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Independent Safeguarding Authority

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

9. What recent assessment he has made of arrangements for implementation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority’s vetting and barring scheme; and if he will make a statement. (292200)

Today sees the launch of the first stage of the new vetting and barring scheme. I can tell the House that arrangements are on track for the implementation of ISA registration by individuals from July next year. In advance of that, I have asked Sir Roger Singleton to look again at the definition of “frequent and intensive contact” with children that will trigger the requirement for individuals to register. He will report to me in December.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that before a Member of Parliament visits a school in his constituency for prize-giving he will have to be vetted?

I absolutely refute that. If the hon. Gentleman had looked in his inbox—I accept that 29 July was quite recent—he would have seen the letter from me to all MPs that makes it absolutely clear that when an MP is visiting one of their local schools for prize-giving or whatever else, there is no requirement for them to register. Only if he were teaching a class regularly would he have to register—I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will be, so he will be fine.

My right hon. Friend will have been pleased to hear that Volunteering England has welcomed the introduction of the vetting and barring scheme as a simplification and a sensible step forward. On the question of frequency and intensity, will he answer a question from my local town-twinning organisation? When a group of foreign children is in the town for a week or 10 days at a time, will that cross the intensity threshold for registration? Indeed, are foreign children covered by the scheme at all?

If foreign children are coming to our country to stay with a local family on a school exchange or as part of twinning, yes, the family that is hosting them will be required to be on the ISA list, so that parents in a foreign country can know whether there is any past child-related offence. We have thought about this very carefully and only by doing it in such a way could we ensure that children from our country and those from abroad are safe.

Did the Secretary of State see the admirable article by the inspector in charge of the Soham case in which the inspector ridiculed the excessive bureaucracy, which will mean that many decent, innocent people have to be vetted in this stupid way?

I am very sorry indeed that the hon. Gentleman, who is normally a wise counsel, has used such intemperate and ill-informed language on this issue. The fact is that the person who made the recommendations on the Soham case is entirely behind the changes that we are making. The definition of “frequent or intensive” is difficult, and we need to make sure that we are clear in the way in which we apply it. There has been much misinformation on this issue, suggesting that a parent taking their children to school for a neighbour, or someone helping out once in a while in school is required to register. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts and the reality, and not the nonsense in some briefing papers, before he asks questions in the House.