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19 Jun 2006 : Column 1113

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
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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.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Does the hon. Lady really think that one of the murderers of Mary-Ann Leneghan, who was under 18 when that appalling crime was committed, should not automatically be barred from working with children?

Annette Brooke: 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
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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.

6.30 pm

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): 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
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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.

Mrs. Maria Miller: Will the hon. Lady join me in expressing concern that the Bill terms pregnant and breastfeeding women as vulnerable people? Is not defining such women in that way a somewhat retrograde step?

Mrs. Moon: 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.

Hywel Williams: 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

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?

Mrs. Moon: I have not had time to refer to the clause that you refer to. However, I think that you will find that the cover-all at the end—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): 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”.

Mrs. Moon: 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.

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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.

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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.

Annette Brooke: 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
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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.

Mrs. Moon: 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.

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