Schedule 2

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 11th July 2006.

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Barred Lists

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 121, in schedule 2, page 35, line 13, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—

‘(3) Referrals made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph will be subject to scrutiny by IBB prior to automatic inclusion of an individual on the barred list.’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 120, in schedule 2, page 35, line 14, at end insert—

‘1A (1) This paragraph applies to the decision-making process of IBB.

(2) IBB must refer to a code of practice, to be issued by regulations, prior to including an individual on the barred list.

(3) For the purpose of sub-paragraph (2), a code of practice is—

(a) that which is issued by the Secretary of State by regulation, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure,

(b) composed after consultation with senior representatives from—

(i) the police service;

(ii) the probation service;

(iii) the Child Protection Service; and

(iv) the Crown Prosecution Service.’.

No. 133, in schedule 2, page 35, line 14, at end insert—

‘1A (4) IBB cannot include a person under the age of 18 in the children’s barred list without the right to representations.

(5) IBB must make a referral for therapeutic services, as specified in regulations, for a person under the age of 18 included on the children’s barred list after representations have been heard.’.

No. 122, in schedule 2, page 37, line 8, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—

‘(3) Referrals made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph will be subject to scrutiny by IBB prior to automatic inclusion of an individual on the barred list.’.

No. 123, in schedule 2, page 37, line 9, at end insert—

‘6A (1) This paragraph applies to the decision-making process of the IBB.

(2) IBB must refer to a code of practice, to be issued by regulations, prior to including an individual on the barred list.

(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (2), a code of practice is—

(a) that which is issued by the Secretary of State by regulation, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure,

(b) composed after consultation with senior representatives from—

(i) the police service;

(ii) the probation service;

(iii) the Child Protection Service; and

(iv) the Crown Prosecution Service.’.

No. 134, in schedule 2, page 37, line 9, at end insert—

‘6A (1) IBB cannot include a person under the age of 18 in the adults’ barred list without the right to representations.

(2) IBB must make a referral for therapeutic services, as specified in regulations, for a person under the age of 18 included on the adults’ barred list after representations have been heard.’.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education)

The amendments in my name and those of my hon. Friends relate to schedule 2 and to scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s referrals to the IBB. I should be interested in the Minister’s response because the amendments also include provision for the IBB’s decision-making process to be defined in a code of practice. The issue was discussed in the other place, but given the importance of having clarity and transparency in these matters, it is important that we continue that debate in Committee.

The amendments are all about introducing greater transparency into the IBB’s decision-making process, which is vital if there is to be confidence in the system. The amendments are tabled in the same spirit as those tabled in the other place. They are probing amendments, which are meant to clarify the IBB’s processes and, I hope, thereby strengthen the system that the IBB puts in place.

Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 would ensure that referrals made by the Secretary of State were subject to the same scrutiny as referrals made by other individuals. Lord Adonis, the Minister in the other place, said that there would be little point in asking the IBB to consider whether someone referred to it for raping a 13-year-old girl should be barred. That is of course true, but there should be a process or safeguard to ensure that Secretary of State referrals are free from political interference or expediency. As the Minister has said and as the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), has attested, the point of the new scheme is to divorce the vetting and barring of individuals from the political  process. The power of referral and the IBB’s status as a non-departmental public body, which we have discussed, will put at arm’s length Ministers’ control, but not remove it. Will the Minister reassure me on that matter?

Amendments Nos. 120 and 123 would establish a code of practice for the IBB. It is vital that the decision-making process for the new body be clearly spelt out and transparent to those who will be affected. I hope that that will ensure that the system is robust and has the full support of all those who need to support it if it is to be successful.

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

I specifically wish to speak to amendments Nos. 133 and 134, in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East. I should say at the outset that I welcome the statement of the noble Lord Adonis in Grand Committee that under-18s will not automatically be barred from working with children without the right to representations. He said:

“There may be mitigating circumstances which mean that it will not be appropriate in every case to include young people who commit offences on a barred list without the right to make representations... He or she may not present a risk of harm to children in general and therefore may not be an appropriate person to automatically be included on the children's barred list.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 May 2006; Vol. 681, c. GC187.]

