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It is unfortunate that the Department for Education and Skills is unable to persuade Ofsted of the importance of that report to the Bill. It is extraordinary that it is to be released within three hours of the end of this debate. That is the point that we are making. We have had crocodile tears from
Government Members, but they are hoist by their own petard when embargoed copies of reports not made available to Members go to the press instead. It is the press that has leaked them back to Members, who should have had them in the first place.
I shall put down some benchmarks for our scrutiny of the legislation in Committee. First, will the Bill work to keep paedophiles and abuserspotential and knownaway from children and vulnerable adults? Secondly, will it maintain a fair balance between the rights of individuals to go about their business unless and until they are proven to be a risk and the safety of vulnerable children and adults? Essentially, is it workable?
Thirdly, are the Government truly committed and on track to producing the structures that are essential to delivering such a vast enterprise? Enforcement is particularly relevant as is the workability of the sophisticated computer system required, which several hon. Members have mentioned? I was glad to hear the Minister mention the importance of the people on the ground who will be putting the Bill into effect. We should also bear in mind the Governments track-record on delivering large-scale public service computer programs, as it is not exactly exemplary.
I read in my local newspaper today that the Sussex police have revealed that the installation of a new computer system is running more than two years behind schedule for the £2.3 million crime and intelligent computer system called Project Nemesis. Time and again, such computer systems leave a lot to be desired, but this one is essential to the success of the project [Interruption.] I note that the Secretary of State is shouting from a sedentary position about other computer programs, all of which pale into insignificance beside the £6 billionor is it £12 billion?spent on the national health service computer system, which is years behind schedule and is not guaranteed to work. It is the biggest single computer project that has happened to date, but it is not up and running and it has cost all our constituents as taxpayers an awful lot of money. It has not succeeded yet [Interruption.] Before the Secretary of State gets too excited, he needs to put it all into perspective. Let us not forget that, however proficient a computer system, it will count for nothing unless the quality of data inputted is up to scratch and the resources and professionals in the field are in place to act effectively afterwards.
Fourthly, will the Bill streamline the current chaos over who is responsible for monitoring which paedophile is where, and establish exactly what they are entitled to do? That problem gave rise to the Governments belated urgency, when the worrying revelations about paedophiles working in positions of trust alongside children hit the headlines at the beginning of the year. It was at that point that the public at large started to hear about the POCA list set up in 2000. I understand that, up to the end of last year, some 1,276 persons were listed. People heard about the POVA list set up under the Care Standards Act 2004 and list 99, which has more than 4,000 persons on it. They heard about the sex offenders register, which had grown from 18,513 in 2001 to 28,994 in 2004-05, and about assorted other lists and Criminal Records Bureau check lists and so forth.
All that gave rise at the beginning of this year to rather more questions than the revelations answered. How could anyone listed on one of those lists get a job working in a school, for example? How is someones name entered on the list and how is it removed from it? To what extent is information shared between the lists? Who is entitled to access the lists in any case and what responsibilities do they then have for employing or sacking such a person? Given that a CRB check is effectively out of date the day after it has been processed, how is information on the lists kept up to date? What role do Ministers have in monitoring or overruling the decision to include or exclude someone from these lists and what discretion do they have to sanction employment in spite of a listing? At what stage is someones name added to one of the lists and what safeguards are there against vexatious allegations? What appeal mechanism exists for someone who has been wrongly accused and included on a list?
To her credit, early this year, the previous Secretary of State got to grips urgently with the problems relating to persons employed in schools, but many of us were worried that the Government were neglecting problems in other sectors of public service, especially and not least in the health service. Our worries were compounded when a Health Minister, Lord Warner, admitted at the Dispatch Box in another place that he had no idea how many people cautioned or convicted of a sexual offence were working in the NHS, let alone those who came into regular contact with children. He seemed to lack any sense of urgency about finding out the possible level of the problem, let alone doing something to sort it out.
Teachers and teaching assistants are obviously importantthat was the main thrust of the complaints made at the beginning of the yearbut the problem also involves private tutors, self-employed music teachers, 1.3 million people working in the NHS, doctors, nurses, dentists physiotherapists, social workers, foster carers and so on. We are relying heavily on the Bill to address all the questions and issues that arose at the beginning of the year and more. A lot is riding on it. We need a reliable system that can be more proactive, rather than reactive, to harmful behaviour.
Some improvements were made to the Bill in another place, but a number of issues are still outstanding; we shall seek to raise them in Committee and they are shared by various childrens organisations in particular. Many hon. Members have mentioned those shortcomings. Too much of the detail is left to regulation, and given the length of time that the Government have had to think about the issue since the Bichard report, we want to tie them down to putting more of that detail into the Bill.
