Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords]

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Annette Brooke: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 3—Other organisations: duty to provide information on request—
‘(1) This section applies if IBB is considering—
(a) whether to include any person in a barred list; or
Annette Brooke: Again, the new clauses are probing. I wish to touch on other areas that we feel are not fully covered by the Bill. One gives power to organisations to refer cases to the IBB, and the other suggests that other organisations should have the duty to provide information on request. They both tackle the same area, and I seek a little more detail on the responsibilities and duties of those other organisations.
During debates in the other place, the Government clarified that under the Bill it would be possible for other bodies that do not have a duty to refer cases to the IBB to do so. Examples that have been mentioned in discussions include doctors, psychologists, some NGOs, Barnardo’s and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; they will obviously encounter cases in which they believe that an individual’s conduct is of concern, in that they pose a risk to children or vulnerable adults, and they may want to refer such cases to the IBB.
It would be helpful if the Minister were further to clarify the Department’s thinking on referrals. For example, will the criteria for such referrals be based on the criteria set out in clause 31 on referrals from local authorities, as the new clauses suggests? What might happen in terms of the IBB seeking more information from the referrer? Unlike local authorities, under clause 32, those other organisations have no requirement to provide prescribed information; the starting point might be for those bodies to provide information, but what happens if the IBB wants more information? That is how the new clauses are linked.
Finally, would organisations that refer conduct cases to the IBB outside the statutory scheme be able to avail themselves of the protections against damages set out in clause 42? Do the Government agree that bona fide referrals should be protected, as are those from local authorities? I should like clarification on that, because it could make referral either less likely or more likely. I await the Minister’s response.
I have gone through my questions rather quickly, and shall be happy to intervene on the Minister if he asks me to. I hope that he sees that the new clauses are two sides of the same coin, dealing first with an offer and then with a need on the part of the IBB to seek more information. We can imagine how that would happen; as MPs in our surgeries, we sometimes get a little information but need to know more about a situation before we can proceed.
I hope that I have put that into context and that the Minister will address the questions. I hasten to say that these are probing new clauses. The issue of organisations offering up information will be really important; it represents new territory beyond the confidentiality that we have had so much of in the past.
Mr. Dhanda: We are discussing two probing new clauses; that is unusual, as we usually talk of probing amendments. However, I welcome them.
The Bill does not prevent an organisation or individual from referring information to the IBB when it or he is not under a duty to do so. The Bill also provides that the IBB must consider any information that it receives from whatever source and of whatever nature. New clause 2 would create a power for any organisation to refer information to the IBB.
We agree that the IBB should not be limited to considering information only from organisations under a duty to provide it, and I reassure the hon. Lady that the Bill imposes no such limitation. For organisations not covered by the duties in the Bill, we plan to issue guidance setting out when we would expect an organisation to make a referral to the IBB. The guidance will advise individuals who wish to make such referrals to refer the information to the police or another appropriate authority, such as a local authority or social services, so that it can be properly investigated and any action needed to protect children or vulnerable adults can be set in train quickly.
New clause 3 would enable the IBB to require information from any organisation when it is considering whether to include or keep a person on a barred list. We have already ensured that the key organisations likely to have such information are under a duty to provide information to the IBB. That duty is imposed on employers that are regulated activity providers, including former employers, local authorities, the police, keepers of registers such as the General Medical Council and supervisory authorities such as Ofsted.
The IBB will also be able to ask any other organisation for information relevant to a barring decision. It seems unlikely that an organisation would not comply with such a request, given that the protection of children and vulnerable adults would be at stake. If such an organisation were reluctant to provide information and if the details that the IBB already had suggested that the child or vulnerable adult might be at risk, the IBB would be able to refer the case to the police and/or other local services for further investigation. That is pretty important.
Our approach strikes the correct balance between ensuring that the IBB has access to information, so that it can make decisions, and avoiding duplicating the investigative and intervention roles of other organisations, including the police and social services. Given those assurances, I hope that the hon. Lady will not insist on her probing new clauses.
Annette Brooke: I shall not, although I have one question outstanding. As the Minister is in such writing mode, needing plenty of work over the summer recess, I hope that he will answer in due course my other question about the protections against damages, as set out in clause 42. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Definition of “occasional basis”
‘(1) For the purposes of subsections 8(9), 10(4) and 11(5), an employer must produce a statement defining “occasional basis” for which monitoring is not necessary in relation to that particular establishment.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mrs. Miller: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I am pleased that we have reached new clause 4; we have had many discussions during the past few days, and it has looked doubtful whether we would get this far.
We grappled with the important issue that the new clause addresses on the first day of our proceedings; I hope that it gives us an opportunity to flesh out further the arguments and discussions about it. The definitions of “frequently” and “occasionally” have been a vexed question throughout discussions of this Bill in both Houses. Originally, the new clause was to have been reviewed and discussed alongside our original amendment to remove the idea of “frequently” from the Bill and allow professional people within the settings covered to establish a definition of “occasional” relevant to their setting.
