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.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): 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.
Mrs. Miller: 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 peoples confidence in records will be undermined. Those are important points of detail but, unfortunately, the Bill does not deal with them.
Mrs. Miller: 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 organisations 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 uniquethat picture, however, is sometimes painted by the mediaas 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 notesI have collected them in a large fileto 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 Ministers 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?
Mrs. Miller: 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.
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 disorderswe 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 headson 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 adultsfor 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.
The safeguarding agenda is becoming increasingly coherent.
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 Secretarys 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 Secretarys 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 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 Governments 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 Ministers confirmation in the Lords debates that the Bills 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 adultsby 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 everyones 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 Governments 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 childrens 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 schoolsas we would expectchildrens hospitals, childrens 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 peoples 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.
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.
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.
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.