Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Katy Clark 

Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con) 

Bacon, Mr Richard (South Norfolk) (Con) 

Boles, Nick (Grantham and Stamford) (Con) 

Cairns, Alun (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con) 

Clarke, Mr Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab) 

Crockart, Mike (Edinburgh West) (LD) 

Donohoe, Mr Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab) 

Doran, Mr Frank (Aberdeen North) (Lab) 

Evans, Jonathan (Cardiff North) (Con) 

Gilmore, Sheila (Edinburgh East) (Lab) 

Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) 

Greatrex, Tom (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op) 

Hamilton, Mr David (Midlothian) (Lab) 

Loughton, Tim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education)  

Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) 

Reckless, Mark (Rochester and Strood) (Con) 

Rogerson, Dan (North Cornwall) (LD) 

Weir, Mr Mike (Angus) (SNP) 

Alison Groves, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Second Delegated Legislation Committee 

Wednesday 26 January 2011  

[Katy Clark in the Chair] 

Draft Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2010

2.30 pm 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2010. 

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Miss Clark. I am sure you will keep a very ruly Committee this afternoon for this piece of delegated legislation. 

I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and to the Merits Committee for their careful consideration of these regulations, and I should like to make Members aware that neither Committee commented or thought that the House’s attention should be drawn to the order. 

The order that we are debating today makes amendments to support new vetting arrangements in Scotland that were created under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007—the 2007 Act. Scottish Ministers have recently announced that their new scheme will be launched on 28 February 2011, and the order is required to help them with the successful operation of their new arrangements, and to ensure that relevant information is shared across borders. Specifically, the order will enable the Independent Safeguarding Authority to provide information to the Scottish Ministers for the purposes of their functions under the 2007 Act, and makes a necessary amendment to the Data Protection Act 1998. 

The instrument that we are debating today focuses on amendments to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Data Protection Act 1998. The changes that the order would make to both pieces of legislation are of a technical nature, and are being sought so that the scheme created under the 2007 Act can commence, as intended, with effect from 28 February 2011. 

I take the opportunity to say a few words about the scheme created under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which would apply in England and Wales and which is commonly referred to as the vetting and barring scheme. In May 2010, the Government stated their intention to 

“review the criminal records and vetting and barring regime and scale it back to common-sense levels” 

as undertaken in the coalition agreement. On 15 June 2010, the Home Secretary announced that the intended start to registration would be halted so that the scheme could be reviewed with the aim of making it more proportionate. On 22 October 2010, we announced the terms of reference for the review of the vetting and barring scheme alongside those for the criminal records

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review. I am aware that there are many who will be keen to know the outcome of those reviews, and I can confirm that the Home Secretary will announce the outcomes from those reviews very soon. That announcement will propose changes to both the vetting and barring scheme and the criminal records regime together, but I am afraid that I cannot pre-empt the Home Secretary’s announcement. 

I want to make it clear that the changes that the order makes do not affect the review of the vetting and barring scheme, and it should therefore not be seen as any indication of any changes to vetting practices within England and Wales. We would not wish to interfere with the wishes of the Scottish Executive Government to proceed with their scheme as planned, and we are making these changes to existing legislation solely to ensure that there are no barriers to the launch of their scheme on 28 February. 

Turning to the detail of the order, hon. Members will note that it makes amendments to two Acts of the Westminster Parliament. The first deals with the provision of information by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, otherwise known as the ISA, to Scottish Ministers for the purpose of their functions under the 2007 Act. The second relates to an amendment to the Data Protection Act. 

The ISA has since 2009 been the central body responsible for the barring of unsuitable people from prescribed work with children or vulnerable adults across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The work of the ISA is focused on making decisions as to the suitability of certain prescribed individuals to work with vulnerable groups and “barring” those for whom there is a strong indication that they pose a risk to those groups. Its work involves a combination of considering referrals from bodies such as employers, local authorities and voluntary organisations and looking at those individuals for whom there are grave concerns. It also holds responsibility for the “barring” of individuals who have been either convicted or cautioned for a limited range of serious offences. 

It is worth emphasising that the decision-making powers of the ISA only extend to England, Wales and Northern Ireland; a separate body called Disclosure Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Ministers, has responsibilities for barring decisions within Scotland. The legislation in each of the home territories recognises the bars imposed in the others. However, in order to ensure that the decision maker in the relevant jurisdiction has all pertinent information available to it, it is vital that the ISA and Disclosure Scotland are each able to make the relevant information available to the other where necessary. The order therefore makes it possible for information relevant to the barring process that the ISA has gathered to be shared with Scottish Ministers. Such sharing of information cross-border is necessary for the effective working of the Scottish scheme and, particularly in light of mutual recognition of bars, we believe it is right for the ISA to provide Scottish Ministers with that information. 

The second provision, the amendment to the Data Protection Act 1998, extends the current protection that section 56 of that Act gives to individuals by also covering records held under the 2007 Act. That will, for example, protect individuals who have obtained criminal records data under the 2007 Act from Scottish Ministers

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by use of a subject access request, from being forced to reveal that data to an employer. As such, that is an important safeguard, which is already in place in relation to the barring schemes in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland, and we therefore support the amendment which will give individuals in Scotland that same protection. 

