Clause 1

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 11 July 2006.

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Independent barring board

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, after ‘Independent’, insert ‘Monitoring and’.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 5, in schedule 1, page 32, line 33, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—

‘(3A) No fewer than half of the members of the IBB shall be relevant persons seconded from a local authority.

(3B) For the purposes of this paragraph “relevant persons” means persons with skills in any aspect of child protection or the protection of vulnerable adults.’.

No. 6, in schedule 1, page 33, line 36, at end insert—

‘(d) establishing and maintaining a list of those who have applied to be monitored;

(e) monitoring the quality of prescribed information supplied to the IBB from regulated activity providers and any persons who hold records of convictions or cautions for the use of police forces;

(f) putting in place and regularly monitoring systems that maximise the accuracy of the monitored list and the barred list;

(g) establishing and maintaining a secure on-line system for access to barred lists for employers.’.

No. 10, in schedule 1, page 33, line 36, at end insert—

‘(8B) IBB shall implement a comprehensive and ongoing communications programme to ensure that all groups affected by the vetting and barring scheme are informed of their rights and responsibilities under the law.

No. 7, in schedule 1, page 33, line 41, at end insert—

‘(3) The report shall contain information on the quality of information provided to the IBB from regulated activity providers and any person who holds the records of convictions or cautions for the use of police forces.’.

No. 8, in schedule 1, page 33, line 41, at end insert—

‘(3) The report shall be laid before Parliament for debate.’.

No. 9, in schedule 1, page 34, line 28, leave out sub-sub-paragraph (c).

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

This string of amendments relates to the role and responsibilities of the independent barring board.

Amendment No. 3 is intended to probe the Government on their intentions on monitoring. The Bichard inquiry stated that a new and different system was required to monitor and vet individuals working with children and vulnerable adults. A register was to be used to monitor those individuals and would constantly be updated. It would take the police out of the process with regard to the information retained on the database. Just as important, soft data—data that may not be the result of conviction—could be logged so that they, too, could be taken into account as and when necessary.

Sir Michael Bichard made clear recommendations about the system that he thought appropriate. The Bill deals in detail with only one aspect—barring. Although it refers to monitoring, it is rather vague as to how it will be undertaken and by whom. Monitoring  and barring are closely linked. The Bichard inquiry said that the failure to identify Huntley through his behaviour patterns was the result of ineffective monitoring of intelligence. That was one of his root findings.

Monitoring can help us build a picture, ensuring that information is readily available from many sources; it should ensure that individuals who are not suitable for working with children and vulnerable adults can be identified. We accept that. However, the Bill is unclear about how the process will be undertaken. If there is not a close link between monitoring and barring, would it not present an opportunity for people to slip through the net, so that, through error or oversight, people were not caught who should be?

The amendment allows me to put several questions to the Minister. Have the Government worked out how the monitoring system will work, and who will undertake the monitoring that Bichard says is so important? Why was a joint role for the IBB rejected, and why does the Bill not include an independent monitoring and barring board? Having read the Bichard recommendations, I should have thought that the obvious solution. A great deal of thought has obviously been given to the matter, and I would welcome the Minister’s confirmation of why that joint role was rejected.

If there are to be two separate bodies, who will decide on the people to be referred? Will the DFES decide on the people who are being monitored who will then be referred on to the barring board for consideration for barring? A number of details are not clear, and I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to clarify them. There are many examples where regulators both monitor and bar: the General Medical Council and the Law Society are but two. If there are two separate bodies in this instance, because that is what the Government feel will be most effective, will the Minister tell us how those two bodies will work together, how unnecessary complications between two independent groups will be avoided and when we will get the details of how that monitoring system will work?

Amendment No. 5 refers to membership of the IBB. My noble Friend Baroness Buscombe made suggestions when the Bill was undergoing detailed scrutiny in the other place. I felt it appropriate to bring them back. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, a number of issues covered by the amendments were raised in the DFES consultation. This was one. There was concern from people in the professional field that full-time staff were employed by the IBB might not, in the words of the consultation, be of the same standard, and they certainly might not be up to date with the processes and practices that they would need to understand to be effective members of the board.

Amendment No. 5 is tabled perhaps as a suggestion to the Minister that we need to consider more fully the consultation that has been undertaken. Secondment to the IBB may be a technique that can be used, again picking up from the consultation, to ensure that IBB staff are of sufficient quality and have up-to-date  experience. Given that consultation, will the Minister confirm whether it will be revisited either through formal amendment to the Bill or through recommendations to the IBB?

Amendment No. 6 is also related to the IBB. This is an incredibly important amendment and requires a little bit of explanation. Bichard states:

“effective vetting depends on information, and much of that information inevitably comes from the police”.

Information is the lifeblood of the IBB and the quality of that information is vital. The second part of the amendment relates back to the online database which was an important part of this initiative when it was launched.

