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The Minister will be aware of the considerable problems experienced in the United States. Eleven states have experienced problems with security systems leaving sex offenders able to change their own data online. What plans are already in place to ensure that this will not occur in the United Kingdom?
Overseas workers remain a real concern. Most EU member states do not have central criminal records. Some 10 per cent of youth and community workers, 15 per cent of care assistants and home carers, 20 per cent of nurses and 10 per cent of teachers are from overseas. The majority are from countries in Asia and Africa that have no system of collecting criminal data centrally. The ISA can include offences committed overseas, but is entirely dependent on the migrants passing on these data themselves. The Government have said that they are developing protocols with 21 countries. How many of these protocols are now in place and operational?
It would be helpful to know why full implementation has been delayed. The extended period of transition caused by these delays requires the ISA and CRB to adopt different procedures and work in different ways over a prolonged period of time until July next year, rather than October this year. Is the Minister confident that implementing the different procedures and work practices in this order, for even longer periods than originally thought necessary, will not create room for error? The new system is complex enough, but we are requiring parallel systems to work over a longer period. The radical changes brought in with the new system could cause chaos without an extensive communication campaign to employers and employees. What is the Minister doing to ensure that this does not occur?
Article 9 of the order modifies Schedule 3 to the Act, regarding automatic barring. This puts in place an interim solution to this issue until legislation comes fully into force. Article 11 modifies Section 113BA of the Police Act to change the information shown on criminal record certificates to show whether a person is eligible to work with children and vulnerable adults, or whether they are being considered for barring. Who will monitor whether that change in the system is
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Can the Minister reassure the Committee that the order is compatible with the Convention on Human Rights? The ISA staff can take as evidence not just criminal convictions and cautions but also mere allegations. Even if one has been found innocent beyond all reasonable doubt, the ISA may still come to its own conclusions on whether someone really did commit a crime. The right to work of an estimated 11.3 million people will be determined by the ISA without the protection of a judge or jury. As the Minister will be aware, there are already a number of cases in the courts. Is she aware of the possibility that the Act could unintentionally criminalise individuals? People applying for jobs that are "regulated"-that is, jobs that bring them into indirect contact with children, such as a receptionist at a dental surgery-also need to be registered with the ISA. Will applying for such a job without being registered be a criminal offence?
Why do the Government consistently work from the cynical assumption that the public cannot be trusted to use their own common sense? Why do they not see that what is necessary is greater flexibility and trust? We must ensure that we do not open the door to a whole raft of unintended consequences in our desire to be prescriptive. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank the Minister for introducing the order. It is a wide-ranging instrument that amends a number of Acts and has a bearing on very many people in different capacities who come into contact with children and vulnerable adults. We welcome measures that make life safer for vulnerable groups, but we seek reassurances that the order will not restrict opportunities for the vulnerable to experience fulfilling and varied lives. If regulations are too stringent, they may deter those who have much to contribute but who hesitate to come forward because of bureaucracy and other deterrents to which the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, referred. Regulations may also incur administration, which takes much needed time and funding away from front-line services.
We have a further general concern about lists, databases and the storage of information, all of which are of great benefit to us all in our everyday lives but can bring great harm if they are inaccurate, if the data are incorrectly analysed or are lost or corrupted, or if they are accessed by unauthorised bodies for use in unauthorised ways. The order amends the criteria for automatic barring which has no right of appeal. Will the Minister assure us that there will be sufficient opportunities for people to correct false or misleading information on their files? What safeguards are in place to ensure that this information will not be used for miscellaneous purposes?
We note that the consultation elicited 326 responses and very high levels of agreement, which gives us confidence that the order will be useful. We also welcome the definition of "relevant child care premises" to exclude,
It is common sense and for the general good that parents can continue to help each other out in a personal and informal way without needing to be formally registered, and common sense to exempt people in their own homes. It excludes, for example, cleaners employed in the home.
