Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Dhanda: I beg to move amendment No. 178, in schedule 3, page 43, line 7, leave out from ‘children’ to the end of line 8.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 179 to 182.
Amendment no. 118, in schedule 3, page 46, line 3, leave out sub-paragraph (b).
Government amendments Nos. 183, 184, 144 and 145.
Amendment No. 113, in clause 10, page 6, line 20, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (1) if—
(a) the activity is a regulated activity by virtue of paragraph 1(1) or 5(1) of Schedule 3, and
(b) B is entitled to engage in a regulated activity mentioned in that paragraph only on an occasional basis.’.
6.30 pm
Mr. Dhanda: The amendments are designed to improve the Bill’s coverage by ensuring that the definitions of regulated activity relating to children and requirements to check are focused where individuals have the greatest opportunity to harm children.
Amendment No. 178 is a minor drafting amendment. Amendments Nos. 145 and 179 will bring requirements for Welsh child minders into line with those for child minders in England. AmendmentsNos. 180 and 181 will ensure that CAFCASS officers and family proceedings officers in Wales and their managers are covered by the bar and the requirement to check. As those officers are likely to have unsupervised contact with children, the amendment ensures that the functions of such officers and their managers are covered by regulated activity.
Amendments Nos. 144 and 182 ensure that those who act as deputies on behalf of children and vulnerable adults are within the scope of the scheme. Amendment No. 182 adds deputies to the definition of regulated activity in schedule 3, paragraph 4(1) in relation to children. That means that a person who is barred from working with children cannot act in that capacity. Amendment No. 144 means that those appointed as a deputy are treated in line with other positions such as those of local councillors and charity trustees in situations in which there is no regulated activity provider.
Amendment No. 183 clarifies the drafting to ensure that operators and administrators of the information sharing index are engaging in regulated activity in relation to children. Amendment No. 184 ensures that where an activity is carried out by a member of a group of children and possibly others on behalf or under the direction of an adult engaging in regulated activity with the group, the group member will not be engaged in regulated activity. That will ensure that school prefects, who supervise other school pupils, will not be required to be subject to monitoring and the school will not be required to check their status.
My hon. Friend will later be moving an identical amendment in relation to vulnerable adults. Those amendments set out real improvements in the coverage of this Bill. They will increase the protection afforded to children and ensure that the coverage is appropriately targeted. I commend those amendments to the Committee.
Mrs. Miller: I should like to speak briefly to amendment No. 118 within the string, which is tabled in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. It is an important amendment because it relates to local authorities. I will just read out the part of the Bill that it relates to. It states that one set of positions that would be monitored is that of
“an executive of a local authority”.
The amendment would in effect remove that line from the Bill in order that members of an executive of a local authority would not be included in the monitoring process. There are provisions within that particular section of the Bill that already cover any member of a local authority who discharges any educational or social services function, so that line is unnecessary.
In the previous string of amendments, the Minister was at pains to suggest that we should not place unreasonable burdens on employers. I am not clear why we would want to single that group out to be monitored, given that any people within that particular group that had authority with regard to vulnerable people and adults would already be covered in the previous sub-paragraph (2)(a). I hope that he understands why we have tabled amendment No. 118. We feel that it is not a helpful clause to have within the Bill.
In my own local borough council, there are only a few people within the Conservative-controlled authority executive who have any duties to do with either vulnerable adults or young people. As the Minister is no doubt aware, the local borough council has limited influence or policy or financial obligations towards those groups pf people. Anyone who is involved in activities regarding those groups of people will be caught in a previous section of the Bill. It is an unnecessary burden on local authorities.
Returning to the example of TV producers not being able to teach children because they are barred, it may not be entirely equitable that some councillors may, perhaps, stop being involved in activities relating to vulnerable adults or children and may not be able to be members of executives.
Mr. Dhanda: Amendment No. 118 would mean that an individual who is a member of an executive of a local authority that discharges any educational or social services functions for a local authority should not be engaged in a regulated activity. That issue was raised in the other place. I reiterate the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, vice-president of the Local Government Association, in saying that no member of a local authority cabinet should be allowed to serve on that body if they are on the barred list. An individual may not have direct responsibility for social services or education functions, but he may help to set the overall strategic direction of the council and he will have the opportunity to influence, at least indirectly, the lives of children in the local area.
I understand that it is unlikely for an individual to have no responsibility for education or social services functions. If an executive member sitting on an executive with education or social services functions requested information or required access to particular material or individuals, that would provide the opportunity for close contact with children.
Mrs. Miller: At the risk of opening a can of worms, as was hinted at on Second Reading, if local authority executive members should be monitored because they may have access to certain information or materials or have close contact with children or vulnerable adults, perhaps hon. Members should consider whether they should be monitored. This is the start of what could be an expansive process. If local authority members who have no direct responsibilities for such matters should be monitored, why should not Members of Parliament be monitored? Will local authority members not ask that question?
