Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Dhanda: I agree entirely that overseas workers are important, not least when their children become MPs and Ministers.
Both amendments would ensure that the keepers of such registers were notified if the Secretary of State became aware that an individual was included on any foreign barred list specified by the Secretary of State. That sounds reasonable, in essence, but this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle by which to introduce new measures about the treatment of foreign offences. The Government have already introduced a number of measures to tackle the issue of foreign offences. They include notification orders, which ensure that people who are convicted of sex offences overseas are made to sign the sex offenders register in the UK, and sexual offences prevention orders, which can also applyto offenders who are convicted of sexual or violent offences overseas.
I take on board the hon. Lady’s point about not wanting to start from scratch and to consider just offences in the UK. That is exactly what we are doing. However, there is a way in which the Bill allows us to take account of overseas offences. Paragraph 20 of schedule 2 allows the Secretary of State to specify that, in addition to UK convictions and cautions, the following criteria qualify a person for automatic barring: orders such as sexual offences prevention orders and notification orders, which I just mentioned; inclusion in a foreign barred list equivalent to the children and vulnerable adults barred list; and overseas orders or directions. The regulations prescribing those criteria are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In addition, under the discretionary route, the IBB will, of course, be able to take account of any information regarding offences or behaviour abroad when it receives that information. The Bill therefore ensures that the barring scheme can take account of offences committed abroad.
The Secretary of State already has a duty under the Bill to notify the keepers of relevant registers when an individual is barred, and that will achieve the intended effect of the amendment, without the need for a separate set of information to flow to the keepers of registers about foreign offences and lists, with which they are not necessarily familiar and to which they may not know how to respond. I hope that with that on the record, the hon. Lady will not press her probing amendments.
Mrs. Miller: I am grateful to the Minister for taking the time to outline what is already in the Bill, but I remain a little confused as to why so much emphasis and effort have been put into negotiating agreements with Canada and Australia, but not other countries from which we receive many overseas workers. He said that the amendments sound reasonable, but that the relevant issues are already dealt with in the Bill. Surely, if he agrees that the amendments are reasonable, and given that they merely clarify what is already in the Bill, would not it be entirely sensible to make it clearer to the employers who will have to try to interpret this legislation that specific actions need to be taken with regard to overseas employees?
I expected the Minister to say something slightly different—that, as we are talking about employment practices, the Bill might not be the right place in which to articulate the need for more vigilance with employment, given that the criminal records of individuals might not be fully available to us. I would have been open to an argument that we need to consider other ways in which to communicate that to employers—perhaps through codes of practice. The Minister’s intention might be to cover overseas employees, but I am concerned that the Bill is a little hazy on that.
Mr. Dhanda: When I said what I said about the amendments being reasonable, I was not in any way accepting that they would be reasonable amendments to the Bill. It is fair to say that more work needs to be done on the matter, and the Government are committed to doing that. It is also worth considering that there is an issue about the reliability of criminal records in areas such as Africa and Asia. With the European Community initiative, we are doing a great deal to share information across national boundaries. We will continue to do that work and build on it through regulations made under the Bill.
Mrs. Miller: I thank the Minister for that intervention. I am glad to hear him say that more work needs to be done on that, and that he acknowledges that further debate is important. As he agrees that that area has not been resolved, I look forward to the Government introducing further amendments on the issue on Report.
The Minister talked about the reliability of criminal records in other countries. I did not go into that issue only because I do not have any concrete evidence on it to hand. If, as he asserted, there is an issue with reliability, I invite him to explain what support and help the Government will give to employers to ensure that they are aware, when they employ people from overseas, that there might be a slight hole in the information that is available about the previous employment and behaviour of those employees. Perhaps he would care to consider that further on Report. Given that we have had a good discussion on the issue, I am happy to withdraw my amendment, and hope that the Government will revisit the issue at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36

supervisory authorities: duty to refer
Amendments made: No. 169, in clause 36, page 24, line 31, at end insert—
‘( ) Subsection (1) does not apply if the supervisory authority is satisfied that IBB already has the information.’.
No. 170, in clause 36, page 25, line 5, at end insert—
Clause 36, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 37 and 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

