Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]


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Mr. Dhanda: I think the hon. Lady may be confusing the way in which the IBB will make its decisions and the burden of proof there with the nature of the referrals. That is part of what is causing the confusion because the referral will be up to individuals and what they think. We have to make that quite clear. That relates to the hon. Lady’s earlier points about not wanting to deter people from making such referrals.
Mrs. Miller: I thank the Minister for that clarification. As he said, there is a difference between the burden of proof required for referral and that required for barring. He has made it clear that the burden of proof required for barring is at least the civil standard and that in the case of those who are automatically included the burden will, almost by definition, be one of proof beyond reasonable doubt. That is why I picked that up in a DFES note on the issue. However, I feel that inclusion in the Bill should be considered so that others are not as confused as I and other hon. Members have been.
I remain somewhat concerned about the looseness of the language on the duty to refer, and the Minister has decided not to clarify it any further. Our amendments were entirely reasonable and were based on a good deal of thought and discussion. People in a great many organisations will be left in a difficult position in trying to interpret what is meant by such a subjective word as “thinks” and I urge the Minister to consider how it will be clarified. The ambiguity is the cause of many of the problems that we currently face and a principal reason why the Bill is before us. It is not just I and other hon. Members who have made that observation—a number of organisations in the statutory and voluntary sectors are concerned about the point, and I feel that the Minister should take heed.
However, given that we have had such a good discussion of the issues, we Conservatives are happy not to press the amendments for the time being so that the Minister may have the opportunity to consider how the concerns shared by many people can be addressed in later stages of the Bill’s passage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2

barred lists
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Annette Brooke: I want to address one issue, an aspect considered in the December consultation. It is whether the IBB will have to provide employers with a summary of the reasons for including an individual on one of the barred lists. It is fairly clear, and it was implied in the early consultation, that employers will probably have to carry out a full risk assessment if they employ somebody, and they will need such relevant information. For example, if someone was barred from carrying out regulated activity work but was able to carry out controlled activity, the employer would know the situations that would carry more risk and could put measures in place to minimise risks.
That may be what is intended, but I am not sure that it is said anywhere, despite its being clearly referred to on page 4 of the December consultation. The suggestion was that to equip employers to make such determinations
“we are considering providing them with a summary of the reasons for a barring decision.”
What stage are we at with that consideration? On page 12 of the same document, one of the questions was on that very issue. If the information were provided, a supplementary question asked:
“Would this help those employing individuals in positions not covered by the bar to make a judgement whether to employ the individual with appropriate safeguards in place?”
A lot of issues were raised that have not been followed through in this part of the Bill.
Mr. Dhanda: Before I come to that point, let me make a couple of brief comments about clause 2. The clause requires the IBB to establish and maintain two barred lists: one that includes those barred from working with children, and another that includes those barred from working with vulnerable adults. The two lists relate to two distinct work forces. In some cases an individual will pose a risk to both groups, but that will not be true in every case. Where there is evidence of a risk only to a specific group, we cannot justify barring the individual from a much wider work force. Were the lists combined, they would cover upwards of 7 million jobs, which clearly raises the issue of whether a bar would be appropriate and fair in all cases.
12.45 pm
In paragraph 11(1) of schedule 2, we have placed a clear duty on the IBB to consider all information in relation to both lists to ensure that, where there is evidence of a risk of harm, the individual can be included on both lists. We are confident that that allows the scheme to fulfil its purpose of barring those who pose a risk to children and to vulnerable adults.
Schedule 2 makes provision for determining whether a person should be included in the lists. The barred lists are necessary to maintain a record of those who are known to pose a risk to vulnerable groups. They replace the current schemes. POCA, List 99 and the disqualification order regime will be replaced by the children’s barred list, while POVA will be replaced by the vulnerable adults’ barred list.
Part 3 of schedule 2 provides supplementary provisions for the barring scheme, including procedures, representations and information gathering. The barred lists are an integral part of the scheme and will provide greater safeguards for children and vulnerable adults.
On the hon. Lady’s point about a controlled activity, I can confirm that an employer who is allowed to employ someone who is barred for a controlled activity will be given further information to ensure that they can put in place the necessary safeguards.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