We support the assurance that no fee will be payable by those in unpaid voluntary work-volunteers need every support; they are much needed and they make an invaluable contribution to working with vulnerable people-and that the fee for the Independent Safeguarding Authority scheme applications has been set at £28, which sounds modest enough not to be a barrier. We hope that that will be matched by speed and efficiency in processing applications, although we note that any person checking an individual will be able to do so by means of a quick and free online check and that there will be safety measures to preserve confidentiality. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that confidentiality, too, has been fully assessed.
The size of the workforce affected by the vetting and barring scheme is estimated to be some 11 million strong. This is a very large proportion of the workforce. Will the Minister say how guidance will be communicated to such a large number of people? How can the Government be certain that everyone involved in these amended regulated activities fully understands the implications of the changes, particularly during the transition phase?
We have concerns about the impact of additional regulation and administration on small businesses and the effect on workplace opportunities for young people. The Government are promoting work experience for all young people, not least those in apprenticeships, and it will be challenging to find sufficient places to meet demand. What assurances can the Minister give that these regulations will not be an additional disincentive to hard-pressed employers to take on young people?
My final query relates to the proposal to replace the Protection of Children Act list, the Protection of Vulnerable Adults list, List 99 and the court-imposed disqualification order regime with two separate but aligned lists. If this reduces bureaucracy, it will be welcome, but will the Minister say what the benefits are of this change when set against the costs of reconfiguring and transferring data?
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I am grateful to noble Lords for the opportunity to respond to the many questions following discussion of these important regulations. I hope that I can cover them, but if I find that I cannot, I shall write promptly to both noble Baronesses. Concerns were expressed about the benefits of the enormous commitment and investment that the transition to the new vetting and barring scheme represents. We are clear that the move to the new scheme from the old system is an important step that promotes greater safeguarding. It encompasses changes which came into force in January 2009, the introduction of the new barred list in October 2009 and ISA registration in 2010. These changes will bring clear benefits, in particular the further strengthening of
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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: As the noble Baroness is aware, the Independent Safeguarding Authority is chaired by Sir Roger Singleton and staffed by experienced and expert caseworkers. When the registration scheme is up and running, we will have a system that will be the gold standard for the world. I accept that it is taking us time to achieve it, but when we get there, I wholeheartedly believe that there will be great benefits for employers who will be able to use online facilities to get information proactively about the registration status of their employees. That cannot be done using Criminal Records Bureau checks. While there will be real benefits, the transition from the old to the new system is an enormous undertaking. Noble Lords are entitled to feel sceptical about the process of change, but when we get there, we will have the most comprehensive, efficient and user-friendly system. I appreciate that "user-friendly" is not a phrase one would think of using in connection with vetting and barring, but it is important for employers, volunteers and even for people who may potentially be barred that the whole process is run efficiently.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was concerned about volunteering. I do not believe that this will create new barriers for volunteers. Bodies such as Volunteering England and the Girl Guides have welcomed the fact that volunteers will be covered by the new scheme in the same way as paid employees. Not to include them could make parents less willing to leave their children with volunteers, or make vulnerable adults more concerned about volunteers who work with them. It is an important step forward, but we need to remember that registration with the ISA will be free of charge for volunteers. Many volunteers are CRB checked at the moment, so the new arrangement builds on that. I accept, though, that this is not widely understood enough in the voluntary sector. The new voluntary sector safeguarding unit that we have established is going to work hard to put that right and ensure that the voluntary and community organisations know how the system will work for them and what the benefits can be.
The noble Baroness is concerned about why the transition is taking its time. We want the transition to the ISA to take place in stages in order both to ensure that it is effective and to maintain high levels of protection for vulnerable groups at every stage. We are determined to get this right, so we are not rushing it. This is a serious task and we need to ensure that the current vetting and barring lists will hold as we transfer to the new arrangements. That is what the regulations are about.
