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23 Oct 2006 : Column 1251

Both the DWP and the Office of the Public Guardian will need to establish guidelines for their staff in relation to when it would be appropriate to make a check. It is likely that the guidelines will suggest that checks be made when concerns have been raised about a deputy attorney or appointee, but we will give the Office of the Public Guardian power to make those checks.

Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 seek to add the Office of the Public Guardian and the DWP to the list of bodies that maintain registers of professionals, such as the General Teaching Council. They are professional regulatory bodies, and we do not think that clause 35 is suitable for amendment of this kind. However, an amendment that I shall discuss later would allow the Office of the Public Guardian to become a supervisory authority for the purposes of the Bill. That means that it would be able to check any person acting or wishing to act under an enduring or lasting power of attorney, or as a deputy, to find out whether that person is barred. It would also be required to refer individuals to the independent barring board when abuse occurs. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) asked about that specifically.

I can also reassure Members that when the appointment of a DWP appointee is revoked for reasons of abuse, a referral to the scheme will be made. It will be set out in the DWP’s guidance to appointees. It will also be made clear to the appointee at the time of appointment. Where the Department for Work and Pensions has made a check on someone who is appointed to receive benefit on another’s behalf, it will be informed if that person’s scheme status changes. In addition, it will be made clear to those who seek to register as a DWP appointee that they will be committing an offence if they act as an appointee when barred.

Amendment No. 106 deals with where someone is working closely and on a regular basis with vulnerable adults and undertaking regulated activity. Court of Protection visitors do not undertake that sort of role in respect of individuals and do not have an ongoing relationship with the individuals that they visit. Their primary role is to carry out visits, collect information and produce reports to the Court of Protection or the public guardian to take such action as they require.

Amendments Nos. 258, 259 and 260 amend clause 10 so that an offence is committed where regulated activity providers or personnel suppliers “suspect” that an individual is not subject to monitoring rather than have “reason to believe” that that is the case. A regulated activity provider or personnel supplier would know whether someone is monitored if they have made a check. If they do not do so, they will commit an offence under clause 11. The check will also allow the regulated activity provider to register to be notified by the IBB if the individual stops being subject to monitoring.

The offence in clause 10 is designed to criminalise an employer who has made a check but goes on to employ someone, even though the check showed that the individual was subject to monitoring. In those cases, the employer would know that the individual was not subject to monitoring and it is those people—not people across the board—that we are aiming to criminalise. The provision also criminalises an employer who learns from a source
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such as the police or a regulatory body that the individual was not subject to monitoring. In those cases, the regulated activity provider would have reason to believe that the person was not subject to monitoring, but he would not know it. To change the wording from “reason to believe” to “suspect” would not significantly change the circumstances in which the offence was committed. If anything, it would widen the circumstances. An employer who was unsure could simply do an online check.

Amendment No. 242 is designed to ensure that those working for location-based services are covered by regulated activity. The mobile phone network operators and location service providers have acted to put in place a code of practice, covering passive location services, using mobile phone technology. As I pointed out in Committee, it is a new sector and we would need to consult on and assess the risk presented by individuals working in those services before looking to amend the definition of regulated activity.

Judy Mallaber: Would my hon. Friend accept that even those involved in drawing up the voluntary code do not believe that it satisfactorily meets either the full range of technologies or the specific technology to which it was applied? They are among the strongest forces calling for licensing and regulation.

Mr. Dhanda: I appreciate that, but the Bill is not the proper vehicle for licensing in that way. I acknowledge the points that my hon. Friend has made—she did so in Committee, too—and it may well be possible to keep under review the issue of what counts or does not count as regulated activity. We have to be watchful and mindful about all areas of emerging technologies and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the matter to our attention. I can assure her that we will keep it under review.

The Bill provides the power to amend the definition of regulated activity by order so that new categories of work can be added, providing the flexibility to respond to new types of services and new ways of working with children. We will use the power where it is appropriate. I should also respond to questions about the regulations on regulated activity. I can confirm that the affirmative process would be used to ensure that a wider debate took place in this House.

4.45 pm

Mrs. Miller: I wish to clarify what the Minister has just said. Is it the case that amendments on the scope of regulated activity would be introduced only if they were related to developments in technology that might occur in the future?

Mr. Dhanda: No, I do not wish to define today what we may set down as regulated activities tomorrow. To relate that only to new technology would unfairly fetter the Bill and prevent us from adding other aspects to the regulated activities. Our stakeholders may come to us, for example, with a request to add to the regulated activities, so it would be overly prescriptive to limit any change to new technology.

