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Mrs. Miller: Is it not surprising that despite a great deal of discussion about the importance of excluding family homes from the legislation, it was felt necessary to amend the Act further at this stage to make that crystal clear? Surely, the Government should have got it right first time.
Annette Brooke: That point will be reiterated about most of the proposals in the draft order.
I want to focus first on the proposals for automatic barring, which concern me the most. Automatic barring without representation is a powerful measure. I was particularly concerned about the ability to change things under negative resolution, which means that we, as Opposition Members, will not have any control. I argued that affirmative resolution would be a useful tool, which would have helped us in today’s debate when we are particularly concerned about one piece of the statutory instrument, allowing us to single out particular items to vote against.
On this particular issue, will the Minister clarify what changes are proposed? I read in Hansard from the other place that the order will correct two minor omissions in the prescribed criteria regulations. It is worrying that we are having such corrections two years on, and I am not 100 per cent. clear what they are. It is probably “newly convicted” or “cautioned”, from my reading, but were those left out? That would be such a huge hole in the legislation, and seems quite incredible. I want the Minister to set out exactly what is being changed as far as automatic barring is concerned, particularly in articles 9 and 18. One of my greatest concerns during the passage of the Act was that someone could get caught up in this and have their life destroyed for ever without being able to make representations, so we need to be crystal clear.
We have always been given examples of the most horrendous crimes, for which no one can suggest that there should not be automatic barring. I have not come across anything where that has not been the case, but I am nervous, from a civil liberties point of view, that as amendments are made as we go along and think of something else, there could be injustice. It is the Committee’s duty to address that issue.
The hon. Lady identified definition creep, and I, too, have flagged that up. Next to the addition of school governing bodies, associate members, clerks and local authority chief executives, I wrote “Why?” Why are we extending the definition and seemingly moving away from the core purpose of the Act?
Interestingly, in our many discussions on the statutory instruments and on the Act, we have never dwelt much on the 11 million people who will get caught up in the registration. This is an opportunity to ask the Minister to give us some more details. Presumably, the provision that I have just referred to will increase the number to beyond 11 million. That is a huge database, which will be upon us soon, and we have not had much in the way of assurances on security checks.
Throughout the process, small businesses in particular have been concerned about the onerous duty that will be imposed on them. I, too, thought that the explanatory notes were helpful, but for the sake of the business community, it would be exceedingly helpful if the Minister expanded on the issue.
Mrs. Miller: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point about the number of people who will be covered by the legislation. Does she share my concern that the definition of those who will be covered by controlled activity is yet to be discussed by a Committee similar to this one? We are some handful of months away from the full implementation of the Act, and yet a sizeable group of employers and employees are still unaware of the details of how the Act will affect them.
Annette Brooke: The hon. Lady makes yet another helpful intervention. The issue is not just the size of the database and the burden on small businesses in particular, but communication. As she said earlier, we could not have devoted more time than we did to discussing how important that is. However, we are reading that, yes, the Government are accepting that they have to work particularly hard, as far as volunteers are concerned, to get the information out. That is critical, because big mistakes could be made from a lack of understanding because of the sheer complexities of the Act. If we are going to have any other changes, I would urge that they were towards simplifying the process.
I was pleased to see that the point about work experience has been picked up by the Government, because I have had a number of representations about that. While wanting to be sure that youngsters on work experience, aged 14 or 15, were absolutely safe, there was the real possibility of the supply of those places drying up. We come back to the point over and over again that it is so important for the legislation to have a proportionate effect, which is what we must focus on today.
When does the Minister expect the online access to become live? We have not heard much about that—no doubt we shall in due course. I would like to reinforce the points made about overseas workers, because we have a complicated system but with yawning gaps where someone could slip through the net. I have a number of concerns. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Lady about definition creep, and I hope that the Minister will be exceedingly convincing about why that is essential. My feeling is that we should be getting the system up and running without making it unnecessarily complicated, while being sure that we are closing the gaps.
Finally, my No. 1 priority is safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. We have to be sure that the legislation does that, rather than confusing and muddying the water.
11.2 am
Mr. Wright: I thank the hon. Members for Basingstoke and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole for their kind welcome. I feel that I have come to the party relatively late, when most of the champagne has gone. I am having a baptism of fire, given the level of knowledge and expertise in the room—of the hon. Ladies and, not least, of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West, who was so instrumental in pushing us down the path of safeguarding children and vulnerable people. I shall try my best to answer some of the detailed questions.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I have detected six or seven key themes in the line of questioning: delays and potential errors in the secondary legislation process; human rights and auto-barring; concerns about IT systems; foreign workers and foreign offences; communication to business, local authorities and others; mission and definition creep, about which I understand the concern; and, linked in with the last two points, the impact upon small businesses and the point made by the hon. Member for Basingstoke about how we strongly encourage businesses to take on board the suggested processes. I hope to cover all those in the time available, but if I do not I shall write to the hon. Ladies and the rest of the Committee.
Mrs. Miller: I am sorry to intervene on the Minister so early in his response, but could he add to that list an update for the Committee about when the Government might come through with a definition with regard to controlled activities that I talked about in my intervention on the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. Now we are so close to full implementation of the scheme, does the Minister not share my concern that there are still significant holes in how the legislation is enacted in full? We still have no detailed statutory instrument on controlled activities.