In terms of the quality and accuracy of its data, we must ensure that the reputation of the IBB is established from the outset. Its robustness in taking accurate decisions is reliant on the quality of the data that it uses. Many changes are under way in the ways in which data used in barring decisions are collected. Any professional organisation—the IBB will indeed be a professional organisation—would want to ensure that the information it uses is of good quality. Therefore we believe that it will be sensible to build a need to ensure quality into the systems that the IBB adopts.

Full implementation of the Bichard recommendations is closely linked with the information management, prioritisation, analysis, co-ordination and tasking—IMPACT—database, which has suffered from some delay and has also suffered a great deal of increased expenditure. As part of the discussion on information and information quality, will the Minister update us on the status of the database, and will he confirm whether the delay in that particular data collection methodology is linked to the fact that the monitoring database is not included in the Bill? Maybe the two are linked, or maybe not. Will the Minister confirm the position?

On procedures and procedural changes, there is one other change of which the Minister will no doubt be aware—the change in the way that court convictions are put on databases. Previously that was done by the police, but that was the subject of criticism by Bichard because less than 50 per cent. of court results were put on to the police national database within seven days. As a result, data collection methods have changed, and convictions will be put on by the court, not the police. That is another change, and it needs to be monitored by the IBB to ensure that it has not reduced data quality and accuracy. With all those changes taking place, the purpose of the amendment is to try to make sure that the IBB has a way to ensure quality, and accuracy of decision making.

In a note to the Committee in another place, Lord Adonis said that the IBB was built on the expertise of the criminal records bureau. I would not use the word expertise—I would say “role.” We debated that point on First Reading: the CRB has made 3,000 errors on its existing database since the database was put in place. The Minister rightly says that that is an error rate of only 0.03 per cent., but the errors show that we cannot assume that information coming through is 100 per cent. accurate.

None of us would be complacent about how we deal with such things. However, I shall cite what the independent complaints mediator said in response to the CRB’s mistakes:

“All measures to ensure accuracy must be taken.”

The spirit of the amendments is to make sure that accuracy goes to the heart of the IBB’s activities.

I should like to hear the Minister’s reaction to my comments on how quality and accuracy will be dealt with by the IBB. I should like to know whether he agrees that the amount of ongoing change on all the different data strands means that there is an opportunity for the Government to reconsider their stance and consider the amendment. On amendment No. 6, it would be useful to have feedback from the Minister on online access, because that was one of the main planks of the announcement—that the Bill would allow online access to the barred database. Despite concern about it in the April 2005 consultation, it remained an important part of the media launch, yet is not in the Bill. Will the Minister explain how that aspect of the scheme will be progressed—or has it been dropped? The Minister will remember that I mentioned the subject on Second Reading.

There has been great concern in the United States about experience of online database security. In, I believe, 11 states, individuals hacked into the relevant system and not only gained access to it but changed information about individuals online. I am sure that the Minister shares my concern about that. I can entirely understand it if the Government are taking another look at that aspect of their announcement, but it would be useful to know whether they are, because the matter was given widespread coverage.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 go together, as both relate to parliamentary scrutiny. Consultation suggested that accountability is absolutely vital to the new independent barring board process. I can think of no better accountability and scrutiny than that afforded on the Floor of the House of Commons. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 would ensure that that scrutiny could take place and could offer the IBB the opportunity for a little independence on the issues that it raises. The amendments would also mean that the IBB was not answerable only to the Minister, as it currently is under the Bill. The amendments would also ensure an opportunity to scrutinise the body’s finances. I say “the body” because it is not yet entirely clear what sort of body the IBB will be.

It has been mooted that the IBB will be a non-departmental public body. I was going to ask the Chairman’s permission to hold a small stand part debate on that, because it is important to how the Bill works that we have clarity on what sort of body the IBB is. If it were an NDPB, Parliament would have to be able to scrutinise its finances in order for it to be line with the guidance issued on NDPBs. Perhaps the Minister could give me some clarity on that.

Amendment No. 9 is a strange one. It would remove the IBB’s ability to borrow money. It is clear from guidance that NDPBs have powers and obligations allowing them to raise, borrow and lend money, but what does the IBB need to borrow money for? The guidance on NDPBs says clearly that the Treasury would not be willing for a Bill such as this to include  provisions on loan finance relating to an NDPB, on the off-chance that those provisions will be used. The Minister will need to clarify why a provision for borrowing money is needed, if he is to ensure that he stays within the Government’s guidelines on such bodies.

Amendment No. 10 relates to communications. Everybody who has scrutinised the Bill—including, I am sure, all of us in the Room—will understand how much change it would mean for many people. As a result, there is an obligation on Government, and particularly on the IBB, to ensure clear communication on what the proposed changes will mean for the various groups that will be affected. We believe more discussion is needed in a number of areas to provide clarity of communication, and we will discuss them, but we need to be absolutely reassured that, as soon as the Bill moves forward, there will be a programme of activity to ensure that its contents are effectively communicated to those outside. That is important, given the terms used in the Bill.

