Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: I must draw attention to an error in the amendment paper: the names of the hon. Members for St. Albans (Anne Main) and for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) have been mistakenly added to amendments Nos. 137 and 114. I apologise for that; their names will be withdrawn. They do not sign blank cheques either.
I have some sympathy with amendment No. 1, which goes to the heart of the problem of when children stop being children—particularly those with learning disabilities for whom special provisions need to be made when they reach 18 but will continue in various educational or support establishments. It is an anomaly why governors of such establishments, which deal with vulnerable people, are not covered by the Bill, whereas governors of other educational institutions are. I am confused about why the explanatory notes do not say what subsections (3), (4) or (5) are intended to achieve and why certain things have been left out of them. I have some sympathy with including additional educational institutions that the hon. Lady mentioned. I am interested in hearing what the Minister has to say in defence of keeping them out.
I have less sympathy with the hon. Lady’s amendment No. 114, although I endorse all her comments about the telling speech made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. Problems with recruits in certain Army barracks are rightly the subject of ongoing investigations. The people responsible for those institutions need to get their act together and provide assurances to the House, those serving and those who may be considering serving in the forces. However, although I am not trying to pre-empt the Minister, the way in which the hon. Lady’s amendment is phrased could cause great confusion. She refers to
“a military training or educational establishment with recruits and trainees under 18”,
but because the Army can recruit from the age of 17, that would presumably mean that an entire training or educational establishment that takes on recruits, including senior Army people who happen to be part of it, would be subject to all the vetting and barring. Under no definition could those recruits be construed as vulnerable adults. Indeed, if they could be, what place would they have performing such a potentially dangerous task as serving in the military?
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but is it not also the case that the Armed Forces Bill, which is currently proceeding through the House, includes measures for the protection of new recruits to all the armed forces? Those who are under 18 would receive special protection under the provisions of that Bill, so the amendment is not necessary.
10 am
Tim Loughton: I am not as familiar with that piece of legislation as the hon. Lady is, but it is greatly reassuring that it includes those checks and balances. They will remove the requirement for the amendment in its current form, which has enormous implications for a raft of military institutions that it is not intended to cover but that happen to take on a small number of recruits at the age of 17. As specific provisions of a dedicated Bill can be applied to them, the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole might wish to reconsider the amendment.
Our amendment No. 137 is a probing amendment, which was largely instigated because the explanatory notes are unclear on what is covered under the definitions of “establishments”, in clause 8(5), and the governing bodies of such establishments. I want to give just one example of where an establishment might fall between two stools.
I recently visited a fantastic charity-run establishment in Surrey, a residential establishment looking after young people with severe learning and physical disabilities. Most of them were in wheelchairs and most had profound learning disabilities. The charity, which has been running for many years and is connected with Great Ormond Street, provides a fantastic, unparalleled service to those young people. Alas, there are not enough institutions like that.
That charity is not strictly
“an educational institution which is exclusively or mainly for the provision of full-time education to children”,
as specified by subsection (5)(a), however. By their very nature, those young people could not have full-time education. It is difficult to define a lot of their classroom time as education in the sense that we might understand. A lot of their daytime is spent on more therapeutic, health and other caring services, which is not strictly education. Some fantastic educational work is certainly done, giving skills to those young people in their disadvantaged circumstances, but such an institution would not necessarily fall within the definition in the clause.
I should make it clear that I have nothing but praise for that institution. I have absolutely no reason to think that anything bad goes on there, but there could be similar places, to which certain individuals might be able to find their way and have access to physically and mentally vulnerable children, whom they could then take advantage of. The purpose of amendment No. 137 is to add residential health institutions to the list of establishments in subsection (5), because places such as the one that I have described fall between a healthand therapeutic establishment and an educational establishment.
Amendment No. 137 is not phrased in the best way, and I am sure that the Minister has all sorts of criticisms based on the unintended consequences that it could cause. The point of it, however, is to ask him to reconsider the phrasing of the definition in the clause, because there is no clarification about that in the explanatory notes. Strictly speaking, some institutions would not be covered by that, so some people with bad intentions could gain access to a governing body and not be subject to some of the barring and vetting procedures to which they would be subject under other provisions in the Bill. Will the Minister look again at the definitions or give some reassurance that such establishments are covered by other definitions in the Bill that are not made clear in the clause?
Mr. Dhanda: The amendments extend the definition of regulated activity in relation to children to governors of further education institutions, military training or educational establishments and residential health institutions.
The Bill provides already that governors of institutions, primarily for the full-time education of children and of maintained nursery schools, must be subject to monitoring and requirements to check. So the bar will apply because the role of governor places the individual in a position of trust and gives them the opportunity of contact with children, and a role in appointing staff with significant contact with children.
Governors of FE institutions delivering full-time education, mainly or exclusively to children, will be subject to those requirements. Furthermore, if a governor of an FE institution teaches or supervises children frequently, or carries out another activity mentioned in paragraph 2(1) of schedule 3, he will be engaging in regulated activity and the same requirements will apply.
Hon. Members must ask themselves whether they want a catch-all system in which, for example, the instructor of an adult pottery class will be barred from running that class because they are on the children’s list. That would be the consequence of the amendment saying that all FE institutions should be treated the same.
I am sympathetic to the argument about the changing role of FE institutions, which is why they are included as controlled activity providers. Principals in FE institutions can put those safeguards in place using common sense and with an awareness of their staff and those in regular contact with children.
