Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas: Am I correct in thinking that Clause 138(2)(f) would catch parents who volunteer to work at a school regularly by making them subject to checks? Current practice is that parents are asked to volunteer: "Who's available to go on this trip?". Presumably in future, all parent volunteers would have to be cleared in advance. If a parent who volunteered was barred, who will be entitled to know that information? Should it, as a matter of good practice, be spread among the staff or be restricted to the head teacher or an inner group? If so, what structure should be in place to make sure that happens?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I acknowledge the noble Baroness's point about checks and I am grateful for her support. My understanding is that the backlog is clearing quickly. I will write to the noble Baroness, and put a copy in the Library, if that is not the case. I understand that we have had some difficulties and that they are being resolved.

To whom in the school would this apply? We talked about the case of young Lauren not long ago: her stepmother worked at the school. We must enable schools to take the necessary precautions in respect of people coming into schools in whatever capacity. Schools must take care, even with people who work as volunteers, for reasons that will be obvious from our earlier discussion.

We would not expect the information to be well known among the staff, but the head teacher would need to be aware and would make judgments about who needed to know. If the person were not coming into the school, it might be argued that there would be

28 May 2002 : Column 1263

no point in allowing the information to spread further. If I am wrong about that, I shall write to the noble Lord and clarify the position.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised a point about the criminal records bureau. That matter has been described as a teething problem. We are working to resolve it and have put in place interim arrangements to check that List 99 allows employers to make provisional appointments. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we classify all people in the same category if they work regularly in a school.

Lord Lucas: So it would be a matter of general practice for a school to compile and maintain a list of parents who were allowed to participate in the teaching of children or to go on school trips rather than just allowing whomever was available to do it.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I did not say that. I said that if someone were regularly asked to come into the school and work, we would expect appropriate controls to be in place. That would apply as a matter of course to a volunteer from a voluntary organisation, to anyone coming in regularly under a contract and to people in paid employment. That covers all the categories that the noble Lord mentioned.

Lord Northbourne: Would not that give rise to a situation in which people's reputations could be destroyed without their having the opportunity to defend themselves?

Lord Lucas: My question was specifically about parents doing what parents have always done, particularly in primary schools—coming in to help the children with reading. I certainly did it with my kids when they were in primary school, and many other parents have done it. It puts people in direct, regular contact with young children. Are such people not caught by Clause 138(2)(f)? Would they have to be cleared in advance? If so, what procedures should the school have relating specifically to the parents of children at the school?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: To the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I say that the process involves the criminal records bureau; it is not about maligning reputations.

We must be careful not to fall into the trap of acting on rumour or innuendo, while making sure that we protect children sufficiently. Those who work regularly in schools—whether they are parents, volunteers, staff or agency employees—would be subject to checking. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that an adult coming into a school would not be an appropriate and proper person to be with the children. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, mentioned Lauren Wright's stepmother, who, in the

28 May 2002 : Column 1264

process of abusing, torturing and murdering her stepchild, was also on school premises doing lunchtime supervision. We are trying to recognise that we must be extremely cautious and careful.

I shall try to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Clearly, I have not satisfied him. I shall write to him. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that there is, of course, the possibility of appeal against barring to the care standards tribunal if people felt that barring had ruined their reputation.

Baroness Blatch: I shall read carefully what the Minister said. It is a complicated issue. My noble friend Lord Lucas raised the issue of data protection. If a school does a check and finds out some background information about a person whom it considers to be unfit to work with children, that person must know. A check has been carried out, and the person must be told that he or she is not allowed to work with children for the reasons exposed by the check. If that information is to imparted to other members of staff, however, there is an issue there.

I also foresee the issue of the human rights of a parent. A school may decide that it is not free to impart information to parents that someone is a fit and proper person. A person may have committed a crime a long time in the past or it may be the kind of crime that does not impact on a person's reputation and worthiness to work with children. However, does a parent have a right to know of any background information?

Another complication is that as the Bill is set out it concerns only those who regularly come into contact with children. What happens in relation to a person who does not work regularly with children? Someone may help on a week's trip away from the school and that may be the only time that such a person offers to help. He or she may be a really unsuitable person but would not be caught by this provision and no check would be undertaken. Paedophilic behaviour, for example, is very manipulative. They are the kind of people who may seek to go on a school camp with children, but they would be highly unsuitable people to work with children.

This is not an easy set of measures. I want to read what the Minister said. There are questions that need to be answered.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The noble Baroness raises important points of human rights and data protection. My understanding is that teachers receive a copy of all information that is provided to schools by the department. The Secretary of State will receive information. The purpose of this measure is to ensure that in circumstances where people have been barred there is an understanding across the education system of who they are so that our children are better protected. Also, we ensure that the provisions comply with human rights legislation. I shall write to the noble Baroness before Report stage. I hope that I can resolve those issues for her.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

28 May 2002 : Column 1265

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 317 and 318:

    Page 85, line 1, leave out paragraphs (e) and (f) and insert—

"( ) This section also applies to work of a kind which—
(a) brings a person regularly into contact with children, and
(b) is carried out at the request of or with the consent of a relevant employer (whether or not under a contract)." Page 85, line 35, at end insert—

""education" includes vocational, social, physical and recreational training,"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 138, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 319:

    After Clause 138, insert the following new clause—

(1) A person shall not arrange for an individual who is subject to a direction under section 138 to carry out work in contravention of the direction.
(2) If the Secretary of State thinks that a person is likely to fail to comply with the duty under this section in relation to work in England, the Secretary of State may direct the person to take or refrain from taking specified steps with a view to securing compliance with that duty.
(3) If the National Assembly for Wales thinks that a person is likely to fail to comply with the duty under this section in relation to work in Wales, the National Assembly may direct the person to take or refrain from taking specified steps with a view to securing compliance with that duty.
(4) A direction under subsection (2) shall be enforceable, on the application of the Secretary of State, by a mandatory order.
(5) A direction under subsection (3) shall be enforceable, on the application of the National Assembly, by a mandatory order."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 139 agreed to.

Clause 140 [Specification of qualification or course]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 320:

    Page 86, line 33, leave out "137" and insert "136"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 140, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 141 to 143 agreed to.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 321:

    After Clause 143, insert the following new clause—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page