Liberty has raised some serious, legitimate concerns about the scope for automatic inclusion on the barred list and the need to protect the innocent from ill-founded allegations and to respect peoples privacy and so on.
We welcome this belated Bill. We will ask many questions in Committee about exactly what it will mean in practice. We want much more detail and reassurances about the balance of civil liberties against protection and proportionality. We want to instil a culture of vigilance, not to provoke an atmosphere of fear and freelance accusations; but the proof of the
pudding will be in the eating, and the Bills effectiveness will rely not just on new boards, new computer systems or new rulebooks, but on the people who are responsible for reporting information, gaining access to its findings and intervening and acting where appropriate.
We will scrutinise the Bill constructively, and I hope that the Government will accept some of the constructive amendments that we want to make. We owe it to all those victims of abuse in the pastyoung and oldto ensure that the Bill works and is not just another headline.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I shall seek to take some heat out of the debate by thanking the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. The debate was opened for the Conservatives by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), who peppered us with quite a few questions, and I am looking forward to hearing quite a few more from her. I gather that we will face each other across the Dispatch Box again tomorrow, as well as in Committee for some time.
One of the hon. Ladys opening questions was about the IBBs role and to what extent Parliament will have influence over its powers. The barring board will be independent and make its own decisions. Sir Roger Singleton is assisting with decisions on list 99, and we hope to build on that work. An expert panel has been set up already with the IBB. I am sure that one of the things that we will discuss at great length in Committee is the IBBs role and how those decisions are made, as was the case in another place, but I will be impressing on hon. Members on both sides of the House that it is very important to allow the IBB to get on with its job in an unfettered way.
The hon. Lady spoke passionately about vulnerable adults at the beginning of her contribution. I agree with her in that the Bill is not just about children, but about vulnerable adults. In that context, she mentioned family relationships and the method of scrutiny, and the barring that will be used when someone employs or utilises a member of their family. It is not the purpose of the Bill to intrude on family relationships, and we do not intend to do so.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): On that subject, does the Minister agree that elderly people who use the direct payment scheme need to be protected and informed better, and that that is a gap in the legislation at the moment, which I generally welcome? I hope that that matter will be dealt with in Committee.
Mr. Dhanda: I totally agree. We will work with local authorities to ensure that advice is available to people receiving direct payments, so that they have the option to make that choice and to make that check if they wish to do so.
Does the Minister recall the series of programmes entitled Britains Secret Shame, which
revealed to many people the extent of elder abuse that exists, sometimes within the family? Opposition Members have made that point. If the Bill is not going to tackle thatand I understand why it might notmight that not strengthen the need for an older peoples rights commissioner in England to prosecute and to promote their interests, as we are seeing in Wales and elsewhere?
Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend makes an important suggestion for debate. We have had that conversation on a few occasions, and I am sure that he will continue to make the point on other occasions, but I do not think that it is germane to this debate.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke talked about those involved in controlled activity and what recourse there would be against those who do not establish measures to ensure that barred people are working with secure measures in place. The power of deregistration is there, and could be used if they do not employ people in an effective way, and with those safeguards. She talked about terminology, as did many hon. Members. I entirely accept that point. I am sure that we will return to it in Committee, because it is a complex Bill and many complex terms within it need to be fleshed out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) made an excellent contribution. She said that the IBB must look at all the information that is available to it. That is a key change being brought about by the Bill, which will allow more information than ever before to be presented by people who are in a position to bar. It will be about not just convictions but cautions and allegations, which the IBB can consider as well, so that was a relevant point.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making his ministerial debut tonight. Is not the Achilles heel of the legislation that we are focusing on domestic issues and domestic security checks? As he may know, more than 200,000 people have come from the EU accession countries over the past two years. If he listened to the File on 4 programme yesterday, he would know that there are no feasible checks being made on those from the EU8 accession countries. More to the point, the UK Government have exempted themselves from the pilot project to share criminal information about EU subjects. What does he think of that?
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood mentioned posts in day centres that are not covered. In clause 14, there is a range of areas that are not covered as of now, but are covered by a sunset clause. The idea is to cover those other areas over time. As I said earlier, there are between 7.5 million and 9 million people involved in work with children or with vulnerable adults in one way or another, so it will not be possible to legislate to cover all those people in one fell swoop. It will take time.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made a similar point to the hon.
