. At the age of 14 he was found guilty of a relatively minor offence. His parents paid for assessments, because they were not automatically provided, and according to those assessments he posed no danger, but tragically, at 19 he went on to kill someone. It is possible that therapeutic services would not have made a difference in his case, in which event he would still be on the barred list, but it is just possible that the murder could have been prevented, and tragedy for two families avoided, if the treatment had been given early enough.
I am worried about the complexity of the new scheme, and about how the details can be conveyed to people. Communication will require much more than information packs and assurances that information is available; there will have to be a great deal of signposting, and a strategy for spreading the information among those who need it. Training, too, will be necessary. I am also worried about the costs—have they been fully assessed?—and about whether the CRB will be able to take on all its new functions.
Finally, I am worried about the lack of positive measures in the Bill. The Minister may say that it focuses on vetting and barring arrangements, but I believe that it should include further measures to guarantee wider outcomes. The Minister said that safety and protection would depend on robust judgments, sound processes and competent personal responses, but we need a general approach that will improve the current position. The Ofsted report will prove relevant to that. We need a package of measures alongside the Bill. I understand that an accreditation scheme operates in Northern Ireland, and that, too, may be relevant.
We must accept that children and vulnerable adults will always experience occasional contact with those who have offended in some way. As others have pointed out, it will always be difficult to check workers coming here from abroad. Indeed, it will probably be impossible to check them to the same extent. That is why we need an overall embracing of the principles that we all want a safer society and we need people to react in certain ways, always thinking about the need to protect vulnerable children and adults.
I therefore ask the Minister to consider what else can be put in place alongside the Bill, so that it is not, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke put it, another series of measures that will not be implemented properly. To make it work—and I want it to work—we need something else: we need the Government to give strong leadership.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), and I agree with her that some areas of the Bill need clarification, particularly those relating to the public appointees office and the short-term playgroups to which she referred. As she will be aware, packages will have to be put together to accompany the regulatory bodies dealing with the many agencies working with groups that will need to understand this Bill. Groups such as the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales and the general bodies that regulate chiropodists, physiotherapists and so forth have a critical role to play in ensuring that those whom the Bill will impact on are fully aware of what that impact will be. I am also particularly pleased to follow my hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), to whom I will always defer in this field, as her knowledge is second to none.
It is a particular pleasure to speak so soon after last week’s debate in this Chamber on the creation of a commissioner for older people. The Government are looking further to improve protection for older people in Wales by creating such a commissioner. That follows the creation of a commissioner for younger people and children in Wales—a role that has expanded to England—which has enabled additional safeguards to be put in place, and allowed new efforts to be made in examining and exploring additional ways of safeguarding children in Wales. I hope that this Bill and the creation of a commissioner for older people will have the same impact in Wales.
Before entering the House, I was an inspector with the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales, so although my colleagues have referred to the work of CSCI in England, my experience is with CSIW and certainly not with CSCI in England. The Bill will support the regulatory agencies and local authorities in much of the work that they already do. It will also enable work that currently cannot be done in the public domain to be considered and to come into play.
I hope that the Bill will also allay some of the hysteria surrounding the question of who will and will not be reported for inappropriate behaviour towards children and vulnerable adults. My hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood said that under the terms of the Bill, we are all vulnerable adults, in that we are all vulnerable at some point in our existence. That is true. We all want such protection at the point when we become a vulnerable adult, which often happens when, for example, we are in receipt of medical services.
No, I would not join you in saying that, because we are all vulnerable adults at some point in our lives. If we are in receipt of care—of services from those whose duty it is to provide such care to a high quality—we should be covered by the Bill. It is perhaps unnecessary to single out such women, but pregnant women and nursing mothers are entitled to expect the same high-quality protection from those charged with their care—particularly their medical care—as any other person.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the Bill defines what a vulnerable adult is very broadly? There are 10 descriptions of such a person in clause 44, one of which is someone who
“requires assistance in the conduct of his own affairs”.
I frequently require assistance in the conduct of my affairs, but I do not regard myself as vulnerable. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a risk here of not seeing the wood for the trees?
Order. I wonder whether I can help the hon. Lady with her terminology. She should refer to any other hon. Member in the third person, rather than referring to them as “you”; and the customary expression for referring to someone else on her own side is “my hon. Friend”.
I thank you for those corrections, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I have not had an opportunity to look in detail at the clause referred to by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), so I am unable to respond fully to the suggestion that if someone required support and assistance when looking at their finances, for example, that would make them a vulnerable adult. My recollection is that more than an individual’s needing assistance with their finances would be required to make them a vulnerable adult.
I turn to a matter that causes me concern. Last week, I attended an excellent meeting in my constituency, at which I met carers to celebrate carers week and the vital role that they play. A lady whose husband is an active member of the scouting service talked to me about her fears. She has told her husband, who is involved in scout jamborees, that if a young child comes up to him and, for example, wants to hold his hand, he must not do so because that could be misconstrued, and that he must not put suntan lotion on the children when they go to camp for the same reason. The Bill will directly address some of the anxieties that people have about their activities being wrongly interpreted, perhaps leading to their being included on a barring list. I hope that it will alleviate some of the unnecessary fears and anxieties that have arisen.
I am especially pleased that parents will be able to check the status of those whom they are going to employ as private tutors. I raised that issue with the commissioner for children and young people in Wales, and with the previous Secretary of State, following an approach made to me by a constituent. She became very alarmed when she found out that a man who had been convicted of stalking her daughter was advertising his services as a private tutor to children, that he was not required to reveal his criminal past, and that there was no way in which someone employing him could find out about it. I am particularly pleased that the Bill removes that loophole.
I am pleased, too, that paragraphs (a) and (b) of clause 33(6) require people to be referred—and provide the capacity to be referred retrospectively—to the barring board. I am sure that people who have worked with the Protection of Children Act 1999 and the protection of vulnerable adults scheme, the regulatory agencies and bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council will welcome that.
I remember a case in which the Nursing and Midwifery Council had issued a number of cautions about a person who had applied to be manager of a care home. The cautions were serious, involving the physical restraint of a service user with a duvet, using cigarettes to bribe a service user to misbehave when a colleague was on duty and other serious allegations that I shall not mention. In fact, the cautions had no status and could not be used to refuse registration to the individual concerned, but that will no longer be the case because the Bill will allow information about someone found to have behaved inappropriately by a regulatory body to be passed to the barring board.
In another case, I was involved with members of staff in a care home for nearly six months. Alongside the POVA co-ordinator of the local authority in which the home was based, I made regular unannounced visits to the care home. We gathered a huge amount of information about the abuse that was taking place there, but because of the nature of the service users in the home, no criminal prosecutions could be taken. The police were unable to take statements from the service users and could not put together a case that would stand up in court. Indeed, there was nowhere for us to go with that information. Now there will be somewhere to go—the barring board.
The members of staff involved in the abuse left the home, mostly before they were sacked, and subsequently applied for jobs in care homes elsewhere. As no criminal prosecution had been launched, the owner of the home felt very uncomfortable about refusing them a reference. When an application for a reference was made, she would always refer them on to the inspectorate, which mainly said that the person had been part of an investigation into abuse within the home. That was enough to warn people that they needed to explore problems further. Information that does not meet the required standard for a criminal prosecution—sometimes because the people who have been abused have a learning disability or lack capacity on account of dementia or age—is often held in POVA and POCA investigations or in the monitoring of procedures. Such information can now be sent to the barring board, which I am sure will prove invaluable in providing protection.
I accept the need for regulation to control how that information is passed on and to provide people with a means of appealing against it, but such information is likely to open up to challenge people who are unsuitable to work in care settings. They will now know that an investigation can have serious consequences.
Clause 11 is important, as it relates to the failure of residential homes to carry out checks. Members might be aware that the inspectorate can take only limited steps against homes that fail to carry out such checks. We know that checks are not being carried out because the inspectorate has highlighted and vigorously pursued the issue. It is not always easy to ensure that checks are rigorous and thorough.
Again, I cite the example of someone who applied for registration as a manager of a care home. They claimed to have provided full and thorough documentation of their qualifications to the care home’s manager, who subsequently left. The applicant had been operating in a lower-grade position at the home. When they applied to become the manager, they alleged that the documentation had been removed by the previous manager in an attempt to discredit them. It took a long time—I estimate that communications went back and forth for at least six months—before we categorically proved that the individual had none of the qualifications that they claimed and that none of the checks that they claimed had been carried out had been undertaken.
There are limits to how far an inspectorate can go with a home that fails to meet the regulations. The inspectorate might apply to remove the registration from a home and ultimately seek to close the home by taking it to the tribunal, but if steps are put in place at the very last moment to rectify the failings and to meet the standards, the tribunal has no option but to allow the home to continue to operate. Again, it is hoped that clause 11 and the requirement in respect of failing in the duty to check will place another responsibility on care home owners to ensure that they carry out the necessary checks into qualifications and criminal records.
I should like to elicit from the hon. Lady whether she thinks, given her experience, that the additional requirements will cause care homes to feel under greater pressure. Will they perhaps make as many representations on the improved training and room-size requirements? I hope that we can work together with those in the sector, rather than letting them feel that this is a case of them against Government regulation.
The hon. Lady makes a valuable point.
The Care Standards Act 2000 is clear in relation to the responsibility of care homes to carry out checks. When providing a service, it is important that the service is carried out to standards that are set down in legislation. It is only appropriate that those who are vulnerable and require the care and protection of agencies that are set up specifically to provide that care and protection should feel assured that the care setting, whether it is a care home, a domiciliary care setting or a day service provider, meets those minimum standards.
I hope that anyone who sought to register to provide those services would be fully aware of the requirements to register and of the legislation that they were required to comply with. I hope that they would seek to do their best to do so. It is only fair to say that the majority of providers do that. The hon. Lady will be aware that the majority of care providers seek to meet the highest standards. Indeed, they seek to exceed the national minimum standards. Those that do not are the ones we need to focus on to ensure that they carry through their responsibilities at least to check whether staff have criminal backgrounds and to have appropriate checks such as references in place. Those are not onerous expectations. They are minimum expectations and I hope that they will be met.
I have some questions for the Minister that I hope we will have get answers to. I would like reassurance that there will be one list for England and Wales. I support all those other hon. Members who have sought to ensure that those who are barred from working with children are also barred from working with adults.