Barred Lists
Mrs. Miller: I beg to move amendment No. 121, in schedule 2, page 35, line 13, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—
‘(3) Referrals made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph will be subject to scrutiny by IBB prior to automatic inclusion of an individual on the barred list.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 120, in schedule 2, page 35, line 14, at end insert—
‘1A (1) This paragraph applies to the decision-making process of IBB.
(2) IBB must refer to a code of practice, to be issued by regulations, prior to including an individual on the barred list.
(3) For the purpose of sub-paragraph (2), a code of practice is—
(a) that which is issued by the Secretary of State by regulation, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure,
(b) composed after consultation with senior representatives from—
(i) the police service;
(ii) the probation service;
(iii) the Child Protection Service; and
(iv) the Crown Prosecution Service.’.
No. 133, in schedule 2, page 35, line 14, at end insert—
‘1A (4) IBB cannot include a person under the age of 18 in the children’s barred list without the right to representations.
No. 122, in schedule 2, page 37, line 8, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—
‘(3) Referrals made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph will be subject to scrutiny by IBB prior to automatic inclusion of an individual on the barred list.’.
No. 123, in schedule 2, page 37, line 9, at end insert—
‘6A (1) This paragraph applies to the decision-making process of the IBB.
(2) IBB must refer to a code of practice, to be issued by regulations, prior to including an individual on the barred list.
(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (2), a code of practice is—
(a) that which is issued by the Secretary of State by regulation, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure,
(b) composed after consultation with senior representatives from—
(i) the police service;
(ii) the probation service;
(iii) the Child Protection Service; and
(iv) the Crown Prosecution Service.’.
No. 134, in schedule 2, page 37, line 9, at end insert—
‘6A (1) IBB cannot include a person under the age of 18 in the adults’ barred list without the right to representations.
(2) IBB must make a referral for therapeutic services, as specified in regulations, for a person under the age of 18 included on the adults’ barred list after representations have been heard.’.
Mrs. Miller: The amendments in my name and those of my hon. Friends relate to schedule 2 and to scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s referrals to the IBB. I should be interested in the Minister’s response because the amendments also include provision for the IBB’s decision-making process to be defined in a code of practice. The issue was discussed in the other place, but given the importance of having clarity and transparency in these matters, it is important that we continue that debate in Committee.
The amendments are all about introducing greater transparency into the IBB’s decision-making process, which is vital if there is to be confidence in the system. The amendments are tabled in the same spirit as those tabled in the other place. They are probing amendments, which are meant to clarify the IBB’s processes and, I hope, thereby strengthen the system that the IBB puts in place.
Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 would ensure that referrals made by the Secretary of State were subject to the same scrutiny as referrals made by other individuals. Lord Adonis, the Minister in the other place, said that there would be little point in asking the IBB to consider whether someone referred to it for raping a 13-year-old girl should be barred. That is of course true, but there should be a process or safeguard to ensure that Secretary of State referrals are free from political interference or expediency. As the Minister has said and as the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), has attested, the point of the new scheme is to divorce the vetting and barring of individuals from the political process. The power of referral and the IBB’s status as a non-departmental public body, which we have discussed, will put at arm’s length Ministers’ control, but not remove it. Will the Minister reassure me on that matter?
Amendments Nos. 120 and 123 would establish a code of practice for the IBB. It is vital that the decision-making process for the new body be clearly spelt out and transparent to those who will be affected. I hope that that will ensure that the system is robust and has the full support of all those who need to support it if it is to be successful.
Annette Brooke: I specifically wish to speak to amendments Nos. 133 and 134, in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East. I should say at the outset that I welcome the statement of the noble Lord Adonis in Grand Committee that under-18s will not automatically be barred from working with children without the right to representations. He said:
“There may be mitigating circumstances which mean that it will not be appropriate in every case to include young people who commit offences on a barred list without the right to make representations... He or she may not present a risk of harm to children in general and therefore may not be an appropriate person to automatically be included on the children's barred list.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 May 2006; Vol. 681, c. GC187.]
He went on to give more detail on the issue. I note that in the recent pack of information circulated by the Minister the point about under-18s is reiterated. We are pleased about that, but I wish to push the matter a little further. Why cannot such a commitment be put into the Bill? Amendment No. 133 is partly intended to translate what has been agreed—probably not into the correct language—and to put it into the Bill.
The amendment has a second important strand. It seems to me that there is an opportunity, without imposing a great deal of work on the IBB, to have an automatic referral to therapeutic treatment. That should certainly be the case if somebody under 18 were placed on the barred list after representations were heard. There may be a case even if a person has not been put on the barred list, but for simplicity I have gone for the stronger case.
The issue of young people who sexually harm has been highlighted in many reports, but there has not been uniform action across the whole country. From the experience of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, we know that local authorities often take very different approaches to their work. It is difficult to know what sexual behaviour is harmless. Many children engage in activities that form a normal part of their sexual development. There is a range of sexual behaviour among young people, from an extreme multiple rape case to mutually agreed experimentation. I understand that juveniles commit almost one quarter of all sexual offences. The evidence is that many of those children have themselves suffered from sexual abuse or some form of trauma. Indeed, domestic violence is often a trigger. That is why it is so important not just to acknowledge the differences surrounding the under-18s because of the complexity of their behaviour, but to provide a direct link to specialist services.
I carefully wrote the amendment and included “as specified in regulations”. I thought that that would be the most straightforward wording. It would not be the duty of the IBB to seek out the treatment. Its duty would be to set up the process such that a direct referral was made and treatment received. We know that treatment of young people can be successful. If we want to make inroads into society’s problems, making treatment available at the appropriate time for young people will prevent the incredibly sad consequences of such behaviour escalating to great proportions and eventually ending up in several people being injured.
I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the amendment, as it picks up on an important point and campaign. We must ensure that young people in that position are referred to the appropriate services and treatment.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments of the hon. Member for Basingstoke.
 
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