Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Buscombe and Lady Walmsley, for the broadly supportive tone of their responses to the Statement and for their support of the Government in bringing forward legislation to implement the Bichard recommendations this month. We look forward to their continuing support when the legislation is presented so that it can be enacted as swiftly as possible.

I cannot stress sufficiently strongly that there has been no delay in proceeding with the Bichard recommendations. Last week I gave the House details of the post-Bichard vetting scheme action plan, published before the general election. It was agreed with Sir Michael Bichard in detail, including timescales on the way forward. We are delivering on our commitments in that plan, and those include the timescales involved. As the report itself states in terms, the plan agreed with Sir Michael meets all the material requirements of his recommendations and Sir Michael himself is happy to endorse it. As he said last week when asked about our actions in response to his report, he has been very impressed with the work of the DfES. I hope that we can move away from a dispute over what was or was not said by Sir Michael and now get on with the process of implementing his report, on which we are all agreed.

The point made in the Statement which links directly to a question put by both noble Baronesses is how important it is that employers should not only have regard to List 99, which is a ban on individuals working in schools, but also that they should
 
19 Jan 2006 : Column 829
 
themselves complete effective checks on the status of individuals to whom they are minded to offer jobs. Those include CRB checks. We think it is very important that CRB checks should be completed in a timely fashion. My figures show that currently the CRB processes 99.4 per cent of applications for standard disclosures—cautions, convictions, reprimands or warnings—within 28 days, while 85.5 per cent of applications for enhanced disclosure—including details of all information available to the public authorities—are also being processed within 28 days. I believe that provides the kind of security head teachers and school governors need when proceeding with making appointments subject to the requirement we are now imposing: that they must seek a CRB check. In virtually all cases it will be possible to complete the check before a formal job offer is made and employment is taken up. It is important to stress that to schools so that they do not fear that they will be facing a major new problem in response to these decisions. While we do not require the CRB check to be completed by the time an individual takes up their employment, in virtually all cases it will be. Where that is not the case, a whole set of requirements is placed on schools covering how they should behave, including ensuring proper supervision.

We have given a good deal of advice to schools following the publication of the Bichard report on how they should undertake vetting and how to widen the interview process so as to root out those individuals who are not suitable to work in schools. Substantial safer recruitment materials are now available online in addition to the formal guidance issued by the department. I have a copy of the online material with me. It is set out clearly and is helpful to schools because it emphasises the need for continued monitoring. That has been done because many people who become unsuitable to work with children would not have exhibited those characteristics or have a record from which it could have been ascertained at the time of their appointment. The need for schools to maintain a culture of awareness, openness and vigilance is stressed, in addition to good recruitment and induction practices as a vital contribution to safeguarding pupils and supporting their staff.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked about the 13 cases where we do not yet have complete information. I am advised that the police are actively engaged in examining these cases. We will consider any further action in the light of their findings. However, it is not the case that those 13 cases have been put to one side. The police are continuing with their investigations in that regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about the position of independent schools. I understand that the requirements placed on independent schools are even more stringent than those for state schools in terms of completing CRB checks in respect of their staff. We are aligning the current statutory regime that applies both to independent and state schools.

The bar on working for all those who are convicted or cautioned will be for the future but, as indicated in the Statement, the expert panel will look at all past
 
19 Jan 2006 : Column 830
 
cases to see whether there are concerns which should be addressed. Of course where there are questions or concerns, the panel will urgently draw those cases to the attention of the police and the employer.

I believe I have answered most of the questions that were put to me and I shall follow up any others in writing, in particular the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about teachers from overseas. We are indeed seeking to enhance action in that area. In conclusion, I say that it is absolutely essential that schools have confidence in the system for vetting and authorising those seeking to teach. We believe that the system is robust and that the further changes made this afternoon by my right honourable friend, including the rapid introduction of a single register and an independent panel, will increase public confidence. Schools can proceed safely on that basis.

3.06 pm

Lord Biffen: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Buscombe has referred to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills as being "honest and honourable". I am sure that that will be endorsed by the entire Chamber. Does not that constructive response contrast with the way certain elements of the media have handled this whole business over the past 10 days? It says little about the historic role the media are supposed to perform.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I agree entirely with the point he makes. The media have great public responsibilities in this area. They must ensure that people are not alarmed unnecessarily, but of course they have a duty to report cases where they believe that there are concerns. I hope that the Statement made today by my right honourable friend will enable a much more informed debate to take place in the media and that it will percolate down rapidly to schools themselves.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, following on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, of course there have to be safeguards and I welcome these measures, which are obviously sensible. However, does not the Minister agree that there has been an element of hysteria about the risks posed by paedophiles? Hysteria is illiberal because it endangers human rights, such as the rights of some teachers; it is dangerous because it stirs up in some elements of society an atmosphere of lynch law; and it has enormously exaggerated the problem. Paedophilia is not one of the greatest problems of our time, as recent media comments appear to suggest. In fact, the risk from paedophiles is much less than that faced by children in crossing the road, but its effect may well be that children are restrained from taking part in activities that are healthy and desirable. Does not the Minister agree that it is time we regained a certain sense of perspective on this issue?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, our overriding duty as a government is to ensure that the systems in place for preventing the employment of unsuitable people,
 
19 Jan 2006 : Column 831
 
particularly those convicted of sexual offences, or those who have a record meaning they are unsuited to working with children, are robust. We have public duties in this matter and I believe that we have fulfilled them in the way the public would expect, that the measures my right honourable friend set out today will enhance public confidence, and that the hysteria to which the noble Lord refers does not continue to take hold of debate in the media.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by my noble friend, the review and the overhaul of the lists announced by the Secretary of State. I also want to echo the mood of the House: I think it is absolutely right that the Secretary of State took the time to pay detailed attention to this matter prior to the announcement. It would have been hysterical to approach it any earlier.

As someone who has been involved in child protection for a good 20 years, I very much welcome some of the publicity, but does the Minister accept that some of this publicity may not have filtered down to many sections of the community? I would very much like to hear what he suggests we do to ensure that the impact of List 99, or the changes that are perhaps afoot in the very near future, are announced as widely as possible, to ensure particularly that it covers not only the private education sector, but some after-school activities. I am talking, in particular, about religious institutions that run clubs and so on. I am also particularly concerned about sporting facilities where schools often use ad hoc teachers. How will they be covered?

Finally, will my noble friend Lord Adonis assure the House that not even one paedophile is allowed to taint a child's life? One paedophile is too many.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page