Tim Loughton: I am still slightly confused by what the Minister is saying. He has given examples of part-time or voluntary pottery teachers, but subsection (3) refers only to members of a governing body of specific establishments, so I am not sure why his comments are relevant.
Mr. Dhanda: I am digressing and responding to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole who asked specifically about further education and regulated activity. However, I hope that I explained also the point about governors during my contribution. I hope that I made that clear, but I am happy to reiterate the point if I did not.
Amendment No. 1 would capture governors of all FE institutions, including those working at a working men’s college, for example, who deliver exclusively adult education, and place a duty on some institutions and governors when clearly inappropriate. The Bill should be proportionate. I accept that, as the hon. Lady said, the role of those institutions can change. If the roles change, activities considered regulated and controlled can change also. However, we want to get it right for the situation as it is at the moment.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): May I seek clarification? I understood that governors were covered because possibly they have some control over the appointment of staff. Would that view extend to trustees of charities that work with vulnerable children, which will have some control also over the appointment of staff and so have a similar role to such governors? As the Minister mentioned, very few governors teach children, but they do have control over the staffing and running of the school. Very few indulge in teaching, particularly as many are appointed by councils, which they represent. In that case, should we considering a wider pool of the people who have anything to do with appointments for vulnerable children or adults?
Mr. Dhanda: I am trying to stay as close as I can to the amendments. Some governors do have a role in selecting staff, which is why it is particularly important that they should be involved. The wider roles that the hon. Lady mentioned are covered in other parts of the Bill. I am happy to drop her a note about trustees if she wishes to follow it up.
I move to amendment No. 114, because it is important. The amendment refers to military training establishments, which do not have governing bodies, as they are under the control of a commanding officer. Unlike schools, they deliver training and education to adults, which includes 16 and 17-year-olds serving in the armed forces. Unlike other organisations in which individuals work with 16 and 17-year-olds in the course of the child’s employment, the armed forces will be specifically allowed by the Bill to check the scheme status of those who supervise or train under-18s. I hope that that satisfies some of the legitimate concerns of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole.
Amendment No. 137 would make it mandatory for governors of residential health institutions that provide children’s health care to be subject to monitoring. Not all health institutions have governors, and the governors of those that do might have no contact with children or any role in appointing staff. The Bill already requires governors of residential health institutions who frequently care for, supervise or carry out another activity mentioned in schedule 3(2)(1) to be subject to monitoring. We have carefully considered such settings. I hope that, taking all that into consideration, hon. Members will not press their amendments.
Tim Loughton: Perhaps I might respond on amendment No. 137. I am not entirely convinced by what the Minister said. He did not respond to the specific example that I gave. The amendment is designed not to cover various health institutions that happen to have governors but to expand the definition of an educational establishment that does not offer full-time education, as the clause puts it, “exclusively or mainly”.
The example that I gave might be rare, but there will be such examples. I do not think that the institution involved could be classified—one could certainly make a strong case that it should not be—as being
“exclusively or mainly for the provision of full-time education”.
There appears to be a kind of halfway house, which falls between two stools, that provides education but predominantly provides care, therapy and therapeutic services to severely mentally and physically disabled young people. I do not think that the Bill covers the governors of such institutions, which could be run as small private charities not subject to the normal attention from the local education authority, for example. We need to ensure that people cannot effectively hide in just that sort of institution, obtain a position of responsibility and then abuse.
Mr. Dhanda: I assure the hon. Gentleman that where the staff have the regular contact with children that he describes, they will be covered under regulated activity.
Tim Loughton: I am grateful and not surprised by that assurance. The Minister is discussing staff, but the clause deals with governors. However, I just wanted to place that thought in his mind. The definitions are broad, and certain institutions that deal with the most vulnerable children will not necessarily be covered.
Both Ministers seem to want to contribute at this point.
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Mr. Lewis: This is an important issue in terms of places where vulnerable adults are being cared for on a full-time basis. There might be ambiguity about whether they are in education, care or a combination of the two. The term “governor” is quite important. An educational institution is likely to be run by a board of governors. If it were more of a care-type institution, it is more likely that the equivalent would be charitable trustees or a board of people of that nature. Therefore the term “governors” is generally understood in the context of an organisation predominantly providing education, whereas if it were predominately about care, it would either be a board of management or a group of trustees.
Tim Loughton: I take the Minister’s point but he said “more likely” and “generally”, not exclusively. That leaves a raft of institutions that may not be covered. We need to ensure that all of them are covered. He refers purely to governors. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans said, there are organisations run by other classes of people who are not governors. The reference is only to members of the governing body. Does that include charitable trustees or directors of, for example, a charitable company?
I am a director of a charitable company that is considering taking over the management of an arts education facility, which has been provided as a section 106 gain to the local authority. I wonder—now I think about it—whether I would be covered. I am part of the governing body but I am not a governor. We are not offering mainly, or exclusively, full-time education to children. However, I will be in a position, if we take over management of that facility, to engage members of staff—who may or may not be subject to vetting procedures—who will be opening up the premises and involved with children. That is part of our charitable trust remit. On the basis of what is in this Bill, I am not sure whether I and fellow directors of this charitable company, who are the governing body effectively, will be covered. Therefore, many anomalies are still creeping in—which the Minister is now going to allay.
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