On the hon. Lady’s points about stakeholders and stakeholder agreement, we have worked hard on the Bill over the summer, and I am pleased to say that we today received a letter from Mary Marsh of the
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National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, who said that she wished to express her belief that the new vetting and barring scheme will increase the confidence of children and parents, secure in the knowledge that the adults working with children are known not to present a risk. She also welcomes the amendments and changes that we have been working on over the summer, as do other stakeholders with whom we have been working.

I am also happy to join the hon. Lady in praising the work of Baroness Buscombe on the Bill, especially on the changes with regard to prison officers and the like. As I have already said, changes to regulated activities will be set out in regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. The hon. Lady also asked about frequency, and we are scheduled to have a detailed debate on that point later today. I am sure that we will reach those amendments, so I will respond to her questions then.

Mrs. Miller: Given that it is highly improbable that we will reach those amendments because of the mountain of amendments we have to deal with, and the level of interest in the House, it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the use of the term “frequency” or “frequently”. That does fall within this group of amendments and those who read the report of the debate would benefit from understanding the Government’s intention, especially if the term will be defined as having a particular meaning.

Mr. Dhanda: If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, do not mind me straying on to that ground to answer the hon. Lady’s point, I am happy to say that it is our intention that “frequently” should take its normal meaning. However, we have specified a period condition, which is any work that takes place for more than two days, or overnight, in a 30-day period. That will be specified in the Bill, but the term “frequently” will take its normal meaning.

I hope that hon. Members will accept the Government’s new clauses and amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Monitoring: fees

‘(1) This section has effect in respect of fees which may be prescribed in relation to applications for monitoring under section 21.

(2) In setting a fee for an application made during the period of five years beginning with the commencement of that section, the Secretary of State may take account of expenditure incurred, or which he thinks will be incurred, by him before the end of that period (taking one financial year with another)—

(a) in connection with the operation of IBB (including payments under paragraph 10A of Schedule 1);

(b) in respect of any other expenditure of the Secretary of State in connection with his functions under this Act.

(3) In setting a fee for an application made after that period, the Secretary of State may take account of expenditure incurred, or which he thinks will be incurred, by him—

(a) in making payments under paragraph 10A of Schedule 1;

(b) in respect of any other expenditure of the Secretary of State in connection with his functions under this Act.

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(4) For the purposes of subsection (2), it is immaterial that any expenditure is incurred before the commencement of section 21.

(5) The power to prescribe fees is exercisable only with the consent of the Treasury.

(6) Fees received by the Secretary of State by virtue of section 21(1)(d) must be paid into the Consolidated Fund.’.— [Mr. Dhanda.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Dhanda: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments Nos. 68, 19 and 109 to 111.

Government new schedule 1— Transfers to IBB—

Amendment No. 6, in schedule 1, page 36, line 28, leave out sub-sub paragraph (c).

Mr. Dhanda: The new clause and amendments Nos. 68 and 109 are designed to provide flexibility for the Secretary of State in setting the vetting and barring scheme fee, and to give the Secretary of State a power to fund the independent barring board directly. Clause 21 currently allows the Secretary of State to set and receive a fee from applicants for monitoring. We want to make it clear that we want to set a fee that will enable the scheme to break even over the first five years of operation, and the new clause achieves that.

Amendment No. 68 clarifies the Secretary of State’s power to waive the fee for those who undertake regulated activity on a voluntary basis. We made that commitment on Second Reading and again in Committee, and I am happy to make it explicit today. Volunteers currently receive Criminal Records Bureau checks free of charge and we shall continue that approach.

Amendment No. 109 puts in place a mechanism for funding the IBB. The monitoring fee will be payable to the Secretary of State, not direct to the board. The IBB will be a free-standing statutory body, so we need to provide a power for the Secretary of State to pass funding on to it.

Amendments Nos. 110 and 111 ensure that arrangements for presenting IBB accounts to Parliament are in line with current practice. Amendment No. 19 and new schedule 1 make provision in relation to staff and property transfer schemes. Their purpose is to enable staff who work in the Department on the Protection of Children Act 1999, protection of vulnerable adults and list 99 barring schemes, as well as property deployed for the purposes of the current schemes, to be transferred to the IBB. It is usual to include such a provision in the Bill where staff and property transfers are envisaged. This set of provisions will ensure that the expertise of those operating the POCA, POVA and list 99 barring schemes may be transferred to the new vetting and barring scheme where appropriate. They will also ensure that property, like the IT system, may also be transferred. The detail of such schemes will be developed as part of the process of planning the implementation of the new scheme.

I commend the provisions to the House.