In particular, the Bill includes the concept of being monitored. That is a positive aspect, but perhaps it will not be seen as such by those who have not been able to scrutinise it as much as we have. We must make sure that people understand those terms and that they are not viewed in a way that is not intended. We have to make sure that employers, employees, professional bodies and local authorities understand their responsibilities, and we must minimise any inadvertent criminal behaviour that may result if communication is not undertaken well.

About 10 million people will be affected by the Bill, and the Minister rightly pointed out that it is technical and complex. We in Committee will attempt to unpick some of that complexity and to ensure that the Bill is clearer in its communication. We also need to ensure that there is a further round of communication involving all who will be affected by it.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:00, 11 July 2006

I shall address amendment No. 10 first because it is crucial. Given that so many details will be determined in regulation, it will be difficult for employers, for example, to know the precise obligations on them, unless there is great clarity in the board’s communications. As I read through the Bill, I feel that a flow chart would be a pretty useful accompaniment, because the text takes us down one route, only to send us down others if certain conditions do not apply. The amendment is therefore important and should be included in the Bill.

On amendment No. 3, I agree with the hon. Member for Basingstoke that there is a lack of clarity about the term “monitoring”. The difficulty is that we use it to mean a precise activity in some parts of the Bill, but that we then slip into using phrases such as “the importance of monitoring”. One need only look at amendment No. 6, which talks about

“monitoring the quality of prescribed information”,

which represents a move away from the monitoring of the activity. For that reason alone, I am dubious about putting the word “monitoring” in the board’s title. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to inject some clarity into exactly what is meant by monitoring.  To be clear, we perhaps have to classify the different monitoring activities and to specify who is responsible for them. As I said, there is a main theme going through the Bill, but, inevitably, there are a lot of other aspects.

I appreciate that amendment No. 8 goes with amendment No. 7, but it raises an important issue. Introducing a process to ensure that there is full parliamentary scrutiny must be a good thing.

Therefore, the amendments contain many sentiments with which we agree, although I am a little cautious about some of the wording. Amendment No. 10, however, is of the greatest importance.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

In my opening remarks, I should perhaps have welcomed my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), who will be assisting me in Committee. The Bill impacts across the Government, and the Home Office has a particular function with regard to the Criminal Records Bureau. I should also welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Basingstoke is leading on a Bill for the first time since she took up her post. I am sure that she will lead for her party on very many Bills.

I shall go through the amendments in detail, but I should make it clear at the outset that the independent barring board has a role in making decisions and that the CRB looks after the monitoring side of things. However, I shall elaborate on that later.

Amendment No. 3 would turn the independent barring board into an independent monitoring and barring board. As the Bill stands, the monitoring function rests with the Secretary of State—that is to say, with the CRB, as an executive agency of the Home Office. By itself, the amendment would do nothing to change that. The monitoring function involves obtaining any information about a person’s criminal background from the police. Under the new scheme, the CRB will not only collate information from police records when an employee first applies, but continue to monitor police information systems thereafter, so that, if a fresh offence comes to light, the bar can be applied. Obviously, the CRB has great experience in that regard, but that work will not be related to the work of the IBB, which will make the decisions about who is and who is not barred.

The IBB will be an expert body, and its expertise will be in making those barring decisions in relation to children and vulnerable adults. The CRB has expertise in handling information about people’s criminal backgrounds, dealing with the police and matching criminal background information to the identity of the applicant. It makes sense for the CRB to feed that information to the IBB and for the IBB to take the barring decisions, each body doing what it singularly does best. Requiring the IBB instead of the CRB to monitor police information, which is the implied intention of the amendment, would cut across that pattern of expertise.

Amendment No. 5 would remove the IBB’s discretion to make arrangements for persons to be  seconded to it to serve as members of its staff, and would insert instead a requirement that no fewer than half of the members of the IBB should be persons with skills in any aspect of child protection or the protection of vulnerable adults who are seconded from a local authority. The amendment would replace a provision concerning IBB staff with a provision concerning IBB members, so it would create technical difficulties.

The members of the IBB and its staff will need to be the best people with relevant expertise, pure and simple.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Does the Minister recognise that there is concern about which decisions will be delegated from the board to staff? That might be part of the reason behind trying to get at who the membership of the board and the staff should be.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

I will come to that in greater detail, both in discussing this clause and throughout our discussions on the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be aware that, during the course of a year, the IBB will be making up to 2 million applications, and about 40,000 discretionary decisions. With an IBB board of about 10 members, we obviously have to rely on the IBB to set up those processes and to make those difficult decisions. It is an expert body to do just that.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister brought up capacity in terms of 40,000 discretionary decisions. I have done a little research into some of the numbers of discretionary decisions made by other regulatory bodies and found that they fall well short of that figure. Is he happy that the number of staff and the structure of the organisation can cope with that level of discretionary decisions required?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

These are things that we must continue to consider and discuss with stakeholders, and then set out in regulation. At present, we are looking at having about 10 people on the board and 100 staff, but we will have to examine these things closely. That is one of the reasons why we are working closely with stakeholders.

