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23 Oct 2006 : Column 1257

This is an important group of amendments, and I only wish that we could have had them before us in Committee, so that we could have explored them further at that stage.

Mr. Dhanda: Amendment No. 6 would remove the IBB’s power to borrow money in connection with the exercise of any of its functions. As the hon. Lady said, we debated it in Committee, and as I explained then—and confirmed in a letter that I circulated to all Committee members—the power to borrow is a normal one for any independent body to have, but it is not common for that power to be used. The kinds of rare circumstances in which a non-departmental public body might need to borrow money include where the normal funding mechanism failed for some reason—such as an administrative error or industrial action. In such circumstances, the body might need to obtain a temporary bank overdraft to meet a short-term financial requirement such as staff pay. If we fail to provide the IBB with the power to borrow, we will put it at unnecessary risk of an occasion arising when it cannot meet its financial obligations. That is why this power is included in the Bill.

The main purposes of the Government amendments in respect of funding are to clarify and qualify the flexibility in fee setting and the mechanism for funding the IBB. The Bill as published contains only a power to prescribe the fee; the amendments place more detail in its provisions. For example, they set out the period of time that the Secretary of State needs to take into account in setting the fee, and they make it clear that a zero fee may be prescribed. I am happy to make it clear again that we intend to ensure that volunteers do not have to pay the fee throughout the funding model of the first five years. I hope that the House will welcome that additional detail that clarifies and qualifies the funding arrangements.

To answer the hon. Lady’s question about regular reviews, it is the intention to have an annual review of that fee, as it is in respect of the CRB fee. We were quite clear about our intentions for funding the scheme when responding to questions raised in previous debates. We have realised that the Bill’s provisions could be clarified. For example, we repeatedly stated that the fee for volunteers will be waived, and we are now making the ability to do so explicit. I am sure that that clarification is welcomed.

Anne Main: Is the Minister completely satisfied that it is clear what the funding is intended to pay for? For example, is it intended to pay for updating all the computer systems and for any programming required in the regular progress updates that are so important if employers are to make checks? Given the big overruns in computer costs that have occurred, is he satisfied that the fee levied will be enough to cover the entire programme, including staffing costs?

Mr. Dhanda: It is for the entire funding of the IBB and its processes, which includes its computers. It is important to remember that this is about not just the costs incurred but the extra powers and securities that the Bill will give to vulnerable groups. It will also help employees by ensuring portability—they will pay a fee to get on to the scheme and will not have to pay
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another—and there is the added benefit of online checks. The vetting and barring scheme fee will be paid once when a person enters the scheme; there will be no new VBS fee when they change jobs. The new employer will be able to use the online check to confirm the person’s status in the scheme. As with the CRB disclosure fee, the VBS fee will be the individual applicant’s responsibility, but it will be open to the employer to pay the fee.

We want the IBB to have the borrowing power that I mentioned, but we hope that it will not need to be used. That is not a contradiction; rather, it is the prudent way forward. If Government funding arrangements failed, the IBB would still be able to meet its obligations. We do not expect it to borrow from the private sector or to generate any working capital. The power to borrow will not be used to allow it to run at a deficit. It will need to balance its costs and income each year; it will not exist to make a profit.

As the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) rightly pointed out, in terms of the funding model, we need to look at the numbers in the scheme. In the first three years, more money is likely to be coming in as people register, but the costs in years four and five are likely to offset that. As fewer people come into the scheme and we get closer to the figure of 7 million people, the costs are likely to be put toward the process of continual monitoring. But as I said, work has been done to ensure that the funding model is secure for the full five years.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

Provision of vetting information

‘(1) The Secretary of State must provide a person (A) with the information mentioned in subsection (4) in relation to another (B) if—

(a) A makes an application for the information,

(b) the application contains the appropriate declaration, and

(c) the Secretary of State has no reason to believe that the declaration is false.

(2) The appropriate declaration is a declaration by A—

(a) that he falls within column 1 of a specified entry, and

(b) that B has consented to the provision of the information to A.

(3) In this section references to a specified entry are to an entry in the table in Schedule 4 specified by A in his declaration.

(4) The information is—

(a) if column 2 of the specified entry refers to children, relevant information relating to children, and

(b) if column 2 of the specified entry refers to vulnerable adults, relevant information relating to vulnerable adults.

(5) Paragraph (b) of subsection (2) does not apply if the specified entry is 17.

(6) If B consents to the provision of information to A in relation to an application under this section, the consent also has effect in relation to any subsequent such application by A.

(7) The Secretary of State may prescribe the form, manner and contents of an application for the purposes of this section (including the form and manner of a declaration contained in such an application).

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(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision requiring a local authority which makes or proposes to make payments to or on behalf of a person in accordance with regulations under section 17A of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) or section 57 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 (c. 15) to inform the person of his right to obtain relevant information under this section.’.— [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: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 4— Meaning of relevant information in section (provision of vetting information).

Government new clause 5— Notification of cessation of monitoring.

Government new clause 6— Cessation of registration.

Government new clause 7— Declarations under sections (provision of vetting information) and (notification of cessation of monitoring).

Government new clause 8— Registers: power to apply for vetting information.

Government new clause 9— Supervisory authorities: power to apply for vetting information.

Government new clause 10— Supervisory authorities: notification of barring &c. in respect of children.

Government new clause 11— Supervisory authorities: notification of barring &c. in respect of vulnerable adults.

Government new clause 12— Prohibition of requirement to produce certain records.

Government new clause 13— Referrals: findings of fact immaterial.

Amendment No. 198, in clause 21, page 15, line 5, at end insert—

‘(c) specific enquiries are made to provide further relevant information on individuals who have resided outside the UK or who are usually resident outside the UK.’.