Experience shows that abuse is often related to power and that, once a person has power over a vulnerable individual, that power is where the pleasure comes. The abuse can be transferred to another vulnerable individual. I have some concerns about clause 6(5) and clause 43 in relation to private arrangements where care is provided by a member of a family or friend. I ask the Minister at some point to clarify what protection will be available where it is known that the family member or friend has a history of abuse or a criminal record relating to abuse. For example, that information may have been passed to a POVA or POCA co-ordinating team in a local authority. Will they be able to share that information with the family? That will be vital because we know that, often, sexual abuse happens in families. The anxiety and fear are often about stranger danger but the reality is that the building of trust within families can lead to abuse. I would welcome clarification of clause 44(9)(b) and (c) and schedule 2, paragraph 9(1)(a) and (d), which relate to hon. Members’ concerns on vulnerable adults.
I have particular concerns about what happens when the condition of a patient in a hospital, as a result of the actions of staff, deteriorates. I cite an example that I raised in an Adjournment debate relating to Parkinson’s. If a Parkinson’s sufferer is not given their medication at the right time, the chemical balance in their brain is altered and disrupted. The disease becomes uncontrollable. With an uneven release of dopamine, a person may be suddenly unable to get out of their chair, to walk, or to get out of bed. Sleep can be disturbed. Bowel and kidney functions and digestion can be affected. The individual can suffer mood swings, hallucinations, anxiety and fear. What will be the implications for ward staff and for care homes if, as a result of their failure to provide medication on time, a person’s capacity to manage their life, to manage their bodily functions and to communicate is damaged? It can ultimately be destroyed for a number of months. From being someone who could rise out of bed and walk and talk, they can end up totally incapacitated purely as a result of the staff’s neglect and failure. That surely must be something that can be tackled under the Bill.
Half of care homes in England and Wales are not meeting minimum standards in relation to medication. A large number of patients entering hospital find their conditions deteriorate because medication is not provided on time. I have seen service users behaving bizarrely and becoming aggressive and anxious because their medication has not been provided on time. For me, that is creating a situation where a vulnerable person is being abused and neglected.
We have older people and people with learning difficulties going into hospital who, because of the poor quality of care they receive, develop bed sores. We have people going into hospital who, because of the poor quality of care and the poor quality of nursing staff making sure that they are regularly toileted, become incontinent. That is surely unacceptable and we should seek to utilise the capacity to refer people to the barring board for poor-quality care to stress the need to drive up standards.
I cite another example of a service user whom I worked with. It was felt that abuse had happened within one of the homes in my constituency. The service user had been lying on the floor with his head against a hot pipe. As a result, he had burns on the top of his head. It was thought that that had been a situation of abuse and neglect, where the staff had failed to move the service user and had ignored the fact that he was lying on the floor. As a result, they were suspended and their behaviour examined under protection of vulnerable adults legislation.
I carried out the inquiry into that matter, taking with me one of the directors of the company, who was horrified, when we went through all the documentation relating to what had been going on in that care home for six months, to discover that we had a severely mentally disturbed individual who, on two occasions, had held the entire home at knife point. He had prevented staff from leaving the room and other service users from getting access to care. The staff had failed to call for medical assistance for him even though he was begging for that help and support. In fact, the failure of medical staff to pick that service user up from the floor did not constitute abuse because lying on the floor was part of his normal behaviour pattern, but there was an overall failure to protect a vulnerable adult by not seeking the required medical assistance.
I am sure that I am not the only Member who receives regular visits at surgeries from constituents who express concerns about the care in homes where members of their family are resident. Mrs. Bartlett visited my surgery because she was concerned that appropriate care was not provided for her mother, who was not fed and had lost a lot of weight. I am also concerned about day centres for people with learning disabilities. We need checks on those who regularly provide day care for such people and who are not covered by the current regulations.
The independent barring board is not a name that trips off the tongue, but we need people to understand it. We must widen understanding of the implications of providing poor-quality care that leads to abuse and to vulnerable people having less protection and security than they should expect from those charged with their care and protection.
Members have been careful to emphasise the point that no legislation can remove personal responsibility. As parents, relatives or carers, we have responsibility to ensure that those for whom we care are looked after by professionals in a professional manner to the high standard that we would provide ourselves. Through the legislation, we can prevent a repetition of the physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults in care that happened in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.
I hope that we shall also put a stop to a practice that is all too prevalent: English local authorities placing vulnerable people in care homes in Wales. In some cases that I came across, such vulnerable adults were not visited for more than 18 years. Local authorities do not follow through on their obligation to ensure that care is of the highest order.
It is important that we ensure that, alongside the Bill, there is a full educational regime so that people understand their rights. Two thirds of children tell no one when they are sexually abused; they do not know how to report that they are being inappropriately touched and abused by adults they trust. Behaviour easily becomes institutionalised in care homes. If a person sees others not being fed or toileted, why would they expect to be fed or toileted themselves? When older people and vulnerable adults do not have the advocates they need, it is easy for their families and friends to be afraid of expressing concern about the care their family member is receiving. They are afraid of being criticised and told to take them away from the institution.
It is important that local authorities take responsibility for their contracts with care homes. I had responsibility for a care home where a local authority was paying for five staff to provide care for one service user because a risk assessment showed that such a ratio was necessary for that person whenever they left the care home and went into the local community. The local authority carried out no checks until it was pointed out that, often, only three members of staff were on duty at the home so the service user rarely left it.
We need to make sure that legislation for vulnerable adults and the implications of the independent barring board are highlighted for bodies that we would not think were normally affected by such measures––in particular, local authority staff responsible for tendering. In my local authority, a tender was put out to taxi firms and a list that was seven years old, giving full details of names, addresses, dates of birth and medical conditions, as well as pick-up, drop-off and return-home times to a range of schools, was circulated to various taxi companies. Some of them no longer existed and some had moved offices, yet they were given access to extremely sensitive information about vulnerable people. It is important that even agencies that we would not normally think had a responsibility for protection are aware of their duties.
It is easy to express concern about a Bill such as this one and to point out that there are aspects that it does not cover. However, we have moved a long way in a short time to provide protection to vulnerable people and we should congratulate the agencies in local authorities, the providers of care and the hospitals and trusts that are working vigilantly and vigorously to raise standards and to ensure that much of the abuse that previously occurred no longer happens. We should welcome the fact that, thanks to the Criminal Records Bureau, 25,000 people who would otherwise have been working in care settings cannot do so.
There have been changes and improvements and the Bill will add to the protection arrangements that we are beginning to set up, but it is only a beginning. Those of us who work in this field are increasingly aware that we must always move on to find new ways of working with people to protect them. The Bill moves on to areas of protection that are needed, so I welcome it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), who has painstakingly—almost painfully —illustrated some of the devastating difficulties that she has become familiar with and that some of us have sadly become familiar with through our surgeries. That sets in context a couple of the rules that I almost invariably come to the House with. One is that there is no problem so great that the Government cannot make it worse and the second is that a Bill that has all-party support is almost certainly either wrong or inadequately scrutinised, or both. This is not such a Bill.
The broad shape of the Bill is reasonable. Difficult judgments have to be made and many difficult lines have to be drawn in what is inevitably a grey area. It is as well to recognise that, although we are working hard to get that right, we might well—on both sides—get it wrong in good faith. Whatever we do and however hard we try, we cannot guarantee safety either for the vulnerable adults or for the children who are the subject of the Bill. The best people to safeguard children are their parents, acting together and making decisions on the basis of their knowledge of their children and of the people who are to work with their children, and, in many cases—let us be honest about it—on the basis of their gut instinct.
A friend of mine had a dog that gave birth to six beautiful puppies a few days ago and she remarked to me how wonderful it was to see that new mother bite the umbilical cord. What taught that dog to bite through the umbilical cords of those puppies? It was nothing other than instinct. The instincts of parents will quite often point them in the right direction. No amount of regulation or legislation can do that.
One of the things that most concerns me about the action of professionals in all sorts of areas is that they inadvertently undermine parents’ confidence in their instinct to act in a particular way. We are as bad sometimes, because we illuminate and flag up difficult cases, and we frighten people who need not necessarily be frightened. If they look after their children to the best of their ability and knowledge, they are certainly going to safeguard them more than any number of politicians or professionals can. If they exercise their knowledge of their children and exercise trust in those whom they know, and if they have some choice in where their children are educated, they will be making good decisions. To those who say that most sex abuse takes places in the home, I would mention that most sex abuse that takes place in the home takes place between people who are not blood relations. It is as well that we should recognise that and not use that point as an excuse to undermine what goes on inside the home.
There have been a couple of welcome changes in the Government’s position in recent days. One is the recognition that there is a shortage of prison places in this country. The protection of vulnerable people is, in part, assisted by the imprisonment of those who would exploit or abuse them. There is a lot wrong with our prisons, but the aphorism that prison works is certainly true in one respect: it takes out of circulation those who would exploit or abuse young people and adults.
The point about prison, whether it works and how long we imprison people for has been a subject of much debate. For example, in my constituency—I know that this is fairly typical— Mr. Michael Marsh, who had already served a sentence for sexual assault on an 11-year-old and had been let out, was convicted again on Friday for the abuse of a six-year-old boy, but his case will probably be eligible for consideration in 2008, despite the probation service saying that, in its opinion, he will remain a constant danger. Surely that is all part of protecting our vulnerable young people. If those people are in prison, we must make sure that they stay there for the correct sentence.
We must indeed make sure that they stay in prison. We must make sure that the judiciary are enabled to imprison them for an appropriate length of time and that the judiciary and the Prison Service are enabled to provide appropriate services in prison so that, for example, prisoners are not shunted from one prison to another in the middle of courses that may be designed to address their offending behaviour. There is a lot that is right about imprisonment, but there are some things that are wrong about the way in which our prisons work and we would do well to recognise those things.
Another way in which the Government are moving in the right direction is when they talk about examining—I hope re-examining, because I hope that this was not ruled out in a knee-jerk reaction in the past—the implementation of Megan’s law in the United States or Sarah’s law, as we might call it here. Megan’s law, or Sarah’s law, is not a charter for vigilantes. It gets to the heart of whether people can trust the state. If the state is going to lie to parents when they ask, “Is the man round the corner a sex offender?”—that is what the absence of Megan’s law, or Sarah’s law, says; it says that the police are going to lie—people will cease to trust the police and public authorities. I strongly advocate that we examine with an open mind whether it is better for people to know who the local sex offenders are than for those matters to be concealed from them and for them no longer to trust public authority. That will lead to people being treated more reasonably, not more unreasonably.