I go back to the amendment that I was discussing. There is considerable expertise in local authorities, and we hope and expect that it will be represented in both the membership and staff of the IBB. That comes back to a point made by the hon. Member for Basingstoke about safeguarding and whose role that is. We all have a role in safeguarding and part of our role is to ensure that it is not just about the IBB, or the CRB. It must be about Departments, providers, parents, employers and regulated activity providers.

Other types of expertise will be relevant when considering the IBB: expertise in employment law, policing and civil and human rights; and the expertise of informal carers, human resources professionals, those engaged in and with knowledge of supported housing, professional and regulatory bodies, and victim support groups and people in many other areas. We shall want the best people from all those disciplines to compete for jobs to ensure that IBB members and staff are the best people for them.

Placing a rigid quota in the Bill, as the amendment proposes, would be likely to constrain the IBB by removing the freedom it needs to appoint the best  people to do the job. I hope that I have given the hon. Lady the information that she was seeking, and that she will agree not to press the amendment to a Division.

Amendment No. 6 adds four new functions to the IBB’s core functions. As set out in the Bill, the core functions are the IBB’s essential decision-making roles in relation to barring. That reflects our vision of an expert body with a tight focus on taking independent, expert decisions, serviced by the existing structures in the CRB, as I have said already.

The addition of extra functions would risk diluting the IBB’s focus. Another important reason why the new functions would be inappropriate is that the core functions are described in the Bill as functions that cannot be delegated. That is a reasonable criterion for a core function, and there is no reason why proposed new functions relating to IT systems maintaining a list and an online updating system for employers should not be delegated to those with the appropriate level of expertise.

Classing those as core to the IBB’s operation would constrain its freedom and remove its current tight focus on making barring decisions.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

This is a point about clarification and might be perfectly obvious. When the Under-Secretary talks about delegating a decision, is he talking about delegating from the board to the staff, or from the IBB to another body? I am not clear on what he means exactly.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

I am speaking about delegating functions, such as IT systems, from the IBB to another body.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

Does the Minister not see that the quality of the IBB’s data is at the heart of its ability to make good decisions? Ultimately, its focus should be on good decision making and so the quality of the data, by definition, will be at the heart of its function.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

I agree that the quality of the decisions is the most important thing, which is why I wish to keep a tight focus on the core functions of the IBB’s role, which is making those decisions.

To return to decision making, which the hon. Lady mentioned in her earlier contribution, I would like to flesh out something and to make the position clear: the IBB would be responsible for the list of those who are barred from working with children and vulnerable adults. Those are the core reasons. I could go into each of the four areas, but I think that I have made the point that we do not want to expand those core areas, because we want the IBB to contain and keep its focus.

On monitoring the accuracy of the list, I have explained already that the monitoring function is for the CRB and not the IBB. The accuracy of the data on those subject to monitoring will be a matter for data handling and identity matching. Those are matters in which the CRB has expertise. The IBB is being created to give independence and expertise in taking barring decisions and should not be relied on to police the CRB, which is already accountable directly to the Home Office.

The CRB has worked hard to improve the quality and accuracy of its existing disclosure service. It has commissioned annual research studies on how its performance is perceived by its customers, and it works to a five-year strategy and business plan. I assure hon. Members that the CRB will be developing robust systems for ensuring the accuracy of information on individuals subject to monitoring. I hope that hon. Members will agree, therefore, that there is no formal role for the IBB in the monitoring of the accuracy of that information.

Amendment No. 10 deals specifically with a communications strategy. I am wholly in agreement, as I was on Second Reading, on the need for a widespread and ongoing communications campaign, so that all those affected by the new vetting and barring scheme are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the legislation, and to that extent I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke). Indeed, we have made a number of commitments in the other place and on Second Reading. However, as well-intentioned as I believe the amendment to be, for a range of reasons, I do not think that it would be suitable for it to be added to the Bill. It is not necessary. As I have said, we have made those commitments. It would add little to make that implicit in the Bill, because we are already more than committed to take that course of action.

It may help if I clarify the areas in which we intend to assist the groups affected by the scheme to understand and to recognise their responsibilities under the Bill. It will be crucial to ensure that employees and employers are aware of the requirements that they face when engaging in regulated activity. Guidance will be issued providing further detail about what type of activity will be covered by the provision, so that employees, for example, can be aware of situations in which they need to be subject to monitoring. Employers need to know when they have to check on an individual’s status in the scheme.

Further guidance will be necessary to help employers and employees to interpret important terms that we shall be discussing later, such as “frequently” and “on an occasional basis”, which lie at the heart of the concept of regulated activity. Beyond that, we shall instigate an ongoing communications strategy, so that employers, local authorities and other bodies are clear about the grounds on which they are under a duty to refer prescribed information to the scheme. We shall move to a shared understanding with stakeholders about the nature of the conduct and harm that should trigger a referral, something that we shall be discussing under schedule 2. Any guidance that we issue will be explicit that acts of omission and well as commission can contribute to the harming of a child or a vulnerable adult. Alongside that, it will be crucial that stakeholders understand the way in which referrals should be handled and the IBB’s approach to dealing with them.