Government amendments Nos. 69, 70 and 72.

Amendment No. 200, page 15, line 39, at end add—

‘(13) The Secretary of State must ensure that—

(a) employers, voluntary organisations and employees are made aware of their rights and responsibilities under the terms of the Act,

(b) communication is undertaken to ensure that all parties are aware of which positions require monitoring,

(c) employers make potential employees aware of the monitoring status of each position as part of the recruitment process,

(d) any variations to the positions that are covered by monitoring are sufficiently communicated to employers, voluntary organisations, current and potential employees.’.

Government amendment No. 73.

Amendment No. 250, in clause 23, page 16, line 28, at end insert—

‘(5A) The Independent Monitor will review on an annual basis the quality of information provided by the IBB from regulated activity providers and any person who holds the records of convictions or cautions for the use of police forces.’.

Government amendments Nos. 74, 75, 77, 78, 235 and 83.

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Amendment No. 197, in clause 35, page 25, line 12, at end add—

‘(10) The Secretary of State must make information on the dates that a monitored individual has been resident in the UK available to an individual requesting information on monitored status.’.

Government amendments Nos. 85 to 91, 95 and 96.

Amendment No. 5, in schedule 1, page 35, line 36, at end insert—

‘(d) establishing and maintaining a list of those who have applied to be monitored;

(e) monitoring the quality of prescribed information supplied to the IBB from regulated activity providers and any persons who hold records of convictions or cautions for the use of police forces;

(f) putting in place and regularly monitoring systems that maximise the accuracy of the monitored list and the barred list;

(g) establishing and maintaining a secure online system for access to barred lists for employers.’.

Amendment No. 3, in page 35, line 36, at end insert—

‘(8A) IBB shall implement a comprehensive and ongoing communications programme to ensure that all groups affected by the vetting and barring scheme are informed of their rights and responsibilities under the law.’.

Amendment No. 4, in page 35, line 41, at end insert—

‘(3) The report shall contain information on the quality of information provided to the IBB from regulated activity providers and any person who holds the records of convictions or cautions for the use of police forces.’.

Government amendments Nos. 130, 240, 171, 172, 241 and 174 to 177.

Amendment No. 203, in schedule 4, page 54, line 13, at end add—

‘(10) The Secretary of State will report in a statement to Parliament any breaches of security relating to information held on or related to the registers or available on-line.’.

Government amendments Nos. 182 to 184.

Mr. Dhanda: The amendments and new clauses relate to various aspects of information flows within the scheme.

New clauses 3 and 4 and amendments Nos. 69, 70, 74, 171, 172, 174 to 177, 182, 240 and 241 deliver the changes to the online check that I announced in Committee on 13 June. As I explained then, we want to ensure that the scheme is easy for employers to use so that it effectively supports them in their recruitment decisions, and making the information that they need available quickly and easily online is a key part of that.

Employers are required to ensure that all individuals engaged in regulated activity are “subject to monitoring”. That means that the individual has applied to the scheme, that they are not barred and that the Secretary of State is undertaking regular checks of key information sources to identify new information about the individual, which will deliver the continuous updating mechanism recommended by Sir Michael Bichard. For that reason, we propose that the online check should show whether an individual is “subject to monitoring”. As the Bill sets out, those who are barred cannot be subject to monitoring, and employers in regulated activities can use only people who are subject to monitoring. Showing whether an individual is
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subject to monitoring will therefore effectively ensure that employers do not recruit barred individuals.

As the Bill stands, the online check would show that an individual is barred or being considered for barring. That is sensitive information and making it available online would require security measures, which would make the check slower and more cumbersome for employers to access and use. As I explained in Committee, those changes will make it easier for employers to get the information that they need when recruiting staff.

New clauses 3 and 4 move the provisions on how a check is made from schedule 4 into two new clauses, one of which provides for the mechanics of the check and one of which provides for the information that is released. Schedule 4 will contain only the table of those who can make checks.

New clauses 5 and 6 and amendment No. 75 make similar changes to the notification system. They place more detail about the system in the Bill and change the information that is released. Employers who have registered an interest in an individual will be told that that individual has ceased to be subject to monitoring and so cannot be engaged in regulated activity.

Anne Main: Given that there may be a time lag, if an employer makes an inquiry and there is no information on the person in question, will that inquiry be logged, which would allow information received after the inquiry was made to be sent to the employer?

Mr. Dhanda: That question raises a couple of issues. First, the hon. Lady has made the good point that we must ensure that the time lag between someone’s status changing and an employer being informed that that person is no longer subject to monitoring is as short as possible. Secondly, when new employees—for example, a teacher—enter the work force, it takes a few weeks for the enhanced disclosure to come through. However, schools will be able to use the instant online check while they are waiting for the full enhanced disclosure, which will allow them to determine that individuals are not barred owing to their being subject to monitoring on the online list.

New clauses 8 to 11 and amendments Nos. 88 to 91 provide for supervisory authorities and professional regulatory bodies to receive more information, including confirmation that the individual is barred. They also consolidate the way that supervisory authorities are defined. Those bodies require that information to help them to carry out their inspection and regulatory functions. The security issues are minimised because only a small number of known bodies need this information. The provisions for supervisory authorities and professional regulatory bodies have therefore been covered separately in the new clauses inserted by the amendments.

5.15 pm

New clauses 7 and 12 create new information offences. The first of those criminalises anyone making a false declaration to access individuals’ information illegitimately. The second criminalises employers who, with no right to do so, force individuals to provide the information about their criminal records history that they receive when they apply to be monitored.

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