One of Lord Adonis’s notes attempted to clarify the meaning of “frequently”, and in doing so define what was meant by “occasionally”. At that point, it was said that if an activity was undertaken for longer than five days continuously, or more than six times a year, it would be deemed to take place frequently and be subject to monitoring.
That strikes us as a rather arbitrary figure in respect of what constitutes “frequently” as opposed to “occasionally”. Can the Minister say anything that would suggest that there is more robustness behind the thinking? If so, he should share it with us, as we have been unable to find that in correspondence on this subject.
At another juncture, Lord Adonis stated that it would perhaps be up to the barred individual to determine whether contact was occasional or frequent. We Conservatives feel that that argument is unacceptable. I should be interested in hearing the Minister’s view. Can the Government be reasonably expecting those who are subject to the rules in the Bill to determine whether they are undertaking activities on an occasional or frequent basis?
Anne Main: I remember that during discussion of this matter in the House, one of the issues raised was the annual Eisteddfod in Llangollen, which takes place for five days every year. Perhaps predictable regularity could be incorporated. If it is known that something will come up regularly but not fall within the time scale, that could also be regarded as falling within the remit of the Bill.
3.45 pm
Mrs. Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Perhaps our new clause would cover what she is talking about. It would oblige an employer to define “occasional basis”, so an Eisteddfod could be dealt with as the people on the ground saw fit, rather than there being a one-size-fits-all approach.
I should like to touch on a couple of comments made by Ministers today that suggest that they might be more in favour of the new clause than I initially thought. Perhaps the Health Minister will support it. He said earlier that we should allow the judgment of front-line professionals to come into play, and front-line professionals are exactly what the new clause is about. If he cannot recall, I should say that it was when we were talking about exemptions. My new clause is intended to let the people who know best about what is happening on the ground have discretion to define what is meant by “occasional”, rather than leaving it to the Minister in his office in Westminster, which I am sure is wonderful, to do it.
The proposal would, along with removing “frequently”, which received cross-party support on the Opposition Benches, allow employers to use their discretion to determine how to define “occasional”. If the Minister feels that that way forward is inappropriate—although I am ever optimistic on these issues and he may see the merit in the argument that we are advancing—perhaps I could urge him to think a little further. I have asked the people who have to implement such rules and regulations about how they regard Lord Adonis’s description of what counts as occasional and frequent, and the Government may be a little bit more out of step with the people who will apply those procedures than they think they are.
Hampshire county council, which, as the Minister knows, is designated by the Government as an excellent education authority and an excellent council—
Tim Loughton: Conservative-run.
Mrs. Miller: Indeed. It has taken this issue seriously in its safer recruitment toolkit, which is available online for all employers and employees in Hampshire. That toolkit talks specifically about what constitutes occasional work:
“Occasionally, volunteers may be engaged to assist with a single event only, where they will be working under the supervision of a qualified member of staff, or may be undertaking a role that will allow them no unsupervised access to children. In such instances, headteachers should use their professional judgement—
echoing the Minister’s words—
“to determine if disclosure is necessary.
Hampshire education authority felt that Lord Adonis’s proposal on the definition of “occasional” was not in line with what it would like to see in respect of schools in the county. This is a most important aspect of the Bill that deserves to be focused on a little more by the Government. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me how he will deal with the differing views of what constitutes “occasional” or “frequently” and whether he will allow employers such as Hampshire education authority, which has a great deal of experience in this area, the flexibility that they will need to deal with the circumstances on the ground.
Mr. Dhanda: For the first time in many hours of debate we are moving towards a new Tory party policy being fleshed out. I am looking forward to having a good look at Hansard. I am rubbing my hands with glee, because I cannot wait to get my hands on the document from Hampshire to see exactly what it means. Having got our teeth into that, we shall assume that that is how the Tory Front Bench want to define “occasional” and “frequently”. We will see about that in time.
The new clause takes us into consideration of a key term in the Bill: “on an occasional basis”. We did more than touch on that issue on Tuesday. The exemptions from the obligation on the employee to be subject to monitoring and on the employer to check whether a person is subject to it apply when a person is engaged in specified activities, such as caring for children or vulnerable adults in a key setting such as a school or care home,
“only on an occasional basis.”
Let me be clear that the term, “on an occasional basis”, is intended to take its normal meaning. We do not think that it is desirable to restrict the circumstances in which an employer, for example, would not be under a duty to check an individual’s status. In reality, an interpretation of the term “occasional” will, to some extent, depend on the circumstances of the employment. Our guidance will support employers and employees in taking those decisions. However, having said that, I am looking forward to reading Hansard closely to see what the hon. Member for Basingstoke said and returning to that on Third Reading.
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