I will illustrate that point with an example from my constituency, where a particularly disgusting offender was released recently. He was released back on to the estate on which he had lived for most of his life. Most people knew that he had offended. In this case, it did not take the police to tell them; they recognised him. Parents knew him and knew that it was appropriate to tell their children to avoid him—just as in villages parents sometimes know and make it clear to their children that it is unwise to visit a particular house as a child on one’s own. It is greatly to our advantage to trust people and, in particular, to trust parents with that knowledge. By all means take rigorous measures against those who indulge in vigilantism, but let us start by trusting the people, rather than telling them that they are wrong and that the professionals and politicians know better than they do.
There are two other areas where I fear that there is still a great deal more work to be done with offenders. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) has just suggested, one area is follow-up for those who are released. It is very concerning that people can be released from prison on parole or probation without even being interviewed face-to-face by the authorities that make that decision. I hope that, in future, in no case involving a child or a vulnerable adult will such parole be given without an interview. I hope that the Minister can give us that assurance from the Front Bench when he winds up.
On the second area in which the Government have not done all the things that they could do, I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the debate on the implementation of the Bichard report, which took place in Westminster Hall on 8 February. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) was present. The IMPACT database was recommended in June 2004, with a full business case to follow in March 2005. However, we were told that a full business case still was not in place by March 2006. Has that full business case yet been produced? Has the implementation date for the IMPACT database slipped beyond 2007? I certainly got the impression from the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), that the date had slipped to 2010, so I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), can reassure me that I have got that wrong.
The Bill contains a wide range of provisions. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) were right to say that the Bill is too broad and hollow and that it contains far too much regulation-making power, but far too little detail. We want clarity and certainty when dealing with such matters because as hon. Members on both sides of the House have observed, the proprietors of small care homes are not blessed—if that is the right word—with an army of lawyers.
I wonder why governors will come under the provisions of the Bill on regulated activities because they are not normally left in sole charge of individual pupils. I also therefore wonder why governors in schools, but not colleges, will be covered, and why people will be covered if they become governors in 2007, but not if they became governors in 1997. The Bill gives no particular justification for such peculiar arrangements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and the Minister for Children and Families referred to foreign workers. Should it not be an offence under clause 7 for foreign nationals who have been convicted overseas of a crime for which they would be convicted in this country to apply for employment in a regulated capacity? If a person with convictions that are akin to those that would bar a person in this country does any of the things covered by clause 7, surely it should be offence. Bizarrely, it will be easier to employ someone with a Criminal Records Bureau check that is five years old, or indeed someone with no CRB check at all who comes from a country in which records are not kept, than a college leaver in this country, given that the CRB sometimes produces responses to inquiries very slowly. I hope that that matter will be addressed.
Will the Under-Secretary give us some assurances about the behaviour of fellow patients, especially patients in mental health units, and, for that matter, fellow pupils and students in colleges? Health workers and others have a responsibility to those who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983, for example, to ensure that other people in similar circumstances are not a threat to those patients. If those people are a threat to those patients, health workers and others must be given sufficient information to know that those people are a threat to the patients and must take measures to protect them. Nurses and health workers are sometimes a little too inclined to feel that they must give patients the right to make a choice, rather than protecting patients who are perhaps unable to exercise such choice in the rational manner that we would expect.
I fully accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about people in psychiatric units. Does he also accept that it is extremely difficult to foresee the people who might be a danger in one way or another? That is one of the reasons why the Government have experienced such difficulty in introducing a new mental health Bill to replace the 1983 Act.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. No one is pretending that the problems are easy to solve—I think that the Under-Secretary is agreeing. If the problems were easy, we would have solved them years ago. However, the situation must be addressed.
We need to address children who commit offences against other children. I include in that category lads of 18 who have sex with girls of 14. It is a matter of concern to at least one of my constituents that such circumstances are not only apparently passing unpunished, but unrecognised by a school as a matter about which it should be worried. The issue is not taken sufficiently seriously. The Bichard report said that every case should be notified to the appropriate authorities because only those authorities could assess whether that case was part of a pattern of behaviour. However, some authorities are trying to row back from meeting that requirement by suggesting that social workers should make a judgment, rather than the police. The police are—or, at least, are more likely to be—the people in possession of the full facts about a putative offender. The Bichard report thus said that they should be given such information.
Of course, rightly, not every case will lead to a prosecution. However, a failure to report followed by a failure to prosecute means that those who might turn out to be repeat sex offenders in later life have two opportunities to avoid scrutiny. Of course, not all those who are prosecuted will be added to the sex offenders register, which creates a third route. Additionally, not all those who are added to the sex offenders register will be recorded by the independent barring board because the Bill says that the question of whether even sex offenders between the ages of 16 and 18—such people might have been prosecuted successfully for a sex offence—should go on the register will be a matter of discretion.
I remind the House that Ian Huntley started his offending when he was under the age of 18. As I said earlier, at least one of the murderers of Mary-Ann Leneghan was under 18 when he committed that dreadful offence and at least one of the others had started committing pretty serious offences when he was under the age of 18. I thus hope that the Government will examine how the staff and governors of schools can not only be informed of sex offenders among the pupils at those school, but be empowered to take the necessary steps to restrict the activities of those children, at least while they are on school premises and under the control of the school, so that other pupils can be protected.
We must also address the treatment of young pupils who undertake day-release courses, work experience or link courses in colleges of further education. Several hon. Members have spoken about the 14-to-19 agenda, and many children aged 14 and 15 now take courses in colleges of further education. Some of those children will be segregated from older students—those aged 16, 17 and 18, and perhaps older still—while attending their courses, but not for the entire duration of their time in the college. Not all adults in colleges of further education are covered by the Bill—indeed, it appears to say that if the primary function of the institution is the education of those over the age of 16, that is not a regulated activity. However, there are adults among the teaching and the non-teaching staff, as well as adults and persons aged over 16 among the students, from whom it is reasonable for parents of younger children to expect them to be protected. That concern has been expressed to me, not by parents, but by staff at my local college of further education, which is an excellent institution that does its best—and has Ofsted reports to prove it—for the students of all ages on its premises. It is a matter of concern that the Bill leaves a void in that respect.
The Bill is well intentioned—it tries hard to draw lines in shades of grey. Nothing in it can or should, as the hon. Member for Bridgend said, relieve parents, employers, relatives—of elderly people, in particular— and carers of their responsibility to do what is right by those for whom they hold responsibility. The Bill needs greater clarity and greater simplicity, and I sometimes think that we need greater humility when proposing legislation of this kind, because we cannot get it right; we can only do our best. In the end, it is families who will protect their children and loved ones better than we can.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I apologise for not being here for the Minister’s opening speech. I told the Speaker’s Office that, unfortunately, I had to attend a meeting with a Minister at the Department for Education and Skills on a local matter.
I intend to speak—briefly, the House will be relieved to know—on some specific points that arise from work that I have been doing with children’s charities in recent years, and which I believe are relevant to the Bill. However, I should first say how much I wholeheartedly and warmly welcome the Bill. The safety of children and vulnerable adults has to be a top priority: their interests have to come first. I am proud that our Government have done a great deal on those issues. I am also proud to have been a sponsor of the private Member’s Bill on the subject that was successfully steered through the House by Debra Shipley, the former Member for Stourbridge.
I came to the House this afternoon after attending the annual general meeting of the East Derbyshire domestic violence forum in my constituency, at which we launched a poster campaign warning people about domestic violence and offering a helpline. At that launch, I raised the impact on children of domestic violence, because often, if women in a family are abused and beaten, the children are physically and sexually abused, as well as traumatised by what goes on within the family. We are trying to protect vulnerable adults and children in a domestic setting—in their homes. Everyone is entitled to be safe within their home. However, it is also important that through the Bill we are trying to protect vulnerable adults and children in other settings, too.
Everyone has a right to be safe, wherever they are. It is the responsibility of all of us and all the agencies to do everything we can to protect children and vulnerable adults, and everyone must play their part. That is why I welcome the Bill. However, we have to make sure that we get it right and that the agencies work together properly. I am sure that many of the issues that have been raised will be the subject of detailed scrutiny as the Bill goes through its stages. I have three specific points to make which I think are relevant and which I hope will be taken into account.
It is unfortunate that, because of that meeting of the domestic violence forum, I was unable to be here in time for the question asked during Home Office questions on the downloading from the internet of images of child abuse—an important issue on which I and others have been working with children’s charities in recent years. We have talked to internet service providers and credit card companies about blocking both the downloading and the financial methods whereby access to such images is gained. We are talking about a huge international industry; it is not a small-scale affair whereby a few images are exchanged, but a criminal industry on a massive financial scale.
Anyone who says that that is not important should remember that every image downloaded is an image of a poor child who has been abused for profit in front of a camera. It is not an easy, victimless crime. There is a victim. As the Bill proceeds, I hope to hear assurances from Ministers that people who engage in downloading images of child abuse will be barred from working with children. Such people have forfeited any right to work with children, and I hope that the Bill will stop them from doing so.
Several of the local GP practices in my constituencies were almost destroyed by a doctor who was found to have downloaded huge numbers of images of children. The case caused massive local trauma. Hon. Members can imagine how the feelings of trust and belief in the local medical profession were undermined. The crime is not victimless. We have to take it seriously.
Hon. Members might recall from January’s somewhat feverish debate on people working in schools that one of the cases involved an adult who had accepted a caution for downloading such images. He was found through Operation Ore to have downloaded images from the Landslide site in the United States. At the time, both publicly and in discussions with Ministers I raised my concern about the suggestions that he could have downloaded the images by accident. That excuse is often offered—“My finger slipped and I somehow managed to download those images.” Operation Ore showed that that could not have happened: a person who accessed that site would know that they were accessing images of children. No one got caught because their finger slipped, or even if they went back again to check that they really had seen what they thought they had seen; people who have had to accept cautions as a result of accessing those appalling images have done it time and again.
I want to ensure that when Ministers or agencies take advice on who should be barred and who should be on the lists, they are not conned by people saying that they did something wrong by accident. We must make sure that we get the correct information and advice from experts as the Bill goes through.