Power to require certain information to be obtained
Amendment made: No. 171, in clause 39, page 25, line 36, at end insert—
‘( ) The Secretary of State may provide that in prescribed circumstances the following paragraphs apply in place of section 11(9)(a) and (b)—
“(a) in the prescribed period he obtains the information in the prescribed manner, and
(b) in that period he takes the prescribed steps to have an enhanced criminal record certificate relating to the individual issued in relation to him under section 113B of the Police Act 1997.”
( ) The Secretary of State may provide that in prescribed circumstances the following paragraphs apply in place of section 13(3)(a) and (b)—
“(a) in the prescribed period he obtains the relevant information (within the meaning of Schedule 4) relating to B in the prescribed manner, and
(b) in that period he takes the prescribed steps to have an enhanced criminal record certificate relating to B issued in relation to the personnel supplier under section 113B of the Police Act 1997.”’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]
Clause 39, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 40 and 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 42

Mrs. Miller: I beg to move amendment No. 4, in clause 42, page 26, line 19, at end insert—
‘(1A) Subsection (1) shall not apply if it can be proven that there is an error on the barred list.’.
This is a quick one, but it is important, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on it. The rules and regulations that we are discussing will have an impact on many thousands of people—I believe that the Government estimate that up to 9 million people will be covered by this monitoring, vetting and barring procedure—and, as the Minister acknowledged in Committee and on Second Reading, mistakes will be made. We highlighted the fact that the CRB has made 3,000 mistakes since it was set up. The Minister thought it appropriate to say that that was a small proportion of the total number of people who have been looked at, and that many thousands of people have been prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults as a result of the procedures put in place under the CRB.
3.15 pm
Mr. Dhanda: I am in quite a helpful mood today, Mr. Martlew. It is extremely important that appropriate measures are in place to correct any mistakes that are made under the new scheme. If an individual is included in a barred list as a result of an error such as mistaken identity, the IBB will be able to remove them from the list, much as I described tothe hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole the other day. In cases in which the error is the responsibility of the CRB, it will, as now, consider providing ex gratia consolatory financial redress, based on the Treasury’s guidelines that the individual must be put back into the position in which they could reasonably have expected to be but for the error or maladministration.
With IBB decisions, a distinction must be made between the different types of cases that might arise. In cases in which the IBB’s decision to include the individual in a barred list is later overturned in an appeal, the appeal process will rectify the situation, and the case will be reconsidered as appropriate.
The IBB will also be able to initiate a review of its own accord—for example, where a conviction which led to a person’s inclusion on the barred list is quashed. Proceedings before the IBB are of a quasi-judicial nature, so it would be inappropriate to allow claims for damages. However, there may be cases in which individuals were included on the barred list as a result of maladministration by the IBB in which some form of compensatory payment might be warranted. Any new scheme of financial redress would need to comply with Government accounting requirements that underpin such arrangements under this and previous Administrations.
Mrs. Miller: That is an interesting point. The Minister says that the IBB is a quasi-judicial body, but I was not aware that a non-departmental public body could be quasi-judicial. Either it has the role of a tribunal in a court situation, or it has not. If it has the role of a judicial body, then, obviously, damages are dealt with in a very different way, but if it is a non-departmental public body, it does not have quasi-judicial powers and should therefore be open to damages in the same way as any other body of a similar description. Will the Minister clarify that?
Mr. Dhanda: I am always happy to widen the hon. Lady’s knowledge of these matters. I think I did so the other day, too. She has spent a lot of time in rooms with lawyers—
Mrs. Miller: I am married to one.
Mr. Dhanda: So am I; it does not seem to help, does it?
I think that I have made it fairly clear—the IBB is quasi-judicial—in the same way that we clarified matters about the burden of proof on which the IBB is working. I do not see any issues or complexities with that, and I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.
Mrs. Miller: I shall go away and consult our lawyer. It was entirely my impression that non-departmental public bodies do not have quasi-judicial powers. Perhaps the Minister can consult his lawyers and I can consult mine and we can come to a better conclusion.
On a serious note, the type of errors that we are discussing will be of exceptional importance to the people about whom they are made. We therefore need to ensure that there is an incentive for the IBB to ensure that such errors are kept to a minimum, and that those involved get the compensation that they should.
I thank the Minister for clarifying the situation with the CRB and ex gratia payments, but I would like to leave open the issue of the IBB and its role and status. Perhaps he will write to me about that; I certainly would like more clarification on that point, but I will withdraw the amendment at this stage. Perhaps we will revisit this matter when we have received more expert opinion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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