Noble Lords wanted to know about the numbers on barred lists at the moment and the numbers that are being migrated. In his Statement on 20 January this year, the Secretary of State announced that there were 12,992 people on List 99. That number had risen from the previous year following the implementation of the amended List 99 regulations that came into force in February 2007 and which this House debated in full. The ISA must include or consider including the new barred lists and all those individuals who are barred under the current lists, as you would expect. We will not be able to give a running commentary on the numbers as the ISA works through the list, but a key point to make is that whether 10 people are left on the current barred lists or 100, we need to ensure that the transitional arrangements are in good order so that we can maintain the bars until the ISA deals with those cases and the new system is fully operational. That is why these regulations are before us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was concerned that the arrangements for July will go ahead as planned. We can confirm that the IT systems are on track for delivery in July, and that includes the risk assessment and the security assessment. If she would like me to write to her in more detail-I have a feeling that I will not satisfy her question on security with these answers-I will be happy to do so and copy it to the Committee.
The question of human rights compliance is very important. Yes, we believe that the order is compliant; it was stated when the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, now an Act, was introduced to Parliament that the scheme would be ECHR-compliant. As noble Lords are aware, we need to follow that procedure when we introduce legislation.
With regard to Criminal Records Bureau checks, the noble Baroness asked who will monitor whether changes to the CRB certificates are implemented effectively. The advice I have here states that the independent monitor applies under the Act, and is referred to in Section 28. Again, I am happy to write to the noble Baroness on this question in order to be absolutely clear.
Noble Lords were interested in whether it would be an offence for, say, a receptionist in a doctor's surgery not to be ISA-registered and asked whether, as we go through this period of change, we will be criminalising people as they go through their job applications. I want to make it clear that it is not our intention to criminalise people who apply for a job in good faith. As the noble Baroness will be well aware, the question is going to be whether the job is a controlled activity. There will be a duty on the employer to check the registration status of their employees, but an employee does not commit an offence if he or she is not registered. The emphasis is put on the duty of employers to know which roles in their organisations include controlled activities. I hope that that provides reassurance on the point.
I was also asked about timing and when registration for the ISA begins. Registration will begin in 2010. I am sorry, but I shall share something else with the Committee because it is important when considering administrative standards. The aim for those using the system is that 90 per cent will receive their registration
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I want to make a few more points. Concern was expressed about engaging with international protocols. I can confirm that we have an initial agreement with Australia and that we are in ongoing discussions with France and Ireland. This will allow the sharing of criminal records information between our countries. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, is concerned about this, and rightly so. We are keen to forge international agreements so that we can ensure that this information is shared.
Baroness Verma: I thank the Minister for giving way. I want to get it clear in my mind that this still means that a large number of people are not going to be covered by the ISA requirements. As an employer, I know that when I take on foreign staff it is very difficult to ensure that all the checks and balances are in place. We go on the say-so of the applicant and there is usually little we can do to check them. My worry is that we will still have within our systems a large number of people working with a lot of vulnerable people who will not have made this application, whereas those here will be overprescribed on application.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: The noble Baroness is right. This is where we, the Government, need to be clear. While safe recruiting is extremely important, we can never replace the responsibilities of the employer to ensure that they make use of the vetting and barring scheme when it is fully operational and of Criminal Records Bureau checks. When recruiting from abroad, the employer has a responsibility to seek references and to follow up on as much information as possible. I know that that is very difficult, which is why we are committed to ensuring that we have the protocols to assist employers. We are working hard on that and it is extremely important. I cannot overemphasise the importance of getting bona fide references from foreign employers. I am advised that these are best obtained by the individual, but we will provide guidance to employers and voluntary organisations on the value of the information that should be provided. I cannot stress enough the importance of the point made by the noble Baroness.
With regard to communication about people's responsibilities for the ISA, we are running a communications campaign and producing detailed guidance, particularly for the voluntary sector. This will be rolled out from the autumn through to the spring. There is a great deal of work to do on that. We are taking our responsibility for communicating very seriously.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: The Act exempts 16 and 17 year-olds in the workplace. Employers will not be legally required to ISA-register staff who supervise 16 and 17 year-olds in employment. An accommodation has been made of precisely that point.
Finally, I will write to noble Lords to ensure that I have covered all their questions. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 is essential legislation in the protection of children and vulnerable adults from harm. The order under discussion amends some details of the Act to improve the practical working of the vetting and barring scheme. By doing so, it paves the way for the Independent Safeguarding Authority to start the full range of barring under the new scheme on 12 October 2009. As we know, the order will
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