The hon. Lady is making an important point, and I share her concerns. Does she acknowledge the concern that has come to light recently about minors who access extreme images—perhaps by accident—on the internet through a shared family computer and are then the subject of a police investigation, with the entire family being blighted, despite not necessarily having any knowledge of the access, because the computer in their family home was used for that purpose? There have been several prosecutions and cautions of people who might in fact have been blameless.
I agree. Those are clearly difficult cases. I do not know all the details, but such circumstances would have to be taken fully into account when the lists are being drawn up and people are being fingered for things that they have done. It is an extremely difficult area.
One source of expertise is the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre under the leadership of Jim Gamble, the former deputy director general of the National Crime Squad. There are sources of great expertise on how individuals are trapped both nationally and internationally, and it is important that the Ministers and agencies involved in the Bill make full use of that expertise. During the furore earlier this year, I was not sure that we had joined-up thinking between Departments—that the expertise available to the Home Office, which has done a great deal of work on the issue, was being accessed by the education service. I hope that as the Bill goes through, we will ensure that those issues are fully and properly taken into account.
The second question that I want to raise is one that I am slightly curious about. I am not quite sure whether it is relevant to the Bill, but I have tabled some questions on the subject. I am not sure whether there are any procedures for monitoring candidates for public office who stand for membership of councils or of this House. Perhaps we should take account of finding out whether they are on the offenders register and whether they have been found guilty of any crime of child abuse. I have already raised that question, and perhaps Ministers could look into it.
Finally, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill—the Licensing of Child Location Services Bill. About half the sponsors of my Bill seem to have wandered in and out of the Chamber during this debate, so I thought that I should use the opportunity of the debate to plug that Bill.
The Bill aims to introduce a licensing system for child tracking services, such as the teddy phone, which apparently give parents peace of mind because the child is given a lovely teddy bear and they can track them wherever that child is. There are meant to be all kinds of control on who is tracking the child, and who is able to give it the teddy phone. The danger is that paedophiles could easily get hold of those licensing systems. In the few weeks before I introduced my Bill, three journalists, separately, managed to put a trace on individuals when supposedly there were controls in place.
There were rather anguished cries in my local newspaper from somebody who is meant to be a prominent child protection expert who is tied up with one of the companies to which I have referred. We hear that all the organisations are very responsible—but some organisations that undertake tracking services have told me, “Yes, we want a licensing system.”
I raise that in the context of this Bill because I have read schedule 3, which sets out requirements for people who engage in moderating content on services or websites aimed at, or likely to be used by, children. Typically, these will be chatroom moderators, or people moderating an online discussion forum of some kind.
The provisions in schedule 3 extend to people who control access to such services. Once the Bill becomes law, as I hope will happen, every UK-based person employed to do such work by UK-based companies will have to be CRB checked. Potentially they have access to sensitive data about children. At present, it is merely optional that such checks should be carried out.
It occurred to me that if people who are moderating chat-rooms have access to sensitive and private information about children that should be passed on, exactly the same is true of those who are operating child location services. Part of what I am calling for is a licensing system for child location services to ensure that inappropriate people are not tracking children, and are not using such services to be able to trace children. It is essential that people who work for companies that provide child location services—they might easily be able to find the whereabouts of children, or to have mobile phone numbers for children who are being tracked—should have such information available to them. It is therefore essential that such people should be covered by the provisions that in future will cover the moderators of chatrooms.
I urge the Minister to consider whether the provisions can be extended so that at least I can get a small part of the licensing system for which I am calling included in the Bill. There are several issues that I hope will be examined as the Bill is considered. Apart from that, I welcome the Bill and I wish it good speed in its passage through the House.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). She made an interesting but short speech. I too shall try to be short. The Bill is significant for us in Wales because of the abuse scandals that have occurred in Wales, and the results of those scandals. We had the Ely hospital scandal in the 1960s, which led to the establishment of the all-Wales strategy for people with learning difficulties. There were the child abuse scandals in north Wales, and there were some in south Wales as well. Those scandals led indirectly to the establishment of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Those were positive moves, but those were achieved at a tremendous cost to vulnerable people who went through a great deal of suffering before the system changed.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) spoke about predicting danger. I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes this in the best possible spirit, but with hindsight it is easy to see Huntley as someone with a previous conviction who was clearly a danger. Looking forward is clearly more difficult. We should be careful before we put our trust in systems of foresight. They do not work. I say that as a former child care social worker, an educator of social workers and a sometime member of the social services inspectorate. I also did various other jobs in that field. I hope that I am very modest about my abilities to predict, and also about the abilities of my former colleagues.
I, too, welcome the Bill. Ensuring the safety of vulnerable people should be the highest priority for those who care, for those who manage, and for elected Members and for law makers. As I said, I am a former teacher of social workers. I am familiar with the problematic nature of the relationship between someone who cares and someone who receives care. Keeping that professional distance is one of the most difficult things to teach prospective care workers. They might understand the point, acquire some skills and even acquire the proper attitudes to this difficult question, but putting these things into practice is extremely difficult.
It is my experience that people learn most effectively how to keep that professional distance when the highest standards of good practice are in place within the agency. Whatever formal system we put in place to identify people who might be a danger should not lull us into thinking, “That’s the job done.” We need to maintain a professional culture within care services, which will ensure an awareness of these issues.
I was reminded, as I was listening to hon. Members earlier, that there is always the possibility of making what is called a class mistake. Looking up at the glass screen that we now have in the Chamber, one might imagine that the people on one side of it are all right per se, because they have passed the test. But that does not actually prevent someone from throwing purple flour at the Prime Minister. We must be careful not to be lulled into a false sense of security. We must ensure that organisations’ policies and practice on staff recruitment, management and staff development ensure that there is safety. The culture of the organisation is the strongest ongoing safeguard that we can put into care. That is the culture of care, vigilance and clarity about what is expected of organisations and individuals.
I am sure that many hon. Members have people who are dear to them who are in a vulnerable situation. Both my mother and my brother are receiving intensive care, one in a residential situation and the other at home. The Bill’s provisions are of the utmost importance to me and also to other hon. Members and those outside this place. My impression is that the present system has worked fairly well, after a fashion, in most circumstances.
When I was teaching social workers, I used to be frustrated by delays in police checks, as they were then, when I was trying to place social workers in agencies. I understand that things have become a good deal better, but I know that there are still delays. As a Member of Parliament, I was approached by a constituent recently who told me that he had been employed as a bus driver to drive vulnerable people around. He was concerned because he had a conviction for assault. He had not been asked about his convictions. He was not caring directly for the people on the bus, other than that he was driving them. He came to see me because he was in dispute with the Criminal Records Bureau because he thought he had been wrongly described as someone who had a conviction for assault, but that is another matter.
The world might have moved on, but there are still some reasons for concern, including, as I told the Minister for Children and Families and Opposition Members, the employment of foreign workers. The individuals whom I have met in my area are largely employed in homes for the elderly, and are of a high standard—they certainly have a strong work ethic and are eminently good employees. However, full information about them is not available immediately, or even after a considerable period. I accept the fact that the Government are addressing the issue, but may I emphasise the fact that it is a growing concern? As has been said, records are not available in some countries and are incomplete in others.
I should therefore be grateful if, in his winding-up speech, the Under-Secretary responded to the point that I made about the onus being on both the employer and employment agencies. This afternoon, I discussed the situation with a home owner who employed people from the Philippines, but had to wait three months for proper checks to be made, which had an impact on the way in which she planned her work force. She wanted to recruit employees, as she was short of people, but she had to delay the process of appointment while those checks were made.
Another problem that emerged from that discussion was translation. We must consider translation costs and the accuracy of records in other languages. I do not know how the Government can crack that nut, but expertise in translation is available, albeit at a price. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised the issue of definition. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) asked what is considered frequent and what occasional. In Wales, a well-organised youth movement, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, which consists of about 30,000 members, holds a cultural festival once a year for four days. It is a residential event, and it is the only time that those children go away with the organisation. Even though the festival lasts only four days, that is enough opportunity for someone with ill intent to perpetrate a crime. I therefore share hon. Members’ concerns about the definition of “occasional” and “frequent”.
I am concerned, too, about the cost of disclosure and the question of who pays. The other day, I was told that that cost would be about £36. I do not know whether that is correct, but such a sum would be a disincentive for an unemployed person who wants to work in the care sector. I therefore hope that the Government will encourage employers to pick up part, if not all, of the cost, as that would be a useful step forward. Once the Bill is implemented, I hope that the Government will make the utmost effort to make people aware of its provisions and persuade them to acquire information. They should sell this hard, because it is important not only for people who are cared for but for relatives who share their concerns.
Will the Minister ensure that in Wales, that selling or persuasion is carried out through the medium of Welsh? Many vulnerable people in care, including people with learning difficulties and older people who have had a stroke and have lost the ability to speak their second language do not have a practical command of English, so I hope that the Government take the issue seriously. I hope, too, that they communicate with the public as effectively as possible, if only to reduce the hysteria that the issue sometimes provokes.
I said earlier that my brother receives a great deal of care. He has been empowered—I think that is the word—to employ care workers himself. People are allowed to make direct payments, and some of them receive large sums from the Disability Living Foundation. They are encouraged to employ carers and to play a full part in the planning of their care, so it is essential that they have access to the information on their carers’ antecedents. The vetting and barring scheme can be accessed in various ways, and local authorities should be able to act on behalf of service users, for whom they have considerable responsibility.
Finally, may I return to the language question? In Wales, a number of organisations operate through the medium of Welsh, including Urdd Gobaith Cymru, youth clubs, church groups, Sunday schools and so on. Their internal paperwork is conducted in Welsh, so can the Government make sure that they can correspond with the board in Welsh from the outset? The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has responsibilities for young children, many of whom do not speak English, and he took great care to ensure that from day one a bilingual service was available, which normalised the use of the Welsh language both for the children and for the organisations that work with them. It is much more effective and cheaper to ensure that a fully bilingual service is available from the outset, rather than tacking something on when people like me start to complain. I therefore make that plea to the Minister, and I would be grateful, too, if he wrote to interested Members about systems of accountability, both to the House and to the National Assembly for Wales.
The Bill’s aim is laudable. Implementation will be complex, but it must be completed within a short period, and I hope that the Government will take vigorous actions to achieve that. Members on both sides of the House share responsibility for the measure, and we too should take swift action to ensure that there is protection for the vulnerable people to whom we owe such a duty.
