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Safeguarding Children and Young People

Volume 473: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

I would like to update the House on progress on steps which have been taken to strengthen the vetting and barring system, and on commitments made in respect of List 99 by my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) on 19 January 2006, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) on 28 February 2007.

The safety of children and young people is our top priority. We are committed to ensuring we have the toughest ever vetting and barring system for all those working with, or seeking to work with, children and vulnerable adults. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006, introduces further fundamental strengthening of the arrangements for the vetting and barring of individuals employed with children and vulnerable adults. This will incorporate a robust, independent and expert barring process and will provide a modern and improved vetting service for employers, including parents.

Pending the implementation of this new vetting and barring service, we have continued to strengthen existing arrangements in a number of ways.

Revised List 99 Regulations

My predecessor announced the introduction of regulations concerning the placing of individuals on List 99 by including on the list automatically anyone with a sexual offence against a child. These regulations, which amended the Education (Prohibition from Teaching or Working with Children) Regulations 2003, extended the range of offences which will result in automatic inclusion on List 99 to include cautions as well as convictions for sexual offences against children. These changes have ensured that anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of, or cautioned for, a relevant offence from 28 February 2007 will be automatically included on the list regardless of whether there is evidence that they have been in previous employment in the education and children’s workforce. For the most serious offences individuals are barred without the right to make representations. In other cases individuals are able to make representations, but continue to be barred from employment as teachers or school workers while these are considered.

These regulations have been implemented vigorously and effectively since they came into force on 28 February 2007.

I am particularly grateful for the assistance of the police in providing information on individuals who have committed relevant offences to my officials in order that barring can be undertaken.

Consolidated Safer Recruitment Guidance and Follow-up to the Ofsted Survey of Vetting Practice in Schools

Following the Ofsted survey of vetting practice in schools, the Department introduced new requirements for every school and college to have a single central record of checks. Full, single central records for all staff were required to be in place from 1 April 2007. The existence of an up-to-date record in every school, available for inspection by Ofsted, will help to ensure that schools have carried out and recorded all the checks, including List 99 and CRB checks, on staff properly.

Ofsted inspectors evaluate schools’ compliance with Government requirements regarding vetting of staff during the course of inspections of maintained schools. Reports published since April 2007 indicate that compliance is very high, and Ofsted will continue to report on this aspect. Where schools are found not to be compliant with Government requirements, this will carry implications for their other inspection judgements such as on leadership and management or the care, guidance and support of learners, as well as the grade for the school’s overall effectiveness.

List 99 Review

In his statement to the House on 28 February 2007 my predecessor referred to the work undertaken in following up the commitments made on 19 January 2006 by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West. In particular he referred to 56 cases where Ministers or officials had decided not to include an individual on List 99. My predecessor confirmed that all of these individuals had been followed up and that one individual was barred. In addition, he also referred to 32 cases of individuals who were on the sex offenders’ register, but had not previously been referred to the Department by the police. He confirmed that all 32 individuals were now barred.

As well as ensuring that cases considered since 1997 where there were sexual offences which indicated a risk of harm to children were examined, the then Secretary of State also made a commitment on 19 January 2006 to examine similar cases determined before 1997. Sir Roger Singleton and his panel would examine those cases which, had the sex offenders’ register existed, would have resulted in the individual’s inclusion on the register and all cases involving a sexual offence or allegation which resulted in a decision not to include on List 99 or in a restriction or partial bar. My predecessor also asked Sir Roger to include all cases where there were sexual allegations between 1997 and 2005 in addition to all cases involving sexual offences or allegations before 1997. The aim of this was to establish whether any individual posed a risk of harm to children and if any action should be taken. As well as advising me on contemporary cases, Sir Roger Singleton’s panel have also been examining these historical cases.

This important and painstaking work has been given the highest priority. In total 2,559 relevant case files have been reviewed by Sir Roger Singleton’s panel. 1,741 of these files were from the period 1940 to 1997, and 818 were cases from the period 1997 to 2005. As a result of the panel’s examination, and further information gathered from the police, 46 individuals have been barred.

This important work is continuing and the review of historical cases is approaching completion. I will bring a further report to the House in due course.

In his statement of 28 February 2007, my predecessor gave an update on the 210 cases where individuals had been placed on List 99, but subject to a partial bar which restricts their employment with children to certain types of establishment or types of work in schools. These cases have been examined and, where appropriate, enquiries made in order to gather additional information from police and other sources. My predecessor reported that in 42 of the 210 cases there is no indication of any sexual offence or allegation, and in one case the person concerned was deceased. These cases are closed. My predecessor also reported that there were 12 cases where, as a result of further enquiries, the partial bar had been changed to a full bar. I can now report that as a result of additional police information the partial bar has been changed to a full bar in 4 more cases, a total of 16. One further individual is deceased. The review of these partial bar cases is now complete. The panel has advised that no further action is required.

All the individuals who still have partial bars remain on List 99. A standard or enhanced CRB disclosure will reveal the barred status of the individuals concerned to an employer, and their status will also be disclosed by the required List 99 check.

All partial bar cases, along with other barred cases, will be considered by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) for inclusion in the new barred lists under the terms of the Transitional Provisions Order made under the Safeguarding and Vulnerable Groups Act. If the ISA decides that these individuals pose a risk of harm they will be placed on the new barred lists.

My predecessor reported that as at 27 February 2007 there were 4,921 individuals on List 99. As at 13 March 2008, the number of individuals on List 99 is 8,036. The vast majority of the increase is as a result of the amended List 99 regulations which came into force on 28 February 2007.

I am extremely grateful for the work of Sir Roger Singleton and the panel of experts who have been advising me on List 99 cases. Their role in advising on List 99 cases will shortly be transferred to the new Independent Safeguarding Authority.

The New Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA)

Following the full implementation of the Safeguarding and Vulnerable Groups Act, decisions on whether to prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults will be taken by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office. Chaired by Sir Roger Singleton, the ISA will be responsible for making decisions under the new vetting and barring arrangements, and it was formally established in January 2008 to take forward the transitional and preparatory work in readiness for the new scheme. As part of the transition, from 31 March 2008, we will begin to transfer the administration of List 99 casework to the ISA, which will advise the Secretary of State on the barring decisions under the provisions of paragraph 1 of Schedule 8 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act.

The new vetting and barring scheme will replace the current List 99, Protection of Children Act (PoCA) list, the disqualification orders handed down by the courts, and the Protection of Vulnerable Adults (PoVA) list with new lists barring individuals from working with children and vulnerable adults. Statutory instruments have been made which come into force on 7 April 2008, which govern the arrangements under which ISA must include, or consider including, in the new barred lists all those individuals who are barred under the current schemes.

A Home Office Minister will make a statement to the House in due course on the ISA’s work and progress towards the implementation of the new scheme.