Mr. Dhanda: The point about local authority members having influence over social services and education functions is interesting and comes from the vice-president of the LGA, so we need to take it seriously. The Bill as drafted takes the right approach on the issue.
Amendment No. 113 would change the focus of the exception in clause 10 so that employers of individuals engaging in a specified activity in a key setting would have to ensure that the person is subject to monitoring. Those employing individuals to carry out specified activities outside key settings could do so occasionally without that person being subject to monitoring. I hope that hon. Members will take on board what I have said.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 179, in schedule 3, page 43, line 23, at end insert—
‘(5A) Each of the following, if carried out in Wales, is a regulated activity relating to children—
(a) acting as a child minder so as to give rise to a requirement to register under section 79D of the Children Act 1989;
(b) an activity which would give rise to such a requirement if the child in relation to whom the activity is carried out were under the age of eight.
(5B) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (5A), “acting as a child minder” must be construed in accordance with section 79A of that Act.’.
No. 180, in schedule 3, page 43, line 23, at end insert—
‘(5C) The exercise of any function of the following is a regulated activity relating to children—
(a) officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service;
(b) Welsh family proceedings officer (within the meaning of Part 4 of the Children Act 2004).’.
No. 181, in schedule 3, page 44, line 6, after ‘(3),’ insert ‘(5C),’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Mrs. Miller: I beg to move amendment No. 117, in schedule 3, page 44, line 31, leave out sub-paragraph (a).
This is a simple amendment. I am interested in the Minister’s view on this aspect of the Bill. As the Committee knows, schedule 3 defines regulated activity under the Bill, and paragraph 2 of the schedule states that there are exclusions to monitoring for activities relating to employment. It excludes from monitoring those who are involved specifically in the
“care for or supervision of a child in the course of his employment”.
However, paragraph 3 states that that exemption does not apply to a child who has not attained the age of 16. It is possible that I have not interpreted the schedule correctly because it seems rather counter-intuitive. There are one or two double negatives in those two paragraphs.
However, under the Bill as drafted, if a person was employing someone under the age of 16, that person could be open to the need to be monitored. Will the Minister clarify how the provision may affect children? We need to tease that out because I am not sure that the Government intended to legislate in such a way or, if that is their intention, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could outline what effect the provision may have on the employment opportunities of those young, budding paper boys and girls who rely on the money that they receive as a source of income. I should welcome his comments.
Mr. Dhanda: I shall certainly come back to that point and give the hon. Lady a clear answer. I shall need a moment to think about it.
Paragraph 2(2) and (3) of the schedule provide that individuals will be engaged in regulated activities if they principally care for, train, supervise, give guidance to or treat children under the age of 16 during the child’s employment. If those people have the particular role of caring as a chaperone for an actor who is under 16 years, for example, they will fall within a regulated activity.
The aim of amendment No. 117 is to ensure that, when individuals are frequently teaching, training or otherwise working closely with children aged 16 or 17 during their employment, they are also engaged in a regulated activity, which brings with it a requirement for the employer to check their status before permitting them to engage in such activity. The amendment is not appropriate. The provisions under schedule 3 provide a careful balance between protecting children and not discouraging employers from offering work with children due to the burdens involved in checking the staff.
Requiring checks on those working with 16 and 17-year-old employees may be particularly damaging to school leavers who are trying to earn a living. Generally, people who work with 16 and 17-year-olds do not make a choice to work with children and do not have the same duty of care.
Mrs. Miller: I wish to be clear. It is a bit of a complex area for some reason, but if children aged 14 or 15 years are employed by their corner shop to deliver newspapers, will the newspaper shop owner whogives the papers to them in the morning need to put himself forward to be monitored? If not, why is paragraph 2(3)(a) of schedule 3 in the Bill?
6.45 pm
Mr. Dhanda: I do not believe that the employment by newsagents of paper boys will come within the Bill’s provisions. It is not a regulated activity—it is not a case of one-to-one interaction between the employer and the paper boy. We would also have to consider the frequency. Nevertheless, though the point is a technical one, it is well made. There may well be issues about that and it is probably best if I write to the hon. Lady to flesh it out.
Nevertheless, we do not believe that the amendment is appropriate. Schedule 3 provides a careful balance between protecting children and not discouraging employers from offering work to 16 and 17-year-olds. Let us suppose that hon. Members’ concerns relate to army instructors of 16 and 17-year-olds. In that case, schedule 4 already allows employers to check the status of individuals who frequently teach, train, care for, or otherwise work closely with under-18s who are employed in the armed forces.
We shall continue to work with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that there is sufficient awareness in the armed forces of the requirements on child protection, and to ensure that support and advice are given on such issues during implementation of the Bill. I believe that the Bill takes the right approach on the issues and I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment. Having said that, I shall examine the point that she made on newsagents employing paper boys.
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