Clause 3

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 11 July 2006.

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Barred Persons

Question proposed, That the clause stand part ofthe Bill.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

A few clauses are coming up for which no amendments have been tabled. However, there are items of clarification that it would be useful for the Committee to seek and for the Minister to give.

Clause 3 is short. It deals with barred persons. In paragraphs 3(2) and (3):

“A person is barred from regulated activity relating to children if he is—

(a) included in the children’s barred list;” which we understand and—

“(b) included in a list maintained under the law of Scotland or Northern Ireland which the Secretary of State specifies by order as corresponding to the children’s barred list.”

Again, we do not know what that will amount to. We do not know what type of list may exist or are intended by, for example, the Scottish Parliament, which has competence in those areas. I ask the Minister for his comments on the Scottish system.

The development of IMPACT—the computer database—is essential to the process of collating and sharing information. That system will, we hope, successfully identify individuals who should not be working with children or vulnerable adults, so that the required information can be given to the IBB, which will do something about it.

The Opposition are concerned that IMPACT is behind schedule and over budget, which is a common theme when the Government handle computer projects. Originally, it was proposed that the IMPACT scheme would be available by 2007. Soon after, the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) announced that, in fact, it would be ready in 2008.

Subsequently, on 21 April, the Minister without Portfolio, as a Home Office Minister, confirmed what many of us had understood to be the case from Police Information Technology Organisation documents: the full computer system would not be up and running properly until 2010, at the latest—a four-year gap between the Bill and a computer system that will effectively enable it to happen. That is a big worry. What is going to happen in the next four years?

On the Floor of the House, we have just debated concerns over recent revelations about the treatment of people with learning disabilities, particularly the scandals in Cornwall. Problems are happening as we speak. That computer system needs to be able to deal with such instances to ensure that they do not happen in the first place or that such people, when identified, are dealt with appropriately.

I understand that Scotland is steps ahead of us—in many things it is; in others, it is not, including football. The Scottish intelligence database computer system is up and running already, and rather effectively, I gather. Apparently, that system was offered to English police forces as at least a stop-gap measure before IMPACT comes into effect.

The cost of IMPACT, as estimated in the comprehensive spending review, was some £160 million. I think that that figure will be revisited and will accelerate considerably. The cost of transferring or extending the SID system to England and Wales was put at £55 million, and it could be rolled out over 18 months. That roll-out could have started some time ago and been considerably cheaper and quicker.

I have a query about clause 3: what discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in the Scottish Parliament and colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office about the structures operating in those two parts of the United Kingdom? Has he learned any lessons from sharing intelligence and about the systems already in place to bring that about? Are the list systems, and the information feeding into those systems, in Scotland and Northern Ireland superior or lacking compared with the English and Welsh system that we are looking to put in place under the Bill?

It is vital that we have a system that will work across the United Kingdom. There have been many cases of abusers of one description or another easily flitting across borders. There is a problem at the moment with abusers flitting across county authority borders. Let us take the example of foster carers taken on by a local authority in, say, Newcastle. The foster carers fall foul of the local authority because of a degree of abuse that may not quite have warranted a prosecution, or in respect of which there was insufficient intelligence to prosecute, but which should certainly have flagged up serious question marks as to the carers’ suitability to deal with children. They then leave Newcastle and turn up in, say, my neck of the woods, on the south coast in Brighton, and present themselves as willing foster carers to the local authority, which would have no knowledge of their previous background and which may engage their services. That might turn out to be completely inappropriate.

People who abuse vulnerable people—be it children or adults—tend to be quite devious and clever in getting round the system, which is why it is essential that we have a proper and appropriate sharing of information between authorities in our own country and around all the different parts of the United Kingdom as well. It also makes it essential that when the legislation comes into force it is compatible with the measures that are already up and running in Scotland and Northern Ireland, or that are intended to be up and running there. That is particularly the case for Scotland, with the information-sharing system that the police already have in place, which as things stand today is superior to ours. Will the Minister comment on the United Kingdom dimension?

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills 5:45, 11 July 2006

As I said to the hon. Member for Basingstoke earlier, I am happy to provide a written update on IMPACT. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the working of the vetting and barring scheme is not dependent on the roll-out of IMPACT. There are existing CRB processes that are adequate for the scheme, although IMPACT will obviously help to improve matters.

On Scotland and Northern Ireland, clause 3 provides that a person who is on one of the barred lists or on specified barred lists in Scotland and Northern Ireland is also barred from regulated activity relating to the relevant group in England and Wales. The clause ensures that the scheme will take account of similar lists elsewhere in the UK. That will help prevent anyone who has been listed anywhere in the UK as a risk to children or vulnerable adults from gaining access to work with those groups. I therefore commend clause 3 to the Committee.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I hope that my queries will get a slightly more detailed response than that, and that if the Minister is going to write to me he will be able to answer the specific points that I made. He said that the scheme is not dependent on IMPACT and that the existing CRB checks are adequate. Clearly, they are not. Some of the people who were caught in January and who were the cause of the legislation being instigated had committed offences that had not been properly investigated and that were not subject to CRB checks. They were still dealing with children in a neighbouring authority, including in my own constituency. The problem with CRB checks is that they are out of date the day after they are sought and they do not become effective and useful until somebody has actually committed an offence and has become the subject of a CRB check. Lots of people are caught in between.

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

I do not know the exact circumstances of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but the example he gives might well have concerned people on the sex offenders register, and the lack of cross-reference with List 99. There is also a vulnerable children’s list. The whole purpose of the vetting and barring scheme is to amalgamate those registers and lists into two: a barred list to preclude people from working with children, and a list to prevent them from working with vulnerable adults, with cross-referencing between the two.

I accept the point about IMPACT being of great assistance. It is a point that the Minister for Children and Families made on Second Reading in answer to a question posed by the hon. Gentleman. As I said, I am happy to give him an update on IMPACT, but the establishment of the scheme is not dependent on it. I do not want to comment on the circumstances in his constituency, but issues in some parts of the country were about the interrelationship with the lists, which is what we are clarifying in this process. I made clear on Second Reading some of the changes in Scotland and Northern Ireland. A process in Scotland will mirror our operation here, and likewise in Northern Ireland. The schemes will link up to ensure that, if people were barred in one place, they would be barred in another. With that explanation, I hope that members of the Committee are satisfied that the clause can stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.