The mechanics of the IBB will need to be as transparent as possible and implicit in that is that we communicate to all those affected by the scheme how the overall barring process will work. Implementing an effective communications campaign to cover all those  commitments will not be easy, but we have already begun to talk to the wide range of stakeholders with an interest in the Bill and we will continue to consult them about how we can make the information process as effective as possible.

We shall take advantage of a variety of communication tools, including widely disseminated guidance, media such as local authority newsletters and articles in the trade press, practitioner workshops and seminars as well as consultative groups on the vetting and barring scheme. It will be important also to build on the current line of communication stakeholders that has been established by my Department, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Criminal Records Bureau. I hope that I have made it clear to members of the Committee how strongly committed we are to implementing an effective programme of communications. We do not need to make it any more explicit under the Bill.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education 11:15, 11 July 2006

Does the Minister agree that one of the learning points from the recent Audit Commission report was the lack of clarity in the guidance that was distributed from the DFES to schools and, in particular, the repeated bits of guidance that often did not make it clear when information was new and what had been updated? What has the Department learnt from that experience? How will it implement that when putting forward the new guidance, so that it is much easier for schools to understand what is new and what their responsibilities are?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

We are very much in consultative mode on such matters and shall be working closely with the shareholders. We are already working closely with Sir Roger Singleton, for example, who has taken over the work on List 99. We want to use his experience when setting up the IBB. We are doing all that we can now. We have had several consultations along the way, but I assure the hon. Lady that we will be working closely with stakeholders, which is why we will be linking in with schools as well as local authorities and their local media to get across the guidance. I accept that some of the terms, not least “subject to monitoring” and “not subject to monitoring”, can be complicated and that it can take time for people to get their head around them.

The implication of the amendment seems to be that the burden of instigating an ongoing communications campaign will fall mainly on the IBB. As I have said, in reality, that will not be the case. It will be the role not purely of the IBB, but of the Criminal Records Bureau, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills—all of us. With that in mind, and considering the reassurances that I have given on our determination to implement an effective communications campaign, I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Can the Minister reassure us that there will be a lead body or person for the communications strategy? He has just mentioned a number of bodies, and I am concerned that the responsibility could fall between them. It is therefore important that we identify who will be the lead person with overall responsibility.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

I am happy to help the hon. Lady. We are setting up a working group of Ministers from my Department, the Department of Health and the Home Office. That is part of the reason why all three Departments are represented here today. We will ensure that the vetting and barring scheme is implemented once the Bill receives Royal Assent and there will be ministerial oversight of that process.

Amendment No. 7 would require the IBB’s annual report to contain details on the quality of information provided to it by regulated activity providers and by any person who holds records of convictions or cautions for use by police forces. There is a provision in paragraph 9 of schedule 1 that the annual report must be on the exercise of the IBB’s functions. Paragraph 10 of that schedule adds:

“The Secretary of State may direct the IBB to submit a report to him on any matter regarding the exercise of IBB’s functions.”

That provides a reporting scheme that will enable everything relevant to be included without Parliament having to specify chapter headings or anticipate new issues that might arise from time to time.

I am not saying that the IBB’s annual report should not contain information on the quality of information that it receives from the police, from regulated activity providers or from others under the duty to refer. Indeed, it would be a good thing for the annual report to contain that information. However, there are many topics in relation to the exercise of its functions that the IBB could usefully cover in its annual report. To describe one such topic would be to put it above the others without good reason.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

Can the Minister say who will dictate what is in the report?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

We will not dictate what is in the annual report, but the Secretary of State will have the ability to request reports on a range of issues. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Lady.

There are already arrangements in place for reporting on improvements in the quality of police information. A number of Bichard recommendations address the management and sharing of police information, and regular progress reports are published under the Bichard programme.

Amendment No. 8 would require that the annual report

“shall be laid before Parliament for debate.”

I accept that the report will be of interest to the House, but a provision in primary legislation is not necessary. If hon. Members want to debate annual reports, which they may well wish to do, that will be a matter for the House to decide at the appropriate time.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Whether reports should be produced to the Minister responsible or to Parliament is old territory. In the case of the children’s commissioner, the suggestion was strongly taken on board by one of the Minister’s predecessors that the commissioner’s report, which has to be presented to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, should also be presented to the Select Committee on Education and Skills, so that he could be invited to discuss the annual report in front of  that Committee. Does the Minister envisage a similar process taking place in this case, whether involving the Select Committee on Home Affairs or the Education and Skills Committee?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I do not think that it is my place to rule his suggestion in or out, but it is certainly interesting and could be considered. As I said, the annual report will be of interest to the House. If problems arise from the failure of the vetting and barring scheme, hon. Members will have no difficulty in securing a ministerial statement and a debate, as we have seen in recent times. Therefore, I have taken on board hon. Members’ points, but hope that the Committee will accept that the amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment No. 9 would remove an incidental power of the IBB to borrow money, but only in connection with the exercise of any of its functions. There is no general power for the IBB to set itself up as a financial speculator. In principle, it will need to work with annual break-even budgets. If it were to conclude that the outright purchase of, say, a batch of IT equipment or office furniture would give good value for money, it might wish to borrow money for that. That is why the provision has been included.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke mentioned the IMPACT programme. It is an ongoing piece of work. I would be happy to write to her with more information on exactly how things are progressing, and I will do that. She mentioned the CRB and some 3,000 CRB errors. I believe that that is off the back of the recent report about duplication. However, it is worth remembering in that context—I am sure that my Home Office colleagues would want me to say this—that some 25,000 people were protected last year through decisions made by the CRB.

