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Time is short, and I will be very brief. I do not feel that the Minister's answers in any way meet the requirements that I set out in my opening speech on the amendment. There is no question that one can reasonably suspect that extraordinary renditionor perhaps the non-language of abuse, as I think it should be calleddoes take place, by virtue of the fact that the American interpretation of the torture convention is undoubtedly different from that of the UK and many other countries, as the examples given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, demonstrate. Therefore, assurances from the US are really not worth much if we are signed up to the absolute prohibition of torture, which indeed we are. I therefore feel that we not only have reasonable suspicion, which must be addressed, but that existing domestic laws are
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not being implemented. The Minister has given repeated assurances about the understanding that has been reached with the United States, but that is by no means formal, so it is very difficult to believe that it will be adhered to at every stage. In view of this uncertainty and the extreme importance of the issue, which undoubtedly comes within the wider remit of the Bill in that it concerns the illegal use of flights, aeroplanes and airports, I seek to test the opinion of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Parliament has no more important duty than ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are safeguarded from avoidable harm. It is vital to ensure that individuals with a track record of criminal or otherwise abusive behaviour in respect of those in their care should not be given new positions of trust, whether in schools or in care settings. This Bill seeks to improve the vetting and barring regime to that end. I believe that it will be welcomed in all parts of the House.
Staying safe is one of the five outcomes in the cross-government Every Child Matters programme, which seeks to ensure that safeguarding becomes everyone's business across the range of children's services. The Bill is part of that programme. Equally, the Bill will significantly improve safeguarding for adults in the most vulnerable situations, particularly in care homes and care services.
The background to this Bill is only too painfully lodged in our memories. The tragic murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham in 2002 brought to light serious weaknesses in the systems for protecting children from staff with a record of abuse and criminality. The Government commissioned Sir Michael Bichard to identify reforms to prevent any
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repetition of those serious failures. We accepted all the recommendations of the Bichard report in 2004, and a broad programme of work was immediately set in train to strengthen the safeguarding of vulnerable persons.
A key element of that is the IMPACT programme, which is improving the ability of the police service to manage and share operational information. The IMPACT index went live in December 2005 and enables police forces to see which other forces may hold information on particular individuals. Because that information is held on local rather than national systems, it would not previously have been visible outside the force holding the record. This is a first step towards a full information-sharing capability that will allow police to search and retrieve information across all forces. A statutory code of practice on the management of police information came into effect last November. It sets out principles to ensure a nationally consistent approach to the way in which police information is managed.
In respect of schools, the National College for School Leadership now has in place an online training programme for school governors and head teachers. Since last July, we have made available safer recruitment training materials to the head teachers and one nominated governor of every maintained school, together with two staff from every local authority in England. We will also be making the training package available to two members of staff from each independent school.
The Bill specifically takes forward Recommendation 19 of the Bichard report. Recommendation 19 called for there to be a single, consistent national registration scheme for those working with children or vulnerable adults, with a single protocol and a single set of arrangements for the inclusion of names on two listsone for the children's workforce and one for the vulnerable adults workforcethat would be capable of continuous updating and be available to all employers and potential employers, including parents. Careful consideration has been given on how best to implement Recommendation 19. A formal consultation on proposals was started last April. Further consultation on the policy detail was carried out between December last year and this January, in each case on specific proposals, which Sir Michael Bichard himself welcomed.
On 19 January, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills set out our further intentions on immediate steps to be taken leading up to this Bill. As an interim regime, we have tightened the existing system in a number of ways. Under regulations that will come into force in May, CRB checks will become mandatory for all newly appointed members of the school workforce. In respect of barring decisions, we will shortly introduce new regulations to ensure that any individual working with children who is convicted or cautioned for sex offences against children will be automatically entered on List 99 and barred from working in schools and other educational settings.
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In respect of the management of List 99, we have appointed a panel of experts, chaired by Sir Roger Singleton, the former head of Barnardo's, to advise the Secretary of State on her functions on the List 99 process. My right honourable friend has also asked Ofsted to conduct a survey of current vetting practices in schools and further education institutions to establish the robustness of current processes. That report will be published shortly. In addition, through the Children Act 2004, we have put in place a new safeguarding duty on a range of organisations. We are bringing better co-ordination to children's services through children's trusts and a joint inspection framework, and we are bringing together the key organisations at local level, including the local authority, health, criminal justice sectors, in local safeguarding children boards, which must be in place nationwide from next month.
