Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]


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Mr. Dhanda: Before talking about the amendments, I should first like to comment on online checks. A key feature of the new scheme is the facility for online checks, which will allow an individual’s up-to-date status to be checked quickly by prospective employers. The checks will be available to a wider range of employers than is the case at present, and will include private employers such as parents for the first time.
We have been consistent in underlining, as Sir Michael Bichard did, that the ultimate responsibility for deciding whether to employ an individual, must be the employer’s. It is our responsibility to ensure that there is reliable, clear information to help to support that decision, but the information provided by the vetting and barring scheme will be only one element in the overall judgment. That does not remove or replace the responsibility of the employer.
Showing explicitly via the online check that a person is barred would require elaborate security procedures. Given the sensitivity of the information, that would seriously obstruct the speed and ease of access of the facility.
Mrs. Miller: Is one reason why there has been a delay that individuals can hack into the system, not just to look at information on other people but actually to change it so that it shows, for example, that a person is barred, rather than unbarred? Has the Minister encountered that problem, which has occurred in the United States?
Mr. Dhanda: No. I have worked with officials on the scheme but that has not been a principal issue. It is a matter of getting the right structure and process in place to give the right information. I will come to that in a moment, when the hon. Lady may wish to respond to what I say with further comments and questions.
We will table amendments on Report that will change the online check to show whether an individual is subject to monitoring, which is confirmation that he is being vetted by the scheme and is not barred. That fundamental reassurance will enable the employer to proceed to the other checks that are necessary on recruitment, such as taking up references and verifying qualifications. We will table similar amendments to clause 26 so that employers are notified that monitoring has ceased, rather than that the individual has been barred.
When an individual is shown as not subject to monitoring, it may mean that he has not yet applied to the scheme, that he has withdrawn from it or that he is barred. For regulated activity providers recruiting to a regulated activity, the effect is the same: they can employ only people who are subject to monitoring, as the Bill lays down. We shall ensure that the online check facility provides clear messages for employers and parents about the implications of an employee being subject, or not subject, to monitoring and the further steps they need to take in recruiting. We shall develop and test those messages as we prepare for implementation.
The revised approach to the information conveyed by the online check will ensure that it directly supports employers’ needs and helps them to find appropriate staff, and that notification will be quick. We are committed to delivering the improvements that online checks offer and to implementing them in the most effective way. No one will forgive us if we do not develop the best possible system to protect children and vulnerable adults.
Over time, we would like as many people as possible to be monitored in the vetting and barring scheme. We intend that the scheme will encourage employees in the relevant work forces to be monitored and employers to use good employment practice and recruit only those who have been vetted and who are monitored. The monitoring will ensure that information about employees is continuously updated and that employers are notified of changes in status. That approach to the online check will help to secure the benefits of monitoring while ensuring that employers have fast and easy access to information about employees’ status.
Mrs. Miller: I did not get an answer from the Minister’s comments to a very simple question. Who will be responsible for the accuracy of the online scheme and who will be responsible for any errors that are made?
Mr. Dhanda: The CRB will be responsible for the administration of the system, but the IBB will be responsible for the two barred lists.
In speaking to amendment No. 187, I said what I wished to say about online checks, although I appreciate that hon. Members may wish to return to the subject. Amendments Nos. 188 to 193 and Nos. 165 to 170 are all minor and technical amendments to the Bill. I circulated a note to hon. Members before the Committee stage in which I explained the Government’s intention behind all the amendments that we tabled, including those ones. I welcome any questions or otherwise on the online lists, and ask hon. Members to accept the amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 188, in schedule 4, page 49, line 37, at end insert—
‘Person who is considering whether to permit B to engage frequently in an activity in respect of which financial resources are provided pursuant to section 5(1) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, if engaging in the activity gives B the opportunity to have contact with children
Relevant information relating to children’.
No. 189, in schedule 4, page 50, line 10, leave out ‘the first and second entries’ and insert ‘entries 1, 2, 5 and 6’.
No. 190, in schedule 4, page 50, line 11, after ‘if’ insert ‘—
( ) ’.
No. 191, in schedule 4, page 50, line 12, at end insert ‘or
( ) it were not merely incidental to another activity.’.
No. 192, in schedule 4, page 50, line 12, at end insert—
‘( ) In entries 3, 4, 7 and 8 in the table the reference to controlled activity includes a reference to an activity which would be a controlled activity if it were carried out frequently.’.
No. 193, in schedule 4, page 50, line 35, at end insert—
‘ Regulations may 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 or section 57 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 to inform the person of his right to obtain relevant information in pursuance of this Schedule.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27

Regulated activity providers: duty to refer
Amendment made: No. 165, in clause 27, page 17, line 44, at end insert—
‘( ) For the purposes of subsection (3)(b), conduct is inappropriate if it appears to the person to whom subsection (2) applies to be inappropriate having regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under paragraph 4(4) or 9(4) of Schedule 2.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Clause 27, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28