May I join my hon. Friends in welcoming the Bill, particularly as the Government probably have a proud record of introducing more child protection legislation than any other Government, which is all to the good? I have a sense of déjà vu about much of the Bill. Indeed, it completes unfinished business, as I helped to steer the Protection of Children Act 1999 through the House with my friend and colleague, the former Member of Parliament, Debra Shipley. I remember our meetings with civil servants in the then Education and Social Security Departments, the Home Office and social services: simply getting those officials round the table was a task in itself, but we wished to highlight the need for joined-up thinking in child protection. In those discussions and our debates in Committee, many of the issues that we have discussed today were raised, including the need to join up disparate lists—that has been achieved by the Bill—and the need for joint working by Departments to ensure that child protection measures were consistent and effective. We highlighted the risk of inconsistencies between various agencies, such as the police, education authorities and schools, and the inconsistencies that might become apparent between police authorities in respect of police disclosures. Tragically, in 2004 Bichard highlighted some of the issues that we had identified in discussions about that Bill, and since then it has been proved that some of those issues could and should have been dealt with earlier.
We are all best with the benefit of hindsight, but it is crucial that after all this time we get it right in this Bill. I will be looking to Ministers for assurances that there will be effective working between the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office. A number of the child protection issues that have been raised in the debate must be dealt with across departmental boundaries.
There is a huge amount to welcome in the Bill. I am particularly pleased about the provisions on employment agencies, which clause 28 refers to as “personnel suppliers”. We discussed some of those issues in the context of the 1999 Act. We know that paedophiles are adept at moving swiftly between employers as soon as there is suspicion about their activities. It is therefore essential that a requirement on employment agencies ensures the disclosure and monitoring of their activities.
I am pleased that the Bill requires school governors to be checked. I have never understood why there has been no formal requirement for all governors to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check. It is true, of course, that most school governors do not have much unsupervised contact with children. Nevertheless, there are occasions when that happens, and governors have a duty of trust in relation to their role in schools, so they must set the highest standards of child protection. For that reason, we need CRB checks of all our school governors.
I might have misread the clause, but it appears to say that no offence is committed regarding the appointment of a governor that takes effect before the commencement of the Bill. Why will we allow some governors to remain unchecked, but require new governors coming on to school governing bodies to be CRB checked? There seems to be no logical consistency in that.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but it is worth bearing it in mind that the scheme applies to between 7.5 million and 9 million people, if we include vulnerable adults as well as children. It will not be possible to encompass everybody in one fell swoop, so we are beginning with new employees, new appointments and people who have just changed position.
If I have the opportunity to serve on the Committee, we will no doubt continue that debate. We are speaking about relatively small numbers of school governors.
My second question relates to cost. It is not clear to me from the Bill where the cost of those CRB checks for school governors will fall. Thirdly, I share concerns that have been expressed by Members on both sides of the House about the requirement not applying to colleges, given that there are under-16s going through our colleges.
Ministers will be aware of the concerns of children’s charities. The Bill is a key piece of child protection legislation, following intensive media attention. It is essential that we introduce the checking and monitoring outlined in the Bill, but keeping children safe in schools and other settings requires much broader action than the improved vetting of staff. It requires safe recruitment, pre-appointment checks and a child protection mindset in all cases and venues where there are opportunities for unsupervised contact with children. A clear understanding of roles and expectations is needed.
Some of the children’s charities are expressing concerns that many of us share regarding the decision-making processes of the IBB and accountability. Concerns have been expressed during the debate about under-18s and the need for a commitment to different legislative treatment of those under 18. There are concerns about the complexity of the scheme.
I and many others worry that employers, especially small employers, will not understand how the different regimes in the Bill affect them. There will be a need for good communication and clear guidance if employers are not to fall foul of the legislation inadvertently and allow those who should be checked and monitored to escape because of a lack of understanding. As I asked my right hon. Friend earlier, how will we monitor the extra safeguards required in respect of controlled activity? How will we ensure that the scheme works in practice and that the guidance that she mentioned in her earlier reply is monitored?
I have a particular interest in online child protection issues, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) for raising some of the issues on which she and I and many of the children’s charities have worked. I am delighted that one of my ten-minute Bills dealing with online moderation has sprung to life in schedule 3. Moderators are entrusted with safeguarding our children in relation to the online world. When parents know a site is moderated, they assume that it is safe, that their children can chat, as they do, and that moderators are overseeing what is going on in the virtual world. In fact, that is probably one of the least safe environments because parents are not necessarily there to see what is going on, unlike the situation outside the school playground.
Several years ago, I became involved in a project called Kidspeak, which worked with most of the national children’s charities to set up a discussion site for children who have witnessed domestic violence. It follows on from one of the first online parliamentary projects on survivors of domestic violence. In setting up a website where children can discuss safely their experiences of witnessing domestic violence, it is essential that the child’s confidentiality is maintained and their safety is ensured.
I took the view that we needed the best moderators that we could find. I contacted the then e-envoy’s office to ask for a list of approved moderators, only to find that the list contained moderating organisations that had done no checks whatsoever on moderators. In other words, the people ostensibly safeguarding the virtual world and the discussions in which children are involved online had been subject to no CRB checks and, in some cases, were being recruited online, so nobody had any idea who the people were. That is important, because we know that adults have many opportunities in the online world to groom children without any intervention or any checking—sometimes such adults disguise themselves as children, but in this case they would adopt the guise of a responsible adult—which can lead to paedophile activity. I am delighted that the Government have seen the wisdom of my ten-minute Bill. More importantly, the safeguards that apply in the real world will also apply in the online world, which is essential.
The Bill introduces safeguards to UK-based moderated sites, but what will happen when the moderators are not employed in the UK? Many websites and internet service providers employ moderators outside the UK, which places them outside the checking and monitoring regime set up by the Bill. That gap might create an issue, because parents might believe that all websites are now safe because all moderators are checked. We should go further, and I therefore ask the Minister to consider whether websites that do not employ UK-based moderators and are not subject to the regime in the Bill should be labelled to allow parents to make an informed choice. At the very least, we should produce guidance for parents on that issue.
We know that convicted sex offenders frequently commit offences not only in this country, but overseas. It is apposite that we are in the middle of the World cup—I am sure that everyone is watching the football on the telly as we speak; they certainly will be tomorrow—because, without any conviction, football hooligans whom the police deem to be unwelcome in a country can have their passports removed. When convicted sex offenders travel from this country to a country in which they deem it easier to carry out their paedophile activities, however, they are not subject to any such restrictions. Convicted sex offenders currently have to notify the police if they travel overseas for three days or more. We should reduce that period, because if someone hops on easyJet at Luton airport, they can be anywhere in three hours, let alone three days. We should include a provision in the Bill to stop such paedophile activity by taking away people’s passports. If such provisions apply to football hooligans, why on earth can they not apply to repeat convicted sex offenders?
This Bill and other Home Office legislation can fill some of the gaps on child protection. When my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families responded to my earlier intervention, she said that those who are convicted of accessing online child pornography will be subject to barring under the Bill, which is important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) has eloquently outlined, such a provision would indicate that we are serious about stamping out online child abuse.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley has said, child pornography cannot be accessed accidentally, and it is vital that we bring those convicted of such abuse—those caught by Operation Ore—within the remit of the Bill.
The fact that someone accepted a caution for accessing child pornography under Operation Ore does not mean that an offence was not committed—there is plenty of evidence to suggest that some of those cautioned were repeat offenders. As my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley has said, the child exploitation and online protection centre takes that issue extremely seriously. Tragically, a three-month old baby was abused in a recent case in Hertfordshire, which is adjacent to my constituency, and the conviction in that case was obtained through Operation Ore, because the offenders repeatedly downloaded child pornography. As the CEOP knows, all too often and all too tragically offences in the virtual world translate into actual abuse in our all too real world, which is why we must tackle online child abuse as hard and as fast as we can, and I commend the Bill and the comments by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families in that respect.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran). I support the principle of the Bill, which I welcome as a parent and on behalf of other parents. We need as many measures as possible to help ensure greater protection for children and vulnerable adults, but, like many hon. Members who have spoken today, I am concerned about how we can make the system work. The Government have a history of introducing legislation to protect children and adults, which is laudable, but such legislation is too often not acted upon speedily or not robustly implemented—feet seem to drag.
The Bill has been a long time coming. The then Home Secretary issued an urgent call for measures such as a single central register, which led to a 20-month wait—the supporting computer system is due to go online six years after that urgent call. I know that many members of the public are concerned about the workings of the computer industry. We rely on IT, but we have not demonstrated to the public that we can make the systems work.
Quite properly, parents expect the highest standards from those who care for children at school. They expect assistants to be screened and teachers to be checked in order to weed out those who might wish to prey upon our children. I shall refer to clauses 8 to 17, which specify that it is an offence for a regulated provider—a school—to permit an individual to engage in regulated activities without first making an appropriate check or receiving written confirmation from a supply teacher agency.
I want to focus on supply teacher agencies, because I am concerned how effective the checks will be. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) said, the Government recognised that schools must have confidence in the quality of staff whom they receive from agencies in 2002. Some time ago, I worked as a supply teacher and I welcome the checks that have been introduced since then, but too many such checks are not taken up as robustly as they should be. In recognition of the need for supply teachers to be regulated, the quality mark scheme was established. However, that scheme, which was designed to help to weed out poor agencies, is not being used properly by schools. It appears that many schools pay no attention to whether agencies supplying staff have signed up to it. The Ofsted report—it has been embargoed but we can refer to it—says:
“The exact number of teacher supply agencies is not known, but one official from the DfEs estimates the number to be 300 and another estimated it was 1,500; the DTI suggests ‘it is in the hundreds rather than thousands’.”
We do not even know how many agencies we have. That is another fundamental flaw. They must be properly regulated and we need clarification on that.
It is also worrying that anyone can set up a supply agency as long as they comply with the legislation. A recent report commissioned by the Government showed that 90 per cent. of schools ignore the quality mark scheme designed to regulate supply agencies and said that only 8 per cent. of schools felt that the scheme was a “very important factor”. I suggest that there is a marketing issue here. We have heard that information about the Bill must be made available. We also need to get everybody to buy into the need for proper regulation and checks. More than half of all primary and nursery schools and 80 per cent. of all secondary schools use agency supply staff, with 40,000 people a year working as supply teachers. Many work in schools in all our constituencies. Yet Margaret Morrissey of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations has said that she felt, as a parent and a PTA member, that it was “unforgivable” that supply teachers were working with children before checks were completed. A scheme with the best of intentions is not delivering the reassurances that parents deserve. We must ensure that any new schemes deliver a better service.