He went on to give more detail on the issue. I note that in the recent pack of information circulated by the Minister the point about under-18s is reiterated. We are pleased about that, but I wish to push the matter a little further. Why cannot such a commitment be put into the Bill? Amendment No. 133 is partly intended to translate what has been agreed—probably not into the correct language—and to put it into the Bill.

The amendment has a second important strand. It seems to me that there is an opportunity, without imposing a great deal of work on the IBB, to have an automatic referral to therapeutic treatment. That should certainly be the case if somebody under 18 were placed on the barred list after representations were heard. There may be a case even if a person has not been put on the barred list, but for simplicity I have gone for the stronger case.

The issue of young people who sexually harm has been highlighted in many reports, but there has not been uniform action across the whole country. From the experience of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, we know that local authorities often take very different approaches to their work. It is difficult to know what sexual behaviour is harmless. Many children engage in activities that form a normal part of their sexual development. There is a range of sexual behaviour among young people, from an extreme multiple rape case to mutually agreed experimentation. I understand that juveniles commit almost one quarter of all sexual offences. The evidence is that many of those children have themselves suffered from sexual abuse or some form of trauma. Indeed, domestic violence is often a trigger. That is why it is so important not just to acknowledge the differences surrounding the under-18s because of the complexity of their behaviour, but to provide a direct link to specialist services.

I carefully wrote the amendment and included “as specified in regulations”. I thought that that would be the most straightforward wording. It would not be the duty of the IBB to seek out the treatment. Its duty would be to set up the process such that a direct referral was made and treatment received. We know that treatment of young people can be successful. If we want to make inroads into society’s problems, making treatment available at the appropriate time for young people will prevent the incredibly sad consequences of such behaviour escalating to great proportions and eventually ending up in several people being injured.

I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the amendment, as it picks up on an important point and campaign. We must ensure that young people in that position are referred to the appropriate services and treatment.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments of the hon. Member for Basingstoke.

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

In speaking to amendment No. 121, I shall address amendments Nos. 120, 122, 123, 133 and 134 as well. Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 deal with the process for automatic barring and would make it subject to consideration by the IBB. The role of the IBB is not to exercise any discretion in deciding whether to bar a person who has been referred by the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State is satisfied that the prescribed criteria apply, he must refer the individual to the IBB, which must include the person on the list. There is no useful purpose to be served by asking the IBB to consider whether someone who has been convicted of one of the offences—for example, rape of a child—should be barred. We are clear that barring should automatically follow the conviction.

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

Has any consideration been given to what would happen if there were an administrative  error at some point in the process of referral? Obviously, there is no appeal process, so what would happen if somebody were included by mistake on the barred list?

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

Information will go to the IBB via the courts and Criminal Records Bureau process and will indicate that somebody had already been convicted. The hon. Lady proposes an interesting set of circumstances that I cannot envisage arising. I am happy to write to her, but it would be highly irregular were that situation to occur.

Amendments Nos. 120 and 123 propose a code of practice for the IBB in taking its barring decisions. They appear to be intended to ensure that broadly the decision-making processes of the IBB are specified in a code of practice, and that the code is subject to consultation. Criteria would be prescribed for automatic inclusion in the list.

The criteria that may be prescribed are set out in paragraph 19 of schedule 2 and include cautions and convictions for certain offences, inclusion on an overseas list or being subject to an overseas order or direction. Following consultation, the offences will be included in regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, as I believe was made clear in another place. Automatic barring without the right to make representations will result from the most serious sexual offences against children and vulnerable adults, such as rape, sexual assault of a child under 13 in the case of the children’s barred list, or inducement, threat or deception to procure sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder in the case of the adult’s barred list.

It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.