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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
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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.

7.31 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): 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.

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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.

Tim Loughton: 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
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used for that purpose? There have been several prosecutions and cautions of people who might in fact have been blameless.

Judy Mallaber: 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
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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.

7.44 pm

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): 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.

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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
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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
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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.

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