The Bill puts in place long-term reforms to the vetting and barring process, and four key principles underpin it. First, the interests of the child and the vulnerable adult are paramount. Whenever there is a judgment call about the suitability of an individual to work with them, we make it with a view, first and foremost, to safeguarding the welfare of the child or vulnerable adult.
Secondly, our objective in this reform is to minimise the risk of harm to children and vulnerable adults from people employed to look after them, including volunteers. I stress the word "employed"; the Bill does not intrude into family relationships. There are of course other sources of harm to children and vulnerable adults, often within the family, but other systems are available to address them: for example, care proceedings to protect children from abusive parents and the tougher measures now in place to tackle domestic violence and abuse in relation to older people. Your Lordships have further strengthened protection for children in the amendments inserted by the House into the Children and Adoption Bill to provide for child safety risk assessments in child contact proceedings.
The third principle underpinning the Bill is that responsibilities for safeguarding in the employment context are shared. The state has an important regulatory role, but in terms of specific decisions made in specific employment situations, employers have a prime duty, and parents and families also have responsibilities of vigilance.
The fourth principle is that, subject to the paramount interests of the child and the vulnerable adult, decisions by the state to bar individuals from employment should be proportionate. The four principles that I have set out are reflected throughout the Bill and will be reflected in the guidance and regulations on its implementation that will follow.
I have referred to the two lists. The first, to cover the children's workforce, integrates List 99 and the Protection of Children Act list; the second, covering those working with vulnerable adults, replaces the protection of vulnerable adults list. In respect of the
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maintenance of the two lists, responsibility, as set out in Clauses 1 and 2, will lie with the new Independent Barring Board, which will make all discretionary decisions on barring under the new regime. Schedule 1 covers the membership, operating powers and accountability of the IBB. The Government have today published a consultation document seeking views on the types of expertise that the IBB will require among its members and staff. I have sent a copy of the document to all noble Lords participating in the debate, and I would welcome views before we go into Committee.
The IBB will work closely with the Criminal Records Bureau, which will perform the administrative functions to enable the scheme to operate. The IBB will be required to issue annual reports and to keep accounts that will be audited by the National Audit Office and laid before Parliament.
The new scheme will offer three levels of protection, as set out in Clauses 5 to 20 and Schedule 3. The first level is where the bar applies and there is a requirement on employers to check barred status. It covers work in key settings such as schools or care homes, work that involves frequent and specified close contact with vulnerable groups in all adult health or social care or any children's settings, and key positions of authority. This is defined as "regulated activity" in the Bill and covers, for example, teachers and all other employees working in a school who have frequent contact with children. In those settings, barred people will not be allowed to work, and employers will be required to check whether recruits are barred.
The second level of protection will involve a requirement to check barred status but with the discretion to employ, with appropriate safeguards put in place if necessary, should information of concern be secured by the employer such as, for example, from a full CRB disclosure or from a reference. The second level covers support work in general health, further education or social care settings. The Bill describes these more ancillary fields of employment as "controlled activity".
The third level of protection is where there is the ability to check barred status but no requirement to do so. It covers work that involves specified close contact with children and vulnerable adults but where the employer is an individual making private family arrangements such as for nannies and care workers in the home. It also covers individuals working closely with vulnerable adults in a range of settings, including leisure facilities and supported housing. For the first time, parents will be able to check directly whether domestic employees are barred.
Affirmative regulations made under paragraphs 1, 2, 6 and 7 of Schedule 2 will provide for convictions and cautions for the most serious offences committed by adults against children or vulnerable adults to result in an immediate automatic bar. Offences resulting in an immediate automatic bar without a right to make representations will be those where there can be no doubt that an offender would pose a manifest risk of harm to children if allowed to work with them. We are
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still considering precisely which offences would fall into that category. For the children's barred list, they will very likely include rape of a child under 13, sexual assault of a child under 13 and causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity. All of those are offences specified in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. For adults, they will likely include offences under the 2003 Act that are committed against an adult with a mental disorder.
