Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]


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Mrs. Miller: Given that the Minister has written into the Bill an ability for the Government to change what falls into the regulated activity category, does he anticipate ongoing communication with those people who are barred in order to update them on the changes that are made? I understand what he says about the power of advertising and placing advertisements in the trade press, but surely we cannot rely on individuals to read magazines to keep themselves up to date with the process. Does he expect a continuing dialogue with those who are barred, so that they are fully up to date with any changes that the Government make?
Mr. Dhanda: It is important to do so. It is also important to remember that, when barred individuals apply for a post in a regulated activity area, people will be able to check that they are subject to monitoring and then block their application. I take on board the point that the hon. Member for Basingstoke makes about discouraging people from applying in the first place to work in areas of regulated activity in which they are not entitled to work.
Mrs. Miller: I am sorry but clearly I did not make myself as clear as I meant to earlier. The issue is about not employers knowing, but the individuals applying for employment knowing. In the circumstances that we are discussing, it is a criminal offence to seek or offer to engage in employment, so it is fundamental that the Government should undertake such communication.
I shall press the Minister a little further. Will the IBB have an obligation to conduct a communications campaign directly with those who are barred? If so, does the Minister have costings for that? Given the 40,000 discretionary judgments that the IBB will undertake, will it have the capacity to undertake what will be a complex process? Would it not be easier to follow the line of argument that we have advanced and remove the provision to make the process much simpler?
Mr. Dhanda: We should not be looking to create a simpler process if that would put vulnerable adults and children at risk. I already answered the hon. Lady’s question earlier—we intend to inform those who are barred about the activities in which they are and are not entitled to take part. We shall update that as well.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that it will be standard practice for an employer to include in the job description and person specification the fact that the job would be barred to anyone on the barred lists? That would mean that anyone barred who was taking the initial step of applying for a job and seeking the application form would immediately have that information before them and not apply for the job.
Mr. Dhanda: I cannot say to my hon. Friend that job adverts will say that the job is available only to people who are not barred from working with the relevant groups, any more than happens at the moment in advertisements for head teachers’ and teachers’ jobs. That would be a broad commitment to make, and I cannot make it per se. However, as I said, it is important that we communicate as broadly as we can with everybody on barred lists and all employers and regulated activity providers to ensure that they know what is required of them. We undertake to do that.
Mrs. Moon: May I clarify the point? I was thinking not about the advertising for the job, but the person specification and job description. The advert might well be general, but the information should be provided when the individual rings to say that they are interested and receives details from the employer. Most employers would be vigilant in ensuring that such information was given to anyone who sought to enter their employment.
Mr. Dhanda: I shall take my hon. Friend’s interesting point on board and consider it. It is important that the barred applicant should know in the first instance that they should not be applying for the job. If we do that in the first place, such situations should not arise.
I hope that I have clarified that the important thing for the Government is to err on the side of caution and protect vulnerable groups. I hope that the hon. Member for Basingstoke sees fit to withdraw her amendment.
Mrs. Miller: I thank the Minister for his detailed response, although I remain most concerned. We have discussed the role of the IBB in communicating information and the issue of including communication as part of a statutory obligation. That has been dismissed as inappropriate by the Government, although we have received strong assurances that communication will be effective. I was surprised to hear that the Minister feels that the police should decide how this part of the law should be interpreted. Obviously, the police interpret the law, but it is made clear by the Bill, which leaves several other things unclear, that it is a criminal offence to seek to engage, or offer to engage, in the relevant activity.
As we have discussed, there is nothing in the Bill to provide that those who act in that way commit a criminal offence only if they are seeking to mislead an employer. It is purely the act of seeking, or offering, to engage in the activity that constitutes a criminal act. I therefore find it difficult to see how the police could come to any conclusion other than that individuals on the barred list who put themselves forward for employment were doing something they should not, and that action should be taken accordingly. Unless the Minister has other information to share with the Committee, surely that is the intention in the Bill.
Mr. Dhanda: I should be intrigued to hear from the hon. Lady who she thinks should decide whether an offence has or has not been committed, if it is not the police.
Mrs. Miller: The reason for the Bill is to define what the House considers to be an offence. It is clear in the Bill that the Government consider it should be an offence for someone who is barred to seek to engage in regulated activity, or offer to do so. If the Minister does not think so, perhaps we should proceed with the amendment, which is widely supported in the Committee. If he does not think that the police should pursue the issues, we can, obviously, amend the clause accordingly. I remain concerned, and we shall perhaps seek to revisit the matter later. In the meantime, perhaps the Minister could think further about the debate that we have had today, and about the degree of concern expressed by hon. Members of different parties. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Person not to engage in regulated activity unless subject to monitoring
Amendment made: No. 145, in clause 8, page 4, line 24, after ‘1(4)’ insert ‘or (5A)’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Annette Brooke: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—
‘(c) a Further Education Institution (within the meaning of section 140(3) of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32)).’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 137, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—
No. 114, in clause 8, page 4, line 38, at end insert—
‘(c) a military training or educational establishment with recruits and trainees under 18.’.
Annette Brooke: There are three amendments in the group, one of which was tabled by Conservative Front-Bench Members, and one of which has joint support. The principle behind them is the same. They deal with the question whether the categories of establishments in which the relevant regulated activity is carried out are broadly enough defined. Of course the issue arises of whether to confine the provisions to cover those most at risk or whether to cast the net further. I think it is important to ensure that we assess the risks in more educational and health institutions than are set out in the Bill.
