Children and Young Persons

Church Representation and Ministers Measure – in the House of Commons at 2:56 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 2:56 pm, 18th June 2019

I inform the House that Mr Speaker has considered the instrument and has certified that it applies exclusively to England and Wales.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 2:59 pm, 18th June 2019

I beg to move,

That the draft Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Specified Scottish Authority and Barred Lists) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 20 May, be approved.

This order relates to the process by which an individual may be barred from working with children or vulnerable adults, and provides for greater recognition of barring decisions taken in other UK jurisdictions.

As Members will know, the Disclosure and Barring Service makes considered decisions regarding whether an individual should be barred from engaging in regulated activity which means close regular work with children, vulnerable adults or both in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The DBS also maintains a list of individuals it has barred from undertaking regulated activity with children or adults. This process is vital to protecting children and vulnerable adults from those who pose the greatest risk of doing them harm. It supports employers in making informed decisions about an individual’s suitability when they recruit for the most sensitive roles. As Members will know, it is an offence for a barred individual to work or to seek to work in regulated activity.

Paragraphs 6(2) and 12(3) of schedule 3 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 provide that individuals previously considered by a “relevant Scottish authority” for inclusion on “a corresponding list” cannot be included in a barred list in England and Wales on the basis of the same circumstances. The order is being made to specify those terms to give effect to paragraphs 6 and 12. The order specifies that the Scottish Ministers are the “relevant Scottish Authority”, and that the lists maintained by the Scottish Ministers under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 are “corresponding lists” to those lists of barred individuals maintained under the 2006 Act.

As Members will know, criminal records disclosure and barring are devolved matters. As such, it is important that the DBS in England and Wales and their Scottish counterparts work together and mutually recognise each other’s decisions. The existing framework provides that an individual who is barred under Scottish legislation is also barred in England and Wales and vice versa. Therefore, an individual who has been barred in one jurisdiction cannot work with vulnerable groups by seeking employment in another jurisdiction. That can only be right.

The order gives practical effect to that recognition, ensuring that effective safeguarding is maintained across the UK. That means that if a person has been considered for barring in one jurisdiction, they cannot subsequently be reconsidered for barring on the same grounds in another jurisdiction. This avoids the possibility of a “double jeopardy” situation for that person, where the DBS might bar an individual who Disclosure Scotland had previously decided not to bar on the basis of the same information. We say that this is a matter of basic fairness. It is already the case under Scottish law that Disclosure Scotland is not required to consider an individual for barring who has already been considered by the DBS. A similar statutory instrument will be made by the Secretary of State under corresponding Northern Ireland legislation to ensure consistency across all three jurisdictions.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I very much support the measure, but will the Minister just comment on this point? The lists have been brought together much more closely within the United Kingdom—I remember being a Minister in the days of List 99, which was a much more complicated system—but what progress has been made on the exchange of information with other countries? There are people who come to this country from the EU and beyond who pose a risk to children, including an increasing number of professionals in education, health and social welfare. Some have also been found guilty of misdemeanours against children. This is not just a UK-wide problem.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am extremely grateful to him for bringing his expertise and experience to the Chamber on this important matter. As to the detail on the exchange of information with other non-UK jurisdictions, I wonder if he would bear with me for a moment. I suspect I will find the answer very quickly. If I do not, I will of course undertake to write to him, because that is a specific point. From my time serving with him on the Home Affairs Committee, I know that we looked at this issue very carefully as part of our discussions on, for example, Europol. I hope to be able to assist the House with that particular query in due course, but if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will return to the main business.

There has already been clarification in Scottish law and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will introduce corresponding legislation to ensure consistency across all three jurisdictions. As a result, each barring body will recognise barring decisions taken by each other. By achieving greater consistency between the jurisdictions of the UK, the order enables Disclosure Scotland and the DBS in England and Wales to continue to work together to protect children and vulnerable adults.

I hope Members on all sides of the House will support the Order to enable the valuable recognition of barring decisions, and support greater public protection for children and vulnerable adults. I am going to sit down in a moment, but I very much hope I will have discovered the answer by the time I come to respond to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Allow me to throw the Minister the life raft of additional time. She might also like to comment on what used to be a real problem, particularly for teachers who were new to a school or newly qualified, which was the length of time it was taking for them to get their DBS clearance. Some teachers, in particular where we had shortages, were not able to take up their positions and that caused huge inconvenience. The situation has improved a great deal—it is less bureaucratic and the measure she is bringing in today will help—but can she provide an assurance to the House that the amount of time it takes to give clearance to essential public workers in particular is not still an ongoing problem?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am able to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. I do not for a moment pretend that we have reached perfection. Through his involvement in the Home Affairs Committee, he will be aware of the Public Accounts Committee reports into the workings of the DBS and the length of time that digitisation and so on has taken. I monitor that issue very closely in my capacity as the Minister with responsibility for DBS, albeit that it is an arm’s-length body, and I am satisfied that what we call the aged list is reducing at an acceptable rate—I am, however, impatient; I would like it to be faster —and that the DBS in Liverpool has been operating with great efficiency in recent times.

The basis of the order is so important. It is to ensure that children and vulnerable people are safe with the people who work with them. We have seen, with many recent allegations in the context of vulnerable adults, how vital it is that people who work with vulnerable adults, perhaps in care homes, are of suitable character and history to work in such a responsible role.

I am delighted to say that I will be writing to my hon. Friend on the specific point he raised with me, because international data sharing is complex.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

It has occurred to me that I should have declared my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests before I asked the Minister those very important questions.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

As always, my hon. Friend is scrupulous in being transparent. We recognise his expertise and experience in this field.

With that, I commend the order to the House.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 3:09 pm, 18th June 2019

We will not oppose this statutory instrument today; we actually welcome its introduction. We must ensure that serious crimes, such as child abuse, trafficking and rape, are not dealt with by out-of-court disposal orders—community resolutions—as those do not appear on basic DBS checks and so are not flagged up on applications to work with some of our most vulnerable people.

If we are taking the safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children seriously, we must not simply pay lip service to this protection. Like many in the Chamber, I am a school governor, and I know that schools, employers and community organisations rely heavily on DBS checks when appointing staff and volunteers. They must be able to trust the systems in place when they are responsible for the welfare of children or vulnerable adults in their care. We have heard too many stories of vulnerable people being exposed or exploited at the hands of criminals who are let off by a system of out-of-court disposal orders that by their very nature are omitted from DBS checks. We cannot allow this to continue.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to note my disappointment that we did not hear from our Scottish colleagues. I was looking forward to hearing from them, though I am delighted they agree with the order.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Despite the title of the motion, it was certified by Mr Speaker as falling wholly within devolved competence and therefore under the English votes for English laws scheme, so sadly the need for us to contribute on the Floor was limited. Given, however, that the Minister was very complimentary about the Scottish authorities, we thought it important that we at least heard her.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. It is always a pleasure to hear from him.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am happy to concede: I walked into that one.