The order is drafted so that it would come into force on the day after the day on which it is made. If Parliament approves the order, we intend to have the order come into force in time for the launch date of the Scottish 2007 Act scheme. 

Whilst the changes that the order brings are of a technical nature, it is important that the Government in Westminster do not stand in the way of the devolved Administrations’ exercising their right to govern in accordance with their stated wishes, and it is in that spirit that I commend the order to the Committee. 

2.37 pm 

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Miss Clark. I am pleased to be able to follow the Minister, and given that we have had Scottish questions today and that we have Second Reading of the Scotland Bill tomorrow, and without any disrespect to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), it is a pleasure to be opposite somebody else for a change. 

As the Minister has set out, the measure makes possible the appropriate sharing of information between the ISA and the Scottish Executive in order to operate the Scottish protecting vulnerable groups scheme arising from the 2007 Act passed in Holyrood, which was, as the Scottish Minister said, the response to the principal recommendation in the Bichard report following the incident in Soham in 2002. This is an important measure, which highlights the need for co-operative and constructive engagement between different parts of the UK where there are, and always have been, different judicial systems. 

As with the UK Government in respect of England and Wales, the Scottish Executive have a responsibility to get the balance right between providing protection for vulnerable groups and not unnecessarily hampering the efforts of the thousands of organisations and groups that provide support and care for people in the communities we all represent. How well that balance has been struck is of course a matter for the Scottish Executive and the devolved Parliament in Holyrood, but I do note that since the legislation was passed there in 2007, it has taken a considerable amount of time to reach the stage where this measure is now being considered. The Scottish Executive Minister concerned has stated that during that time, and as a consequence of consideration of the issues raised in consultation, there have been changes to the scheme as originally envisaged in the 2007 Act. I have sympathy with the proposition that it is better to get this right than to rush it and get it wrong, and I hope the passage of time will have that effect. 

On the specific provisions of the measure, it is only right and sensible that information required to ensure that the devolved Administration can effectively implement its scheme is provided to Disclosure Scotland by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, and vice versa, where necessary. As with so many other issues, the

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situations that we are referring to here do not necessarily respect borders within the UK, and for the protection of vulnerable people the public therefore rightly expect the relevant authorities to be able to co-operate without being hampered by bureaucracy and legislation. I therefore welcome the measures contained in the order to ensure the sharing of information for this important purpose. 

I would welcome the Minister’s clarification of a couple of points—if not in person today, perhaps in writing subsequently. What is the position regarding people who live in Scotland but work in England and vice versa? Is there intended to be a protocol between the UK Government and the devolved Scottish Executive? Has such a protocol been developed or is one going to be developed, and what discussion has the Minister had with his counterpart Minister in the Scottish Executive on that point? Has that protocol been published or can it be published, so that those groups and organisations most affected by cross-border implications are content with the practical operations of the scheme? 

I hope that with the opportunity to clarify those points, the Minister will help reassure those of us on the Opposition Benches that the order before us and the measures it helps bring into effect, have the confidence of all those with an interest in protecting vulnerable people in Scotland. 

2.40 pm 

Tim Loughton:  It says here that I should thank all the members of the Committee for their contributions today—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—silent or otherwise. I am very happy that everybody is joined together in a ringing endorsement of these new regulations. I thank the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West for his début in statutory instruments—it is also my début, from this side of a Committee room anyway—and for giving his support to the necessary, sensible measures that we are proposing here today. 

The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that the recognition of the need for such a scheme, north and south of the border, had its genesis in the Bichard report, following the horrific murders in Soham. It was a long time coming; the scheme has been a long time in development. The equivalent scheme in Scotland has been a long time in development, and it is only right that it should be, so that we get it right. We think that the balance is not quite right in the scheme in England; that is why the review that I announced in my earlier comments is under way. It is very heartening to have the hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of the necessary measures that we are considering today. 

I want to underline a key point. We have debated an instrument that is a required step towards the Scottish Government’s achieving their stated aim of introducing a scheme in Scotland to vet those working closely with vulnerable groups from 28 February 2011. I stress that the order makes provision outside Scotland solely to support the introduction of the Scottish scheme. 

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about a protocol covering that quite common, thorny issue about people who work within one jurisdiction but come from another jurisdiction, whether between local authorities or in this case between Scotland and England, I can confirm that a protocol has been agreed and is going to be revisited subsequent to the review

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that is under way at the moment. It is an important point. Clearly, people who might be the target of this scheme—people who make the scheme necessary, those who would do harm to vulnerable children and adults—are usually quite clever and deceitful, enabling them to evade various authorities, so it is absolutely right that we ensure that all possible bases for them to try and find loopholes in the scheme are covered. That is a good point. I have not specifically spoken to my counterparts in Scotland on that subject, but my Department has and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is taken through and will be registered as part of the review that we are undertaking now. 

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I hope you will agree, Miss Clark, that we have had a constructive exchange of views. The order is an important step in ensuring that the Scottish vetting scheme commences according to the timetable that the Scottish Executive have announced. We are glad to assist our colleagues in the Scottish Executive Government, and we recognise the value of close working on issues such as this, of such importance, where a common approach is clearly in both our interests. In the absence of further contributions, because of the outbreak of huge consensus, I commend the draft order to the Committee. 

Question put and agreed to.  

2.44 pm 

Committee rose.