There will also be offences leading to an automatic bar but with a right of representation. Examples are likely to include offences relating to prostitution, pornography or trafficking. In those cases, the individual will have the opportunity to make representations to the IBB, where the individual claims that they do not present a risk to children or to vulnerable adults. The IBB in such cases will have discretion over whether to apply the bar. That will ensure that, if individuals have convictions or cautions for specified offences against vulnerable groups, a bar will cease to be imposed only if the IBB is absolutely convinced that on the evidence they do not pose a risk of harm to children or other vulnerable groups. I need hardly add that, in respect of those offences, there must necessarily be a very high threshold to pass.
Where information other than a conviction or caution for a prescribed offence suggests that an individual's behaviour was inappropriate, that the individual endangered a vulnerable person or that they present a risk, the facts will be carefully considered by the Independent Barring Board. A decision will be made following any representations made by the individual. The Independent Barring Board will provide individuals with all the information that was considered as part of a barring decision, ensuring that the process is open and transparent. That will also guard against cases of mistaken identity.
In addition to police information, the IBB will receive information from employers, from professional and regulatory bodies and from local authoritiesfor example, where a member of staff is dismissed in circumstances that indicate a risk of harm to children or to vulnerable adults. The IBB will exchange information with authorities such as the General Medical Council and the General Teaching Council. Monitoring those sources will enable the IBB to alert the relevant employer if information is received that requires the bar to be applied. That is a significant strengthening of the present scheme.
In all cases of barring, there will be a right to apply for a review of the barring decision, following a prescribed period set out in Schedule 2(14). It will enable the bar to be lifted if there is no evidence of an ongoing risk after a defined period. The Bill provides for appeals on points of law to the Care Standards Tribunal, with a further right of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Let me stress that Ministers will not be engaged in discretionary decisions by the Independent Barring Board in any respect whatever. That will be a fundamental change from the existing system and one wholly desirable and in the public interest.
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We intend to publish comprehensive information about the barring process and guidance for employers on their responsibilities under the new scheme. We will also shortly be reissuing Working Together to Safeguard Children, which includes guidance about how to handle allegations across the children's workforce.
A further important issue is the regulation of employees who come to this country from overseas. The Bill only partially covers employees from overseas. When such individuals have an employment record in this country, their UK employment will be covered by the IBB and CRB arrangements that I have set out. In respect of their overseas employment and any information available to the public authorities in their country of origin, my department has issued guidance, Child Protection: Preventing Unsuitable People from Working with Children in the Education Service. The guidance details the range of background checks that employers need to carry out. The guidance advises on the need to carry out checks as for UK-based teachersfor example, with references, qualifications, identity, as well as any appropriate police checks via embassies or local police forces.
Although the CRB has access only to information held on specified UK data sources, the CRB and the Home Office are working with other countries on the sharing of criminal record information for employment vetting purposes in order to ensure the widest possible capture of relevant information for use by the vetting and barring scheme and by employers. My department is exploring with the CRB, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and other stakeholders possible ways in which we could tighten further the arrangements for the vetting and recruitment of overseas staff. I will be able to update your Lordships at later stages of the Bill's progress.
Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults is a serious responsibility and is a shared responsibility. The Bill provides for new criminal offences in Clauses 7 to 13 to ensure compliance with the scheme. A barred person will be committing an offence if they work or seek to work frequently and closely with the relevant groups in any setting. An employer will be committing an offence if they knowingly employ someone in a role where the bar applies, if they fail to make checks where checks are required or they continue to employ an individual who is not subject to monitoring. Those criminal offences will be backed by new sanctions, including fines or up to five years in prison.
I hope that I have set out clearly the essential features of the new vetting and barring scheme. The scheme fully implements Recommendation 19 of the Bichard report. It takes forward the strengthening of safeguarding announced by the Secretary of State on 19 January. It ensures that safeguarding is the top priority. It will, I believe, give the public confidence that our system for vetting and barring unsuitable adults is as robust as the public would expect. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
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