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Mrs. Maria Miller: I thank the Minister for his explanation of these important provisions, especially new clause 2, but this is yet another example of the Government tabling amendments in the last few days. Funding the IBB is at the heart of making the Bill work, so when the Minister responds to the debate I should like him to explain why we have had to wait until this late stage for the Government’s proposals. It is important that Members scrutinising the Bill have all the facts at their disposal, because the measure will affect important groups of people. When important elements such as these provisions are not included when the Bill is introduced it makes our job difficult, especially as it is entirely unclear why they were tabled at this late date.

Putting that to one side, new clause 2 covers provisions which, as the Minister said, govern the fees applicable to monitoring under clause 21. Amendment No. 109 allows the Secretary of State to make payments to the IBB and amendment No. 68 tidies up some of the wording in relation to that power.

We are pleased that there is an implication in the new clause that fees will be capped for five years. We welcome that and I hope that the Minister will remember the comments made by my hon. Friends earlier in the debate about the need not just for capping but also for efficiencies. There will be a significant cost, which employers and other organisations will have to cover.

Anne Main: Does my hon. Friend agree that, although capping is welcome to prevent fees rising exorbitantly, the Minister should give an undertaking that the fees will be reviewed regularly after the initial five years, so that people will know how quickly fees are rising, if they rise, or, we hope, decreasing? Given that some fee structures seem to have risen remarkably quickly, people would welcome a regular review, perhaps annually or more often, if that is appropriate.

Mrs. Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. As the Minister is aware, the IBB will lay an annual report before the Department and the Secretary of State may specify what the report should cover. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether a review of fees will be included in the report.

Costs are a matter of great concern. It is a shame that we could not debate the matter more fully in Committee. New clause 2 implies that fees can be used to recoup payments made to the IBB under amendment No. 109 or

Under the Bill, the functions of the Secretary of State are extensive. There will be three significant cost areas. First, the Criminal Records Bureau may be used to provide information on the status of individuals who are monitored. Secondly, the IBB will eventually rely on the introduction of IMPACT, the police monitoring database, which is already £200 million over budget and several years late. Thirdly, in addition to the costs of the Department, there will be the cost of running the IBB. The Bill provides for the Secretary of State potentially to recoup all those costs from the fees that are charged. Will the Minister provide more detail? I am sure a number of organisations will view the provision with concern.

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At present, development costs associated with, say, the Criminal Records Bureau are not set against the costs levied from individuals applying for a criminal record check. Are we to infer that the process is being changed and that in future we can expect all development costs to be levied from the charge imposed on applicants? That could have considerable implications for organisations that must apply for checks in order to continue to operate.

In Committee, the Minister said that it was his intention that the numbers monitored by the Bill should be expanded in future. He made it clear in reply to my intervention a few moments ago that that would not necessarily be only as a result of changes in technology, but that it could happen for other reasons. Can he reassure the House that the number of people being monitored will not increase purely to increase the revenue stream available to the Secretary of State to offset some of the rather high cost of implementing such an extensive Bill?

In answer to a parliamentary question, we learned that the average unit processing cost for the CRB was £26.10 in 2005-06. As we heard today, the cost of an advance disclosure is £34, which is due to rise to £36. There is quite a significant gap between those two figures. The House will be interested to know that the majority of requests made to the CRB are for advance disclosure checks at the higher cost of £34, soon to be £36.

The Minister said that the programme needed to pay for itself, but it is clear that it is currently more than paying for itself: a surplus is being generated as a result of the charging levels. What is that money is being used for? Does he intend to continue with that higher level of charge and, if so, will he give us a rough idea of what the unit costs will be for the new vetting and monitoring processes, and what the actual cost will be? Given the burdens that this will place on many employers, that will be of great interest.

5 pm

In respect of voluntary and charitable organisations, I would appreciate it if the Minister could give us further assurances that there will continue to be no charges for checks on volunteers. I am sure that he will be able to do that, but it is still worth stressing that point.

Amendment No. 6 addresses the IBB’s ability to borrow money. As we covered that in Committee, I am pleased that it was decided that we could revisit it on Report. The amendment has been tabled only in the spirit of ensuring that there is transparency and sound financial management within the IBB. Although we have received assurances from the Minister that the provision that the amendment addresses is a standard provision that will be used rarely, it gives the IBB extensive powers, which the House should be aware of.

I would also like some clarification on the position of the Treasury in respect of this provision. From reading the reports on this area, it is my understanding that the Treasury will need to know that this provision will be used before it is agreed that it can be included in the Bill. Although the Minister assured us in Committee that it will be used rarely, some discussions must have gone on with the Treasury to reassure it that it is a required provision, and I ask him to share those discussions with us.

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