Personnel suppliers: duty to refer
Amendment made: No. 166, in clause 28, page 18, line 40, at end insert—
‘( ) For the purposes of subsection (4)(b), conduct is inappropriate if it appears to the personnel supplier to be inappropriate having regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under paragraph 4(4) or 9(4) of Schedule 2.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Clause 28, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 29 and 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31

Local authorities: duty to refer
Amendment made: No. 167, in clause 31, page 20, line 30, at end insert—
‘( ) For the purposes of subsection (2)(b) or (6)(a), conduct is inappropriate if it appears to the local authority to be inappropriate having regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under paragraph 4(4) or 9(4) of Schedule 2.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Clause 31, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33

Registers: duty to refer
Amendment made: No. 168, in clause 33, page 21, line 31, at end insert—
‘( ) For the purposes of subsection (2)(b) or (6)(a), conduct is inappropriate if it appears to the keeper to be inappropriate having regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under paragraph 4(4) or 9(4) of Schedule 2.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Clause 33, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 35

Registers: notice of barring and cessation of monitoring
Mrs. Miller: I beg to move amendment No. 194, in clause 35, page 23, line 35, leave out subsection (7) and insert—
‘(7) A person is subject to a relevant disqualification if—
(a) he is included in a list maintained under the law of Scotland, Northern Ireland, or any other country or territory which the Secretary of State specifies by order, approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament, as corresponding to a barred list; or
(b) he has been charged or convicted of a criminal offence in a country other than the United Kingdom which, if committed in the United Kingdom, would have led to him being barred or considered for barring.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 195, in clause 35, page 23, line 37, at end insert—
‘(7A) A person is subject to a relevant disqualification if he is included in a list maintained under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom which the Secretary of State specifies by order, approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, as corresponding to a barred list.’.
Mrs. Miller: The two amendments deal with the same problem. I suppose that we are trying to give ourselves an option, with two different ways to solve it. It is not only we who have identified the problem; those who debated the issue in the other place and a great many of those involved in the Government’s extensive consultations have highlighted their concerns about overseas workers. Again, it is somewhat disappointing that, despite all the consultation, nothing in the Bill helps employers further.
The amendments are probing. They address the problem of overseas workers. It was identified as important not only in the post-Bichard consultation but by a great many other groups that were consulted by the Government. I said in February, on Second Reading, that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) had written to the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills asking for assurances in respect of overseas workers in schools. The Minister said on Second Reading that he would follow the matter up, because we had not received a reply to that letter. Unfortunately, we still await a reply. Perhaps the Minister is still undecided. If so, I hope that he accepts the amendments as constructive solutions to a problem that has yet to be resolved. I shall therefore consider them in more detail.
I remind the Minister of the statistics. There is a growing number of overseas workers in all the sectors under the Bill that deal with vulnerable adults and children. Almost one in five nurses and one in three medical practitioners come from overseas. About18 per cent. of social workers and 15 per cent. of carer assistants come from overseas. They work with some of the most vulnerable people in quasi-domestic settings.
As we all know, overseas workers make a vital contribution in schools, hospitals, care homes and many of the other settings covered by the Bill. It is important that we find a way to deal with them as a set of workers within our communities. The Bill must offer a robust system to ensure that those workers who come from overseas can, whenever possible, enjoy the same affirmation for their role in the workplace as those from the UK. We need to work a little harder on that problem.
I have read the many notes that Lord Adonis sent with the Bill to clarify those areas that are a little opaque. One note contained details of the Government’s work in setting up agreements with certain countries. It is interesting to note that the countries that the Government are making a priority are Australia and Canada. We welcome that important move, but I am concerned that it does not adequately address the problem. The official statistics show that the majority of overseas workers who deal with children and vulnerable adults come from Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity afforded by this debate to outline what the Government are doing in relation to those other parts of the world, which cover the majority of people from overseas working here.
Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 would broaden the scope of clause 35(7). Instead of allowing the Secretary of State merely to draw up regulations on arrangements with Northern Ireland and Scotland, he would be able to draw up regulations that included all countries and territories, which would obviously cover all overseas workers.
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Amendment No. 194 would have the added advantage of allowing us, should the country in question not maintain a relevant list in the way in which we do, to look at the relevant criminal charge or conviction and assess whether it would lead to barring in this country. We could then take appropriate action.
I have outlined the statistics. This is not a peripheral matter that can be put to one side. It has been suggested that we could deal with this group of people as though they had never put themselves forward for monitoring before and were fresh on our database. The number of overseas workers in this country is growing. They are important, and we need to ensure that the Bill shows them the level of respect that they deserve regarding their roles within our community. The amendments give the Minister the opportunity to respond to several questions on the issue.
This is not a unique problem. In many other areas, individuals from overseas are dealt with adequately. In the realms of the legal profession, there are recognised ways of acknowledging overseas lawyers. Perhaps, in reaching his decision the Minister could consider such examples outside of our proceedings. I hope that we can find a better way of dealing with this important group of people.
 
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Prepared 17 July 2006