On a different note, it appears prominently in the media today—as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Luton, South, who is no longer in her place—that under current legislation only three paedophiles have been banned from taking sex trips abroad. That law was hurriedly put in place three years ago following an outcry against people travelling to abuse in other countries and demands that we should stop people with those intentions. Christine Beddoe, director of ECPAT UK, a coalition of children’s charities, described that legislation as
“a cumbersome and unwieldy system”
and said that it does not work principally because there is not enough central intelligence and shared information across the police and the judiciary and between countries. People such as supply teachers are coming from abroad to work with our children, but if we cannot get information on, and let people know about, our own paedophiles travelling abroad, how can we have confidence that we will get all these things to fall into place when we want to be able to screen people coming to work with vulnerable adults? The NSPCC has criticised loopholes in the Bill on the lack of vetting for overseas teachers. I understand that the Minister accepts the existence of that loophole and is reviewing the process. However, like Christine Beddoe, I am worried that the central intelligence does not exist and hope that robust measures will be put in place to address the deficiencies.
I should like an assurance from the Minister that if we support the Bill it will be robustly implemented and that information will be shared between agencies. We do not want any more cumbersome and unwieldy legislation. The public do not want another great idea or strong headline that in the end does not deliver what we all want, which is to protect our children. We all know that paedophiles will seize every opportunity to abuse children, so we need to deal with the detailed nitty-gritty that stops them from finding the casual camp that operates only for five days, or the Urdd Gobaith Cymru that operates for four days over the festival period of the Eisteddfod. Those are opportunities that paedophiles seize upon. Our children are precious. If the Bill is supposed to deliver robust and effective checks for their sakes, I ask the Government to ensure that that happens. Michael Marsh in my constituency abused, was let out and then abused again, and now may well be let out in 2008. I need to know where such people are and whether they are working with my children and those of others. As has been proved by Age Concern, they may well stop abusing children and move on to work in the adult care industry and abuse elderly adults.
I implore the Government to look carefully at the problems and loopholes that are highlighted in the Ofsted report, which many of us will read in full tomorrow having only glanced at it today. I hope that in Committee the loopholes mentioned by my Friend the Member for Basingstoke will be closed and the terminology tightened so that we do not have another unwieldy, cumbersome, useless, woolly piece of legislation.
The Bill is a welcome framework for safeguarding previously unprotected groups. I want to speak about another unprotected group on whose behalf I have been raising questions and for whom the Bill may be a solution—foreign language students who pay to stay with unvetted host families in this country.
The foreign language school industry is important for many seaside resort communities. The largest areas of activity are along the south coast in constituencies such as Eastbourne, Bournemouth and my own constituency of Torbay. Some 22,000 young students aged between 12 and 18 visit my constituency every year, and some £12 million a year goes into the pockets of host families. The industry is worth a significant amount to our economy, and it is to protect it in the future that I rise to ask some questions about the Bill.
The students mostly come from European countries, although more recently they have been coming from further afield. The industry was built up on Scandinavian, French and Italian students, then moved towards those from eastern Europe, and now students are coming from the far east and South America. They stay for two or three weeks, sometimes more, with a host family. It is a great way for families to get extra income by stretching the family budget to put an extra meal on the table in return for a small amount of money—perhaps about £90 a week for a single student or £75 a week for two or more students. The host family is expected to look after those young people, act in loco parentis, take them out, show them around and give them a taste of the life and culture of our country. At the end of a visit of two, three or more weeks, the students will perhaps spend a couple of days in London before flying back to their country.
The students are here to improve their English. The companies that run the language courses are mainly permanent language schools. Most are members of the Association of British Language Schools, but some are not. Those that are members have guidelines on the questions that need to be asked of the host families to vet them properly, but not all companies are signed up to those guidelines.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Does he believe that his remarks about the vulnerability of foreign students apply to the many students, travelling both ways, who go on traditional exchange visits between schools and twinning associations? How far does he want to extend that concern?
My interest is in those who come here for two or more weeks on an English language course. Teachers and others who accompany those who travel on school exchanges will clearly go through the system for which the Bill provides. Indeed, existing legislation already covers them. Our remit is not for what happens in another country with host families that English students who want to learn a foreign language encounter.
My point is that the hon. Gentleman refers to families who receive students from abroad as part of a formal training system or course, but that his comments also apply to families who receive young people visiting twin towns. Those families may need to be vetted. The teachers are okay; I am referring to the families who are earmarked to receive young people from, for example, France or Italy.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and the Government may well need to respond to it. However, I am considering the number of exchanges that can be quantified in the available statistics.
When there is little or no checking, some establishments recruit host families on the streets. Another loophole is that nothing stops an individual setting up a school and advertising it on the internet. Without regulation, there is a potential problem.
The police in my constituency have raised several disturbing cases and some potential cases in the past two years. Their view is that something needs to be done quickly. There have been several incidents of convicted paedophiles, known to the police, being identified as acting as host families. Indeed, in one case, a person on the sex offenders register applied to one of the language schools and specified the age and sex of the child whom they wanted to come and stay. In that case, the police could intervene—they found out about it. However, it is not written down anywhere that that is the police’s job. We do not know about the cases that do not come to the attention of the police or other authorities.
In another case, a host was found in bed with an under-age student. I stress that such cases are isolated when one considers the many thousands of foreign students who come to these shores. I do not want to give the impression that there is a massive problem, but it takes only one case to do enormous damage to a young person and the reputation of an excellent industry. The foreign language school industry, when properly regulated and following proper guidelines, is such an industry.
I first raised the matter more than two years ago with the relevant Minister, who, at that time, was the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge). I requested and was granted a meeting with her to discuss the concerns of the police in my constituency and I brought an officer with me. She was aghast that such potential for trouble existed in seaside resorts and she promised to raise it with the regulatory body of the English language schools. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, that meeting never took place.
I followed the matter up this year, this time requesting a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle). She too was aghast at this potential loophole and concerned that, even if the Bill covered it, it would be some time before the regulations were in place to protect these vulnerable people.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that this issue was discussed during the passage of the Children Act 2004. Yet again, however, the very good proposals put forward from the Opposition Benches at that time were not enacted, possibly with serious consequences. I hope that action will be taken this time.
I, too, hope that action will be taken.
I wrote to the then Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) about the Bill, when it was in its embryonic stages. I pointed out that it stipulated that, in order for people to be vetted, they should be remunerated in the course of their work, and that a commercial consideration should be involved. Host families to foreign language students are effectively paid only expenses, although for many of them it is paid work, particularly in a low-wage area such as my constituency. I asked whether this would therefore come under the definition of work and, if not, whether there would be any scope for interpreting the Bill more widely so as to protect those students. This is my question for the Government: will foreign language students be covered by the Bill, and if not, why not? If they will, how soon will it be before adequate protection can be put in place?
I apologise for not being here for the opening speech of the Minister for Children and Families, the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes). Unfortunately, I was delayed finalising a lengthy inquiry of the Education and Skills Committee into special educational needs. If any group needs our support and protection, those with special educational needs are right up there at the top of the list.
As the last Back-Bench speaker in the debate—I shall try not to take it personally, Madam Deputy Speaker—I will keep my comments brief and not repeat the points raised by other speakers. I hope that no one would argue that the new vetting and barring scheme for people who work with children and vulnerable adults was not long overdue. Sir Michael Bichard’s report made a number of important recommendations and it has taken us too long to get to the point at which we can say, hand on heart, that our children are safe in our schools. Recent local experience has made me particularly conscious of this and I should like to take a few moments to explain why.
When the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) confirmed to the House in January 2006 that 88 people with cautions or convictions for sex offences had been banned from the classroom, I immediately wrote to my two local education authorities, and submitted parliamentary questions to the Department for Education and Skills about the issue. In both cases, I was seeking assurances that children in my constituency were not being placed in harm’s way or at risk.
I immediately discovered anomalies in the system. For example, many teachers in post since before 2002 had not been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, because the legislation in force at the time did not require such a check. Furthermore, schools that checked teachers and classroom assistants often did not share the resulting information with their local education authority. When they did, the local education authority had to destroy the information after a short period of time under the data protection laws.
One of my local authorities, Wokingham district council, explained that it was difficult to offer any assurance about children’s safety, but said that it would spend £60,000 on checking any staff who had not previously been checked—that is, those who had been employed before 2002. The reaction from Reading borough council was, sadly, very political. Its lead councillor for children’s services accused me of all manner of things, saying that I could have asked the LEA’s director of education these questions—as he had—and been assured that there were no sex offenders in Reading’s schools. He also appeared in the local media to assure parents that no child was at risk. However, when I checked with the director of education, it turned out that the police were still making inquiries, and that those inquiries would show that a sex offender who had received a caution was teaching in a primary school in Reading.
The director of education said that he could not assure anybody or any councillor that children were completely safe in local schools, and only last week, Reading borough council was forced to admit that the department was in chaos. Urgent action is being taken to deal with the deep-seated and deep-rooted problems in the local education authority.
I raise that example because it is important to understand that, no matter how good the legislation—as we have heard from many people tonight, this legislation is far from perfect—its implementation is key to its success. In Reading, the lead councillor for children’s services has shown himself to be unfit for public office. Assuring parents that there was absolutely no danger to their children when he knew that that was not the case is unforgivable. He played politics and put children at risk in the most diabolical way.
This legislation will only be as good as the councillors and officers who implement it. My experience is that most councillors do not play politics with the lives of children and let us hope that Reading replaces its lead councillor for children’s services as soon as possible so that we can have confidence in the Bill and that it will be implemented properly in my constituency. It is a real test of local public confidence.
That said, I support much of this long overdue Bill. In particular, I support the integration of the various lists in one place and the removal of decisions from Ministers to a new independent body. Giving employers access to “real time” checks on prospective employees is also a step in the right direction, but I must sound a note of caution: the success of the legislation will also rest heavily on the IT systems that lie behind it.
