Draft Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Prescribed Criteria) (Foreign Offences) Order 2008

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Mrs. Miller: Does the hon. Lady share my concern that, given the many jobs in the care sector and education, many people will have gaps in their careers, perhaps to look after children, so merely the presence of a gap on someone’s CV is not sufficient in such circumstances?
Annette Brooke: Absolutely. A gap might exist for all sorts of reasons. Someone could just say that he went to live abroad in the sun until his savings ran out. We do not know whether the person was working there or whether they were engaged in unfortunate activities while they were there. I cannot see how all those offences will be caught by the order. As welcome as it is, we must be aware that it will not cover a lot of problems.
Apart from the problem of dealing with the IBB and the ISA, the transitional arrangements seem quite straightforward. The whole point is to have independence and to get away from Ministers making decisions, so again we must welcome the order. The explanatory notes refer to article 4 modifying the effect of section 142 of the Education Act 2002. It seems that the Secretary of State will still have some power over independent schools, which raised questions in my mind about why independent schools should be treated differently in that respect and whether they are being brought fully within the legislation in other respects. I should like reassurance on that point.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Basingstoke has said about making information available, the impact of being on the barred list and the implications for employers. I can offer some comfort on the issue of the 15-year-old and the 14-year-old. I am pleased that the Government amended the 2006 Act, although there were snide comments that under-18s have the right to make representations. That amendment was important, because it would be unrealistic to blight the whole of someone’s life for something that might have been purely childish behaviour. It is difficult to sort out that issue, because it is difficult to distinguish between exploratory behaviour and what turns out to be a long-term habit. It is important that individual cases are looked at, which is welcome. Throughout our debate, we have raised worries about the fact that people who accept cautions go on the automatically barred list without representations. We have explored such matters in great depth, but I want to reinforce the point that it is vital that anyone who accepts a caution really understands its implications.
5.13 pm
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank both hon. Members for their contributions. We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. We all agree that safeguarding vulnerable groups is a high priority, that it needs to be done fairly and proportionately and that it is right that we consider the orders carefully. I am well aware that that the two hon. Ladies have been involved in the matter for a long time and that I am new to it, but, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke has said, I have been immersing myself in it.
Before I respond to the specific queries, I want to underline two key points. First, the transitory order does not alter the areas of work from which a newly barred person is barred. A barring decision by the ISA between winter 2008 and autumn 2009 will have exactly the same effect in terms of unsuitability as a Secretary of State bar now on the protection of vulnerable adults list, the Protection of Children Act 1999 list or list 99. Secondly, the foreign offences order will enable our prescribed criteria regulations, of which an early draft is in the information note, to include specified foreign offences that will lead to an automatic bar. To respond to the question raised by both hon. Ladies, there will be a separate opportunity to consider those regulations in a few weeks’ time.
Turning to queries raised in the debate, the hon. Member for Basingstoke asked about the delayed implementation date and how long it has taken to introduce the orders. It was important for us to do robust testing and ensure that the orders would operate correctly from the start. We legislated in 2006 to give effect to the scheme, as the hon. Ladies know. We have done a great deal of consultation on offences that would lead to automatic barring and on detailed issues to underpin the scheme. It will be the UK’s toughest and most expensive vetting and barring system. We must build on the existing extensive safeguards to create a system that works. The stakeholders to whom we have spoken welcome the time that it has taken to ensure that all views are taken into account.
Like the hon. Member for Basingstoke, I, too, hope that I am in place to deal with the remaining regulations, which I look forward to debating. She mentioned amendments on foreign offences that came up in Committee. It is true that there were amendments on the benefit of using information on foreign offences. As it stands, the 2006 Act allows for that, as the ISA must consider information from any source in deciding whether to bar someone.
There is one specific point about using foreign offences that are equivalent to offences under UK law to bar people automatically, rather than the ISA using that information in a discretionary manner. We have done a great deal of work to develop that since the passage of the 2006 Act. We also have experience now of using foreign offences to bar people automatically using list 99, which has been a feature of the list 99 arrangements. We can report that those arrangements work to safeguard children, so we should continue them in the new scheme.
Mrs. Miller: I thank the Minister for clarifying that point. I do not have the notes in front of me, but we talked about automatic barring in Committee, and it seems a little odd that it is being included only now.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: Not having been in the Committee that considered the Bill and, I must admit, not having read the Hansard reports of all the Committee meetings, I can say only that I will go back and look at them and write a note to the hon. Lady. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned, there is no automatic barring for under-18s, whether the offence is a foreign or a UK offence, and it would not happen without representations.