The hon. Lady asked a pertinent question about online access, which will be discussed under schedule 4. It is our intention to set up online access for the scheme so that people will be able to check whether somebody is subject to monitoring. That is an important issue and very much part of our proposals, and I look forward to debating it, whether today or Thursday.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

The Minister skirted briefly around amendment No. 9 and the power to borrow, but I am still mystified as to why this body will need such a power. Is it purely for short-term borrowings, in which case the board will be expected to have balanced its books by the end of the year on a cash-flow basis? If it ends up with a deficit, how will it be taken into account when judging the budget for the following year? Will the following year’s budget be suitably adjusted downwards to take account of the borrowings, as happens with health trusts, for example? Exactly how will that work? A mention that the board might like to buy some furniture does not really take account of a large power; that is, to borrow. As the IBB is, in effect, a distant part of Government, why does it need such powers?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I envisage that there will be an  expectation for the board to balance its books, as there is for most organisations. I am afraid that I do not have at my fingertips how it is to do that, but I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify the Department’s thinking on the matter.

With all of that to be taken into consideration on this string of amendments, I hope that hon. Members are satisfied that I have given enough information for the amendment to be withdrawn.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for his response on this string of important amendments, which needed further debate and clarification. I thank the hon. Member for Brent, East for her support for several of the amendments. I appreciate that support, particularly in respect of communication. I am glad that she shares my concern that adequate communication is vital if the Bill is to be effective as and when it is put into place.

I was interested by the Minister’s response about the monitoring side of things. Obviously, the Government have considered that and decided that there will be a separate body and that the activity will be undertaken through the CRB. Several issues remain hanging, to which he will perhaps return on Report. The CRB experienced great difficulty with capacity, certainly immediately after it was set up. Giving the entire role to the CRB would, in effect, double the size of its operation. The CRB deals with 9 million people, and although there might be some duplication, my understanding is that a further 9 million to 10 million would be covered by the remit of the Bill. On Report, it would be interesting to hear of any further discussions on how that will be dealt with.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills 11:30, 11 July 2006

It is probably fair to say that those people are not likely to be an additional 7 million to 9 million people, because many of those on whom the CRB will carry out checks will already be working, for example, in the schools work force.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for that clarification but, in a way, it misses the point. This is not a checking system but a monitoring system, and the two are entirely separate. Having people checked each year is a one-off process. They put their application in to be checked by the CRB—as a school governor, for example—and it is done, dusted and sent to those who requested the check. This is an entirely separate process and involves setting up a database of 9 million people, an undertaking that most organisations would face with some trepidation, particularly given the need for as high a level of accuracy as possible. I am somewhat concerned at that response, because it does not show that the Minister has grasped that a database of 9 million people would have to be managed and monitored and that the information on it would have to be acted on. It is an entirely separate and different process to that currently undertaken by the CRB.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

Let me add a bit of clarity. The independent barring board will be responsible only for lists of those barred from working with children and  those barred from working with vulnerable adults. The CRB’s role is to work as a monitor with other databases, including the police national computer database. We are not saying that the IBB list will be of the order of 7 million to 9 million people. I am sure that the hon. Lady was not saying that either, but I thought I would mention it for clarity.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

So, the CRB is to undertake the role of monitoring. I think that we shall have to return to the subject in later stages of the Bill, because we will require some idea of how the database will be run. Who will undertake the weeding of the data?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

May I, rather obtusely, ask the hon. Lady to get some clarity from the Minister? I am looking at the explanatory notes and the extra money that the Treasury has agreed seems to be for the DFES budget and not for an expansion of the CRB’s operation, which is the point that she was making to the Minister. Obviously, we will require extra capacity if extra checks are to be done.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the hon. Lady for that point. Before the Minister responds, I want to draw his attention to something that builds on it. It is a statement from one of his right hon. Friends, the former Home Secretary, a few Home Secretaries ago—the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett)—in response to a debate in May 2004:

“We will...urgently consider”

Sir Michael Bichard’s

“recommendation that a register be created to bring together all the relevant information held on individuals in a way that is easily accessible. We need to consider how that fits with and enhances the service already provided by the Criminal Records Bureau.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 1186-87.]