We all know that the Government have form on IT systems, so I seek assurances from Ministers about the successful implementation of this IT project. I am also concerned that it is not expected to be operational for four years. If this IT project goes like many of the others, we can add at least several years to that. What assurances can the Minister give on the timely implementation of the IT project? What impact will not having the IT systems in place have on the rest of the legislation and its implementation?
I have two further concerns. One has been raised by Baroness Buscombe in relation to an adult list and a child list—I shall leave it for now as we are short of time and the Government have said that they will deal with it—and there is a long-standing worry about checking overseas workers.
In recent years, there has been a large increase in the number of overseas workers in the care and education sectors, but there is clearly a concern about getting access to the records of those potential employees. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on how that issue will be resolved by the Government.
The Bill is long overdue, but I hope that it will pass speedily through the House with all-party agreement and support, once the concerns raised in the debate have been addressed.
We have had rather a good and well-informed debate, but before I get into my winding-up speech, may I make two points?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) on her debut in responding for the Opposition to the introduction of new legislation. Secondly, I anticipate the contribution of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who is also making his debut in his new role. I offer him my congratulations, and I am sure that we will see much of each other in Committee considering this and other legislation.
As many hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned, we all welcome the Bill. Some of us would have welcomed it being introduced rather sooner—sooner after the publication of the Bichard report on 22 June 2004, which is two years ago this Thursday, and sooner after the conviction of Ian Huntley back in December 2003. However, this is important legislation that takes up, as the Minister has said, recommendation 19 of the Bichard report, which is to set up a single, consistent national registration scheme for those working with children and vulnerable adults, with a single protocol and a single set of arrangements for the inclusion of names on two lists.
It is worth pointing out, as hon. Members have done already, that the Bichard report resulted primarily from the horrendous murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in Soham, Cambridgeshire, at the hands of Ian Huntley. It is right for the Bill to receive cross-party support if it can make a major contribution to the averting of further such outrages. In that context, it should be seen as a fitting and lasting tribute not only to Holly and Jessica but to all the children who have gone before and since, dying or suffering at the hands of paedophiles and child murderers when more could and should have been done to keep them away from children.
It is our responsibility to ensure that we get the Bill right, not forgetting that the other important part of it deals with vulnerable adults—the elderly and infirm, those with mental illness and those with learning disabilities. Various Members mentioned the close link between those who abuse children and those who abuse vulnerable adults.
The opening speech from the Back Benches came from the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who made the relevant point that it is important to communicate the thrust of the Bill and what is expected of people. As she said, that applies especially to smaller care homes. She was the only speaker to mention Army training establishments, and the need to ensure that new recruits are not subjected to abuse. She rightly said that we must avoid the witch-hunt mentality, while also ensuring that vulnerable people who need and deserve our support receive due care and attention.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), who is no longer present, spoke from her experience as a former care home inspector. She gave telling and lengthy details of elder abuse that she had seen with her own eyes while inspecting care homes. With the system as it was, she was unable to secure a police prosecution because of the nature of the service users in the home who could have given testimony. We hope that the Bill will remove that deficiency.
As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner)—I am glancing around the Chamber, but I do not think that he is here either—made some telling points, not least when giving graphic descriptions of what dogs do with their umbilical cords after giving birth to lovely furry puppies, as happened in his household during the past few days. He said that this was a well-intentioned Bill that attempted to draw lines in shades of grey, and made the pertinent point that it should not interfere with families who were trying to do the right thing by their members.
The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber)—who, I am glad to say, is present—spoke about a subject that is dear to my heart: abuse over the internet. I have been to Scotland Yard, and have seen the paedophile unit and the extraordinarily graphic images that are downloaded and exchanged on the internet. As the hon. Lady rightly said, every one of those images represents the abuse of a child for profit somewhere down the line. The Bill, and other legislation that is needed, must clamp down on that abuse of technology. She also raised the interesting question of whether the vetting provisions should apply to potential councillors and Members of Parliament. I am sure that someone will bring that up in Committee.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) reminded us that abuse also happens in Wales. He too brought previous experience in social services to the fore. Like many others, he asked how thoroughly we could vet workers from overseas. Earlier, the Minister had helpfully told us that they would be subject to the same requirements as any domestic applicant for a post. The problem is, how sure can we be of the veracity of some of the documentation and the authenticity of some of the qualifications that overseas applicants claim to have? How much communication will there be between our police forces and police forces in those people’s host countries?
Let us remember that paedophiles can be the most devious and ingenious of people. These are people who go out of their way to get around the system, and it will be rather easier to do it in this country if they have come from another country. The vast majority of people who come to our country, work in public service and come into contact with children and vulnerable adults are absolutely genuine and have the best intentions; but—just as with some in this country—some do not, and they should be subject to the same rigorous checking as everybody else. We must find new methods of making sure that the system is up to muster.
The hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), who is also not present, discussed the issue of online child abuse, which is particularly relevant. I am especially pleased to have been present for the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main), whom we welcome back after her recent spell away. Her absence has certainly done nothing to diminish her forcefulness, as the points that she made in this debate showed. She spoke from personal experience about the need for the proper vetting of supply teachers, given the laxity in the monitoring of supply-teacher agencies and the apparent failure of the quality mark scheme to address that issue. She also mentioned sex tourism.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders)—he, too, has disappeared before my winding-up speech; I will take that terribly personally—raised the subject of English language schools and exchange students. Will families who play host to exchange students—that happens a lot in my constituency and in other south-coast constituencies—be subject to the checks mentioned? Is it necessary that they be subject to them? We need to investigate that matter further.
Typically, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) had done his homework following pronouncements by the former Secretary of State about what will be required of schools. My hon. Friend made the telling point that implementation will be crucial and will only be as good as the people doing the implementing—be they councillors, council officers or other professionals in the field.
The Opposition will pursue all the points mentioned, and others, constructively, so as to provide positive scrutiny and to ensure that this legislation “does what it says on the tin”. However, I should point out that we witnessed some posturing from Government Front Benchers at the beginning of the debate. It would have been useful if all Members had had all the information available to ensure that our debates were as well-informed as possible. An Ofsted report that is very germane to our debate is to be released at one minute past midnight tonight, and such timing must be down to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Embargoed copies of it were sent not to Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen—neither my party’s nor the Liberal Democrats’—they were sent only to the press. However, the Government have been hoist by their own petard, because the press has leaked that report back to us.
The Government have form in this regard. On Second Reading of the Children and Adoption Bill a few months ago, the Minister for Children and Families mentioned, to further her case, a report that had been released that morning on the internet. That report had not been given to the Opposition or to any other Members of this House, yet it was essential to the matter that we were discussing. Such things must stop. Why is the Ofsted report to be released just after this debate has taken place? Does the Minister not agree that it would have been beneficial to the debate if all of us could have shared in its contents? I do hope that, if any other germane documents come out, they are made available to all members of the Committee as we scrutinise this Bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that when I made my opening remarks, I said that Ministers would have preferred the report to have been in the public domain before this debate, but that that was not in our gift? I suggest that he talk to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), his party’s spokesperson on education, who will then inform him of what he was told this morning by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the efforts that we did in fact make to ensure that Ofsted published the report before now. Ofsted decided, however, not to do so.
It is unfortunate that the Department for Education and Skills is unable to persuade Ofsted of the importance of that report to the Bill. It is extraordinary that it is to be released within three hours of the end of this debate. That is the point that we are making. We have had crocodile tears from Government Members, but they are hoist by their own petard when embargoed copies of reports not made available to Members go to the press instead. It is the press that has leaked them back to Members, who should have had them in the first place.
I shall put down some benchmarks for our scrutiny of the legislation in Committee. First, will the Bill work to keep paedophiles and abusers—potential and known—away from children and vulnerable adults? Secondly, will it maintain a fair balance between the rights of individuals to go about their business unless and until they are proven to be a risk and the safety of vulnerable children and adults? Essentially, is it workable?
Thirdly, are the Government truly committed and on track to producing the structures that are essential to delivering such a vast enterprise? Enforcement is particularly relevant as is the workability of the sophisticated computer system required, which several hon. Members have mentioned? I was glad to hear the Minister mention the importance of the people on the ground who will be putting the Bill into effect. We should also bear in mind the Government’s track-record on delivering large-scale public service computer programs, as it is not exactly exemplary.
I read in my local newspaper today that the Sussex police have revealed that the installation of a new computer system is running more than two years behind schedule for the £2.3 million crime and intelligent computer system called Project Nemesis. Time and again, such computer systems leave a lot to be desired, but this one is essential to the success of the project—[Interruption.] I note that the Secretary of State is shouting from a sedentary position about other computer programs, all of which pale into insignificance beside the £6 billion—or is it £12 billion?—spent on the national health service computer system, which is years behind schedule and is not guaranteed to work. It is the biggest single computer project that has happened to date, but it is not up and running and it has cost all our constituents as taxpayers an awful lot of money. It has not succeeded yet—[Interruption.] Before the Secretary of State gets too excited, he needs to put it all into perspective. Let us not forget that, however proficient a computer system, it will count for nothing unless the quality of data inputted is up to scratch and the resources and professionals in the field are in place to act effectively afterwards.
Fourthly, will the Bill streamline the current chaos over who is responsible for monitoring which paedophile is where, and establish exactly what they are entitled to do? That problem gave rise to the Government’s belated urgency, when the worrying revelations about paedophiles working in positions of trust alongside children hit the headlines at the beginning of the year. It was at that point that the public at large started to hear about the POCA list set up in 2000. I understand that, up to the end of last year, some 1,276 persons were listed. People heard about the POVA list set up under the Care Standards Act 2004 and list 99, which has more than 4,000 persons on it. They heard about the sex offenders register, which had grown from 18,513 in 2001 to 28,994 in 2004-05, and about assorted other lists and Criminal Records Bureau check lists and so forth.
All that gave rise at the beginning of this year to rather more questions than the revelations answered. How could anyone listed on one of those lists get a job working in a school, for example? How is someone’s name entered on the list and how is it removed from it? To what extent is information shared between the lists? Who is entitled to access the lists in any case and what responsibilities do they then have for employing or sacking such a person? Given that a CRB check is effectively out of date the day after it has been processed, how is information on the lists kept up to date? What role do Ministers have in monitoring or overruling the decision to include or exclude someone from these lists and what discretion do they have to sanction employment in spite of a listing? At what stage is someone’s name added to one of the lists and what safeguards are there against vexatious allegations? What appeal mechanism exists for someone who has been wrongly accused and included on a list?