Member for East Worthing and Shoreham about Liberty and its views on an absolute bar. Last night I read the briefing from Liberty, but I disagree about where we are legally; it is possible to have an automatic bar without the right to make representations. Indeed, the British public would certainly express their opinion to us if, for example, we did not automatically bar child rapists without the right to make representations. Those are just the sort of people whom we want to reach with an auto-bar, without the right to make representations. We are talking about a shorter list of bars than those under list 99, but there will be other provisionsa bar with right to make representations and a discretionary bar in respect of under-18s.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned clarity of terms and the need to flesh some of them out. That happened in Committee in another place, and we shall have further opportunities to do it in Standing Committee. She also mentioned costs. The cost of the scheme is between £16 million and £18 million a year for the first five years, with start-up costs of about £16 million over the first three years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) made a passionate speech about her constituency, and circumstances that had occurred there. She pointed out that we need an effective communications strategy to explain to people what the Bill will mean to them. I can assure her that we intend to have one. She also said that the Bill should be proportionate, and that we do not want people to be barred for applying sun cream. That is part of the reason why an independent panel of experts will make the decisions, and it is right and proper that such people should be involved.
My hon. Friend asked whether there would be a single system to cover England and Wales. There will. Furthermore, similar legislation is being planned in Scotland. There will be legislation that mirrors ours in Northern Ireland too, so we shall be able to work closely together across the countries. Like me, she pointed out that, over the last 12 months, the CRB blocked 25,000 inappropriate employees. That is in stark contrast to the number of headline-grabbing cases of mistaken or duplicate identities, which accounted for only 0.03 per cent., so I thank my hon. Friend for making that point so cogently.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who is not in the Chamber, made some interesting points during the debate. I agreed with his point about scrutiny. As he said, the Bill has been well scrutinised and we shall continue to look at it closely. He asked whether under-age sexfor example, between a 14-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boyshould result in an auto-bar. I am content that a discretionary approach is best for under-18schildrenrather than a one-size-fits-all structure.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned school governors. They will be covered by the scheme, but we will not work retrospectively straight away. We will deal first with new appointments and cases where someone has moved from one post to another.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) raised three issues in a concise but effective speech. She referred to child pornography, and I can confirm that there would be an auto-bar with right to make representations for those convicted of such offences. She asked whether councillors and Members
of Parliament should be vetted. The scheme applies to people with day-to-day, regular, frequent involvement with children or vulnerable adults. I am sure that, as has been said, we will return to that in Committee, but it is not entirely germane to the legislation.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley made a point about chat rooms, which we also intend to take a closer look at in Committee. The matter has been discussed in another place, but there are some issues involvednot least whether we would be giving false security to parents who feel it is okay for their children to go into a chat room because they think that it is moderated, but who are not aware that it is not really moderated, because the moderator is in another country and hence not under our jurisdiction. Those are all issues for another day, and I am sure that we will discuss them in Committee.
Judy Mallaber: Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss the particular point that I raised about extending the provisions requiring CRB checks of chat room moderators to those who work with electronic child location services that are used to track children? On child abuse images, will the provisions cover those who have accepted a caution and therefore accepted their responsibility for having downloaded images, or only those who have been taken to court?
Mr. Dhanda: As I said earlier, cautions and allegations are part of the Bill and things that the IBB can consider, as well as convictions. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter in more depth later.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, Southshe is experienced in these issues and has tabled a ten-minute Bill on online moderationasked about CRB checks for governors, and whether there would be a fee attached. I can assure her that there will be no charges for volunteers, and governors come under that heading.
The hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) talked about agency staff. I can assure her that agency staff are covered by the Bill and that an agency will be breaking the law if it employs a barred person. Those concerned are subject to the same finesand even imprisonmentas anybody else if they break that law.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) made a point about students from abroad who come to this country. I can confirm that if the carers for those students are frequent carers, they will also be covered by the Bill.
The hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) made a good point about implementation and I agree that implementation is key. I have already met people from the Home Office and the Department of Health to talk about that.
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) made a point in an intervention about overseas staff generally. That is a fair point, and we will return to it in Committee, although the CRB is extending its work and is able to make checks in 21 countries. I accept that, in a global world and a global economy, that will become a bigger and bigger issue. I am happy to revisit the matter in Committee.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made a pertinent point at the beginning of his contribution, when he mentioned Holly and Jessica and the importance of making this a Bill that will ensure that circumstances such as those in Soham canwe hopenever occur again. We all share that hope and aspiration, which is why I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends in the other place, and also to members of the Opposition, who have done a good job in refining the Bill. There have been some concessions along the way. We are in a much stronger position now. The Bill is good and effective, and I look forward to working with Members from both sides of the House to help to ensure that it becomes an Act. I commend the Bill to the House.
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