That does not imply that there will be merely a straight swap and that the register will be the responsibility of the CRB, although it will sit alongside the CRB. Certainly at that stage, it was not necessarily seen as an activity undertaken purely by the CRB. The Minister may wish to respond to that and to the comment of the hon. Member for Brent, East.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Order. Before the Minister does that, so that we do not get carried away, I must say that the debate can continue if the Committee wishes, but in future I shall call the Minister to intervene only if he indicates that he wants to. It is not for the Opposition spokesman to keep the debate running in this way.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

On the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, East, I gave on Second Reading the figures available for the vetting and barring scheme. I do not have them at my fingertips but think they were in the order of £14 million in the first year, with similar figures during the next five years to put the scheme in place.

On the enlarged role of the CRB, the monitoring of police information systems is a development of the  current CRB processes. Feasibility studies have confirmed that the operational basis for that work is in place. It is feasible.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I apologise, Mr. Conway. We may have taken the discussion on monitoring as far as it can go at the moment, but I feel, and other members probably agree, that more discussion is needed. It is an important issue. Monitoring people is so important that the weeding of data caused great concern in the events leading to the Bichard report. A number of areas not dealt with in detail in the Bill may need further exploration.

I move to the Minister’s response on my hon. Friends’ amendments. I take on board his comments on secondment, but yet again he seems to be brushing aside responses from consultation. I am sure that he will know best how to handle that. Perhaps, in the spirit of this debate, he might consider the conversations that we have had today on the matter and ensure that they are communicated to the IBB so that staff employed in that organisation will be aware of the debate on the issue and the opinions expressed during consultation.

The Minister responded on information and quality. I hope that he does not feel that the amendments would dilute the focus of the IBB and that the quality of the IBB’s data will be at the heart of ensuring that it performs its core function. Presumably, the IBB will be able to address that in its own way. Quality is key. We must ensure with all the changes going on and all the problems encountered that we are in no way complacent and that all is being done that must be done to ensure that quality improves.

I understand the Minister’s sentiment that the current level of CRB error is relatively small. However, in absolute terms, each of the 3,000 people who were erroneously given records that they had done nothing to deserve found that a very difficult situation to handle. In some cases, it caused great concern.

I am pleased to hear the Minister’s commitment that communication is an important part of what will happen following the passage of the Bill. I endorse his statement that it is not just the IBB that will need to undertake communications and that it will be the role of many others, but I should like to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, East. We need to ensure that the communication is co-ordinated and that we do not fall into a situation in which others feel that it is not their job to communicate or that others are undertaking that communication.

Unfortunately, there is not a good record of good, clear communication from the Government on some of these matters. I am sure that the Minister would accept that and understand why we have raised the point.

I thank the Minister for his comments about parliamentary scrutiny and for his positive remarks on the recommendation made by my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham on the matter of parliamentary scrutiny, and perhaps on an assurance of having a Committee look at the report. I understand that it is not for the Minister to dictate that but am pleased that he would think it a positive thing.

In terms of the ability to borrow money, the Minister needs to revisit the code of practice on non-governmental public bodies to ensure that he is entirely  in line with the requirements of the Treasury. The practice guidelines state that the use of money needs to be clear, if it is to be put into a Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, that is a significant power. Understandably, the Treasury needs to ensure that it knows when people will have the ability to raise money and why they would need to. Once the Minister has had the chance to consult the code of practice more fully, we may need to revisit that.

I thank the Minister for his update on the IMPACT system. I hope that we can hold him to some of the reports saying that the system, rather than being ready next year, will be ready in 2010 and that we do not see any further escalation in the costs associated with that system, which have increased dramatically since the project was started.

I thank the Minister for his response to that string of amendments. I have used this opportunity to reiterate some concerns raised, not just among my colleagues, but in the various consultations that have taken place. I hope that the Minister has listened to my comments and considered the amendments in the spirit in which they were meant—that of improving the Bill—and that he will ensure that we work together, as we should. In the hope that he will ponder further before Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Millerrose—

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Before I call Mrs. Miller, I make it clear that the stand part debate, which I am happy to allow, will be on the clause; it will not be a Second Reading on the entire Bill. I will need the Committee’s co-operation in sticking to the content of the clause itself.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

Thank you, Mr. Conway. As I said earlier, I want to raise one matter about the structure of the independent barring board. It is a specific but important point because it will enable us to have better debate on amendments to subsequent clauses.

Will the Minister detail exactly what type of body the IBB will be? Will it be a non-departmental public body, as suggested in some correspondence that came out of the debates in the Lords, although, that was not absolutely stated, but was merely an indication? Non-departmental public bodies are distanced from Government and are independent on a daily level. However, as the guidance issued to Ministers on non-departmental public body states:

“Departments will need to identify whether in the circumstances of a particular non-departmental public body, Ministers will need to retain control over and so be accountable to Parliament for certain aspects of the NDPB’s activities.”

The Minister will be accountable for the work of the IBB, but where will the line be drawn on the Minister’s and Department’s role in its operation? Where does he see the line being drawn on becoming involved if there is political pressure to do so? He feels that the IBB  should be independent, but if it is established as a non-departmental public body, there will be an opportunity for Ministers and politicians to get involved in its running. Will he reassure us that that will not happen?