On the question of how many countries have adopted the framework, we are exploring reciprocal information-sharing arrangements. We are doing so with France and Australia, but we are looking to expand that. We certainly see information-sharing as a key priority for the next EU work programme.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke asked whether we have used the foreign offences provision. I confirm that we have used it in list 99, but I will not comment in this Committee on individual cases. The provision has been used, which shows in itself why the order is necessary.
As I have said, a full set of prescribed criteria regulations for the foreign offences order will be introduced, provided that this order is passed. We will quickly introduce the full set, we will consult on them and the House will have a full opportunity to debate them. The foreign offences order will allow us to say in effect that those convicted of an offence abroad that would have been an offence in England if it had been committed here meet the automatic barring criteria.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke asked about employment law. An employer will commit an offence in employing someone who is barred. It is not the employer’s decision who is barred; that is for the ISA. Consequently, the fact that a person is barred will not give rise to employment law issues.
The hon. Lady’s other question was how people barred by the ISA would know what they were barred from. The ISA will write to the people being barred and make clear the scope of work from which they are being barred and how that is different after the new vetting and barring system goes live. Before go live, the bar has the same effect as the Secretary of State bar under current schemes. After go live, the bar is from the full width of regulated activity under the 2006 Act.
The hon. Members for Basingstoke and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole spoke about the importance of communication. We have an extensive programme of consultation and, in the run-up to implementation, we are stepping up that consultation. Guidance will come out in the new year to address the issues that stakeholders have told us are important—decision making by the ISA, which positions are covered and which are not, and how the scheme will be phased in. We shall make full use of our consultative groups in preparing guidance, some of which is already out for consultation.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole asked about people working abroad. Our guidance to schools makes it very clear that when someone has spent time abroad, the school should obtain a certificate of good conduct from the embassy. That is whether or not the person has worked or just spent time abroad. We must use all the sources of information that it is possible to draw on. I appreciate the points that both hon. Ladies made about the difficulty that there sometimes is in obtaining that information, but we must use all the sources that we can get hold of. I take the point that a clean CRB disclosure and ISA check is not evidence of a clean background, because of that lack of foreign information.
This is an important issue. It is very important that employers understand the decisions that they are taking and the nature of the information available. We shall make it clear in guidance accompanying the scheme that certain information is not routinely accessed and that just because someone has a clean disclosure, that is not a green light to employment. If there are any suspicions, people should pursue that further. Guidance will emphasise the importance of chasing up references and understanding the background of prospective employees.
A point was made about independent schools being treated differently. The provision made in relation to independent schools allows the Secretary of State to carry out functions under the Education Act 2002 with regard to the registration and operation of independent schools. The Secretary of State’s powers apply only in cases of misconduct—fraud—not safeguarding matters. All safeguarding vulnerable people matters will be dealt with by the ISA, not by the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will notice that I nearly slipped up there and said “IBB”. I have to confess that I have known it only as the ISA. I do not currently know the answer to her question about why the IBB became the ISA, but I will write to her.
Annette Brooke: I am looking for clarity such that throughout the communication strategy the body has one name and one name only. I do not know why we are still referring to the IBB. We should be using the new name all the time now. If the Minister could give an explanation, it would be helpful.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I undertake always in the future to refer to the ISA. I undertake to ensure that when we send out guidance notes and consultation documents, we refer to the ISA.
I hope that you agree, Mr. Chope, that we have had a useful debate. I know that we all agree that nothing is more important than safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from those who pose a serious risk of harm.
Mrs. Miller: Before the Minister finishes, I want to draw her attention to my remarks on the current situation regarding individuals from overseas committing sexual offences and that not necessarily always being recognised in the UK. Only 62 cases have been recognised in the past year of people moving from overseas to work in the UK when they may have sexual offences in their past.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I apologise for not referring specifically to that point, but I think that I covered it in the fact that we will have an opportunity to debate exactly those issues in relation to the draft regulations, because if we pass this measure today, the foreign offences will become part of those regulations. That will be an opportunity for us to explore the matter further.
These orders take a further step in establishing the ISA, which plays an important part in the Government’s agenda to meet the Bichard recommendations and ensure that the most robust safeguarding procedures are in place. I commend the orders to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Prescribed Criteria) (Foreign Offences) Order 2008.

Draft Safeguarding vulnerable groups act 2006 (transitory provisions) Order 2008

That the Committee has considered the draft Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Transitory Provisions) Order 2008.—[Sarah McCarthy-Fry.]
Committee rose at twenty five-minutes past Five o’clock.
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