Mr. Wright: I can answer that point straight away and disappoint the hon. Lady early on in my contribution. We have no proposals to change the definitions of controlled activities as set out in the Act, beyond the minor amendment in article 28 to do with Wales, which I mentioned in my opening remarks. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady. There are no such plans.
I come now to the seven main themes that I have detected in the Committee’s deliberations today. First, one of the main questions that has been asked is about the reason for the delay. I will be honest and upfront with the Committee: we want to get this right. The key point is to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are safeguarded as much as possible and that the framework is in place to allow that to happen. A good system is in place at the moment, but we need to tighten it as much as possible. The new system and the new transition process will allow that to happen. If it takes time to get it accurate, and that is the right approach to take.
The reason for the changes in the commencement date to which the hon. Member for Basingstoke alluded was set out in the written ministerial statement in March this year. The scheme has been phased in to ensure that it is correct and effective. From October this year, the powers of the ISA to bar persons from the full range of regulated activity will come into force. Applications to become ISA-registered under section 24 of the Act will commence from July 2010, and that will enable the new systems and interfaces to be fully tested and problems dealt with.
I was asked whether different systems and different checking devices with regard to the ISA and CRB would be complicated and prone to error. I am confident that that will not be the case. I appreciate that the transition is complex, but I am sure that all parties know what needs to be done at each stage. For example, the ISA is clear that it has to complete the work on migrating cases from the existing barred lists to the new barred lists. It has a dedicated team of people to allow that to happen, and work will continue until the job is done. We are setting up the systems that provide the barred lists to the CRB in such a way that they can be processed and searched automatically by the CRB as part of the disclosure process. I stress that each stage of the transition has been carefully scoped out and planned to minimise as much as possible the risks of error and further delay.
Mrs. Miller: I am sure that the Committee will be reassured to hear that the hon. Gentleman wants to be confident in the system and to minimise risk. The objective of the new system is to remove as much as possible the risk of inappropriate people working with children and adults. I am still somewhat worried that the Government’s original plan clearly did not get it right, which is why we are here two years on with a delay in the process and with an Act that is being amended on the hoof to make it work properly.
The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Lady that interventions should be short.
Mrs. Miller: Is the Minister content with the current position, in that he is amending the legislation on the hoof?
Mr. Wright: The hon. Lady might be surprised to hear that I utterly disagree with her comments. While preparing for the debate, I was reading the statement made on the Floor of the House in January 2006. The intention was always incredibly clear that the Government want to get the measure right and accurate, and that their principal objective, which all hon. Members share, is to minimise the risk to children and vulnerable people. That has taken time. There have been complex processes, but I am confident that the transitionary process that we are putting in place will minimise that risk. I hope that the hon. Lady will join us in making sure that that is the case.
My second point concerns human rights and barring without representation. Both the hon. Members for Basingstoke and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said that they were a bit uneasy about matters. That has been a theme throughout their questioning of the process during the past couple of years. They were a little worried about the human rights implications. The hon. Member for Basingstoke asked me directly whether I was confident that the measure was compatible with ECHR. Yes, I can confirm that it is consistent with human rights legislation. With permission, an individual can also appeal to the Court of Appeal on points of law.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned automatic barring and the criteria for amendments. I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady that the amendments relate to automatic barring with representations. I understand perfectly her point that making amendments and having that sort of creep with regard to automatic barring without representations can impact on civil rights legislation. There are no changes to the offences leading to automatic barring without the right to make representations, and I hope that reassures her.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke made a very important point about the rationale behind automatic barring without representation. Looking at it afresh and seeing the principles behind it, I am reassured that it has always been and remains the case that automatic barring without representation is based upon the commission of crimes that by their very nature indicate that the perpetrator poses a risk of harm such that there is nothing to justify to the ISA why they should be allowed to work with vulnerable groups in the short term. The hon. Lady mentioned that we need to minimise that risk as much as possible. That is absolutely right and I hope that the whole Committee will agree.
The hon. Lady also mentioned appeal on an automatic bar without representations. Individuals who have been automatically barred without the right to make representations do not have rights of appeal. Appeals under the 2006 Act are only on a point of law or on a finding of fact. In the case of an automatic bar with no right of representations, it is indisputable that the person was convicted of an offence and it is also indisputable that that offence is listed among the prescribed criteria for automatic barring with no right to representations. That is an important part of the safeguarding element of the legislation.
Annette Brooke: If I might just correct the record, I intended to say that because there is no right of appeal it is important that we do not have extra criteria slipped in. Hence my desire for a clear statement from the Minister, and for which I thank him.
Mr. Wright: I acknowledge that the hon. Lady’s comments are on the record.
I will move on to my third point, which is about IT systems and the progress in setting them up. The hon. Member for Basingstoke mentioned the IMPACT programme. Given her long-standing experience on the subject, she will be more aware than I am that the IMPACT programme was established in 2005 by the Home Office as a substantial part of the Government’s response to the Bichard inquiry. IMPACT is an IT-enabled business change programme that aims to improve the ability of the police service to manage and share intelligence and other operational information to prevent and detect crime and make communities safer. It is meant to improve police information management to enable the police to share information and to discharge the Home Secretary’s commitment to implementing the recommendations in Bichard’s report.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole asked when online access to the ISA system will go live? I have a specific date for the hon. Lady—26 July 2010 is when it will become legally possible for an individual to access the ISA register.
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