If the IBB is constituted as a non-departmental public body and not as a tribunal, I shall be interested to know why. Different issues are associated with constituting it as a tribunal, which would give it a different flavour and complexion. However, I should be interested to know why the decision was made to go down one route and not the other. The care standards tribunal will be the body of appeal to which people can go after they have been assessed by the IBB. There needs to be a link between the two bodies, and certainly between the thresholds that they use to assess whether somebody has undertaken activity that requires barring. I find it difficult to understand, so perhaps the Minister will clarify the matter.

It is worth reiterating that on 19 January, the then Secretary of State for Education said that the new legislation, which we are discussing today, will

“remove Ministers from the process entirely”.—[Official Report, 19 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 969.]

By constituting the IBB as an NDPB, that is not actually the case. Perhaps the Minister can tease out the role of politicians, because if the former Secretary of State felt that politicians should be entirely removed from the process, I am not sure that her analysis of the situation was entirely correct.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills 11:45, 11 July 2006

I shall put on record a couple of remarks about clause 1, then come to the hon. Lady’s points.

Clause 1 establishes a new statutory body to be known as the independent barring board. Schedule 1 makes provision regarding the IBB, including its membership and staffing arrangements. It also sets out its responsibilities for reporting to Parliament and the Secretary of State. Those reporting arrangements will ensure that the IBB is held accountable for its work.

Schedule 1 allows the IBB to delegate its core functions to its staff. The core functions of the IBB are to determine whether to include someone on a barred list or remove someone from a barred list and to consider representations made under schedule 2. The ability to delegate those functions to staff members will allow the IBB to manage its work load effectively.

The IBB will also delegate its non-core functions, for example its purely administrative functions, to people outside the IBB, such as the Criminal Records Bureau. That will allow the IBB to build on the data-processing expertise of the CRB. The IBB will be held accountable for the work that it delegates to others.

The statement of 19 January from my right hon. Friend, the former Secretary of State for Education, promised that we would establish a statutory body that would hold the barred lists and take decisions about who should be barred. This clause, in conjunction with schedule 1, delivers those commitments.

The framework that the clause and schedule provide for the IBB will ensure that its decisions are taken by experts totally independent of Ministers. I reassure the hon. Member for Basingstoke that Ministers will have no involvement in decisions about barring. The Bill  places the IBB under a duty to publish annual reports, which will mean that it is held accountable for its decision making and performance. In addition, the Secretary of State will be able to request that the IBB report on specific aspects of its performance throughout the year.

We will ensure that the IBB has a mix of experts in child and vulnerable adult protection. The balance of expertise will need to reflect the work of the IBB and will need to be able to adjust to changing circumstances. We have therefore decided not to specify the membership in the Bill as that follows from the fact that the right people will need to be appointed through a process

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Will the Department give guidance on the make-up of that body? As I have mentioned to the Minister privately, I would be most concerned if it did not include people from the new Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which has been set up to safeguard children and possess the expertise on internet issues relating to children’s safety. Does the Minister expect to give advice on the type of organisations that might have representation on the board?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend makes a fair point relating to IT issues, and I am sure she wants to debate it later. We wish to discuss the matter widely with stakeholders, many of whom have an active interest in the area that she mentions, when we formulate the process to create the IBB.

Clause 1 and schedule 1 are essential because they allow the IBB to be set up. Its existence will mean that decisions on barring are taken by experts independently of Ministers. That will deliver more consistent barring decisions informed by the expertise of the IBB’s members. The answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Basingstoke about whether it is a non-departmental Government body is yes. It is not a tribunal, but it needs to have the interface that she mentions, which we will discuss later, in respect of the appeals process to the Care Standards Tribunal. The tribunal can refer a decision back to the IBB for it to give further consideration. I do not want to get too far into that debate.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

On that specific point, if there is this direct link between the Care Standards Tribunal and the IBB, will they share the same standard of proof on the information required to put in place a barring?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

An interesting debate was had in another place about how the appeals process should work. The process was widened to include not just on “a point of law” but on “a point of fact”. It is a case of the tribunal’s making those decisions when it considers all the facts, but we cannot fetter the IBB by being too stringent, or by being stringent at all, in terms of its criteria. It will be an expert body and will be best placed to make those complex decisions, because every case is different. It is difficult to categorise them or lump them together.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I want to probe a little further on that point. If the appeal body is a tribunal that is set up with the burden of proof being the civil burden of proof , and if another body reports into it that has a much vaguer burden of proof because it is not a tribunal and does not have those standards of proof attached to it, does the Minister not foresee a difficulty?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills

The Care Standards Tribunal will already have criteria in place from the work that it has being doing over a period of time. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with more information about that. The fettering of the IBB and how it will make decisions on individual cases will come up again during the course of our debates. It is important to have regulations but we must ensure that it is able to get on with its job and to do so entirely independently. Having said that, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.