Amendment No. 1 ties in with amendment No. 2; it could almost be a computer cut-and-paste, as the two amendments together would transfer further education institutions from the provisions on controlled activity to the provisions on regulated activity. I raised the issue on Second Reading in an intervention. I could not see that there should be a distinction between further education establishments and schools, in the matter of ancillary workers, given the 14-to-19 agenda. That encourages the idea, which I support, that children will move between institutions, fully engaging in their new curriculum and studying in different contexts. What on earth will be the difference, as the agenda extends?
My local further education establishment has an enormous array of special educational needs courses. It is the usual route from a special school to the local college and is promoted the most for younger people with special needs. We could argue that it is promoted for vulnerable children more than for others. I do not understand why further education should be included in that section. The response that I received from the Minister for Children and Families on Second Reading was that we should scrutinise such issues in Committee.
9.45 am
Judy Mallaber: It is obviously difficult to know what should and should not be in the Bill. It would be helpful to learn whether the hon. Lady is asking for more areas to be included in regulated activity, given that she has said previously that we might be including too many areas. I realise that it is difficult to strike a balance, but is she asking for more regulation or saying that we already have too many regulated activities?
Annette Brooke: Further education colleges are included in the Bill. At present, they are in the controlled activity area, presumably on the basis that a large number of further education students are over 18 years old. However, we are on the cusp of a change with the 14 to 19 agenda, and children will move interchangeably between colleges and schools, so there should be a regulated activity aspect. For example, the school caretaker or the college site manager should be subject to the same degree of checking and barring as those in regulated activity. A lot of the Bill stems from the Ian Huntley case when a school caretaker was not subject to the same checks as a school teacher. With a controlled activity, the catering people, site managers and others in a further education college will be treated differently from those at a school. I should like the Minister to respond to such matters. I am talking about the difference of treatment of ancillary workers.
Sarah Teather: My hon. Friend may recall that, when I raised the matter in response to the statement that the Secretary of State made on the Audit Commission report, he undertook to look at it. I have not heard from him, so it would be helpful if the Minister could explain why FE has been treated slightly differently.
Annette Brooke: I thank my hon. Friend. I recall clearly the important statement made by the Secretary of State about the Ofsted inspection and how staff were being checked. There was a positive response to her suggestion that, as we move to the 14 to 19 agenda, further education colleges should be treated exactly the same as schools.
The amendment picks up a point that has been made on the Conservative Benches about checks on members of governing bodies. As the Bill is drafted, governors of further education colleges are not checked in the same way as governors of schools. That is why the amendment is necessary. I remind members of the Committee that I am concerned not only about the 14 to 19 agenda but about particularly vulnerable young people with special needs at colleges, and as long as they can still receive funding, there will also be adults with learning disabilities continuing with their courses at further education colleges.
The area that we are discussing is important. I hope that the Minister will make a positive response. Furthermore, I hope that I have made it crystal clear why I suggest this simple movement of category. We must take on board the nature of a further education college in the 21st century. It may have been reasonable in the past to treat further education colleges as the Bill does, but I do not think that it is now.
I support amendment No. 137, but I will leave comments on it to others. We tabled amendmentNo. 114 in response to the excellent speech by thehon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) on Second Reading. I asked her whether she would mind if I tabled an amendment, and I spoke to her this morning on the way here to explain what I intended to say. I want to make it clear that I am not trying to steal anyone’s thunder. I was extremely moved by her speech on Second Reading, and it was noticeable that the Minister, in summing up the debate, did not provide any answers in this area, so I very much want it to be considered in detail in Committee.
This is an important area: many families have experienced heartbreaking situations. It is easy to say, “Oh, that involves the Ministry of Defence; it has nothing to do with this,” but the Bill is designed to safeguard vulnerable groups of people and that should include raw recruits, if I can put it that way, who are under 18. I am talking about young people who probably have not left home and may not have experienced the wider world until they entered a military education or training establishment.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood spoke as chair of the newly established all-party group on Army deaths. She said:
“I am acutely aware of the pain and anger that arises from the suspicion that those with responsibility for the care of children fail to protect young recruits from sexual abuse.”—[Official Report, 19 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 1106.]
She gave a particularly telling quotation from the inquiry and review carried out by Nicholas Blake QC on the tragic deaths at Deepcut barracks. As she said, at the close of the review recommendation 12 states:
“Instructors should be vetted for their suitability to work with young people, applying standards that are no less rigorous than those applied to civilian establishments educating or training people under 18.”
As the hon. Lady said, the Bill is intended to provide proper arrangements for vetting people working with children and barring those who are unsuitable, so we are asking why on earth military establishments should be excluded from it. As she also said, child abuse cases in schools and the outcry about staff not being subject to enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks concern all parents, but the Deepcut and Beyond families point out that problems also exist in military training establishments. I understand that non-commissioned officers and civilian staff are not subject to Criminal Records Bureau disclosures of any kind. That is absolutely shocking. No parent who is passing over their child to be cared for, in a sense—someone else is to take on the parental responsibility—can have any idea that that is the situation, and the issue is not only that checks are not made, but that there are outcomes from that. The hon. Lady went on to give a number of examples from parents who were totally bewildered to discover that the checks were not made. That is absolutely incredible, which is why her speech was so moving.
I dipped a little further into the Deepcut review by Nicholas Blake QC and I picked up another paragraph, with which I shall conclude my remarks on the amendment:
“The Review recommends that the Army applies, as a matter of best practice, no less rigorous checks on the background of its instructors who will supervise recruits and trainees under 18 than would apply in civilian life, particularly in a residential boarding school. Such information could no doubt be accessed through RMP files and personnel records. If the present state of the law proves an obstacle, the Review would recommend that military service is identified as an exception to the position of employers generally.”
Hon. Members can dig that strong recommendation out from the Deepcut review. We have a duty to consider this important exclusion from the Bill and the lack of checks that has resulted in some dreadful outcomes.
 
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