To her credit, early this year, the previous Secretary of State got to grips urgently with the problems relating to persons employed in schools, but many of us were worried that the Government were neglecting problems in other sectors of public service, especially and not least in the health service. Our worries were compounded when a Health Minister, Lord Warner, admitted at the Dispatch Box in another place that he had no idea how many people cautioned or convicted of a sexual offence were working in the NHS, let alone those who came into regular contact with children. He seemed to lack any sense of urgency about finding out the possible level of the problem, let alone doing something to sort it out.
Teachers and teaching assistants are obviously important—that was the main thrust of the complaints made at the beginning of the year—but the problem also involves private tutors, self-employed music teachers, 1.3 million people working in the NHS, doctors, nurses, dentists physiotherapists, social workers, foster carers and so on. We are relying heavily on the Bill to address all the questions and issues that arose at the beginning of the year and more. A lot is riding on it. We need a reliable system that can be more proactive, rather than reactive, to harmful behaviour.
Some improvements were made to the Bill in another place, but a number of issues are still outstanding; we shall seek to raise them in Committee and they are shared by various children’s organisations in particular. Many hon. Members have mentioned those shortcomings. Too much of the detail is left to regulation, and given the length of time that the Government have had to think about the issue since the Bichard report, we want to tie them down to putting more of that detail into the Bill.
Liberty has raised some serious, legitimate concerns about the scope for automatic inclusion on the barred list and the need to protect the innocent from ill-founded allegations and to respect people’s privacy and so on.
We welcome this belated Bill. We will ask many questions in Committee about exactly what it will mean in practice. We want much more detail and reassurances about the balance of civil liberties against protection and proportionality. We want to instil a culture of vigilance, not to provoke an atmosphere of fear and freelance accusations; but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and the Bill’s effectiveness will rely not just on new boards, new computer systems or new rulebooks, but on the people who are responsible for reporting information, gaining access to its findings and intervening and acting where appropriate.
We will scrutinise the Bill constructively, and I hope that the Government will accept some of the constructive amendments that we want to make. We owe it to all those victims of abuse in the past—young and old—to ensure that the Bill works and is not just another headline.
I shall seek to take some heat out of the debate by thanking the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. The debate was opened for the Conservatives by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), who peppered us with quite a few questions, and I am looking forward to hearing quite a few more from her. I gather that we will face each other across the Dispatch Box again tomorrow, as well as in Committee for some time.
One of the hon. Lady’s opening questions was about the IBB’s role and to what extent Parliament will have influence over its powers. The barring board will be independent and make its own decisions. Sir Roger Singleton is assisting with decisions on list 99, and we hope to build on that work. An expert panel has been set up already with the IBB. I am sure that one of the things that we will discuss at great length in Committee is the IBB’s role and how those decisions are made, as was the case in another place, but I will be impressing on hon. Members on both sides of the House that it is very important to allow the IBB to get on with its job in an unfettered way.
The hon. Lady spoke passionately about vulnerable adults at the beginning of her contribution. I agree with her in that the Bill is not just about children, but about vulnerable adults. In that context, she mentioned family relationships and the method of scrutiny, and the barring that will be used when someone employs or utilises a member of their family. It is not the purpose of the Bill to intrude on family relationships, and we do not intend to do so.
On that subject, does the Minister agree that elderly people who use the direct payment scheme need to be protected and informed better, and that that is a gap in the legislation at the moment, which I generally welcome? I hope that that matter will be dealt with in Committee.
Does the Minister recall the series of programmes entitled “Britain’s Secret Shame”, which revealed to many people the extent of elder abuse that exists, sometimes within the family? Opposition Members have made that point. If the Bill is not going to tackle that—and I understand why it might not—might that not strengthen the need for an older people’s rights commissioner in England to prosecute and to promote their interests, as we are seeing in Wales and elsewhere?
My hon. Friend makes an important suggestion for debate. We have had that conversation on a few occasions, and I am sure that he will continue to make the point on other occasions, but I do not think that it is germane to this debate.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke talked about those involved in controlled activity and what recourse there would be against those who do not establish measures to ensure that barred people are working with secure measures in place. The power of deregistration is there, and could be used if they do not employ people in an effective way, and with those safeguards. She talked about terminology, as did many hon. Members. I entirely accept that point. I am sure that we will return to it in Committee, because it is a complex Bill and many complex terms within it need to be fleshed out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) made an excellent contribution. She said that the IBB must look at all the information that is available to it. That is a key change being brought about by the Bill, which will allow more information than ever before to be presented by people who are in a position to bar. It will be about not just convictions but cautions and allegations, which the IBB can consider as well, so that was a relevant point.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making his ministerial debut tonight. Is not the Achilles heel of the legislation that we are focusing on domestic issues and domestic security checks? As he may know, more than 200,000 people have come from the EU accession countries over the past two years. If he listened to the “File on 4” programme yesterday, he would know that there are no feasible checks being made on those from the EU8 accession countries. More to the point, the UK Government have exempted themselves from the pilot project to share criminal information about EU subjects. What does he think of that?
The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point, which I will come to later, because it was made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood mentioned posts in day centres that are not covered. In clause 14, there is a range of areas that are not covered as of now, but are covered by a sunset clause. The idea is to cover those other areas over time. As I said earlier, there are between 7.5 million and 9 million people involved in work with children or with vulnerable adults in one way or another, so it will not be possible to legislate to cover all those people in one fell swoop. It will take time.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made a similar point to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham about Liberty and its views on an absolute bar. Last night I read the briefing from Liberty, but I disagree about where we are legally; it is possible to have an automatic bar without the right to make representations. Indeed, the British public would certainly express their opinion to us if, for example, we did not automatically bar child rapists without the right to make representations. Those are just the sort of people whom we want to reach with an auto-bar, without the right to make representations. We are talking about a shorter list of bars than those under list 99, but there will be other provisions—a bar with right to make representations and a discretionary bar in respect of under-18s.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned clarity of terms and the need to flesh some of them out. That happened in Committee in another place, and we shall have further opportunities to do it in Standing Committee. She also mentioned costs. The cost of the scheme is between £16 million and £18 million a year for the first five years, with start-up costs of about £16 million over the first three years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) made a passionate speech about her constituency, and circumstances that had occurred there. She pointed out that we need an effective communications strategy to explain to people what the Bill will mean to them. I can assure her that we intend to have one. She also said that the Bill should be proportionate, and that we do not want people to be barred for applying sun cream. That is part of the reason why an independent panel of experts will make the decisions, and it is right and proper that such people should be involved.
My hon. Friend asked whether there would be a single system to cover England and Wales. There will. Furthermore, similar legislation is being planned in Scotland. There will be legislation that mirrors ours in Northern Ireland too, so we shall be able to work closely together across the countries. Like me, she pointed out that, over the last 12 months, the CRB blocked 25,000 inappropriate employees. That is in stark contrast to the number of headline-grabbing cases of mistaken or duplicate identities, which accounted for only 0.03 per cent., so I thank my hon. Friend for making that point so cogently.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who is not in the Chamber, made some interesting points during the debate. I agreed with his point about scrutiny. As he said, the Bill has been well scrutinised and we shall continue to look at it closely. He asked whether under-age sex—for example, between a 14-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy—should result in an auto-bar. I am content that a discretionary approach is best for under-18s—children—rather than a one-size-fits-all structure.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned school governors. They will be covered by the scheme, but we will not work retrospectively straight away. We will deal first with new appointments and cases where someone has moved from one post to another.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) raised three issues in a concise but effective speech. She referred to child pornography, and I can confirm that there would be an auto-bar with right to make representations for those convicted of such offences. She asked whether councillors and Members of Parliament should be vetted. The scheme applies to people with day-to-day, regular, frequent involvement with children or vulnerable adults. I am sure that, as has been said, we will return to that in Committee, but it is not entirely germane to the legislation.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley made a point about chat rooms, which we also intend to take a closer look at in Committee. The matter has been discussed in another place, but there are some issues involved—not least whether we would be giving false security to parents who feel it is okay for their children to go into a chat room because they think that it is moderated, but who are not aware that it is not really moderated, because the moderator is in another country and hence not under our jurisdiction. Those are all issues for another day, and I am sure that we will discuss them in Committee.
Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss the particular point that I raised about extending the provisions requiring CRB checks of chat room moderators to those who work with electronic child location services that are used to track children? On child abuse images, will the provisions cover those who have accepted a caution and therefore accepted their responsibility for having downloaded images, or only those who have been taken to court?
I want to make a little progress, because I know that I am close to my agreed time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South—she is experienced in these issues and has tabled a ten-minute Bill on online moderation—asked about CRB checks for governors, and whether there would be a fee attached. I can assure her that there will be no charges for volunteers, and governors come under that heading.
The hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) talked about agency staff. I can assure her that agency staff are covered by the Bill and that an agency will be breaking the law if it employs a barred person. Those concerned are subject to the same fines—and even imprisonment—as anybody else if they break that law.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) made a point about students from abroad who come to this country. I can confirm that if the carers for those students are frequent carers, they will also be covered by the Bill.
The hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) made a good point about implementation and I agree that implementation is key. I have already met people from the Home Office and the Department of Health to talk about that.
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) made a point in an intervention about overseas staff generally. That is a fair point, and we will return to it in Committee, although the CRB is extending its work and is able to make checks in 21 countries. I accept that, in a global world and a global economy, that will become a bigger and bigger issue. I am happy to revisit the matter in Committee.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made a pertinent point at the beginning of his contribution, when he mentioned Holly and Jessica and the importance of making this a Bill that will ensure that circumstances such as those in Soham can—we hope—never occur again. We all share that hope and aspiration, which is why I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends in the other place, and also to members of the Opposition, who have done a good job in refining the Bill. There have been some concessions along the way. We are in a much stronger position now. The Bill is good and effective, and I look forward to working with Members from both sides of the House to help to ensure that it becomes an Act. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
SAFEGUARDING VULNERABLE GROUPS BILL [LORDS] (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
Proceedings in Standing Committee
2. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 13th July.
3. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any Message from the Lords) may be programmed.—[Mr. Heppell.]
Question agreed to.
SAFEGUARDING VULNERABLE GROUPS BILL [LORDS] [MONEY]
Queen’s recommendation having been signified––
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(a) any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act, and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided. —[Mr. Heppell.]
Question agreed to.